The School of Life

From what I have read in the last couple of days, unschooling seems like a lot MORE work than regular structured homeschool – though of course in terms of homeschooling, just having the kids at home (whether you subscribe to unschooling or not) is going to teach them life lessons, as long as you let them pitch in. My 1 and 2 year olds unload the dishwasher and set the table, my 5 year old takes care of the baby and makes up songs on the piano, my 4 year old reads everything she can get her hands on… etc.  Plus all my children are already bilingual.

What I’m missing, I think, are more learning type activities such as blocks, tinker toys, sand, water and other things that make a big mess.  Also I don’t get the kids out much ever since Agnes was born. I expect once we buy our own house with a yard, there will be a lot more opportunities for things like natural science, and also I will allow a lot more water play/sand play etc. outside, than I would in a small apartment. But, I do let them help with baking, etc as much as possible. The oldest three have done all the steps involved in making themselves a fried egg (with supervision, of course — for another few years yet!).

I just can’t see at this juncture how true unschooling would be to my kids’ advantage when I have so many little ones. I think that it might “work” in theory (whatever “work” means to an unschooler – I’m not all that clear on that yet), but I know from experience that when you have a big family, some kids just slip under the radar occasionally in terms of instruction, especially when you are homeschooling. I mean, as a parent you just kind of forget which kids you may have taught something because you lose count after a while of how many times you have said the same thing! I think with a structured program where you have a curriculum that you can check off accomplishments, I would personally feel a lot safer that I was keeping the kids on track and not shortchanging any of them.

Also there are things that you simply can’t leave to chance, such as catechetical instruction or prayer time. Having a set portion of the day where we sit down together, list our intentions and pray together, and study the catechism or the life of a saint, is to me the most practical way to ensure the children are getting enough structure in their religious formation.

For the earlier grades where (in my personal opinion) the kids don’t really learn much in school but how to sit still and do homework (come on – do you really remember any specific fact that you learned before the 4th grade?) I can see how it would be more beneficial to let nature take its course and have simple goals for the kids, and let them focus on instructive play instead of formal school. After all, neurologically speaking (from what I have read) this may be the most beneficial to them anyway. However, I do have concerns with how this method would play out in the older grades.  Isn’t it a good idea for the child to eventually learn to behave in a classroom setting, learn group dynamics, get used to waiting for those who may be slower, accept the legitimate authority of someone other than a parent? What is the downside after say, age 9 for a child to be put into a traditional school or have more formal learning?

On the other hand, I am more encouraged after reading a bit about this, that if I happen not to be able to “do school” with the kids for several weeks I don’t have to feel guilty that I am ruining their education. I haven’t been all that over the top with it anyway, just since Miriam would only be entering kindergarten this year if she were going to school and would not even be expected to read for another year. But it’s nice just the same to know that after that year has past, as long as I can involve the kids in learning activities around the home, they will still be getting a good foundation and be able to catch up fairly easily to their “grade level” without too much trouble when I have to take a break from formal schooling.

Those are some of my thoughts thus far. Any comments?

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