This is an excerpt from “Funny You Should Ask”, Book 1 in the Life without a Field Guide Series which is available at Amazon for $4.99
Somehow, without me even noticing, it’s time for our end-of-year review once again. This is where I tell our reviewer, a fellow homeschooler who holds a teaching certificate, what the kids have learned this year and how they’ve made progress, which is all that’s necessary in the state of Maine, thank goodness. This is also where I suddenly realize that they haven’t learned anything or made any progress since the last review, because all they’ve done for a solid year is play computer and video games, argue and goof off.
Of course, I could always call that becoming skilled at applied technology, rhetoric and creative time-management. It’s true, but I’d like to think that I don’t have to fudge to satisfy the “making progress” requirement and I’d also like to reassure myself that this unschooling wheeze is working. So, I cast my mind back over the year and look for instances of learning experiences, but it’s really hard to pin them down and isolate them.
The trouble with trying to assess unschooling is that it’s such an organic process. Because we’ve gone to the extremely relaxed (practically boneless) end of the unschooling spectrum, I don’t assess the kids’ progress, except in the holistic way of being aware that they’re maturing and changing and gaining knowledge. Where some of my more “schooly” friends can tell you what reading or math level their kids are at, I have no idea if mine are ahead, behind or level with other same-age kids. All I know is that they read a heck of a lot.
I can, however, tell you that they can figure out what they need and want to figure out when it comes to math. Sit my daughter down in front of a Beanie Baby page and she can instantly tell you how much the one she wants costs, complete with shipping and how long it will take for her to save up for it at $2/wk, how much more quickly she could get it if we increased that by fifty cents and how many months, weeks, days and minutes it is until her birthday if she has to wait until then because we won’t loan her what she needs to get it now.
Son uses math of all sorts in his drawing and has been responsible for several of my longer after-lunch naps, when he’s explained the Golden Mean of Art or some such and exactly which ratio he’s used for each of the ten drawings of heads and shoulders he’s working on at the moment. As my chin hits my sprouted rye with ham and Swiss sandwich, I see that there’s absolutely no reason to worry about his grasp of fractions and I also realize that after-lunch math is still putting me to sleep, just as it did back in 8th grade algebra.
Unfortunately, or probably fortunately in some cases where sanity is something the people value, none of the folks who evince concern about my kids’ academic prowess live with us, so they don’t experience the day-to-day evidence that unschooling is working on all levels for Daughter and Son. For some reason, almost every time we run into any of these doubters, my kids seem to come all over witless.
We’ll be at the park, having a good old time, when Daughter gets a piece of grass in her eye. As another mother, who’s a former science teacher, holds her, I try to get the grass out, whereupon Daughter shrieks that it’s going inside her head and will get into her brain, thereby showing a complete lack of knowledge vis a vis the structure of the eye, which all the other kids there learned when they were toddlers, and which Daughter knows, but forgets in times of trauma.
Or Son, who is trying to be more independent, with my blessing, tells the woman at the pharmacy that his birthdate is March 29th and she asks him, “what year is it?” and he looks at me in terrified appeal. It’s only after we leave the poor woman, who is valiantly trying not to laugh, that Son explains that he didn’t know whether she meant “what year is your birthday” or “what year is this” or something completely different involving prescriptions and pharmacies that he didn’t understand. It doesn’t help that we’ve chatted to that particular clerk about how wonderful unschooling is, nor would it help to explain that it was a lack of confidence in successfully completing a new interaction, rather than a lack of IQ that was in play there.
Just to make myself feel better, I sat down the other night and made a stream-of-consciousness list of what I’m aware of that the kids learned this year. I know I didn’t catch everything, because half the time I don’t know that they’ve learned something until they surprise me with it by telling me something I don’t know. Like the time Daughter told me that Killer Whales aren’t whales; they’re Dolphins. Good thing I didn’t put money on it, because she’s right. (I still maintain that they should rename them Killer Dolphins, just to make things clearer.)
Anyhow, my list ran to several pages for each of them by the time I was done and included books they’ve read, videos and TV shows we’ve watched, radio shows and podcasts we’ve listened to, museum trips, field trips (although every time we leave the house it’s a field trip, I guess), conversations with all kinds of people and the Democratic Caucus for Son, newscasts we watch together and then discuss and probably about a million or so questions that sent one or all of us off to the library, the computer or a friend who might know the answer.
Then there’s the stuff that they’ve learned from their friends, the medieval dances and (in Son’s case) the fighting in armor from the Society for Creative Anachronism we belong to, not to mention the feasts in costume and the other SCA events which include Medieval Arts and Sciences such as fiber arts, painting and crafts. There’s the music they listen to and Son makes with his saxophone, the drawing and (in Daughter’s case) the photography and writing. Their blogs. The housework, cooking, personal care and chores they’ve learned to be responsible for, unlike most of their friends who are told that “school is your job” and who can’t cook a meal or do their own laundry without help.
I guess for people who are used to testing kids against other kids based on what a group of adults thinks they should know at a certain age, assessing my kids’ progress in life would be very difficult. It’s like the different results you get from painting freehand or painting by the numbers. You can get a nice picture either way, but my kids do much better when they create their own picture . They need more control over their lives and education than public school allows.
So, that’s why I’m temporarily flummoxed every spring, trying to put down on paper what I know in my heart. My kids are making progress, although maybe not the progress that they’d make in school where they were miserable. They’re learning all the time and as a friend of mine says, they’re more like human becomings than human beings, just like all of us. That’s progress as far as I’m concerned.