In our family, we don’t “do” subject areas. We don’t really do tests, quizzes, essays or worksheets.
We’re radical unschoolers, and we believe that learning happens all the time, and for us, it rarely happens in tightly defined areas like “social studies” and “grammar.”
That said, I get a lot of questions from people who are unfamiliar with unschooling and wonder, “But how do you teach math?” (Or any other subject!)
That’s why I agreed to take part in the iHomeschool Network’s “5 days of…” Hopscotch series this week, in which I’m joining a bunch of my fellow bloggers to share how we “teach” language arts, math, science, history and fine arts.
It’s a little bit of a trick… because I’m not going to talk about teaching at all.
Instead, I’m glad to share how we learn, radical unschooling, eighth-grade-ish daughter style!
If you wonder how our learning happens “beyond the curriculum,” read on. Today, we’re tackling unschooling language arts – the ways things like reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, grammar and all that good stuff happen in our lives.
Unschooling and reading
I’m cheating, a little bit. I’m starting with the most obvious example of how learning happens in unschooling, and that’s by reading.
We read constantly. Every night before bed, we all get together in Sarah’s room or mine and read aloud to each other, or read in companionable silence, depending on what’s up.
In fact, this is such a big thing that we have a Family Reading Roundup series of posts that we update most months, sharing our current books.
Unschooling reading is an awful lot like public-school reading, or reading in more formal homeschool methodologies. We read from a variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction, across all sorts of levels, from “simple” to college textbooks.
The biggest key is that we believe – and have found – that we don’t have to direct or require any particular type of reading in order to achieve this balance. It happens naturally out of Sarah’s own interests when we’re engaged with her in her learning.
Let me say that again, because that’s a key theme throughout this week’s series. Unschooling requires engagement. When I’m not engaged in what Sarah’s interested in, she either doesn’t read at all, or reads the same books for weeks. That’s fine – and it certainly happens – but that isn’t me being an unschooling mom at my best.
How we facilitate and learn reading skills:
- By strewing books related to Sarah’s current interests. (Read more about strewing from my friend Aadel here!)
- By making reading a family activity, both by reading the same things together and by modeling a love of reading in our own free time.
- By going to places that have lots of books! We love used bookstores, new bookstores and libraries.
- By talking about the things we read, and using them as a springboard to other types of learning, like movies, TV shows and trips.
Unschooling and writing
Let me be honest here and say that while reading comes naturally in our family, writing is not a passion of Sarah’s.
Or, more accurately, writing in a prescribed format is not.
We write all the time, just like we read. You can see a few of our “writing projects” here. But let’s be clear: When I say that we do not give assignments or require particular projects, it should be easy to guess that Sarah doesn’t just then randomly sit down and write research reports or essays for fun.
Oh, but wait. When a two-page informative paper was required for the 4-H project Sarah chose to participate in, she had no problem coming up with it. Why? Because while we don’t require the “proof of concept” of an essay in day-to-day life, Sarah has read tons, seen me write them for classes, proofread them for me, and generally become familiar enough with the expectations to do as serviceable of a job as I ever did at her age!
How we facilitate and learn writing skills:
- By reading. There is NO better way to be sure you know how to write in a particular style (if needed) than to read as many examples of it as possible. This holds for thesis papers, friendly letters, Facebook statuses and emails.
- By talking about the writing process. Since Chris and I both write for a living, well, that’s easier for us than in many families, I think! It’s been great to expose Sarah to all parts of the process and to lots of professional writers.
- By encouraging the kind of writing that DOES come naturally – especially the kinds that Sarah will be mostly likely to need as an adult, which are digitally focused.
Unschooling and spelling
Remember how much we love video-game learning?
Video games are almost completely responsible for the massive growth in Sarah’s spelling ability in the past two years. Some of it is direct – the need to type in commands, spelled correctly, for instance. In other cases, Skyping while playing Minecraft and talking to friends has led to the natural consequence of better spelling, because Sarah wants to be understood.
Oh, and then there are all the ways in which we encourage and model – but do not force – correct spelling in day-to-day stuff, like grocery lists and texts and emails.
How we facilitate and learn spelling skills:
- By reading and writing. Notice how these things build on each other in life learning? I would attribute the fact that I’ve always been a good speller to the matching fact that I’ve always been a heavy reader, and Sarah is no different. Once she’s read a word several times, she adopts the correct spelling!
- By using correct spelling in our writing to Sarah. It’s super-easy for me to lapse into textspeak, even in emails and handwritten notes, and that does happen at times. But more often than not, I’m making sure to write clearly and spell well.
- By interacting in writing! This means Skype chats, texts, emails, handwritten letters, grocery lists, you name it. In our family, there’s a lot of writing that goes on, and spelling flows naturally from that.
- By focusing on words that Sarah most needs. We don’t do spelling lists by a long shot. Sometimes, Sarah still misspells words like February. (Yes, working on that. More next month than this one.) But she can spell lots of crazy words for parts of the alpaca, most of the elements, even the weird ones, and so on. When it matters TO HER, she learns!)
The rest of the series
Today: The power of words: Unschooling and “language arts”
Tuesday: It’s not all about numbers: Unschooling and “math”
Wednesday: Exploring the world and how it works: Unschooling and “science”
Thursday: You can’t escape the past: Unschooling and “history”
Friday: There’s beauty in everything: Unschooling and “fine arts”
More five-day fun
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s January 2014 “5 days of…” Hopscotch series.
You can see how some of my fellow bloggers are spending their five days here.
Many of us are sharing on how we teach or learn in these subject areas, from a variety of styles and perspectives! We sure are an eclectic group – I hope you’ll check out more!
Finally, this post is part of the How to Teach Without a Curriculum linkup through the iHomeschool Network. Click the image below to read more posts on teaching without formal curriculum!