Thursday, May 19, 2016

Natural Learning Family Profile: Deanna


My series of profiles about families who moved away from a "schooling" mindset toward a natural learning one continues today with a post by Deanna at Adventures in Teaching My Own. If you would like to contribute your family's story, please email me at kmcdonald@post.harvard.edu. Thanks! ~Kerry

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In the short amount of time that my family has been on a homeschooling path, I have discovered that there are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. These methods can range from re-creating school at home to a child-led, natural learning approach. 

When I first decided to homeschool nearly three years ago I started searching for curricula to use with my boys. As a former elementary educator, I couldn't really imagine homeschooling any other way. I read tons of blogs and reviews of various curricula to buy and which were the best to use. I picked up a few preschool and kindergarten curricula to try. I even went so far as to create a daily schedule chart to keep us in line with our goals and lessons for the day. At first, my oldest son was excited and loved the idea of school at home. (Even though he really had no concept of what school was.) But over time, his excitement began to wane and when I would try to introduce a new lesson it would be met with resistance. It left me feeling deflated and confused. Maybe homeschooling wasn't the right choice. Why couldn't I get him to sit and participate in the lessons I had planned?

While researching various homeschooling methods, I often stumbled upon the term unschooling. My initial reaction to unschooling was not a positive one. It felt too extreme. Too risky. Too drastic. Yet, over and over I was meeting homeschoolers who identified as unschoolers or natural learners and I thought to myself: they don't seem all that extreme. So I took some time to understand this philosophy of learning. I read books, asked questions of fellow homeschoolers, and observed. 

I feel as though the word unschooling has a negative implication. It projects more of what it does not do rather than what it does do. It's synonyms, natural learning or child-led learning, do a better job of putting forth its true meaning. The more I opened my mind to this idea the more I realized that unschooling is simply allowing your children to guide their education based on their interests. Natural learning takes place in your every day world. You learn what you need and want to know, based on how you live your life. 

When I loosened up on the curriculum reins and allowed my children’s intrinsic motivation to dictate what we learned about, I discovered that their enthusiasm is endless and motivation is strong. Their education path thrives in a more eclectic, unplanned, organic, and spontaneous learning environment. We take the time to really listen to every question our children have and run with their ideas. This has led us to a variety of topics to explore. Just recently we have discovered more about the solar system than I ever thought I would know (even after teaching a unit on the solar system to second graders for years). We’ve read countless books on jaguars and learned about their rainforest habitat. We’ve watched, built, and read about Rube Goldberg machines. We have explored bee farming and honey making. With the arrival of spring, there has been lots of garden planning and seed planting. 

One of my favorite pieces of natural learning is that we all participate in the process of learning by exploring, questioning and researching together. And it is incredibly fun and rewarding. It happens at all times throughout the day whenever it feels right and whenever we feel the motivation because as homeschoolers we make our own schedule. We don't attend to certain "subjects" at certain times; we just live our life thinking about, talking about, and reading about an array of topics and ideas throughout the day.

 Unschooling, natural learning, child-led learning, life learners...call it what you will, but I find more each day that it is our chosen path to educating our children. By following our children’s lead, we ensure that their education will be shaped by what motivates them and real learning will happen. Naturally. 

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Deanna can be found most days enjoying the adventure of homeschooling her kids through reading books, playing games, going to the playground, museums, on hikes, doing yoga, building towers and knocking them down, singing, dancing, and exploring the endless interests of her children. And then blogging about it. She received her Master's of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Lesley University, and was an elementary school teacher for several years. Deanna lives in Cambridge, Mass. with her husband and three children and writes regularly at Adventures in Teaching My Own.

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