An Unschooling Dilemma
How do you learn basic skills that don’t come up in daily life? If they don’t come up in daily life are they as necessary as we think they are?
Basic math seems to come up quite often. Contrary to popular belief I also believe algebra also comes up in daily life. I see algebra as a kind of way of using your brain to solve problems where you only have part of the information. You use the information you do have to figure out what the missing information must be. I’d love to find a concrete example of this.
How often do you use handwriting in a day? I noticed that I use it mostly to write lists and fill out forms, besides that I do most of my writing on a computer. I have also noticed that most people’s handwriting is elegible – which explains the PLEASE PRINT on most forms. We all know that although Doctors are very educated, but no one can read their writing besides pharmacists. (My mothers handwriting is beautiful, but she has written in a journal everyday for a few decades.)
The question of “How do you learn basic skills that don’t come up in daily life?” came up for me last week, after I asked Cassius to write down a grocery list of food he would like . He was complaining that there wasn’t any food he liked in the house. He insisted it was too hard for him because he couldn’t spell any of the words. He did make a short list which was all capitals and spelled incorrectly.
I had an unschooling panic moment “Oh no! I haven’t made my child do spelling tests, book reports, and write in a journal every day. He’s not going to know how to write or spell unless I make him!
I realized that he had be avoiding writing because he felt he wasn’t good at it. It had been pretty easy to avoid it because the opportunity only came up when I asked him to write a list, a card, or a letter to a friend. He writes on the computer – (mostly passwords). Then the question comes up, if it is so easy for him to avoid how necessary a skill is it? If this skill becomes necessary at a later time, wouldn’t he learn it easier at that time?
To put things in perspective, Cassius only learned to read about two years ago. He insisted he would never be able to, then he picked up a novel he had heard on audio book and read it from beginning to end. He now reads for hours everyday.
I think if it wasn’t clear that Cassius was frustrated and wanted to be able to write, I wouldn’t worry about it. I found it interesting to note that, the fact that Cassius couldn’t write as well as he wanted too and was frustrated about it, came up in the course of daily life. It wasn’t because I was testing him or trying to make him meet a “learning outcome” expected at his age. It was because we were trying to solve a problem: There was no food he liked in the house. Writing a list of food he liked for us to buy at the store, was a solution to that problem.
This led to a new problem to solve. How to help Cassius learn how to write. I tried giving him spelling tests, but we both quickly lost our enthusiasm for that. I figured if I could get him writing, spelling would come. I tried to tell him that if he practiced every day, even if it was boring, he would improve. Unfortunately, every unschooled kid I’ve met has little patience for monotony, unless they have a strong motivation to endure it.
I was stuck trying to figure out how to make Cassius write, when Rosalind suggested I ask him what he wanted. Did he really want to spell and write better and why? Genius! His answer was that he wanted to be able to write stories. Of course this was no surprise – he has always been writing stories in one way or another.
His answer made me realize that I needed to stop trying to make him write, and trust that if his desire and need to write stories was important enough, he would find a way to do it. I know from past experience that he will do it in his own time. At the right time he will suddenly move from “this is impossible” to “I love this!”
This doesn’t mean I will stop encouraging him or finding resources that may interest him, but it does mean I don’t have to make him write. I just have to trust him.
I’ll let you know what happens.
I can tell this is very important to him.