Today’s ExchangeEveryDay comes from Sara Gilliam, Editor-in-Chief of Exchange magazine. She is bringing not only support for fellow working-from-home parents, but her words are also appropriate for sharing with families to help them be gentle with themselves. Sara writes:
“Several years ago in Houston, I had the excellent fortune of being seated at dinner next to Saira Siddiqui, a Muslim mom blogger and champion of the notion of ‘unschooling.’ I have never forgotten our lively conversation, which centered around her innovative approach to educating her own children. As days of social distancing have turned into weeks, and I’ve wrestled with maintaining my own work schedule while also trying to engage my children in the low-hanging fruit of educational activities, I was inspired to revisit Saira’s philosophy. From SairaSiddiqui.com:
‘Unschooling, or better phrased—self-directed education—values the learning that takes place simply from living, rather than restricting learning to what takes place within the four walls of a classroom. Unschoolers often learn from a variety of outlets, from interacting and taking part in community activities, traveling, to everyday experiences like going to the grocery store or planning meals. Unschoolers learn from books, mentors, online courses, and even from traditional courses and curriculum, at times. The key to self-directed learning rests upon the notion that children should have a choice. They should be free to direct their own education. That they have the option to say no to certain learning options. Why? Because the very idea of learning rests upon this choice. Almost all of the leading education theorists believe that a learner’s interest is necessary to result in learning. There can be no real learning under compulsion or coercion.’
Okay, my husband and I decided, let’s try it. We each took charge of supporting one child, and dove in. Our kindergartener identified an immediate area of interest: raccoons! (Prevalent visitors to our backyard and destroyers of our compost bin.) What, we considered, would an unschooling approach to raccoon investigation look like? Online videos of raccoon behavior; research on habitats, diets and life cycles; a search for tracks in the fresh mud behind our garage; the setting of a ‘trap’ in our yard—dry dog food left out overnight as a tempting treat for our resident trash pandas.
I’m still working out a plan with my grade fiver. We’re both interested in World War II. I think he’d be interested in the stories of paratroopers on the Western Front, and of Pino Lella’s alpine rescues of Italian Jews. My grandfather was a medic in the South Pacific, so there’s good (family) fodder to plumb there. We can listen to audio books, find archival videos on YouTube, write ‘letters from the front’ to imaginary relatives, and cook meals that were common in the 1940s.
Can we do these things between my Zoom meetings and conference calls? I will be honest… I’m not sure. It’s a constant juggling act and I’m as imperfect as the next woman, if not more so. Yesterday we jettisoned all unschooling plans as the sun came out and the temperature hit 50. It was our most spring-like day in the two-week forecast and hikes and soccer trumped any and all indoor activities. In other words… stay tuned. But meantime, remember we’re all in this together. Hang in there, and share your unschooling ideas in the comments!
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Sara, thank you for your thoughts on "unschooling". For anyone interested, please check out Lynn Stoddard's book, Education For Human Greatness. Mr Stoddard is an advocate of curriculum that comes from the interests of children, as opposed to core and standardized curriculum. Your raccoon project is similar to Stoddard's "Great Brain Projects". Take care.
A fine article, which describes child centred/directed learning, with full support of an engaged parent/adult. As an Early Childhood Education Faculty (retired) and Certified High/Scope Trainer (retired), I would search for examples such as this, to share with my students/workshop attendees. Thanks for sharing!
As you can see from from the attached, there is a lot I agree with here. It is important to underline the idea of "different strokes for different folks" all parents don't have the luxury of this approach, but all parents can certainly supplement formal schooling with many of these ideas.
BTW, I wrote an article for the "Kappan" many years ago that might be particularly timely/helpful right now, would you like to have a look? If so, how should I send it to you?
And, you'll note that I've attached a brief bio FYI.
Parenting in the Time of COVID-19:
Less Focus on "Learning Loss," More on "Learning Gain"
During these times of abundant caution, healthcare workers are employing every resource they can muster in their scientific arsenal, real leaders are doing their utmost to lead, teachers are scrambling to prepare virtual lessons and stay connected with their students, and other professionals and front-line workers are mobilizing requisite skills to be supportive and help keep our everyday lives from succumbing to the massive disruption of life as we have known it.
As parents, we too fill a front-line post, facing each new day and new emergency advisory. We must draw upon our individual resources. And we may be discovering we possess more than we imagined.
This is NOT a "new normal," these are new realities. And yes, as with other major national tragedies, there will be a new normal when we're on the other side. Let's seize this time, to envision what a new normal will look like perhaps a much kinder place when our common humanity will be embraced, even exulted.
As a veteran educator (teacher, principal, Executive Director of the National Elementary School Center), parenting coach, dad, and granddad, my own experience leads me to recommend that, as caretakers of our children and their educational opportunities during an extended period of "social distancing" and coronavirus lockdown, we must focus less on "learning loss," and more on "learning gain."
Sure, whenever schools start back up there will be some catching-up to do like there is every fall after summer break. But students will catch-up. So, let's relax a bit about that and instead focus on learning gains, i.e., what are the all-important lessons we are learning in the interim about our humanity (or lack of it) to each other?
To that end, I believe it would be to all our benefits during this pandemic if we also were mindful of the following:
1) Much of what children learn is caught and not taught. Be aware of the, perhaps, more important lessons they are learning from the way adults are responding to this public health emergency and to each other. Robert Fulghum, author of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, once counseled us: "Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."
2) Discover and remember what things we can live without.
3) Identify the people who have been really important to us over our lifetime and try to locate them and tell them it's likely many of them are teachers.
4) Make a list of what we've discovered is truly important to us.
5) Remember other challenging times/moments/periods in our life and identify what comforted and calmed us and remember that we managed to come out the other side.
6) As we confront thoughts of our own mortality, relish the feeling we have each morning when we open our eyes to greet a new day.
7) Remember those front-line and service people who too often go unnoticed, unacknowledged, and underappreciated. Remember to thank them now and as we move forward.
8) As we think about things we might want to do differently once this crisis has subsided priorities we may want to reconsider we should write them down and commit to honoring as many as we can when we get to the other side.
9) Come to grips with our loss of power and control of the outside world and refocus our energy on controlling our inner world and reconnecting with ourselves and those we love.
Yes, these are scary times. Times when hugs are needed most, but least advised. When our finest human instincts may struggle to override some of our baser ones. When we are aware that life will be different moving forward, but we don't know how. When the word "unprecedented" has become redundant.
Yet, these are also times when we are reminded that life goes on, when our common humanity exults as we care for others and ourselves, and when we don't tire of being reminded that "this too shall pass."
And so it will.
April 2, 2020
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a "bonus" son, five grandchildren, and three "bonus" grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. He's taught from graduate school "up to" nursery school in NY, NJ, and CT. He's taught special education students as well as gifted children. After eight years as principal of the elementary school he attended as a student in NYC, Allan founded the National Elementary School Center. In 10 years at its helm, he served as an advisor to President Reagan's Secretary of Education and several state school superintendents and independent school associations. He began writing in the 1980s about education and parenting for numerous major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. He also was invited to be an advisor to President Barack Obama's Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on its fatherhood initiative. In 2008, he founded REEL FATHERS in Santa Fe, NM, and currently serves as president emeritus. In 2017, Allan founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC's Ethical Culture Schools, his BA at Colgate University, his MA at Columbia University's Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important "degree" of all.
He lives in Chevy Chase, MD
I love that you are looking into and trying unschooling. Before I seriously got into education, and now I currently am a Professor of Early Childhood Education, I taught art to children in my community in Western Massachusetts, Many were homeschoolers. That was a background for my young teenage daughter to ask if she could homeschool when yet another year of being in public school was not supporting her learning and she was depressed and lagging behind in many areas. So, at a certain point we agreed on the homeschooling and were advised to look into unschooling first, because many make the mistake of copying school, which is exactly what your child might be trying to get away from. We had some magical experiences during this first year in particular, where my daughter wanted to study Lewis Carroll, because she wondered how an adult who wrote such imaginative works could keep his imagination alive as an adult. Such an interesting and curious question! So, in the local library the only books on the author were huge, long for my daughter who was not an avid reader yet. I knew about scanning books from my master's program studies, and I thought of the i-Ching or Tarot Cards, where you randomly select a card or position and find that to provide your message of guidance for the day / time. So, I asked her initially what she knew of him and she said she'd heard he was part of a study group of other writers. She wanted to know about that. We then decided to randomly open the book to see where it led us, and low and behold, right there we had opened to a page describing the Inklings group Carroll had been a part of. So, we learned that curiosity, questioning, trust and perseverance were going to lead us on in the learning journey. Pretty soon my daughter started a small "zine" and kept it going for a year and half, and she got 23 paying subscribers from ages 3 - 82! She interviewed several people about their religion and beliefs for one zine, asked peers to submit stories, poems, creative project ideas. She drew a card with a message for each, inspired by her love of Tarot cards. Lots of learning just in this zine experience. Good luck as you continue your journey and trust in the creative process based in your children's curiosities!
This I believe happens when you are in the present with your child. You are following your child's lead and following up by teaching them what they are interested in which becomes fun and natural! couldn't get enough of my kids in their formative years and followed their lead similarly to what Ms Saira said in the above statement . This is also similar to the Reggio Emilia model/Highscope.