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Ask the Expert: What Is Unschooling? Is this Method Right for You?-WINNER

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congratulations to mommyto2gr8ones, the winner of this contest and the book The Unschooling Handbook

Have you heard of unschooling? Are you curious to try it? Do you want to know if this method is right for your family? Is this method legal in your state?

CafeMom is pleased to welcome unschooling expert Mary Griffith to the group to answer YOUR questions. Mary Griffith is the author of "The Homeschooling Handbook: From Preschool to High School, A Parent's Guide" and "The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom," which together have sold more than 80,000 copies.  Her most recent homeschooling book is "Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life."

Ask your questions now and you could win a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook!"

Ask your questions in replies to this post. Mary will post her replies here as well. Mary will be in the group throughout the rest of August, so check back in as more questions come up!

Welcome, and thank you for joining us, Mary Griffith!

                                                        

The Official Rules
To enter the this contest, reply to this post. Click on the 'reply to post' button at the top (or bottom) of that post. When the text box opens, add your reply. Once you've added your reply, click on the "Add Reply' button.

  • Posts must be made between Wednesday, August 10 at 12 pm EST and Wednesday, August 31, at 5 pm EST.  
  • This contest will end on Wednesday, August 31, at 5 pm EST
  • One winner will be selected randomly.
  • The winner will be posted on this thread and will be notified via CafeMom PM.
  • Multiple replies are allowed and will increase  your chances of winning.
  • Prizes are only available to members who live in the US or Canada (excluding Quebec).
  • Prizes must be claimed within 10 days of notice of winning.
  • One winner will receive a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook" by Mary Griffith.
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Replies (11-20):
CoffeeMama1081
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 8:08 PM

My second question is about motivation and learning good habits.  My daughter used to love to draw but now she doesn't seem to be interested in it.  I am afraid that she will give up on things when they become too difficult for her, but I also don't want to force her to do anything she doesn't really want to do.  How do I encourage her to improve on her skills without making it unpleasant for her (or should I just leave her alone about the whole thing?  She is 8).

We mostly unschool, but there are some things that I still wonder about.  Thanks for answering questions!

mem82
by Platinum Member on Aug. 10, 2011 at 8:15 PM

When I said, educational, I was talking in terms of how it could translate into 'real' life. With the Legos, I would spend some time talking about finding area or possibly how architects would build a tall building and keep it stable. So in some ways, yes, I do want it to equate to school or at least something more educational than just figuring out that you need a fat Lego on the bottom instead of a skinny one to stabilize the building. While that fat/skinny lesson would be valuable to a five year old, it really wouldn't be to a twelve year old.

 Saying it does come down to trust is very true. I'm not sure my child would ever think about area or the laws of physics beyond how it would apply to his Lego tower, if you see what I mean? I'm not sure I could trust that they would and let it go.

 My original point, which I don't think, on hindsight, I worded well, was that I try to allow the kids the freedom to choose what they study while I tried to help them apply it to life and education farther on down the road. Kind of like adding veggies to spaghetti sauce because my picky eater won't eat them plain. He's still getting his favorite food, spaghetti and I'm still making sure he has some vitamins. 

 For example, if my son is interested in Knights because of a story we read, I would try to find lessons or more books directed towards that period of time. Instead of telling them that they were going to learn about such and such because that's what I learned in their grade, we just meander around whatever takes their fancy while they are getting some 'meat' tossed in by me.

LOL I don't think I have correct nature to unschool completely but I do appreciate your point about trust. It's something I've never looked at before.  

Quoting Mary_Griffith:


Quoting mem82:

I like to think of us as 'part time unschoolers'. I am not brave enough to just let go and my oldest who is 10 likes to have school work assigned to her, believe it or not. I tend to let the kids pick their own rabbit holes to follow and just try to find stuff ways to make it more educational. Do you think that the unschooling philosophy can work on a part time basis in the long run or that maybe I should either do it all the way or possibly tighten down our schedule to exclude the child led part?

I've come to believe that part-time unschooling isn't really the same as doing it full time. There may well be benefits to part-time unschooling, but I think it is qualitatively different from the full-time version. 

Partly it's a matter of demonstrating that trust that is an essential component of unschooling. Unschooling part-time says to your child, "I trust you to learn for yourself, but only up to a point," and kids will hear from that that they aren't really competent on their own. 

Let me ask you a question, too. What do you mean by "make it more educational"? Do you take, for example, say, a kid who is building major LEGO projects and try to formalize  it into some sort of worksheets? Do you mean you want to make it look more like something that would be taught formally in school? Would that really make it more educational or would it just make it look more like what most people unthinkingly call "educational"?

If you've ever been to an unschooling-oriented homeschool conference, you'll have heard about The Vacation, which is what we usually call the period after a child is withdrawn from school during which they are just left to their own devices to figure out what they're interested in and how they learn best. It's often very hard on kids, too, to suddenly feel free of any assigned activities--most kids have never had the chance to figure out how to set their own priorities or determine their own interests because so much has been determined for them by other their whole lives. Kids need practice using their own judgement in order to get good at it—those who've always been told what and how and when to study often don't trust themselves. 

(And don't forget that other aspect--the modeling of how to learn. Kids need to see the adults in their lives learning things, too, in order to figure out how it's done. A child who never sees an adult read for pleasure or work to master a new skill is not likely to figure out how to do those things.)


CafeMom Tickers

sew4fun
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 9:57 PM

well I have no idea what unschooling is ( I will look into it LOL) but is it something you can do with a young child ( she will be 5 in Sept) that has never attended school ?

sew4fun
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 9:59 PM

My daughter has her own ideas as to what she wants to do . It is a battle every time I ask her to do something she does not want to do. It is pretty much her way or no way,of course I do not let that fly but when I try to make her do it she just scribbles . Do you have any advice as to how I can get her to do things she may not want to do at the moment? For example. Our biggest problem is letters and numbers, she is just not interested no matter what I do . I will ask her to write or trace her letters and she just scribbles,I ask her what sound the letter A makes and she just makes something up even though she knew it the day before if not the hour before I asked her again .

Cafe Kate
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 10:41 PM

Thank you for joining us, Mary. I find this all so interesting!

my2.5boys
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 11:15 PM
Thank you for joining us Mary. I have been unschooling for two years now (officially, although really we've been unschooling since my son was born 7 years ago). I still have some anxiety moments (like when my 5 year old tells me maybe he'll want to learn to read when he's 12), but talking to and reading about people who have been there and shown unschooling can be successful, helps get me thru. I appreciate you joining this group and leading the way for families like mine.
my2.5boys
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 11:25 PM


Quoting CoffeeMama1081:

Thanks for answering questions!  I am currrently reading through "The Unschooling Handbook" a second time, so this is really nice to be able to ask you questions.

My first question is, what is your take on video games and television?  Do you think they should be limited or should there be some limits put on them?  My son is six and I am afraid he will play video games all day if I let him.  But some days this seems to be the only thing he is interested in doing...should I try to encourage him to do other things or let him play video games when it interests him?

I'm not Mary, but I can tell you how we handle this in our home. My boys are 5 and 7 (also I have a 15 year old step son who visits on the weekends, and I think I can count my husband as big kid too), and they have unlimited access to video games. Generally first thing they do in the morning is turn on the Playstation, or Ipod, or Xbox, and the t.v. too. Some days they play all day, some days they play for an hour and turn it off. Almost always, if they get the chance to play outside, they choose that over video games. I don't put limits on them, and even though some days it's all they do, on average they spend more time on other things. I would suggest taking a step back and evaluating it based on how much time he spends per week or per month, instead of per day.

Also, I look at it this way. The video game industry is huge, and there are so many opportunities with in that industry. With all the game time my kids are putting in, they can build a solid future for themselves. 

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees & the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. ------from Desiderata Written by Max Ehrmann in 1927

my2.5boys
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 11:40 PM


Quoting mem82:

Do you believe in 'radical unschooling' where the kids have no rules, including bed times or food limits and believe that they will self -regulate? Thanks for your time!

I know Mary already answered this for you, but I'd like to offer my two cents as well. 

We don't really have "rules" in our home, more like guiding principles. Look at it this way; Rules are made to be broken, but you always stick to your principles! The main thing in our home is be respectful to the people around you. We all have to share the same space, so let's make it as pleasant as possible for everyone. 

Officially my boys have a 9 pm bedtime, but that is only the time they need to go to their room so my husband and I can have some quiet time to ourselves (this is a compromise I made with my husband, if it were up to me alone they could stay with us as late as they wanted). They can go to sleep whenever they want and generally it's around midnight before they settle down into their beds.

Like Mary's children, they have no food limits, except if they don't like what I make for dinner, they have to then fix their own meals. They can go in the kitchen and grab a snack whenever they want. I make sure to stock up on things I know they like, fresh fruit being their favorite snack. I don't like to take them to the grocery store with me (I spend way too much money if I do) but I do ask them before I go what they would like to have on hand.

They have no limits on t.v. or video games either, but like I explained in another answer, even with no limits they spend more time on average, doing things other than video games, because believe it or not even video games can get boring after a while. 

I also don't put limits on their vocabularies. They can use whatever words they like, so long as they are being respectful. I have taught them there are no good/bad words, it is only the intent behind the words which can be good/bad. So long as they are being respectful, they can say whatever they like. 

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees & the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. ------from Desiderata Written by Max Ehrmann in 1927

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 11, 2011 at 4:53 AM


Quoting CoffeeMama1081:

Thanks for answering questions!  I am currrently reading through "The Unschooling Handbook" a second time, so this is really nice to be able to ask you questions.

My first question is, what is your take on video games and television?  Do you think they should be limited or should there be some limits put on them?  My son is six and I am afraid he will play video games all day if I let him.  But some days this seems to be the only thing he is interested in doing...should I try to encourage him to do other things or let him play video games when it interests him?

We never had any limits on TV or computer games (for some reason, we never got around to acquiring any dedicated video game machines, though both have played them since). I had only one hard-and-fast rule about television, which was that if you weren't watching something, you should turn the TV off. (That's a rule I wish my husband, an inveterate clicker-through-channels TV viewer would learn, but at least he's got a TC of his own upstairs where it doesn't drive me nuts.)

Other than that, television viewing was simply one of several available options. Sometimes we had to negotiate who would get to watch what and when (more of a problem in those pre-DVR days). Sometimes the girls wanted to watch programs that I hated (I found their Care Bears stage painful, but they grew out of that pretty quickly)., but I never hesitated to offer my opinions about what they chose to watch, postive or negative. 

(One benefit of TV watching, too, is the opportunity to talk about advertising and how it works, about product placement and other untrustworthy marvels of modern marketing. A subscription to Zillions, the kids' magazine published back then by Consumer Reports, was useful that way, too.)

There were a bunch of nifty computer games my kids played for hours and days off and on through the years: Zoombinis, various Sims incarnations. There were short flirtations with arcade-style games and various versions of Solitaire, but they tended to prefer the more open-ended programs that allowed more exploration and creativity.

Many parents used to cite Jane Healy's book, Endangered Minds, in support of their anti-technology rules, but I always thought her argument that TV and video games were bad because they cause changes in children's brains was pretty weak--after all, everything we do causes changes in us, and things that we do a lot cause more change. That's what practicing a sport or a musical instrument is meant to do--create neural pathways and muscle memories that make the activity easier to perform.

Two books worth reading if you're really concerned about technology and its effects on your kids:

--Steven Johnson's Everyting Bad Is Good For You. One of my favortie reads about learning and techology. (A couple of years after I first read it, my younger daughter had it assigned in one of her college classes; she thought it hilarious that so many of her classmates thought it unbelievable and outrageous that video games and TV could possibly be positive.) I wrote a bit about it on my old blog at http://virallearning.blogspot.com/2006/05/brain-patterns.html a few years ago.

--Gerard Jones's Killing Monsters: Why Kids Need Fantasy, SuperHeroes, and Make-Believe Violence. I met the author a few years back at an InHome conference near Chicago--he and I and a couple of the other speakers apparently shocked many parents with our permissiveness about video games and television. (It was especially fun watching some parents wrap their brains around the fact that a couple of the speakers had reached higher WoW levels than their kids had. Almost made me want to take up WoW myself.)

One question to think about for you, though: If your child did play video games for the whole day--or even for a couple of weeks solid, would that cause him actual harm? 

Let me throw out one more random comment, too--one which applies to more than just video games or TV. Years ago, when I was a relatively newbie to homeschooling, at one of the first homeschooling conferences I ever attended, David Colfax said, "Read odd stuff." His point was that we don't learn how to tell good books from not-so-good or downright terrible books unless we have some basis for comparison. (And sometimes a trashy book--or a silly video game or sappy movie--is just what's needed to suit a mood or a tired afternoon or evening.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 11, 2011 at 4:55 AM


Quoting sew4fun:

well I have no idea what unschooling is ( I will look into it LOL) but is it something you can do with a young child ( she will be 5 in Sept) that has never attended school ?

LOL! Unless your child has been enrolled in preschool or you've been doing formal lessons with her, unschooling is what you both have been spending your time at. 

One serious point, though--unschooling is definitely something you do WITH, not TO your kids.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

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