My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

173

For some reason, it is often the case when I get together with other homeschooling parents that the conversation will turn to worries about whether or not we are good enough--smart, fun, organized, energetic, flexible, silly, or learned enough ourselves to be the facilitators of our children's learning. More often than not, the other parent will say, with that uncomfortable laugh we give one another when we feel insecure, that he or she would feel more confident with an education degree.

I have an education degree. An advanced one from a university with a good reputation for such a thing. And I worked with professors who are well respected in their areas of expertise.

I don't think this has a single thing to do with how well or poorly I do as an unschooling parent. It does mitigate my worries specific to schooling, but then, I probably replace them exactly to the level that I would have them anyway with other worries! Ah, such is the way with we fragile creatures, human beings.

But something today made me watch myself thinking about learning in a schooly and unschooly way, and I wanted to share a bit of that.

Any of us can see that in any given situation in which our children are engaged, learning is taking place. If you've studied education, you could  put that learning in education speak, and could pick out from a list which benchmarks or standards are likely to be addressed with a particular activity. And through your own observation, listening, and maybe a quick, casual conversation or example of "work," you could talk about level of mastery or deficiencies with regard to these standards.

But here's the thing: all of this would be happening your my head. The actual activity, the actual learning, the actual mastery, retention, future application of skill or knowledge, etc., would have happened whether or not you or I contextualized it the way that educators do.

I think it's something like being an artist versus being an art critic. The artist makes art, and may or may not be able to talk about their pieces as part of a greater movement, or as representative of periods in their careers, or as employing certain techniques to achieve certain effects in the minds of the viewer, or as harkening to X, Y, or X past master. The art critic talks about these things, but may not make art.

They're different people. They do different things. But whether or not art critics are telling us about art, art is most definitely happening and being created all over the world all the time. And if you were interested about in doing art--yourself, your own art--whom of the two would you choose as a mentor? That's not a perfect analogy, but maybe you get what I'm saying. Applying categories and labels and numbers to learning doesn't make it any more or less than exactly what it is, and the person best suited to facilitate a child's learning is the person most vested in supporting that child's learning.

I thought of that today. Woody made up a game a few weeks ago using a favorite book, DK Eyewitness Books Arms & Armor. You sit side by side with the book between you and choose weapons which you then use to pretend-battle one another. You make a case for why your chosen weapons or defense is superior to the other person's. ("My knight's armor protects him from your arrows." "Yes, but these arrows are fired from crossbows, so they can go through some armor," etc.)

He asked me to play this today, but instead of using just the the one book I asked if I could choose my own book from which to select battle gear. I chose Museum ABC. He scoffed, and chose for himself all four Eyewitness medieval books we have, Castle, Medieval Life, Knights and yes, Arms & Armor. He was confident of a win.


The "battles" were, as you might imagine, pretty silly, but they were great fun. I used B's boats to launch a sneak attack on his archers while they got a drink from the river. He used his most skilled knights to battle M's monsters. H's hair sent lice to his peasant army.

My favorite one was this:



I chose the nose page to show that I was an infectious disease, contracted through the air by sneezes and coughs and such. He was stymied at first, but then we looked at the table of contents in the Medieval Life book. "Death and Disease" sounded likely, and sure enough, he found on that page a bunch of herbs to use as preventative or curative medicines.

I forgot to mention that if both parties make equally strong cases for why their assault would triumph, you break the tie using rock/paper/scissors. Woody and I  consistently throw the exact same thing for something like three or four times before one or the other of us wins. On the disease vs. herbs battle, he won.

This moment was only about half an hour long, but for whatever reason, my mind reached back into my education training as I thought about it for today's blog post. I found myself musing about what "practice" or "skills" might be checked off on a developmental continuum after such an exchange: early reading (including various sight words and also compound words whose letter combinations Woody sounded out and then put together), recognizing elements of nonfiction books (table of contents, headings, captions to photos, etc.) and using those features to find information for problem solving, employing critical and creative thinking, describing and evidencing, comparing arguments.

These words can be comforting, since they suggest that our children are not somehow missing out on what other kids get in school. They sound so certain and official. And they are, but that doesn't change the value of what Woody and I did. We sat together for half an hour enjoying a game, reading and looking at pictures in books, and making up stories about imaginary battles between real and pretend entities.  We learned easily and happily together. <------- That's the focus. That's what matters. It's good, and it's good enough.