That’s How It Rolls

We recently finished reading Rick Riordan’s:  Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series, and we have been enmeshed in Ancient Greece.  All my Ancient Greece books, crafts, activities, projects, etc. came flying off the shelves as the children wanted more and more and more information about the subject. 
Yay, for my “organized unschooler” pre-planning. :-)  hee hee

Being the organized type (aka, control freak), I like doing things in order.  I wanted us to back up a bit in history and learn about everything that came before “Ancient Greece” (for me & for the kids).  We had already talked a lot about the formation of the earth, the emergence of the first life forms, evolution, etc. (my kids were nutso for dinosaurs when they were littler — so it all came up during that time), but we hadn’t really talked about homo sapiens sapiens once they started living in villages, etc.

As it works out, I have been monitoring e-bay and Bookfinder4U.com (the best website for used books, EVER!) for nearly a year for the book Choosing Your Way Through The World’s Ancient History.  I LOVE books, but I’m, also, very cheap frugal.  I finally found it listed for less than $10 and snatched it right up!  I was so excited when it arrived.  Perfect timing!!  I told the kids all about it at bedtime & we all agreed that we would start reading it first thing in the morning.  (Our morning “routine” generally involves all of us cuddling on the couch together for about an hour or so right after the kids get up.  We will chat or read books, whatever, during this time).  I did not tell the kids that we HAD to read it.  I just told them what it was about and they decided it sounded interesting.

The kids LOVE the book!  It lived up to my expectations & was definitely worth the wait.  The only catch is that it doesn’t give a “complete” history of the area/time period (& I didn’t expect it to).  We all wanted more information.  We headed to our local cool & groovy used book store and found a used copy of The Story of the World; Volume 1:  Ancient Times (revised edition)  — which, while not my ideal history book, has a nice narrative style that the kids like.  This book fits perfectly with our Choosing Your Way book. 

Now it was time for all my other ancient history books, crafts, experiments, projects, etc. to find their way off the shelves as the kids wanted more information and requested activities. :-)
Ancient Egypt Activity
Creating secret messages with hieroglyph stamps.

With all this new information about Egypt, the Nile River, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, etc., came an interest in geography.  The kids wanted to SEE the places we were talking about.  Well, it just so happened that I was looking to re-organize a corner in our living room (what? me organize?  crazy, I know).  :-)  So, I incorporated maps into my re-organization plan.  We now have a new book shelf in the corner and two GIANT maps on the wall (which can be easily viewed from the couch). :-) 

I LOVE how things just fall into place like that !!  
We roll with our interests and everything rolls right along with us. :-)

I never stop looking for new ways & resources to introduce new ideas & information to my children.  Through unschooling, I am able to *really* be in touch with my children’s interests.  I know what types of books will appeal to them.  I know what types of activities they enjoy doing.  Armed with this knowledge, I am able to “organize” to my heart’s content while effectively meeting my children’s desires at the same time! 
I’m sure some people will think I am crazy for doing all this organizing and preparing just to let it all sit on the shelf for months and, sometimes, years.  But, to me, it is worth it.  I love, love, love researching topics, learning new things, and finding resources that I am confident will appeal to my children.  That is enough to satisfy the need I have for control, for organizing.  When the time eventually comes when my kids choose to use what I have organized, well — that’s just the super-yummy, creamy icing on the cake. :-)

All Part of The Plan

Part of my “Organized Plan” involved visions of my children doing certain things each day.  My Plan included them doing something related to reading/writing each day and something “mathy” each day.  My Plan, also, included doing something related to science, geography, foreign languages, history, etc. somewhere throughout the week.  And, all of this was supposed to happen in a non-forced, fun kind of way.  Hmmmm . . . .

As it turns out, it’s fairly impossible to go through a day without something related to each of these “subjects” coming up in some form.  Imagine my surprise. :-)

Do I take the initiative sometimes to encourage something to “come up”?  Weeelllll, I DO have all these cool ideas and projects all planned out and tucked away . . . .

Example:  Mr. E had been trying (just on his own – not because of anything I had done) to do some skip counting (e.g., by 2’s, by 3’s, by 4’s, etc.).  He had 2’s and 5’s down pretty well, but kept getting frustrated while trying others.  So, one fine morning, I cleared off our back porch (concrete surface), grabbed a measuring tape, and pulled out the sidewalk chalk.  I did my measuring and began drawing lines.  The kids were doing their own thing — playing inside for a while; playing outside for a while.  They eventually asked me what I was doing.  “You’ll see,” I said.  I wasn’t trying to be manipulative in any way.  I just wanted to surprise them with what I was making.  After drawing out 100 squares, I began filling in the numbers.  It didn’t take the kids long to figure out what I was doing and took over filling in the numbers. :-)

Once we had it filled in, they came up with all kinds of games to play with our huge “Hundred Chart.”   The games included some adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, skip counting, and more.  Toy dinosaurs, rocks, and various other items were involved as well. :-) 

Did I create the situation?  Yes. 

Did I tell the children they had to participate?  No.

Did I tell the children what they were “supposed to” or “had to” or even “should” do?  No.

Did the children come up with ideas that I would have never, ever thought of?  Yes.

Did something “mathy” happen?  Yes.

Did we have a fabulously fun time together?  Yes.  :-)

Yes, We Are “Real” Unschoolers

or,  “The Closet Unschooler”  :-)

I had a friend good-naturedly tease me that “organized unschooler” was an oxymoron.  And, I agree, at first blush, it may seem so.  In fact, it seemed like enough of a contradiction to me, in the past, that I was afraid/cautious about mentioning any of my organizational tendencies when in groups of unschoolers.  “If they knew I made spreadsheets and organize projects for my kids, they won’t think I’m a ‘real’ unschooler.”

Now, I’m not normally the kind of person who gives two shakes of a monkey tail about what someone else thinks about me, but, I REALLY liked this unschooling community that I had found and I did not want to alienate any of them — so, I proceeded with caution.  Ironically, the deeper my family got into the world of unschooling (i.e., whole life unschooling/respectful parenting/etc.), the more comfortable I became at being true to myself — the self that didn’t worry about what I thought other people were thinking about me.

I KNEW that we were unschoolers.  I never forced any of my ideas on my children.  I would tell them about my ideas, ask if they were interested, if yes – great, we did the activity, if no – great, we did something else.  I am respectful of my children’s choices.  I follow their lead with regard to learning (& most things in life).  I am an “unschooler.”

This was part of my motivation for creating this blog — to help other “I-Just-Have-To-Organize” unschooling parents realize that they are not alone and to help them be proud of working toward meeting their own needs as well as their children’s needs.  One awesome unschooling mom told me (after seeing this blog) that this was like unschooling’s “dirty little secrect.”  LOL!  I loved that.  Hopefully, working together, we can change that.  There isn’t anything wrong or dirty about giving yourself the organization you need.  One mom told me that she knew others wouldn’t think she was an unschooler because her daughter takes classes.  “Are you forcing her to go to the classes?”  I asked.  “Oh, no!” the mom replied. “She loves the classes.  It’s her choice.”   VOILA!!!   The core of unschooling!!  :-)

I have “learning” stuff all over the walls of my house (in addition to the 5 million pictures that my children create & randomly tape up all over the place).  Does this make me “not” an unschooler?  Well, I don’t ever force my children to sit down & look at the posters/pictures/etc.  We don’t have “lessons” or lectures about them.  They are there for my children to look at whenever (& if ever) they want to — which turns out to be quite often (like me, they are very visual).  One unschooling mom visiting my house once told me that my home looked very “schooly” because of all the posters and books everywhere.  Here I just thought it looked messy. :-)

Are there people out there in the unschooling community who would say that I’m not a “real” unschooler?  Sure.  Just as there are, I’m sure, folks out there who would say that I’m not a “real” girl because I don’t like shoes and I absolutely detest shopping. :-)

My point is:  Don’t talk yourself or shame yourself out of the unschooler title because of what you think others might think.  You KNOW that you don’t force your ideas on your children.  You KNOW you are respecting their choices.  You are being courageous and honest enough to give both you and your children what you need.  Hold your head high and be proud.  Organized Unschoolers are REAL!! :-)

In The Beginning . . .

I am a control-freak.  It was a natural & inevitable result of the environment in which I grew up.  I have learned to accept and embrace this aspect of my personality.  And, over the years, I have learned to manage it as well.  When I first started looking into homeschooling, I was sure that I would need textbooks and desks.  I was even shopping around for a podium from which I could lecture.  Yes, it’s all quite comical to me now.  It didn’t take me long to realize how ridiculous that all was, but I still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of “doing nothing” — my initial understanding of unschooling.  The control-freak in me was having none of that.  I like spreadsheets.  I like having a  Plan.

When my children were still quite young (ages 4 & 2), I decided to do a “Letter of the Week” type of organized Plan.  I was being drawn to the idea of unschooling, but I couldn’t quite let go of, at least, some feeling of control.  I would ask the children to pick a letter from the alphabet.  Then, I would make a list of activities centered around that letter, e.g., crafts, science experiments, animal studies, etc.  We even made a “word chart” for each letter.
Example: 
SchoolDC-2007,9-14,LetterD,DragonWordChart
(word chart for the letter “D” — cut out dragon shapes, wrote D-words on them & glued them to the big dragon)

The kids really enjoyed these activities.  I did not demand that we do a “letter activity” each day, but the kids usually asked to do something each day.  I felt good just having The Plan.  I didn’t have a set schedule for The Plan or a deadline — but, it was enough of a Plan to quell the control-freak in me.

We continued with this “Letter of the Week” Plan (which usually lasted a month or longer rather than just a week) fairly consistently for about 2 years.  Even now — every now & then — they will ask  to pick a letter again & do some corresponding activities.

During this time, my control-freak side wanted a “big picture” look at things so, using  Rebecca Rupp’s “Home Learning Year by Year,” I made fancy spreadsheets setting forth what my children “should” be learning at each grade level.  The first time that I went through my spreadsheets, I was thrilled to realize that my children were all over the board for skills — some matching their “grade-level” and some above “grade-level.”  Even more amazing to me — when that light finally comes on about real learning & unschooling — was the fact that there were so many skills that they had acquired that weren’t even ON my spreadsheets.  It really was during this time that I truly began to understand and appreciate what child-led, life-learning was all about.  I was ready to totally jump on board!!!

 I threw caution to the wind; turned my back on Excel (my spreadsheet demi-god); and dove head-first into a life with no organization — no Plan.

And, we all lived happily ever after.

LOL!!  Yeah — not quite. :-)

I felt like I was floundering through our days.  I kept feeling like I was missing something.  Really, it is difficult to explain what I was feeling.  I just knew that something did not feel right to me.  I started taking notes each day of things that we did and I saw, clearly, that the children were actively learning loads of new & fabulous things each day.  Okay — learning was happening.  I could see it.  Why did I still feel off?

During this time, we were all working toward changing the way in which we interacted with one another.  We were moving toward a whole lifestyle of unschooling – respectful parenting – consensual living (what ever you want to call it).  A central part of this type of lifestyle involves acknowledging and respecting the needs of all the members of the family.  And, through this way of thinking, I realized that I was not acknowledging or respecting my need for organization.  The control-freak within me may have become a much smaller part of my personality, but it was still part of who I was.  That is when I became an Organized Unschooler. :-)

I, now, give myself all the organization I want.  I make my spreadsheets.  I make my PLAN.   I just make sure that I don’t force any of it upon my children.  I tell them about Plans I have created.  If they are interested, we run with it.  If they are NOT interested, I willingly and respectfully  drop it.

 Who would have thought — a control-freak really CAN be a successful unschooler. :-)

Don’t Give Up On Me!

Okay, okay, so it’s been 3 months!!  I’m still working on getting things organized!!  Plus, my dh took some “time off” in between jobs . . . you would think having another adult around the house all the time would allow me to have more free time . . . . . um . . . not so much. :-)

A Work In Progress!

Welcome to The Organized Unschooler blog!

It is my intention to write about the Organized and not-so-organized activities that my children & I do.  And, to give examples of how Organized Unschooling works for us.

It is currently a work in progress, so please bookmark us & check back often!!

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