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Another unschooling thread - special needs?


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So, years ago, before C was even born, my plan was to unschool him. And then, he ended up having some major delays wrt speech/language/communication, and eventually ended up with an HFA label after we put him in school (because we were poor and stressed out at the time, so given everything, it seemed best to put him in school).

 

Anyway... I am still trying to figure things out (aren't we all). One big part of the unschooling philosophy (afaik) is the "kids learn to walk and talk without instruction, so...". But, C didn't learn to talk without instruction. Maybe he would've, but he had plenty of speech therapy, and still has speech therapy, etc. He didn't even learn to look where I was pointing until he was 3 or 4 or so. A lot of normal skills that kids learn with little or no instruction were things that took a lot of effort to teach him, when he was quite a bit older than the age most kids learn those skills (and then, there are things that were easy for him that other kids find hard).

 

Not entirely sure where I'm going with this. I felt like a failure as a parent for a while, and more or less have overcome that, but I have much less confidence in kids' innate desire to learn than I did before I had C. I've turned into a much different parent than I wanted to be, and a large part of me feels like I have to be the way I am... but another part hates it when I force things because part of me doubts the necessity of forcing things. Feeling so conflicted at times.

 

Anyway... advice, BTDTs, etc? I know it doesn't have to be black-and-white and all that... but finding the right shade of gray is hard enough.

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Very much the same situation here. I would consider myself extremely negligent if I was to unschool dd for any significant amount of time.

 

Kid #2 would have been a feral unschooler. He was special in a whole different way and feral unschooling would have been the only workable option. :p

 

It seems to me, the further along the special spectrum a kiddie is, the fewer workable options we have, and the more black or white it gets.

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Hi, OP. I was unschooled myself through the high school years. Instead of focusing on textbooks and lessons, my mom and dad moved my 2 sisters and I to the country and encouraged us to learn about things actively and according to our interests. We always had a very impressive stand at the homeschool coop end of year get togethers because other families would have school work and we would have real stuff, like stuff from our garden. Two of us, me included, wish we had had a more rigorous high school education because it caused problems in getting the high scores we needed on graduate exams and had problems with timed writing. On the other hand all of us have gone to college and gotten above a 3.5 GPA. One sister even went to graduate school, and I plan to in 2016.

 

Then I got married and had my son. He has had issues since he was born, first it was failure to thrive and then he had issues developing according to "schedule". He is very altert, active, and smart though. He just isn't very motivated academically. For a while people made me feel like I had to put him in school ( preschool even!) so he could develop normally and my confidence was shattered as a mother. Homeschooler generally teach like you said that children learn talking, eating, potty training and all that pretty naturally, but my son is not like that. It takes a very concerted effort to teach him things for him to learn. Last year after he started public school and we moved to a city area with a very substandard special needs program and a teacher who did not like him, we decided to pull him out and homeschool him ourselves. I found out through research that there are online public school charter schools that actually send you materials, have live classes and teachers, and he still has an IEP so we enrolled him in that. Funny thing is he is doing so much better now with us! Even with our faults we do a better job, with a little guidance, at helping his development than the educational establishment. He took forever in brick and mortar school just to learn to count to 5 and he knew hardly any letters, and very quickly after I pulled him out he was counting to 20. He now knows quite a few letters as well. His pottry training is taking off ( he hadn't been potty trained very well being in school half of the day). I do have the opinion now that unschooling would NOT be a good fit for him. He needs some academic structure so he will learn even if it is just directed by us in having him work on some workbook pages, or at the computer, or teaching him life skills. I think there needs to be a generally idea by the parents and goals for the day so young children can thrive.

 

Oh, I wanted to add that it is amazing how bad public schools are with special needs children. In his class they expected him to do workbooks most of the day! It is so ridiculous for a speial needs boy who is very active to sit still all day. He just can't do it. And then they wonder why there is an obesity epidemic when children are being taught not to move in public schools. Another issue, the biggest for me, is that the segregated the special needs kids in the school. Before school and at luch they have a special round table while the rest of the school has regular long rectangular tables, so regular kids would learn that they are the weird kids in the school and should be shunned. He also started feelng stupid, which really hurt my heart for him. We now have him say that he is not dumb and is smart in our school so he will have confidence in himself. Furthermore, my son had some behavior issues in the class even though he had already gone through 3 year of preschool pretty succesfully with a minor hicup here and there. H eas getting out of control in the class. This behavior problem even began to leak to other places. Funny thing is that almost immediately after we pulled him out his behavior went back to normal and he hasn't had many problems when out in public. Because of the behavior problem, in his parent teacher meeting they blamed us for the problem when it wasn't our fault that they couldn't control him in class. They wanted to do a behavior intervention on him and wouldn't let him go to art, music or recess, even special events. His teacher didn't even do anything to help him be pottry trained. He would always come home with a wet diaper and all the diapers I had put in his backpack still there.  I am never going to put him back in public school, but I may decide to put him in a private special needs school or christian school in the future.

 

Sorry for the long post. This is a topic close to my heart. It is nice that someone else has gone through similar issues

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I think we all differ in how much of any particular topic we're able to learn by exposure and immersion. Some of us need explicit instruction in grammar rules, phonics, social skills, painting, observation skills, one to one correspondence with natural numbers, initiating tasks - yet others can learn many of these things intuitively. Also, some of us (Rosie's feral unschooler?) were just never going to respond to lessons very well anyway, so almost all learning is done naturally. :)

 

Natural learning is often given as a justification for not providing formal instruction in more traditionally academic domains, but I don't believe that this implies that unschooling is necessarily exclusive of direct instruction when it IS required. I used to believe that all children were naturally very curious, but I'm becoming less sure of this. I do think there is value in cultivating curiosity, but I don't know that it's a great idea to wait around for it, for all children.

 

What is it that attracts you to unschooling, luuknam?

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I would love to unschool my kids because they all loathe direct instruction from me but it really wouldn't work well for us. My DD needs explicit instruction in everything. She doesn't have any diagnosed special needs but you know how some kids are just "off" ..well that's how she is and has always been. She never learnt to talk until she had speech therapy and then made rapid progress. She would never have learnt to read without explicit, mind numbing lessons day after day but then once she got it she took off rapidly. There is no way she would learn math naturally... she doesn't make leaps..she learns by tiny step by step by step ( love CLE). I think she has dysgraphia...so writing is something she has to be trained in step by step as well. She does learn and pick things up but she is just not a self learner.

 

My DS1 is gifted and picks things up in the blink of an eye and makes the leaps and teaches himself a lot of things like how to read...he just gets everything. But he is not a self starter. It doesnt matter how much he is interested in something...I literally have to notice his interests myself and then basically put it into his hands before he will do anything about it. It's just the way he is with everything...not an initiator.

 

My DS2 I am still not sure what to do about him...he loathes school work..loathes it.. He is smart and picks things up on his own and if he is interested in something will harrass me for days till I get things going for him...but his fine motor skills are off ...he is 6 and can't draw beyond a scribble, can't write any letters, can't even hold a pencil properly yet. He avoids these tasks because he doesn't like " schoolwork" so I have to intentionally insist or he won't get any practice. Plus he is stubborn as all get out...he is only interested in what he is interested in...which means if he is on a Batman kick it's nothing but Batman for months. Right now he is on a Kitty jibe and will ONLY read books about kitties etc etc ( or Batman..he always has time for Batman). He is also screen addicted...he wants to do nothing but play the Wii or the Ipad all day and night long ( which I don't let him) but it is all he can think about.

 

Anyway...I am envious of people who say there kids pursue their interests. Mine do...if it's Shopkins or Skylanders or whatever the toy of the month is lol.

I have to teach my kids explicitly..unschooling doesnt work for them. We do short lessons in the morning and they usually have free time all afternoon...most of which is spent playing outside or playing inside...no persuing academic interests at all. My kids all love to read and yet they won't even do that unless I tell them its specific reading time and turn on the timer...they are too active and run around the house every minute of free time they get.

 

Don't feel bad if you can't unschool your child...some children really do need explicit instruction to learn things. I may have to unschool my 6 yo by default like Rosie mentioned because he has so little interest in any type of me teaching him. He has wanted to be a fireman since he was 2 and still does so maybe he'll turn out ok without going to Uni in the end. lol.

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There is a fundamental, scientific flaw in the unschooling argument that because children learn to walk and talk without instruction, they can learn anything that way. Walking and talking are skills that are, as neurologists say, "hard wired" in the human brain. Humans, as a species, have been bipedal for about 6 million years. We have been talking for somewhere around 100,000 years. These functions are something humans have evolved to do and involve certain specific areas of the brain. So, barring some specific damage, most of us will, in fact, learn to walk and talk simply by immersion.

 

Reading and other skills are much, much newer. The vast majority of the human population has only been exposed to written language for, at most, a few hundred years. The brain simply has not had time to evolve a specific way of attacking written language. Many kids who struggle with reading, and are said to have a learning "disability," do not really have a disability at all. They are simply processing written language differently (in a different location) in their brains. That different processing also has tremendous advantages (hence, all the incidence of gifted dyslexics). So learning to read easily and fluently actually requires direct instruction for these kids. And, we are not talking about a small minority here, but rather somewhere between 30-60% of the population requires some amount of direct instruction to unlock the written code.

 

So, just because some unschoolers have seen kids read seemingly without instruction, that does not mean that every kid can learn that way. The same is true for many other skills. 

 

I completely sympathize with feeling conflicted. But, if something is not working, don't beat yourself up about finding a better way. Too much adherence to any method or ideology is bound to make us all feel like there is something wrong with us. There is nothing wrong with combining some direct skill instruction at the same time you search to find things that your child loves to do. It's hard enough to step outside the school doctrine, don't let unschooling provide another doctrine that makes you feel equally as trapped.

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You are absolutely right, most kids walk and talk with no instruction, some really need help or they won't learn, and some tragically really struggle no matter what you do. With reading, most kids will learn with minimal instruction (60-80% by some estimates-maybe fewer- which is why whole language is very popular) the rest need much more detailed, specific instructions. Math, I suspect, the percentage who will learn without instruction is much lower. 

 

The really successful unschoolers I have met are usually pretty driven people with pretty driven kids. They are forever dreaming up and finding projects, running to the library for books on the latest craze, and teaching their kids daily (they just don't use formal resources). Most of the ones I knew really limited screen time and other distractions. If they did screens at all, it was for more educational purposes (minecraft programming being popular). Sometimes the kids don't learn basic skills despite the very rich environment, and then they do tend to jump in and teach formally, because they have to. Most I've known eventually went to a formal math program, though with little ones, play based math usually works very well. 

 

I don't unschool, though I love the idea. I would have thrived in that environment as a middle-grade and high school student, but I know my kids would not. My oldest is pretty self motivated, but with his ASD he tends to have one special subject, so he would spend all day playing and writing music and studying scores, which would be great, but would miss a few critical things :-}. T and D do benefit from some instruction in math and reading, and M is just starting, so hard to know. Also, I work outside the home, so school has to get done in a set amount of time on my schedule, which makes interest led learning really difficult. I really don't have time to help them with projects, run to the library 3 times/week, and facilitate. The routine is also good for them. They do tend to follow their own rabbit trails, and I certainly encourage and support that, help them with resources, and such when it happens. 

 

Anyway, I do know lots of unschoolers who make it work, but it is a lot of work for the parents to do it well. I suspect you are right, for many special needs kiddos, you really can't assume they will figure it out on their own. And of course, the experience of your own child needing help certainly makes you question the assumptions (and fair enough). I suspect, like most things, it really depends on the parents and kids involved, and their inherent skills, time, beliefs, and a ton of other factors. Interesting thread!

 

 

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I don't have any BTDT experience with this, but this is generally my one big problem with unschooling - that it's a problem for a lot of kids with learning issues. In your case, OP, you know what the issues are going in. But one thing that I feel like I've seen on comments on boards and so forth is unschooled kids where the parents don't know there are issues. And then when the child doesn't attempt any basic academic skills, those issues go undiscovered for many years more than they would have otherwise. Which, sometimes can be okay - a child can do other learning, can eventually find their own way to solving their issues by asking for help, can sometimes be treated better as "smart" and whole than a kid who is diagnosed with a laundry list of problems. But other times, kids in that situation end up with no self-esteem, no motivation to try, and they're radically behind in critical skills - like they become teens who can barely read or do math - and unlike a kid who doesn't have learning issues, they can't pick it up quickly. It will always take them more time than their peers. :(

 

In your case, OP, maybe there are ways to carve out some aspects of unschooling that drew you to it in the first place even though you can't come close to doing it whole hog. Maybe you can make a time for more child-led learning with him?

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So, years ago, before C was even born, my plan was to unschool him. And then, he ended up having some major delays wrt speech/language/communication, and eventually ended up with an HFA label after we put him in school (because we were poor and stressed out at the time, so given everything, it seemed best to put him in school).

 

Anyway... I am still trying to figure things out (aren't we all). One big part of the unschooling philosophy (afaik) is the "kids learn to walk and talk without instruction, so...". But, C didn't learn to talk without instruction. Maybe he would've, but he had plenty of speech therapy, and still has speech therapy, etc. He didn't even learn to look where I was pointing until he was 3 or 4 or so. A lot of normal skills that kids learn with little or no instruction were things that took a lot of effort to teach him, when he was quite a bit older than the age most kids learn those skills (and then, there are things that were easy for him that other kids find hard).

 

Not entirely sure where I'm going with this. I felt like a failure as a parent for a while, and more or less have overcome that, but I have much less confidence in kids' innate desire to learn than I did before I had C. I've turned into a much different parent than I wanted to be, and a large part of me feels like I have to be the way I am... but another part hates it when I force things because part of me doubts the necessity of forcing things. Feeling so conflicted at times.

 

Anyway... advice, BTDTs, etc? I know it doesn't have to be black-and-white and all that... but finding the right shade of gray is hard enough.

 

:grouphug: 

 

You have to do what your dc need. A child who has special needs....has special needs. As an unschooler, you might help him achieve things differently than the Experts suggest, on his own timeline and not Theirs, using methods that They would not recommend, but if what They recommend helps him, then do that.

 

Have you read John Holt's books? They are full of examples of learning that doesn't look like school, which is the point of unschooling. But the important thing would be helping your child learn as much as he can.

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My 19yo son has dyslexia as well as some sensory processing issues and ADHD.  He went to a Montessori school from ages 3 to just-turned-7, which corresponded to preK, K, and 1st.  Montessori is similar to unschooling in that it is essentially child led learning in a prepared environment.

 

My son learned very little.  What he did learn was due to the heroic efforts of his kindergarten teacher, where she essentially gave him one-on-one tutoring each day that year.  He lost skills during his 1st grade year because he was supposed to teach himself.

 

My son needed structured, direct, and consistent instruction to learn anything academic when he was young.  Child led learning was completely ineffective for him because learning was so difficult that he would avoid it (and would instead bother the other kids in the class).

 

I would not unschool a child who has a demonstrated need to be explicitly taught.  However, you could do some interest led learning for history, science, and literature, which might feel more like unschooling.

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I agree with Rosie. 

NONE of my kids are the type that can (or will) learn certain things without explicit instruction.

DS3 has a serious speech delay. 

DS6 has physical delays related to his medical needs, and we strongly suspect dyslexia.

DD14 we know is dyslexic, and never would have learned to read without explicit instruction.

 

It kills me when I'm on homeschool boards that lean more unschooling and the advice is (no matter the needs a specific child has) "unschool - no matter what - do not force anything." There are children who can't (and there are children who simply WON'T) learn without explicit instruction. 

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When I looked into how unschooling works, I heard a lot of platitudes like "kids learn to walk and talk without instruction, so..." and I couldn't help but wonder... how. Who says, and why do they say this? How do I know that's not just a comforting though applied after the fact because someone's kid had great mentors and the world was literally his oyster? Show me the money, kwim? I think it's unfortunate that unschooling is promoted as this mysterious potential, shrouded in this miasma of success and fun and excitement and wonder. I don't think it's unfortunate because it's not like that, but because that's not really giving anyone any useful information. How can one prepare without information? I think that's just setting up people to jump in, not know what to do, not know what to interpret, freak out, and panic. That's not fair to parent or child. 

 

I think it's worth noting that unschooling is a kind of ideology, not an equation. One can modify the ideology to suit their individual needs. I would never give up the opportunity for the therapy my kid had, and I think therapy at a young age is the best indicator of independence in adulthood. We utilized therapy. Lots of therapy. We incorporated formal therapy into our days and incorporated a lot of therapy that looked like natural play. We used a positive reward system and ignored inappropriate behavior for as long as that could take us. We tried and applied lots of different things, and had some measure of success with each one (sometimes, I counted the success as my increasing skill to weed the competent therapists from morons without having to drop another dime, or simply to get to know what makes my kids "tick" better). I think if you can incorporate therapy into your day at home without formal school instruction, go for it. If you can incorporate therapy into your day in a way that seems organic and natural, go for it. If it works better to have a formal plan and keep to a particular schedule, go for it. Do what works for your child. I would echo Ellie's advice and really learn about the ideology before relying on it. 

 

We didn't unschool from the beginning, so I don't have any BTDT advice for you, but I think it's okay to recognize and articulate to yourself what you'd like, and then recognize and articulate to yourself what you need, and then find a way to incorporate what you like into what you need. And I think it's okay to give yourself permission to register any regrets later. Chances are, you'll find you won't regret doing what works.

 

 

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It kills me when I'm on homeschool boards that lean more unschooling and the advice is (no matter the needs a specific child has) "unschool - no matter what - do not force anything." There are children who can't (and there are children who simply WON'T) learn without explicit instruction. 

 

It kills me, too, because unschooling isn't anti-instruction. How many kids learned to tie their shoes without instruction?

 

;)

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Wow, not being all that interested in unschooling, I never heard that "well, they learn to walk and talk without instruction" -- and imo that's a completely illogical statement.  Most kids learn to walk and talk -- with a near constant example before them of others walking and talking.     OTH, reading/writing/math don't have those 'out there/in your face' constant examples -- they are more hidden from the child's view unless the parent purposefully puts them out there. 

 

Even reading to your child -- how much do you do that compared to how much you walk/talk.  And most of the actual physical moves of it are so small and tiny, how can the child copy it on their own.  My 'natural reader demanded a finger pointing to the words as they were read -- but that seems pretty clear to me that she was recognizing that I was doing something to track the words and she wasn't certain what it was.  

 

And even discounting that, most aren't learning walking/talking 100% on their own anyway -- parents (and others) are holding their hands while they try and walk and are saying the same words back to them correctly pronounced (or with correct grammar)  -- mostly done without even thinking about it/paying attention.      

 

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It kills me when I'm on homeschool boards that lean more unschooling and the advice is (no matter the needs a specific child has) "unschool - no matter what - do not force anything."

 

Which is why I'm asking here, rather than on an unschooling forum. :)

 

What is it that attracts you to unschooling, luuknam?

 

Initially, mostly because I learned stuff outside of school before it was taught in school. I was that kid who'd read all sorts of books and do all sorts of educational things for fun. And that was with minimal help and a large chunk of my time being taken up by school. I sometimes joke that the only thing I learned in school was reading, which took only a couple of weeks (my mom tried to teach me the summer before 1st grade because I was begging her, but she used whole word, whereas the school used phonics... as soon as the teacher in 1st grade was like, okay, this letter makes this sound, my reading took off).

 

Other than that, the non-coercive nature of unschooling has its appealing, both because I'm not a huge fan of fights over "sit down and read this book" etc, and because I think that such an antagonistic environment is not very helpful in making a child learn to love learning, nor do I believe kids learn/retain much when they're being forced to sit and listen/read/etc. Of course, there are other ways to 'make' a child study something, including bribery, but I don't want to bribe my kids all day long either. Either way, I don't think the efficiency/effectiveness of forced learning is as high as that of voluntary learning... but, if the kid doesn't ever want to learn important skills, then I feel that it'd be better to make the kid than to wait forever for the kid to develop a desire to learn.

 

Someone mentioned reading. I agree that it's different from talking and walking, but most kids would (sooner or later) develop a desire to learn to read, even if they wouldn't figure it out without help (like I mentioned above, I begged my mom to teach me). I'm absolutely not against direct instruction if a kid asks for it. I have more issues with the things that a kid throws a tantrum about because he does.not.want.to.do.it. FWIW, C learned to talk by means of reading... he wouldn't say stuff (except for a few words) in order to get what he wanted, nor say/repeat words if I pointed to a picture. But I discovered at some point that if I wrote the word down and then said it, pointing at the word, he'd try to repeat it. Point at a picture of cake, nothing. Have an actual cake, and he wouldn't say cake (though he'd probably say 'dee', which was his word for 'eat'). Write the word 'cake', and say it, and he'd suddenly repeat it. His talking took off when we got TV and we always had the subtitles on when the TV was on. He quickly was well ahead in reading skills. Ironically, he's a guesser when reading... I did a phonics program with him between K and 1st, so he's better at sounding things out now, but he still prefers to guess.

 

His development is just plain weird. His skills were all over the place (currently not quite as scattered), and some things that used to be his strengths are now his weaknesses and vice versa. He's got the basics down now (reading, writing, arithmetic - he was tested in the summer of 2014 and he scored average or above average in all of academics), but I'm just a lot more skeptical about kids' desire to learn. None of us have a crystal ball, but I don't know what would happen if I were to transition towards a much more child-led kind of education. So, yeah... my kid isn't me, my kid isn't my other kid, and I'm confused about my philosophy of education. Oh, and I live in NY, so we're in a high regulation state, which feels like I have less leeway to experiment (plus, I'm not sure how much I *want* to experiment). Due to several things I also view the world as a more hostile place than I did before, and have much less of an "everything will work out" kind of attitude about life. Unschooling requires a lot of trust, and I'm quite low on trust, and I hate that I'm so low on trust, but that's the way things are.

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Wow, not being all that interested in unschooling, I never heard that "well, they learn to walk and talk without instruction" -- and imo that's a completely illogical statement.  Most kids learn to walk and talk -- with a near constant example before them of others walking and talking.     OTH, reading/writing/math don't have those 'out there/in your face' constant examples -- they are more hidden from the child's view unless the parent purposefully puts them out there. 

 

Even reading to your child -- how much do you do that compared to how much you walk/talk.  And most of the actual physical moves of it are so small and tiny, how can the child copy it on their own.  My 'natural reader demanded a finger pointing to the words as they were read -- but that seems pretty clear to me that she was recognizing that I was doing something to track the words and she wasn't certain what it was.  

 

And even discounting that, most aren't learning walking/talking 100% on their own anyway -- parents (and others) are holding their hands while they try and walk and are saying the same words back to them correctly pronounced (or with correct grammar)  -- mostly done without even thinking about it/paying attention.      

 

Parents helping their kids walk and talk is the same as parents helping their kids read and write. It's just a more complex behavior that requires more time and effort. Kids do learn without instruction. Humans do. We've evolved over millions of years to learn. We do so in part by identifying patterns and making reasonable predictions. We've evolved to take these predictions to plan ahead. We've evolved to create tools and communicate with each other (some research suggests these are linked skills, neurologically). None of these things require lessons. They simply are a part of human behavior.

 

Unschooling isn't about ignoring a child's activities and checking in with him every couple months to see if he has figured out how to decode written language yet. It's about providing a learning-rich environment, and that includes mentoring, providing instruction when helpful, and providing a well rounded database of knowledge for the benefit of the student. Sometimes that takes complex instruction, and sometimes it takes independent trial and error. None of this conflicts with unschooling ideals. 

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I have learned this:

 

Just because our children need explicit instruction in some areas, we don't need to abandon the unschooling style relationship with our children. I may need to spell out x,y,z, or require practice when I wish I didn't need to, but that doesn't mean I set up this teacher/student paradigm and go whole hog on the school-at-home methods and philosophies.

 

Does that make sense?

 

I feel as if I'm aligning more and more with John Holt (whom I've always admired) as the new, "rigorous" homeschooling picture emerges. It seems to me that many of the newbie hs'ers are more strict and unyielding than I ever could have been, possibly in response to a concern about keeping up with the developmentally inappropriate education styles of the day, perhaps because they are part of the generation upon whom the new methods were forced...I don't know. Where I would have canceled the bookwork part of the day over un-fixable attitudes and gone to the park or played games, instead, they are knuckling down because "he should be able to do it, even though it's three years above his grade level, he's just being stubborn."

 

On the one hand, I'm always saying, "Yes, your child needs to learn to write, and you need to 'do school' every day. Whatever you've heard about unschooling, if you don't interact with your child and tend to his needs, who will?" On the other hand, I want to say, "It's great that he's learning Latin, but you shouldn't keep him out of ps just to tie him to your dining room table with no breaks or snacks until he does everything you say."

 

Or am I the only one seeing these things...

 

Keep the relationship. This is how some of us see our kids through Latin, Greek, Physics, etc. and send them off to college well-prepared while having more in common with unschoolers than with school-at-homers...there was never a day in the life of my homeschooled kid that I cared more about the lesson than about him. There was never a day in his life when it wouldn't have been OK with me if he never went to college. These attitudes make the difference.

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Parents helping their kids walk and talk is the same as parents helping their kids read and write. It's just a more complex behavior that requires more time and effort. Kids do learn without instruction. Humans do. We've evolved over millions of years to learn. We do so in part by identifying patterns and making reasonable predictions. We've evolved to take these predictions to plan ahead. We've evolved to create tools and communicate with each other (some research suggests these are linked skills, neurologically). None of these things require lessons. They simply are a part of human behavior.

 

Unschooling isn't about ignoring a child's activities and checking in with him every couple months to see if he has figured out how to decode written language yet. It's about providing a learning-rich environment, and that includes mentoring, providing instruction when helpful, and providing a well rounded database of knowledge for the benefit of the student. Sometimes that takes complex instruction, and sometimes it takes independent trial and error. None of this conflicts with unschooling ideals. 

 

I cannot agree that learning to walk or talk 'without instruction' -- both of which have near constant example and much unconsciously given correction/help -- is anything near the same as to learning to read or do math 'without instruction' -- both of which would require consciously given example/correction/help with little likelihood of being near the amount that walking or talking get 'naturally'.

 

This is not to say or imply that no one could possibly unschool -- of course people can and do unschool successfully -- but the comparison is not a valid one. 

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Have you read John Holt's books? They are full of examples of learning that doesn't look like school, which is the point of unschooling. But the important thing would be helping your child learn as much as he can.

 

I read at least one of his books, maybe more, but that was over 8 years ago, so it's been a while.

 

And (general statement, not to you, Ellie), I'm seriously regretting even mentioning the "walking and talking" thing... I know that there are flaws in that analogy; my point was that even IF the analogy was right, the premise (walking and talking coming naturally) didn't work out so well for my kid.

 

Just... not sure what I believe about the nature of the world, the nature of child development in general and my kid in specific, the ethics of parenting one way vs another way, etc.

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My son is autistic as well and I am very skeptical that he would learn anything if his education was mostly experiential. 

 

As a child, he stuck to a script during his imaginative play, and to some extent he still does. I send him outside to play and every time, for the past five years, he comes to the door and says he doesn't know how. We will buy him a new toy and this will entertain him for a bit, but he does not entertain himself very well.

 

I feel like I have to really work to engage him. Some subjects are "just sit there and do it" but others we do together and enjoy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luuknam, we all have a RESPONSIBILITY to our children to ensure that they are educated to the point of being able to function in society by the time they are grown. To that end, there are different paths to get there. While I'm not a proponent of unschooling, I have known successful unschoolers in my 15 years of homeschooling, and I've known some not-so-successful ones too. I've come to the conclusion that it isn't so much about the method, but rather comes down to relationship and motivation, no matter the method.

 

In other words, you'll be fine, I can tell, because you care and are motivated to make this homeschooling thing work, regardless of which method you choose. :)

 

Thanks Karen. :) The whole "functioning in society" thing is one of the things I find to be tricky. For one, I don't know what will be necessary 10+ years from now. More importantly, I feel like I messed up as a young adult. Functioning in society requires a lot more than having strong academic skills. And you can't prepare your kids for *every* possible eventuality. My parents didn't foresee me marrying a bipolar person (who later came out as trans, and who may be on the autistic spectrum too), having an almost non-verbal high-functioning autistic kid (who is doing well now, but was a big stress at the time), and unemployment in a foreign country during a period of recession with not much of a safety net. Things worked out in the end, but things really really sucked for a long time, and that really colors how I see the world. 

 

I don't want to parent/teach from fear, but I don't know what all my kids will need to be able to do by the time they're adults. There are common sense things... I wouldn't want to have an illiterate 18yo, obviously, and I'm not even concerned about the rat race where people try to give their kids every possible edge to get into Harvard (I'm sure you can function in society without Harvard, now and 10+ years from now as well), but... I dunno. It's the stuff I don't know that concerns me. The stuff that's hard to measure, like the soft skills, along with skepticism about the more measurable academic skills other people are so concerned about (yes, academic skills are important... they're just not the be-all-end-all, nor do I think that academic knowledge that you don't know how or when to apply other than on a multiple choice test does anyone any good).

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Initially, mostly because I learned stuff outside of school before it was taught in school. I was that kid who'd read all sorts of books and do all sorts of educational things for fun. And that was with minimal help and a large chunk of my time being taken up by school. I sometimes joke that the only thing I learned in school was reading, which took only a couple of weeks (my mom tried to teach me the summer before 1st grade because I was begging her, but she used whole word, whereas the school used phonics... as soon as the teacher in 1st grade was like, okay, this letter makes this sound, my reading took off).

 

Other than that, the non-coercive nature of unschooling has its appealing, both because I'm not a huge fan of fights over "sit down and read this book" etc, and because I think that such an antagonistic environment is not very helpful in making a child learn to love learning, nor do I believe kids learn/retain much when they're being forced to sit and listen/read/etc. Of course, there are other ways to 'make' a child study something, including bribery, but I don't want to bribe my kids all day long either. Either way, I don't think the efficiency/effectiveness of forced learning is as high as that of voluntary learning... but, if the kid doesn't ever want to learn important skills, then I feel that it'd be better to make the kid than to wait forever for the kid to develop a desire to learn.

 

Your use of written words to facilitate spoken words is an example of an unschooling approach to learning. I don't think you'll find this kind of problem solving from a standard curriculum, and if your child's development is all over the map, standard curricula would contribute to adding pressure for the sake of keeping up with most peers. I can't see the value in that if the skills can be learned in conjunction with the child's own cognitive development. To this end, you may wish to keep abreast of what your state's public school scope and sequence is so that you can introduce certain concepts through guerrilla learning styles. You'd want to find out from unschoolers in your state how to keep records, and whether or not an IEP is worthwhile. 

 

Someone mentioned reading. I agree that it's different from talking and walking, but most kids would (sooner or later) develop a desire to learn to read, even if they wouldn't figure it out without help (like I mentioned above, I begged my mom to teach me). I'm absolutely not against direct instruction if a kid asks for it.

 

That's got to be the weirdest thing I hear about unschooling - the idea that instructions are verboten. 

 

I agree with you that learning to read and write develop along natural curiosities. They are, after all, great skills to have and unleash a treasure trove of information. Why would anyone not want to have that power? 

 

but I'm just a lot more skeptical about kids' desire to learn. None of us have a crystal ball, but I don't know what would happen if I were to transition towards a much more child-led kind of education. So, yeah... my kid isn't me, my kid isn't my other kid, and I'm confused about my philosophy of education. Oh, and I live in NY, so we're in a high regulation state, which feels like I have less leeway to experiment (plus, I'm not sure how much I *want* to experiment).

 

Fwiw, my understanding of unschooling is that kids learn through play. As they get older, their play gets more sophisticated, they incorporate more details and more knowledge into the experience. Along the way, they learn to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. As they mature, they learn to anticipate potential problems, and avoid them by reducing risks to sabotage their goals. Your kids are so young, you'll see them play and get stumped and figure things out and get it wrong and try again and finally get it right a billion times before the end of every week. These are the skills that contribute to learning. By the time they are teens, most kids have established a visible trend in interests when they've been given autonomy over their own time. Those academic skills that haven't come along can be caught up in for the sake of obtaining one's long term goal (which is getting paid for what they enjoy doing, ie, a career). By the time they're teens, they get the value of doing grunt work in order to support a greater goal. It may take a parent to articulate this, but in my experience, the skill is there, they just haven't yet applied it in that direction. 

 

I would encourage you to move into an unschooling style slowly, and only as you're comfortable. I wouldn't suggest giving it a try for a semester. I think that sets kids and parents up for failure. I would suggest dropping the one area in your academic day you find least valuable and with that increased free time, watch what your child gravitates towards. As you drop subjects, as their free time expands, you'll have the time to step in and help, mentor when needed, lead when you think they'd be interested, and yes, even instruct when they're stuck. I would encourage you to do this only with regard to play. Let them play in their free time. Resist the temptation to make a lesson out of any experience, as nothing kills a joy faster than some adult telling you you've just learned something boring. In the mean time, I'd encourage you to read more, especially from unschoolers with kids with developmental challenges. Find out what works for them. Pick their brains. Ask them to break down platitudes if that's what you get. 

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Unschooling is essentially self-education, I would say.

 

 

My dd10 could unschool.  She taught herself to read at 3yo.  She copied her favorite storybooks for fun ages 4-7.  She has enough language skills that should could teach herself anything she sets her mind to.  Math might be a different story, but ...

 

 

My boys are not the same.  They need explicit and consistent work on building up those skills.

 

 

My end-goal is to nurture them into self-educators, but it's OK if they aren't there yet.  It's OK to know that a lifestyle of self-education is the end goal, and recognize that you have to work to get there. 

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I don't want to parent/teach from fear, but I don't know what all my kids will need to be able to do by the time they're adults. There are common sense things... I wouldn't want to have an illiterate 18yo, obviously, and I'm not even concerned about the rat race where people try to give their kids every possible edge to get into Harvard (I'm sure you can function in society without Harvard, now and 10+ years from now as well), but... I dunno. It's the stuff I don't know that concerns me. The stuff that's hard to measure, like the soft skills, along with skepticism about the more measurable academic skills other people are so concerned about (yes, academic skills are important... they're just not the be-all-end-all, nor do I think that academic knowledge that you don't know how or when to apply other than on a multiple choice test does anyone any good).

 

I feel similarly. I figure in ten years time, dd will need to be able to read, write, do arithmetic, think, care, know about how she and other people work and as much about money as possible. Mainly I think these things because it seems that's what people have always needed. I have no idea how much of all these things she can learn before she hits 18 but if I do the best with what needs to be done right now, we're in the best place we can be for whatever is next. Usually indulging a kid's needs satisfies them and allows them to develop on to the next thing faster, so I figure if we do the right academic things now, we will also be able to move onto the next thing faster (which might not be fast at all) and the more "nexts" we get to, the better. I also think if she can't by then, it won't be either of our fault. I'm thinking whatever we can learn about finance is going to be hugely important in dd's life. She's far more flexible about such things than I am. She's being trained to be flexible and that she can own the means of production. It works well with her personality. I was trained to get a job and save and unfortunately that works too well with my personality and renders me less useful than I think dd will end up despite all the learning difficulties she has that I haven't.

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There is a fundamental, scientific flaw in the unschooling argument that because children learn to walk and talk without instruction, they can learn anything that way. Walking and talking are skills that are, as neurologists say, "hard wired" in the human brain. Humans, as a species, have been bipedal for about 6 million years. We have been talking for somewhere around 100,000 years. These functions are something humans have evolved to do and involve certain specific areas of the brain. So, barring some specific damage, most of us will, in fact, learn to walk and talk simply by immersion

This is so true... kids learn these by modelling ...not by explicit teaching...but it's still being taught.

I am heavily involved in special needs international adoption community. Children who are left in their cribs all day with little social interaction do not just teach themselves these skills. It is not uncommon for a family to bring a child older then 3 home who cannot talk, talks very little, or cannot walk. After being home and having people interact and encourage them to talk they do start to progress and learn but they often need some type of intervention...because once you miss the 'window' it is very tough for them to learn speech or to walk on their own. If you never speak to your child they will not learn to talk on their own...learning by immersion is still teaching.

 

My son ' taught himself to read at 4' and I didn't give him a single lesson. However at the same time I was giving his sister intense reading lessons while he played in the same room. So did he teach himself...or was he taught by default of being exposed. If he hadn't heard me teaching his sister...would he have learnt himself without ' lessons'.

 

Children can learn on their own...but they need lots of exposure to new things. I cant imagine a child locked in a room on their own would teach themselves much of anything.

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