I had asked last week in the forums for suggestions on blog topics. Mary Ann Romans wanted to know about unschooling and essentially how kids will learn everything they need to know if there is no plan in place. Yesterday I talked about unschooling as a philosophy, our own experience leaning towards unschooling with our son (although we are definitely not unschoolers) and I gave an example of one family I knew, and how they incorporated unschooling into their learning environment.
Today, I am going to talk about the Smiths, another unschooling family I know with a slightly more radical approach to unschooling than the Jones family. The Smiths knew before their child was school aged that they were going to unschooled their children. They deliberately bought their house with accompanying acres to create what they thought would be the ideal learning environment. Although they have enough bedrooms for each child to have their own room, they decided to have the children share two rooms in part to promote family closeness and in part to convert the other two rooms into ‘schoolrooms’ of sorts.
There are no lesson plans at the Smith family home. One of their ‘school rooms’ is a math/science room. It has a microscope, several guidebooks along with their ‘textbooks’ which include Usborne science and the Magic School Bus series. It also has several tubs full of things to experiment with. The other school room is set up with tables and chairs, paper, art materials, pencils, pens, a globe and a wall map, a chalk board and just about any other ’classroom’ type material you could reasonably think of.
You won’t find lots of ‘trade books’ or literature in either classroom. Mrs. Smith believes that good literature should be a much larger part of their lives and so the bookshelves are located where the family spends most of their time when they‘re indoors: in the living room and dining rooms. Their collection of books by the way, is substantial.
There is not really any ‘real’ schedule and there are no lesson plans so how do the children learn anything you wonder? In part because the goal of the Smiths has been to provide a rich learning environment. While there’s no schedule, neither are the children allowed to watch television during the ‘school day.’ They all have chores and they all volunteer their time in some fashion. Even the little ones spend time making birthday cards for a nursing home. I’ve watched Mrs. Smith in action and although I know she would say that she simply lets them explore at their free will, you should never underestimate the influence of an involved parent.
The ‘trick’ here seems to be two things: as I mentioned the learning environment is rich. But the other trick seems to be the Smiths themselves and their ideals. It is hard not to be excited about learning new things when you are around someone who is excited about learning. And as far as reading and math? The kids all have goals to go on to college, or own their own business and so the children themselves provide the intrinsic motivation needed to study what they need to know to achieve those goals.
While the style of learning looks different, this is a family where I would say unschooling has definitely been successful.