Marquez, 7, and Lucero, 5, are sitting with me at the kitchen table. Since Lucero has been obsessed with multiplication, I thought it would be fun to show him double-digit multiplication on paper since he is moving past what he can do in his head. Marquez is on the computer, watching videos about ancient Egypt, when I say “Hey Marquez! Check out what we’re doing -” and as soon as I show him the paper with math problems on it, he flinches as if he’s dodging a punch, and quickly clicks on another link about how cats were often mummified with their owners.
I have a gifted 5-year-old who has been to 6 months of preschool, and a slightly-above-average-intelligence 7-year-old who went to two years of preschool and one year of kindergarten – and they are very different learners. Where in the world is the classroom that can support them both?
In Missoula, Montana, public school is not the place for either one – Lucero is so far ahead, there isn’t a program for him, and Marquez practically has PTSD from the pressure in kindergarten that killed his desire to learn and makes him panic at the sight of anything that resembles a worksheet. So I am making a classroom for them at home where they can learn at their own pace and in ways that fit their individual learning style – and get this – a place that is completely centered around what they are interested in. That means that I may have to ask myself if I can find a math lesson in the context of ancient Egypt, not on a worksheet. The difference between a triangle and a pyramid? The value of an incline plane? Did the ancient Egyptians use math to construct the pyramids? Or maybe drop the math and just follow his unquenchable interest in ancient civilizations and just hang out there, trusting that math will come when he’s ready. I look to him for direction in his learning.
You’d think that my certification in child development and early childhood education from UCLA would have prepared me for this. It did, sort of. I learned a conflicting blend of “classroom management” complete with how to give time – outs, and also about John Dewey and Jean Piaget and their lost battles to make Progressive Education the norm. I learned that although in preschool this model of child-directed learning and an emphasis on play was considered best practices, most of the kids would have to fit into the standardized world of public school at kindergarten. That if they have to fit into the system, we better prepare them, ultimately, even if it means less play and more teacher directed learning – best practices or not. So, um, yeah, I went out into the world as a teacher. I taught for 2 years in traditional preschools in Los Angeles, then for 5 years at a progressive school in Montana.
Here was the crossroads – do I trust the traditional school system or trust the progressive school models? The former seems tried and true (read: safe), the latter experimental (risky.) But as I delved into the research, the surprising truth is that what seems risky isn’t at all, and that the tried and true, well, isn’t so true. And actually being in that progressive school for 5 years made where to place my trust blindingly apparent
The progressive model may make us uncomfortable at first blush, but the learners that emerge from these give pause to that discomfort. Cooperative, mature, resilient, creative and seemingly “advanced” learners abound, ready for the unforeseeable future. As Jon Reider, Stanford’s senior associate director of admissions says, “Home-schoolers bring certain skills – motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education – that high schools don’t induce very well.”*
Educator, researcher, whatever – I am a Mama of two lovely boys that I want to be happy, kind, and living the kind of life that they determine to be successful. So sometimes I get scared. Even though I know that my boys are very intelligent and learning well, I worry that someone will judge them for say, not reading at the expected level for their age. That other adults will devalue my kids’ learning because it isn’t measurable with the same tools they use for their kids, that they used for themselves when they were kids. I am always fighting the urge to make my boys “catch up,” even though I know that there is no value in learning something purely based on age. And that, I think, is what will make this an interesting blog.
I will be posting our daily activities, my reflections, and my research on uschooling, democratic schooling, progressive education, child development, positive discipline and attachment parenting (phew!) So folks can come here for ideas about how to be a “facilitator of learning” (this will now replace “teacher”) ways to talk with children, project ideas and such. You can read what I’m reading, learn what I have learned and what I am learning. You can also hear the joys, hilarity and struggles of a teacher who is unschooling herself. Welcome.
PS since this blog is just for an interested few for now, I opted for the cheaper site with ads and other shenanigans. They are not in any way endorsed by me.