I know this is a stressful time for everyone, particularly for parents. They have to juggle working at home or making ends meet without an income while schooling their children.
I have some advice–don’t school your children.
I can hear gasps, but stick with me.
You’ve probably already figured this out, but I’m going to say it out loud–when your children go back to school (possibly this fall) they will spend the first few weeks, or even months, reviewing. Teachers will do their best to get everyone up to speed. This means you shouldn’t worry if you feel like your child is falling behind.
So, since your children will be spending the fall reviewing anyway, why not try something completely different now? Why not forgo school-at-home and try unschooling?
What the heck is “unschooling”? It’s child-led learning also known as natural learning. Your children study what interests them and they decide how to learn whether it’s watching a video, filling out workbooks, or interviewing a grandparent about the Vietnam War.
Where do you begin? Start with what your children love to do. Are they avid readers? Game players? Do they like to help you in the kitchen or have their own garden? Do they want to kick a ball around, ride bikes, climb trees? Your job is to facilitate their ability to indulge in their interests. Provide books, art supplies, tool kits, access to online resources including courses like The Great Courses. Don’t assign things for them to do, let them explore.
If you’re concerned that your children aren’t learning, then, at the end of the day, record everything they’ve done. Do this for one week. You’ll be surprised how much learning has occurred. You’ll also be surprised at how many traditional subjects they study naturally. It won’t look like school without workbooks, multiplication tables, and tests. Instead, it’ll be games of Monopoly (math), cooking (math and chemistry), reading (whatever they’re interested in), writing (what they want to write), dinosaurs or the Civil War or how Covid-19 differs from the plague (history).
You’ll find that when they delve into something they’re passionate about, they’ll naturally hit most or all of the subjects. For instance, older children might be worried and curious about Covid-19. If so, encourage them to research it (encourage, but don’t assign. If they’re not interested, let it drop).
In doing so, they’ll cover science (what is a virus?), constitutional law (what are our rights and are they being violated?), statistics (including how they can be manipulated), history (other pandemics and how they were handled), geography (where’s Wuhan, China?), politics (different approaches to the shutdown and why), health (protections from infectious diseases that work and don’t work), economics (how the shutdown affects business owners and employees), and more.
For younger children, play, play, play. Play boardgames, play pretend, play dress-up and have masquerade balls or build forts. Plan meals and cook together. Plant a garden. Ride bikes, go for walks, roller skate. Perform plays, musical concerts, comedy and magic acts. Read books and magazines individually and to each other and listen to audiobooks. Read a book like Charlotte’s Web and then watch the movie. Compare the two.
Draw, paint, sew, take photographs, build a birdhouse or a tree fort. Write a book (my younger daughter and I wrote a book together when she was four titled Daisy the Warrior Princess), journal emotions, thoughts and ideas, create poetry and short stories, compose music. Set them free.
Wait a minute, does this unschooling work?
You may not know this, but I unschooled my daughters. The first time they stepped into a classroom was when they attended Rock Valley Community College as teenagers. They had no concept of studying or test taking and yet they both graduated with straight As. They then went on to graduate from Drake University–my older daughter graduated cum laude. She’ll complete her music therapy internship at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston this fall. My younger daughter received a degree in studio art and is making a name for herself as a costume designer for community theatre throughout Madison.
If you’d like to give unschooling a try (and why not?), there are many excellent books on the subject. I recommend The unschooling handbook by Mary Griffith, Free to Learn by Peter Gray, Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Education by Grace Llewellyn, and Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?: the case for helping them leave, chart their own paths, and prepare for adulthood at their own pace, by Blake Boles.
There’s also a terrific novel set in an unschooling town which captures the essence of unschooling. It’s called Carpe Diem, Illinois written by yours truly.
I hope I’ve inspired you to let your children take control of their education. If you have any questions about how we made unschooling happen, please don’t hesitate to contact me.