Monday, February 6, 2012

Turns out we're unschooling already

The other day, I had the car. That's always exciting. Marko was crabby and bored and needed the exact right amount of sleep at the exact perfect time, and I decided a bit of driving around would be the cure. Of course I couldn't tell him that. So I told him we were going to the hardware store.

He has no idea what a hardware store is, but he was all over that idea. So we drove in the direction of the hardware store, he fell asleep, we dozed awhile in the Lowe's parking lot, and when he woke up we went inside. I'd guess we spent about 45 minutes in there, and we came out with one package of seed pots.

When I told John about our adventure, it went like this: "So first I wanted to look at something to stake my tomatoes with, and so we looked at 2x4's and fence posts. Then Marko wanted to look at the plumbing supplies. Then we went to the show kitchens and looked at those. Then I wanted to look at paint chips, and Marko told me what all the colors were. Then I decided to get the seed pots after all, so we counted them up and I told him what they were for."

"I see," he said. "So you're starting that unschooling thing already."

"No, we're just ... that's just how I shop ... I mean, that's what you do with toddlers ..."

Huh. I guess we kind of are unschooling.

It was the same sort of thing today. I took my teeny-tiny herb seedlings out of the laundry room to get some morning sun in the kitchen. The only sun spot was on the floor, so I set them there. Marko zoomed over. "Dirt! Dirt in containers!"

"Yes, here are the containers that we filled with dirt awhile ago. Remember how we put the seeds in? Now they're little plants."

"Little plants." He bent over them, touched them respectfully with a fingertip, smelled them.

"This one's cilantro. This one's basil. This one's oregano. That one's thyme."

"That one's thyme." He poked the containers. "One, two, four, five."

"That's a great idea, let's count them! One, two, three, four. Four plants."

He pointed to the pictures on the containers. "Cow. Cow. Cows on the containers. Sour cream containers."

"That's right, those containers used to have sour cream in them! Now they have dirt and plants in them."

"Plants in them."

"I put them out in the sunshine so they would grow."


"Yes, see the sun out the window? It's shining on the plants. That helps them grow. Look at the sun shining on your hand."

"Sun shining on the plants."

How exactly is this not unschooling?

The way you normally teach a toddler is unschooling. You just do what you were going to do anyway, and explain it to the child. Or the child does what he wants to do, and you help him do it. Or he asks you questions, and you answer them. It's not complicated.

Marko knows about things that are important to him. He knows a lot about farm animals, because he's way into them. (I think my own fascination is contagious.) He can identify onion grass, purslane, clover, and mint in the yard. He can count (I never taught him that consciously, but I do count in front of him of course) and say his alphabet (the alphabet song is one of his favorites, though not one of mine). He can take his clothes off, but not put them on. He recently discovered how to put blocks and train tracks together. He knows large portions of his favorite books.

None of these have been "learning goals" of mine. This year, my learning goals have been "learn to use the potty" and "get better at talking." Everything else has been him exploring and asking questions. I don't read to him all day, though he would like it if I did. I probably read to him five or six times a day, when he begs me to. I sing to him and talk to him a lot. But mostly, he plays by himself. I just don't believe in trying to manage his playtime. He seems to have it covered. On crankier days, I try to plan a few things, like doing the dishes while he sits on the counter with his feet on the sink (gleefully turning the water off and on for me) or digging in the garden while he looks for bugs. But if he's happy, I see no reason to do a thing. He just potters around learning stuff and discovering things.

I'm sure, as Marko grows older, we'll do more, have more structure, plan more activities. But for now, this is just about right.


Heather said...

That's great! I never thought of this as unschooling since the term brings to mind something more anti in nature, as opposed to natural learning. What you're doing with Marko seems like a natural thing to do with kids, something that could also easily complement structured schooling, in or out of the house or schoolhouse.
Regardless, though, this sounds like fun. Marko's lucky to have a mama and daddy with patience and curiosity themselves!

Sheila said...

Yes, the term unschooling is pretty negative. I prefer "self-directed schooling" or something. All unschooling is is education without a lot of forced desk work, and instead taking the opportunities that come every day and the child's interests to form what you do. Up to the age of ten or so, it's almost impossible for a child to do anything that *isn't* educational -- they know so little that they learn from everything.

I imagine when Marko's school-aged, I'll make him do a bit of math and practice reading and writing, but as for the rest, we can follow his interests for quite awhile without missing out on anything. So while I'm not intending to do "strict unschooling," I am learning a lot from that educational philosophy and hope to put it into practice.

Patti @ Jazzy Mama said...

What you described as 'life with toddler' is exactly what my life looks like every day with my family of kids, ages 7, 6, 4, and 1.5yrs. We simply live and learn together, we follow our interests (individually and collectively) and we set our own agendas. It's awesome.

Enbrethiliel said...


I did a little bit of this with my brothers, too, when they were toddlers. =) Since they weren't with me all the time the way Marko is with you, I could give every little session a specific "learning goal"--but had it been the other way, we would likely have eased into a completely unstructured model, like what you have here with Marko.

By the way, I'm especially impressed that he can identify different herbs in the yard! I'm not much of a "flora" person and all plants kind of look the same to me at first glance. =P Your little botanist puts me to shame!

Sheila said...

Well, he needed to know what he was and wasn't allowed to eat! He loves to "forage" in the yard for edibles ... since, of course, he learned from last summer's garden that we can eat plants. I had to look some stuff up to be quite sure, but now he's an expert forager! (It helps that I try to keep toxic stuff out of the yard altogether ... he keeps trying to eat the pokeberries unless I rip the whole plant up.)

I have to laugh whenever you mention the stuff you do with your brothers ... because, of course, that's where I learned all this myself. I practiced on Joseph in particular (who, good grief, is TEN now). We'd just bop around all day engaging in Socratic dialogues. Or something. He wanted to know everything about everything and seemed to think I was the wellspring of all knowledge. Kids are so eager to learn, it isn't work for them unless you make it work.

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