Monday, August 08, 2011

Unschooling via Rainbow Snowcones

Where I live (Utah, in the mountainous, western part of the U.S.), our homeschool laws say that in order to comply with the powers that be, you have to sign an affidavit saying the child shall be instructed in the subjects required by the State Office of Education, and for the amount of hours required by law.
This means, I'm quoting the USOE, here: "reading/language arts, math, science, social studies, the arts, health education, physical education, and educational technology." And for "at least 180 days each year, 990 hours per year".
So that means one day out of two, five and-a-half hours a day.
And since it also says that "The parent of a minor who attends a valid homeschool is solely responsible for (i) the selection of instructional materials and textbooks, (ii) the time, place, and method of instruction, and (iii) the evaluation of the home school instruction.", there is a lot of room for... well... being. :)
And no standardized tests required. Sending in the signed affidavit to the local school district agreeing to the hours and subjects is the extent of the requirements.

The law states "...for the same length of time as minors are required by law to receive instruction in public schools, as provided by rules of the State Board of Education."
Which brings to my mind the picture of a teacher standing at the front of the class, "instructing" the pupils--uninterrupted... unharried... unimpeded.... with every eye upon him and every child memorizing every word she says. For five-and-a-half hours a day.

(Sorry. ' Couldn't help it.)

So, yeah. It's true that I take a few liberties.
And there may be some of the State's 'subjects' that get looooots of attention, some days.
Maybe Art.
Maybe Language Arts. (Really?? The school board defines Language Arts as "reading, writing, speaking, listening"? hmmm.)
Maybe it's Physical Education.
Maybe it's Social Studies.
Maybe it's even Educational Technology!!

No, it's not my purpose here to be cheeky or impertinent. Hmmm--maybe just a little.
And it isn't my point that I can or should utterly disregard my children's education, and see it as something not worth my -or their- time.
Of course not. I want them to be their happiest and most capable selves, after all.

It's more my point that Unschooling is as valid as any other way of Learning.
I honestly don't feel that we are only just barely meeting the State's requirements. Nor do I feel that our Living is educationally inferior to the school system's.
For most of us that practice it, Unschooling is seen as far more valuable, because the learning happens organically--meaning without pretense or "should"'s. ('Pretense' meaning the practice of teaching to a test... ie filling up a child's head with something just long enough to pass a test, which is then promptly forgotten. Busy work.)

Unschooling has its challenges, there's no doubt about that.
I've seen parents write "we tried it for a year... it didn't work." I read that and almost cringe... I can only imagine that that year was full of fretful parents biting their nails and covertly trying to steer children into math books, waiting on tenterhooks for them to blossom and start amazing them at any minute (I think that means explaining the theory of relativity and spontaneously diagramming sentences)... to no avail, evidently.
I think you really have to step outside of expectations with this... it's probably not going to look anything like school. And it ain't fast. :) Usually. And it ain't always obvious.
It's only been in the past year that I've gotten very comfortable with unschooling (and the way it looks and flows in our home), and this one coming up is technically our sixth (school year). Certainly I don't expect anyone to have the cavalier attitude that they have four years to spare of their child's life... I can only say that it's 'working' for us.

Most people understand that the way of Unschooling is "learning is just something that happens when a child is living a rich and full life".
There is the argument of "But how is a child going to come across trigonometry in every day life?! It doesn't exist in every day life!" And of course the answer is, "Well, if it doesn't exist in every day life....." Right. Why would you need it?
The answer becomes because we're all so used to the school system telling us what we need to know... what is appropriate... what is intelligent... what's smart... what is expected.
One of the first things -and biggest- I had to learn was to step outside of that thinking (that "school knows best" mindset), and to totally reevaluate what education really means. I think that's what took four years. After that, it became easy for me. :)

One of my all-time favorite inspirations comes from this video, and John Bennett. John is a mathematics teacher in a private school, and a homeschooling dad. His clip starts at 13:19, so start it a few seconds before that if you'd like to see it.

This video has been hugely valuable to me.
It also indirectly led me to Paul Lockhart's A Mathematician's Lament.
And to further my understanding -and acceptance- that not everyone is (thinks like) a mathematician. And that not everyone should be a mathematician.
Not only that, it helped to convert my thinking from "need to know formulas" to "need to be able to process and think".

Enter rainbow snowcones.

I made a list of games a year and-a-half ago, games that Lockhart mentions in his Lament, and games Mr. Bennett mentions in his.
Lockhart: Chess, Go, Hex, Backgammon, Sprouts, Nim....
Bennett: Blokus, Mastermind, Quads, Avalam, Quixo, Quoridor, Pente, Katamino, Subtrax, Quarto, Zertz.

My philosophy on education is pretty much that as long as we're discovering, exploring, and creating, then we're doing well.
While I greatly value the opportunities to stretch our minds a bit with games (of course! these things are a part of living well, too), valuable living to me goes far beyond the confines of what can obviously look like education. Unschooling is about the whole big, wide Everything, as I said yesterday.

For us it's about playing games and making art. It's about matinees and natural history museums. It's about imaginary games and digging in the dirt.

It's about thinking and believing that anything is possible.

So much of our inspiration and excitement and enthusiasm comes from life's Rainbow Snowcones.

When we set off for the day on an adventure -having an idea, but not really knowing for sure what we're going to see or experience- and the children are bouncing and talking loudly and so excited, and asking "Can we do this?" and "Can we do this, too??"... it's exactly that sort of thing that keeps us so excited about our living and learning.

So, yes. rainbow snowcones are just as an important part of our lives as all the other stuff.
'Cause they're colorful. And refreshing. And special. And magic.

Because we're out playing and climbing and interacting with others. Because we are revived by buckets of sand at the beach. We're filled with excitement about life by walks for an icecream. We're replenished by a dollar movie and a slice of pizza. We are inspired by living -yup!- Joyfully.

So yes.
When I say that I get just as excited about rainbow snowcones as I do about watching volcano documentaries... I really do mean that.

Sparkly, fanciful things are a very important part of the magic.


  1. This is yesterdays post are so what I needed to read. As the new "school" year begins I always fret about what should be doing. Instead of just living and learning is the best way. The past week we have left our house and have relaxing on the beach, reading a ton of books and playing game after game. i think there has been so much more real learning going on then when I plan out our days. I am still working on the relax attitude. Thanks for the posts!

  2. Yay again Stephanie, more Mama goodness coming from everywhere. Is it the specter of the first day of school media that is inspiring or just happy summer goodness.

  3. Stacey - For me, it's that a few people have been looking at the Unschooling pages, here. :) Gotta speak up if someone's askin'!
    (' Might be 'cause of that affidavit thing, too. :) )

  4. Rosemarie - flowing days are awesome. A lot of times, I like to have a plan - are we going somewhere or saying home?- and sometimes I ask the children their ideas.
    But when we're super-connected to eachother and the world, it's so, so awesome. :)
    I bet your days have been marvelous!

    Shel - thanks so much!

  5. Loved the video. Love your perspective, your words. Learning is in EVERYTHING - even rainbow snowcones; love it.

    So thrilled to have dear friends that inspire me on my unschooling journey. Thankk you. <3

  6. I don't do this anymore (less worried, I suppose), but I used to write a list of goals in September. These would be things that the kid didn't know yet, but seemed reasonable that he or she would learn it by May. And wouldn't you know, by May, the list seemed too simple! Somehow, they learned!

  7. John Bennett's segment is *great*. When he said, "why are we still teaching this? It doesn't occur in everyday life!" I was screaming in my head, "But it develops logical thinking and reasoning." Uh, that's exactly where he went next.

    So far, Emmett seems to really enjoy math. We're not doing anything like what they do in school, though - I've only showed him the formal way to add and subtract on paper once or twice, we mostly do mental math and (gasp) word problems from Ed Zacarro's Primary Grade Challenge Math. When multiplication comes up, I grab a multiplication chart so he can look answers up. But if he ends up not liking what we're doing, it's nice to be smacked in the face with the fact that we have other alternatives. Before looking at this, I mostly considered finding other resources for actually teaching the math. But we don't have to do the *math* we have to do the *thinking*. Thanks, Steph!

  8. I loved everything about this post. I am one of the people reading the "unschooling" bits. I'm reading and thinking and pondering.

    I loved your ideas. It took me all day, but I loved the video - watched it all. I loved the comment by the woman at the end - "they haven't been harmed". I loved the link. I loved the games suggestions (watch out internet shopping and credit card!).

    We have a plan. It addresses our state's "syllabus" and "key learning areas". I have planned out what we will do this year. But I am being flexible about how we achieve what we want to do. I am trying to listen to my kids more.

    I think going into next year (when I don't have a plan), I will worry less about what the State says my kids need to learn. I will focus more on what they want to learn.

    My daughter will do pen and paper maths, algebra and then calculus, regardless - because she LOVES maths. My son will move ahead and read and learn lots of science (he may not write it down) because he LOVES it. We will read lots, talk lots. Play lots. Learn lots. Keep fit and healthy.

    Thank you so much for this and helping me learn and think.

  9. I am loving this series of posts, and hope you'll do more...may be one on how unschooling develops as children grow?

    This is mostly for selfish reasons as I am noticing a shift in my ten year old, as she seems to need something more (although I don't know what "more" is!!!)

    And here's to Joyful Living :)

  10. Wow. I need to catch up. This is *great*!

    Thanks :)

  11. Thanks Stephanie!I think we all need a reminder (especially this time of year) about why we choose unschooling. I can't help but be reminded that parents have to go through a deschooling (or recovery) process if they went to school ( Learning can't be rushed like it is in school. Like you say, "it ain't fast. Usually".

  12. Another great post Stephanie, thanks! This year will be interesting in regards to the pressure we will start facing as Emma would be starting kindergarten this year. Thankfully I don't care much what people outside of my family think, and my family is all on board.

    I know how lucky I am and I am thankful :)

  13. 52 minutes later.


    Just what I need, just when I need it.


  14. Penny - hopefully my words haven't sent you screaming in the opposite direction. :)

    Tina - I know. Last chance for gettin' those babes in Ivy League is in Kindergarten... it's all over after that!

    Kalleigh - yup. But once you start noticing it, it takes your breath away. :) That's the best part.

    Steph - such a big help to me. I love recalibration points, as you know... I find them invaluable. His clip did that for me.

    Kelly - who knows?? :)

    Ingi - :) Gotta love the State! :)

    Beverly - here's to not worryin'. :)

    Debbie - ♥ and ☠ 's to you.

  15. Hardly. lol

    It's been a good summer :) I've often thought of you, in a WWSD? kind of way, and it's been very helpful...


  16. As I am about to jump into a very big project with some fellow church moms... we are creating a co-op... this post was just what I needed to hear! I love what an enrichment group has to offer but know there will be struggles, as the other moms are very into public schooling at home (in my opinion). :) I will be teaching art to kids who don't have it at home because their moms are so busy with multiple ages and lots of text books! lol Thanks for the reminders of why I do what I do with my kids and hopefully I can teach these other kids the joy of learning thru art and expression. I love your posts... please keep them coming!! :)


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!