Friday, November 14, 2014

Finding Balance Somewhere Between Common Core and Unschooling

Something that I've struggled with as I learn the ropes of homeschooling is finding the right balance of what to teach. How much do I dictate what is taught according to some schedule vs. letting Monkey's interest guide what he learns?  There's such a wide range of teaching strategies, and everyone has their own opinion. On one end of the spectrum is the rigidly laid out standards, with specific academic goals for specific grades (e.g.  Common Core State Standards) and at the other end is unschooling.  Honestly, I can see the benefits of and reasoning behind both sides, yet feel they are both too extreme. One doesn't leave room for individual nuances in learning, and one doesn't seem rigorous enough to fully prepare for what will be expected of students as they take college entrance exams and attend formal classes someday (as I anticipate Monkey will do someday.)

Part of evaluating either end of the spectrum is thinking about what the end goal is. Is the goal that the student have a knowledge that sets them on equal footing (at least) with everyone else, when competing for college entrance or in the job market? Or is the goal to nurture a passion and curiosity that they can pursue without restraint, so they can discover their talents and abilities and develop them fully without distraction of other unnecessarily forced subject areas? I would say BOTH are important.

I found that Monkey really doesn't like to be told what to learn. He's naturally curious about many things, and I want to capitalize on that. Would unschooling, or interest-led learning work? But I also want to make sure he knows 'the basics'- the stuff that any other person his age should know, so if he does take standardized tests or if he's talking to other people, he's not lacking in knowledge. I do want him to go to a college someday! It's hard to let go of being worried about 'what if he's not learning enough or the right things?', coming from an academically-focused family.  If I let him choose, will there be huge gaps in his knowledge?

So I'm aiming for something in between. Honestly, in every education, there's going to be gaps. Honestly, probably most people don't remember much of what they learned, and only retain the things they are actively interested in or actively use in their vocation,and they are doing just fine. I really can't remember anything about the Punic Wars or about British poets or anything to do with physics. Doesn't really affect me at all, missing that knowledge. Probably wouldn't hurt that much if I had never learned about them at all!

After trying out a pre-planned curriculum the first 9 months of homeschooling, I realized that having it planned out was too restrictive for Monkey, and that was one of his complaints about public school. "Why do we have to learn about abc?!? I want to learn about xyz!" So this is what we're currently doing:

Science: I'm going to try letting science be interest-led for the most part. He can pick whatever topics he's interested in, and we will find materials and research it. He can go as deep or as shallow as he likes.

Social studies:  Monkey has very little interest in history, geography, government, etc, so that's something that I will have to plan out, so he can be exposed to these areas. I do want to make sure I sequentially go through history though, so he gets an idea of how things flow together. We'll start with ancient world civilizations probably in January, but I'm not going to really push memorizing dates and people and places, etc. I just want him be aware of what's going on around him and what's happened in the past, and how that affects us today. Of course, if he gets hooked on something he finds fascinating, we'll certainly spend more time on those topics and can explore further.

Math: I feel that math is an area that we have to deliberately ensure that certain topics are learned, so we are going sequentially through the material we are using (Singapore Math and Life of Fred), but I'm not worrying about how quickly. He'll progress through it as he masters each concept.

Language arts: This is not a strong area for him, but since it's hard, if it's also boring and rote, he will resist it more. We're using a literature-based approach, rather than daily grammar lessons or weekly spelling lists or practicing responses to reading comprehension questions (like they do in school to prepare for the standardized tests). This is one of the areas I'm most unsure in, because I do feel that good writing and grammar are necessities in terms of academic goals.  I just hope what I'm doing will work! We're using both Learning Language Arts through Literature (which goes through a variety of grammar, spelling, and reading comprehension based on reading excerpts from (but I will probably have him read each book fully) specific books) and Drawn Into the Heart of Reading (which has a series of worksheets to focus on literary elements and Godly character traits, but you can use any book you like). We'll do a monthly writing project (this idea is from BraveWriter) too-something he can work on long-term, drafting, editing, refining, etc. But mainly, I want to encourage a love of reading, so we are doing a lot of read-alouds, which help him to be motivated to read on his own, because given his choice of books, he wouldn't be getting much quality literature in his reading repertoire. I pick books that I want him to read, and read aloud to him until he is interested, then he gets hooked, and he reads it on his own.

Foreign Language:  Since I'm still figuring out what we're doing, it's really haphazard. Sometimes he asks how to say something in Chinese and we go with that. Sometimes I decide that he needs to learn something specific, so we do that. We aim for a little bit every day though.

So, we're somewhat child-led, somewhat teacher-led in this household. We 'do school' for only about 3-5 hours a day. I hope this works out!