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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Natural Learning Updates

Over on The Sparkling Martins blog today, Dayna has written about how her oldest two children learned to read naturally, without phonics training, direct teaching, or tests. It's food for thought, the idea that people will want to learn this wonderful and useful skill, and therefore internal motivation will lead to the acquiring of it, when a child is interested and ready.

At my house we do "natural" reading lessons, using a Montessori inspired approach you can read about in the Aug. 31 post. Reading is not so far an activity that takes priority in Beezy's life, though occasionally I find her reading of her own accord, not only because it is part of "school". Still, she likes to read, and it isn't being forced upon her. Reading is also a part of other activities, such as the Pictureka! board game we played today. Being read to is still one of Beezy's greatest joys, and her comprehension skills are strong. Some days I feel content with her reading progress, while other days I find myself feeling a little frustrated. Then I know that I have to step back and refocus.

Keeping track of daily activities in my small leather notebook helps me to see that learning happens all day long, in a variety of ways. Learning is simply life. And for children, play is the primary and most effective method of education. Just now, Beezy brought a bug in that she found in our birdbath and said, "I'm studying it." I noticed it had wings and so was likely to die in the cup of water she had put it in, so she took it out and set it in the shade. So much can be learned simply through observation and conversation.

I do still need to have some formal learning time and a basic system to follow in order to feel comfortable with our homeschooling life. My foray into unschooling, however, has taught me that having a rhythm to our days, rather than a set schedule, provides for a relaxed flow and an openness to spontaneous choices. I do feel more joyful with a natural learning mindset. I think it is the unschooling attitude that sets it apart from other methods more so than the actual things done throughout the course of the day. Reading, math, writing, science, history, religion and other "subjects" happen in every homeschooling situation, and many of the same resources are being used. The difference is in why a topic or skill is being pursued, in what context, and in what form.

A common concern I come across in my reading are the so called "gaps" that may occur with homeschooling, and especially in the case of unschooling. This seems like a lapse in common sense. Regardless of how one is educated, no person will have learned everything there possibly is to learn, even if he lives to be 100. I know nothing about statistics, robotics, calculus, or accounting. Nor, at this time, do I care to. Even in my strongest areas, such as literature, there is still much to be learned. I was recently turned on to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Jesuit priest from the Victorian era, who I somehow missed in college. I suppose Hopkins has come into my life at the time that we were meant to be introduced. What a happy surprise! I'm grateful for the gap in my education.

There is much deconditioning to do in our understanding of what it means to be educated. The U.S. is possibly on the verge of military action in Syria. Are we to embark on yet another war in the Middle East? All of the knowledge in the world will not help our leaders make the best decisions if they lack wisdom. Sadly, our youth is growing up in a culture in which wisdom is rarely considered, and even knowledge has taken a back seat to "information." The Common Core Curriculum being implemented this school year seeks to replace much of classic literature with "informational textbooks." The written word will be dissected until anything alive and inspiring has been gutted from it like a fish.

Education as information must be cognitively understood and memorized, within a limited context, whereas an emphasis on culture--symbol, story, nuance, philosophy, art, history, religion, language, ethics, and experience--results in greater understanding, in a relational context. Culture is not easily measured by multiple choice and true and false tests. Test taking skills are measured by tests. Only a small fraction of the learning styles and intelligences natural to humanity fit into the public schooling model of education. The "smart" people are the ones who best fit into that limited fraction and who are the most obedient and compliant to outside authority.

Despite my sometimes negative impressions of radical unschooling, I am continuing to open my mind, little by little, to its potential goodness. Yes, I believe that it sometimes goes too far in the name of "freedom" and veers into the perils of unparenting and neglect. But within the peaceful borders of what I believe to be the truth of the Catholic faith, I see the promise of a beautiful, thriving garden of limitless possibility for a better future for humanity. A sea change, one mindful family at a time.

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