Articles to Share > Am I An Unschooler?

19 Feb 2003

 Am I an Unschooler?

Well, I really don't like 'labels', but.. I guess if I had to label us we are TATMs. Yep, I made that up! It stands for Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments. That's what life is all about.

What do I mean? Well, I'll share a few examples.

Several years ago Caleb and I were at Sonic. Caleb was about seven or eight years old. We had ordered slushes and as we were waiting for our order Caleb noticed the sign that said 'corn dogs, 2 for$.99' and he made the comment that if he had a dollar he could get two corndogs. I explained that he would have to have money for tax also (and explained a little about taxes) and commented that I only had a quarter so he'd have to pay for his $1.08 corndogs with $1.25 and asked how much change he would get back. He grabbed a napkin and a pen and figured it out. Then I asked if he only had quarters and no dollar, how many quarters would he need? Dimes?
Nickels? Before the discussion was over, we had discussed sales tax, many math skills, and how bad corndogs are for you anyway {grin}. Did we "do school"? I don't know, you tell me.

My children love to put on plays and on Presidents Day they decided to make a play of Abraham Lincoln. Molly fashioned a moustache and goatee for Abe (Caleb) but asked me if his beard was brown or black. I could have just given her the answer but instead I directed her to the history shelf and the photobiography we have of Abraham Lincoln and the other books about him. She was able to look through the books to get a better feel of what his facial hair looked like. They had so much fun with their play that Tony and I became the butler and cook for Abe, Mary, Eddie, Tad, Willie and Mary Vance (she was supposed to be Robert but she wanted to be "Mary
Mance", and .well, she's two, so.) Anyway, my point is that the children 'lived' the Lincoln family all day and learned so much. Did we 'do school'?

Math? Well, we do have math workbooks that we work in very occasionally. Math is just another language, we use it everyday. It's not hard to learn. Sam, our new seven year old, loves math and his mind just seems to speak that language very easily. He's always coming up with these 'math revelations' that surprise me. Once when he was six (keep in mind he has only had 'school' in addition) he was watching me make cookies and commented that since I had four cookies in each row (six rows) that I would have 24 cookies when I was all done. How did he know that? I then asked about different combinations and he got the answers right every time! Does he know his 'times tables'? No. Can he multiply? Most definitely! I bet we spent thirty minutes talking multiplication while making cookies. Did we 'do school'?

Luke is four years old and has had no 'formal school'. Only last week, I was making pancakes and asked him how many were on the griddle and he said 'two fours'. I realized he meant two rows of four each and asked him how many in all and he answered 'eight'. I then said 'what if Daddy eats two?' and he said 'six' and grinned, showing off those adorable dimples. He sat with me the entire pancake making session talking addition and subtraction! He had a blast and I had no idea he had such a firm grasp of math! Did we 'do school'?

A Conversation:

K: What is 'unschooling'? I mean, I understand the concept but how does it work in real life?

D: How long have you been home schooling?

K: Since my oldest was in kindergarten.

D: I beg to differ!

K: What?!

D: Who taught your oldest to walk? Talk? Recognize colors? Pray? Tie his shoes?

K: Well, *I* did.

D: Which workbooks or textbooks did you use?

K: None. You don't need books for stuff like that.

D: How did you know when to teach those skills? Like walking, for example?

K: Well, you just kinda know in your gut that your child is ready to learn to walk so you just encourage him and
provide opportunities for practice.

D: You mean you trusted yourself to know when he was ready to learn and then just went with it?

K: Well, yeah.

D: That's called 'living life'!

This conversation represents exactly how I feel about 'schooling' my children. I try to keep my eyes open to recognize when they are interested in something and then we just go with it. I believe that the Lord has a plan for each of my childrens lives and I trust that He will give them a desire and passion to learn whatever they need to fulfill that plan. Do I sit idly by and just passively watch them and hope they learn something? NO! I am very active in every aspect of their lives.

Right now, we are living in the frontier days. Caleb read a couple of Joseph Altsheler books (about the early Kentuckyfrontier) and that hooked him. He has since read about Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and has shared his enthusiasm with his siblings. I made all the boys 'buckskins' and they wear them almost every day. Sam and Elijah (seven and one) had a shared birthday party this year and what was the theme--Frontier Days. They have constructed a fairly elaborate frontier town from pretzels and royal icing, adding little plastic IIndians and trees. It's very nice and they have enjoyed making it so much. They have learned a great deal about history. They have also learned that you must let the walls of your building dry before adding the roof or it will all come tumbling down---guess that's a valuable lesson for real life Ü. Is that 'school'?

I have always talked with my children.talked through everything. When they were infants I'd say "let's put your right shoe on your right foot.which is your right foot? Good!!" When brushing their teeth, I would talk about the importance of brushing their teeth, how teeth are made, what they are for, what they are called, when they will lose them, etc. We count everything we do. Mary Vance (age 2) will watch me cook and whenever I grab a measuring cup or spoon she says "I count" and will could however many of whatever it is I am adding. Those are examples of what I mean when I talk about 'living life' and 'TATM'.

Our home is filled with books, instructional videos, craft supplies galore, instructional and informative cds, music, etc. They are surrounded by the 'stuff of learning'. I try to always be available to answer their questions or to show them how to find the answers. We do a lot of 'going with the flow' Ü. Is our life perfect? No. Will our children have 'learning gaps'? Yes, don't we all? Do I honestly believe I will have a child come to me and ask to learn algebra? Yes, I do. Do I expect to have children who never have a clue about algebra? Yes, I do. Does it matter? Not to me. I believe the Lord will guide them as He guides me!

Trust the Lord, trust your instincts, trust your children!

19 Feb 2003 Dana Lewis

Dana Lewis