Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | December 13, 2015

Slow Homeschooling

Slow Homeschooling.JPG

During our first year of homeschooling, I made the (what at the time felt bold) proclamation, “We are Unschoolers!“.  But I just don’t feel that same heart connection with the term unschooling anymore.  Not the way that I feel a deep sense of alignment with the slow homeschooling lifestyle.

Milva McDonald, in her Examiner article, explains her family’s slow homeschooling experience, “I observed my kids with interest and joy, and provided resources to help feed budding passions. I did my best to act as a guide while trying to stay the heck out of their way. What I did not do when they were very young was sign them up for every math workshop, science club, or whatever activity came on the homeschooling list serve, and I certainly never enrolled them in a learning center. It just wasn’t necessary. Beyond a pottery session here and there, for the most part classes and other structured activities weren’t even a part of my kids’ lives until they hit double digits.  So what did we do?  We spent our time at the park, the library, and in play…”.

Milva describes my kinda homeschooling beautifully.  As she notes in her article, slow schooling has become much less common.  With so many classes and learning centers available to us, homeschoolers often get caught up in the resources of it all.  Many homeschoolers end up cobbling together a homeschool experience that is not all that different from the existing school model.  A literature group on Mondays, a math class on Tuesdays, a Spanish class on Wednesdays, a science class on Thursdays, and a soccer clinic on Fridays.  Is the literature group richer than the Flat Stanley 2nd grade curriculum?  Yes.  Is MIT a more inspiring place to learn about science than a public school classroom?  Yes.  But this type of homeschooling feels like a (better, richer) curriculum that takes place in a (better, richer) environment, in one’s community instead of a school building.  So why call it unschooling (not-school)?

And is this model really child-led?  In many families, I’m sure the parents are offering these classes to the kids and they’re saying, “yeah! sure!”.  But if the family does not have a strong homeschool community and taking classes is the only opportunity for the child to be around other kids, then of course a social four year-old would quickly say “yes!” to a Quantum Physics class.  And then there’s the old TV argument.  Classes (and TV) aren’t necessarily bad.  But the question is what could the child be doing if he weren’t taking so many classes (or watching so much TV)?  My view of the world is that a child would be better served by being allowed to choose one special class.  And then the kid would actually have some time to do some truly self-directed learning, which for children is called PLAY.  Don’t children need time and space and to experience this crazy old fashioned feeling called boredom in order for them to come up with amazing new ideas?!

I just can’t help but wonder if all these better, richer academic programs are really unschooling?  It’s homeschooling for sure (since the kids aren’t going to school).  And the child is saying “yes” to the course offerings and he is able to drop the class at any time, so it’s technically unschooling.  But does this educational model really support a child’s blossoming into her true authentic self?  Does it really foster the child’s understanding of his unique gifts that he is meant to share with the world?  I would argue that these rigorous schedules make homeschoolers well-rounded students, like their schooled age-mates.  But isn’t a main goal of unschooling for children to find what they are truly passionate about?  Doesn’t this process require the time and freedom to explore and participate in the world in authentic ways, not just as students in classrooms?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that if my family had something scheduled everyday, we would never go to park days and we wouldn’t have built a strong community of friends.  Nor would my children spend nearly as much time together.  They wouldn’t need to figure out how to work things out between them and they wouldn’t enjoy such a close sister relationship.  My younger girl would not have enough time to get lost in her imaginative play.  She would miss out on whole days of playing doctor, Calico Critters, and play dough.  And my older daughter wouldn’t have time to read multiple novels a week, to perfect the hands and eyes in her figure drawings, or to write and illustrate her own stories.

Technically we’re still unschoolers, but I don’t feel like the term describes our lifestyle very well.  And so (in the middle of our third year of homeschooling), I’m rebranding.  We are slow homeschoolers!  Learn more by following the Slow Homeschooling Tumblr.

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