Written by Sylvia Toyama
I was asked by a friend who is relatively new to the idea of unschooling, “You don’t do any instruction? What do you do?” I replied that we live full lives, with our kids, and that we talk a lot. When asked about math or history, I replied that those topics come up along the way. Then I shared some recent examples of what we talk about and do.
That conversation got me thinking, what do we do? Every year in late Summer, I find myself exploring the question of what we do, and whether we’re doing enough. My usual response to this questioning is to begin keeping a journal, just a casual record of how we spend our days. The journal gives me a place to see what we’re doing with and for the boys, to see where we might add more and how. It also gives me some peace of mind that all the fun we have includes learning that can be explained to those who ask. So, I thought I’d share several examples from the past month or so.
The boys helped a friend move furniture into storage and prepare for their moving sale. Some of this was done with another teenage friend, solo, which meant a lot of logistics and lifting, how to get furniture out and into doors, up or down stairs, etc. Dan sold lemonade at the yard sale that followed, and used some of the money he earned to buy a cotton candy maker at the yard sale. Over the past month, every kid who has visited our house has learned how to make cotton candy.
Andy saved his money, from his allowance, birthday gifts, odd jobs, etc, for the past several months to buy a new laptop. As he was saving the money, he researched different laptops, shopping for the right features at the best price. By the time he’d saved enough money for the laptop model he wanted, it was sold out. So he looked some more, saved some more and last month bought his first laptop, complete with a carrying case and some other accessories.
Andy is preparing to attend Driver’s Ed and get his license within the next several months. He wants to learn to sign his name for his license, but until now hadn’t learned to write cursive yet. He asked me to write out a guide for him, and he began practicing cursive. Dan joined in and both boys spent a couple of days practicing their cursive. Andy now has a signature he’s happy with.
We’ve had conversations about the US Constitution, the three branches of government and the checks and balances it includes. One night, Andy asked who said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” which led to a conversation about both Presidents Roosevelt, (Andy already knew there were two) how they were related, what wars happened on their watches. That sparked questions about how each World War started, along with when and why our country became involved. The next week, it was a story about the beginnings of a local amusement park that led us to learn about the YCC, and its place in the programs of Franklin Roosevelt, and the whole conversation came back around for more connections. We also talked about the role played by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, along with my own family’s history in Oklahoma in the 30’s. So many connections, each part of conversations shared over several days’ time.
Andy and I have had several conversations about religion and the part it plays in people’s choices and relationships, and how it influences politics. He loves to discuss the reasons behind the choices people make, especially when they differ from our own choices and lifestyle.
Dan’s been fishing a few times, each time catching a few bluegills. He does all his own baiting and hook removal. A couple of weeks ago, he and I looked up how to clean and cook that day’s catch. They cooked up pretty tasty, dredged in cornmeal. Once Will was home, he said we needed tartar sauce, so I showed them how to make tartar sauce, which was just what the fish needed.
Dan asked me to help him learn how to tie a slipknot, then he made a lasso and roped several small items around the house. He also went horse back riding at a friend’s farm, although he didn’t take his lasso with him.
We talked about height measurements and growth. I mentioned that I’d heard we start out a bit taller each day, then as the day goes on and we walk around, our spine compresses and we’re shorter at night. For the next couple of days, we tracked the boys’ height morning and afternoon to see if that’s true. We found each boy was about half an inch taller early in the day, and shorter by mid-afternoon.
The day I said, jokingly, “all mosquitoes should die” Andy explained to me that if the mosquitoes all died it would be bad for diversity and cause the animals that eat the mosquitoes to die off, breaking up the food cycle altogether.
Dan has become very interested in creating with Lego blocks, spending a couple to several hours every day building and improving on his creations, mostly vehicles, and a working model of a soda machine. For some of this, he consults with Andy who is a Lego expert, still creating new models almost every week. Increasingly, though, Dan works alone, looking up instructions and ideas online and just brainstorming, trying new things, until he’s perfected his models. Our living room looks like a Lego display at a toy store!
As I looked through my journal I saw that this month, we’ve talked about math, history, money, politics, religion, civics, science, penmanship, cooking and knot-tying which I’m sure isn’t a complete list. There were also driving lessons, swimming with friends, playing pool on our game table, (Dan is perfecting his bank shot), horseback riding, time with friends, and the how-to of moving and buying a computer.
Wow, we have been busy!© 2011 An Unschooling Life