Friday, November 19, 2010

Clash of the learning styles

Or really, of the 'teaching' styles.

Once again, pardon me as I jump waaaaay ahead here to NOW.  Yes, I'll of course go back and catch you up on the rest of our trip down the east coast, but right now, well, I'm in the now.

Also, please forgive the messed up font size below.  I can't figure the gosh darn thing out now and I'm tired and I want to go to bed.  Sorry.

Anyway, we're here in sunny hot Florida to see my Mom, who flew in from overseas, and her parents.  It was my Grampa Nonny's 99th (!!!!!!!!!!) birthday on Sunday!  Whew!  Wow!  Or as he says, just takin' it one day at a time. 


Does he not look AMAZING?!?!  They both do!  They are in relatively great shape too, given the time they've spent on this earth. They are extremely awesome grandparents.  Always were.

As exciting and wonderful as that day was, and I will go back to write a detailed entry on it when I finally catch up, it's not why I'm writing tonight.

While here in FL we're staying with my Mom at my Grandparent's apartment.  They currently live in an assisted living facility.  We arrived, put the RV in storage and had a wild time removing everything we thought we'd need during our relatively long stay here. Of course going back to get more stuff is inevitable.  It took only 3 days to realize we needed several items and back we went.....I'm sure we'll be there several more times as the weeks go by.  It'll be quite a feat taking it all back.  I'm getting side tracked again though.

So, we're staying here with my Mom.  My Mom has had a year or two to learn and adjust (?) to my idea of semi unschooling.  Like I was/am, she's very much an 'in the box' type of person.  Uh, wait a minute.  Did you catch that?  I just put her in a box myself! Yiesh!!  Old habits die hard.  Not to mention that I guess you might not classify a homeschooling RV livin' Mom as an in the box type of person :-).  But I am, believe me it's a struggle.  It took me a while to explain and try and justify the notion of unschooling to her. I know, I don't have to justify it, but I would like her to be somewhat on board here cause, well, I care.  No, it won't change my mind if she's not on board, but, I care.

Well, she still very much likes to see my kids (or any other I suppose) 'sit down' and 'do their work'.  She likes to see them 'do something productive', as opposed to 'just' laying on the couch humming to themselves.  She's getting Inventor to earn new legos, piece by piece, by reading to her.  Is he going for it?  You bechya.  There's a reason bribing (in the form of prizes, privileges, gold stars and grades) is so popular in school, and out.  Am I going along with it?  Yes, for the moment.  I know it's not a long term thing, and besides, it's cute to watch the two of them sit together hunched over a book.


I understand her, I really do.  I assume most people would understand and agree with her too.  I was like that, as it applied to all aspects of parenting, not just the homeschooling part of it.  I still am to a large extent.  Ask any thoroughbred (i.e. all encompassing) unschooler and they'll tell you I'm so not an unschooler.  It's real easy to fall into those familiar patterns of the 'do this and you'll get that' approach, again.  That part I am still fighting with on a daily basis, with myself that is.

As far as 'school' stuff goes, well, there really is no such thing for us.  Or at least I try for there to be no such thing.  I try and hope to make everything part of that so called school, better known as plain old life.  Not really plain old though since the whole idea is to explore, see, do, think, have adventures, sit quietly, play, sing, lie on the couch and hum to ourselves, etc.  The whole idea is not really to make every moment a learning experience, which it so totally is, but to live every moment.

Alfie Kohn, in 1999, said: "Ultimately, we want to call into question the whole idea of a curriculum to be “covered” and to think instead about ideas to be discovered.” I love that!  We get so much out of sitting around doing 'nothing'.  Day dreaming leads to thinking which leads to ideas which may or may not lead to action.  But without a chance to daydream and 'do nothing' our imagination doesn't get a chance to operate fully.  It doesn't get a chance to discover!  Imagination can have a hard time functioning with rules or on a schedule....

David Elkind, a veteran unschooler, said in 1989 that a “child whose self-directed learning is interfered with, who is forced to follow adult learning priorities may acquire a strong sense of guilt about any self-initiated activities.  One risk of early formal instruction, then, is that it may encourage a sense of guilt at the expense of a sense of initiative.”

I try never to stop my kids from doing 'nothing'.  I don't see it as nothing.  Whatever it is they're doing is of their choosing and serves some kind of purpose, for them, if for nobody else.  It is from that 'nothing' that they will come up with their own ideas, plans, activities, etc.  And there's the key word, theirs. I want them to grow up and pursue their desires, dreams and ideas.  If a child is not given the chance to self direct his or her learning and his or her life, how will they get a chance to 'practice' doing what they want.  Where will they even get the sense the it's OK to do what they want?  This world is so preoccupied with doing what you should do instead of what you want to do, someone has to step in and tell these kids hey, you can and follow your dreams and it's OOOKKKK!  It's way more than OK, it's what we all should be doing!

I also try to 'school' along these lines of self initiation.  I said try.  There are many occasions I say, ok, pull out those books and lets do some math.  Even though I feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards, I'm still not crazy about it.  Even though it's usually not a big deal for the kids, they go along very easily most of the time, it doesn't feel right.  The fact of the matter is that since I've tried to lay off, Analyzer voluntarily takes her math in the car for the drives and Inventor now can knock out two to three pages of his phonics book with little to no pain and most importantly, no prodding from me!  Of course I'm not even addressing Whirlwind here, he's 5 and a half people!  Though now that I did mention him I can tell you that he asks for his 'handwriting book' and his 'worksheets'.

Back to that whole bribery thing that's going on here with between my Mom and Inventor though.  The wonderful Alfie Kohn also addresses that whole notion in his book Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes.  That book deserves an entry of its own.  Or two or three.  I can tell you right now that yes, it's working for the moment.  Yes, Inventor is reading for my Mom and doing it semi happily too.  Yes, the more reading he does the better reader he'll be.  No argument there.  I do not think however that this external motivation is what's going to make his reading take off.  I hold to the notion that it needs to come from him.  That internal motivation, for his own reasons at his own pace, is what's really going to make the difference.  I also hold to the notion that if you force him to do it at the 'right' pace in order to keep up with the Jones's, or his age group, he'll hate every minute of it and worse, he'll develop an animosity towards reading!  Now THAT would be criminal.  Taking a little longer to do what he 'should be doing by his age', is NOT.

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