Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Fifteen Unschooling Necessities

At one conference many years ago, and several others more recently, I was asked what is the most indispensable thing for any homeschooler.  Most of the panelists talked about schedules and curricula.   I talked furniture.  Of course, unschooling, or relaxed homeschooling, is more than home decor, so here are the things we really need to make unschooling a breeze.  What would you add?

#1:  The humble couch--sofa, divan, Castro, daybed, or whatever you call it--is the most important item in our homeschool.  Can you see why?  When the kids are little, they can all crowd around for a story, reading time, sing along, or just a quick cuddle.  And for bigger kids, it is a comfy place to work, read, doze, or play a game on a tablet.  But big or small, when the picture books are opened, everyone gathers to listen.

#2:  I have been to homes without book shelves.  The people there could not be homeschooling.  Yes, books collect dust, and so often are left unshelved as untidy reminders of homeschooling going on around you. But book shelves tell stories themselves.  When I visit a new friend I head over to the book shelves to see what kind of books reside there.  I expect friends to do the same when they visit my home.

#3:  Library Card, because they are mostly free (thank you Ben Franklin).  All the books in the world, and a nice place to browse, too.  In our area, the library is a cooling center.  During the hot summer months, the library, with the a/c set on cold, maintains a temp of about 50 degrees.  In the winter, it's pretty cozy, and has a fun seating area in the young adult section.

#4:  Because TV can be ugly, and commercials are worse, get Netflix or Amazon Instant Video (I hear Downton Abbey is all the rage, and can be ordered by season).

#5:  Kindle, or iPad, or Nook, or tablet of any kind (and check out this discussion in the WSJ).  They are portable, instant, can store many, many books, and most are compatible with Audible.

#6:  Audible because no time should ever be wasted.  Exercise with it.  Drive with it.  Sleep with it.  Listening to different voices, accents, and even languages using audio books will expand your hearing horizons.  Expand your vocabulary without having to sound out words.

#7:  Music is about everything.  It can be political, romantic, jarring or soothing.  Play it.  Sing it.  Listen to it.  Go to concerts.  Put on your own concerts.  Dance informally, or take lessons.  Learn square dance calling.  Learn the art of the DJ.  Improvise.  Same goes for art.  Lessons or no lessons, try different genres and media.

#8:  Freedom to explore the world.  And this will include a good deal of risk.  Kids should be able to use public transportation to get to wonderful places, like parks and museums.  This will not only increase their feeling of independence, but will give you more freedom, too.

#9:  Time.  Well, simply skipping institutionalized school gives you this.  Don't waste it.

#10:  Shakespeare.  We spend three months every school year doing Shakespeare.  Pair up with a friend and read a play. Watch film versions, or better, go to a professional performance.  Get a group together and do scenes.  Get a big dedicated group together and do a whole play.  Nothing self-educates better than Shakespeare.

#11:  Get the kids some pets.  If you don't want pets, make sure your kids have friends with pets.  You don't need a dog, or a hog; a fish will do.  Or garden snails in a terrarium, which are free and adapt well to captivity.  These are especially nice if you want to show your kids the miracle of invertebrate life without any real expense.  Yes, you can release the hatchlings right into the wild, no fear.

#12:  Shower curtains.  You laugh?  Everyone with a shower needs them, and we use them even if we have a glass shower door.  Keeps things neat, and (this is the point) they can be educational.  No, I don't mean for mold sampling purposes, but for the fun things that are printed on them.  We have two that are terrific:  One has seashells with scientific names (can't find it anywhere anymore...but there are others!), and the other is the shower curtain of the periodic table.  Yes, I got a call from one of my college students thanking me for having that shower curtain hanging for so many years. She probably wishes we had alternated with the Human Skeleton curtain. Or how about a World Map?  The Water Cycle?  Pi?  Even Sea Life has earned a curtain. So, if you are an unschooler, it's curtains for you.

#13:  A job can make a difference in any kid's life, and the sooner the better.  Ben Franklin was selling beer at age 11.  What can your pre-teen or young teen do to earn money in these days of crippling child labor laws?  Here are some suggestions from my own family, and from friends' families, too:  Babysitter/mother's helper, music teacher, CCD hallway monitor (really), altar boy for funerals and weddings, shop helper, office worker, baker, yard worker, snow shoveler, a lemonade stand operator (if you dare), dog walker, house sitter...use your imagination.  And there's math involved in every paid job you can find, if only to calculate your income.

#14:  Tools.  Kids should be able to hammer a nail, drill a hole, oil a hinge, chop and saw wood, whittle, tie proper knots, wire a lamp, fix a leak, climb a ladder, whitewash a fence, start a fire with one match (and no accelerant) and more.  Unschooling doesn't mean no lessons, but it does mean that things can be learned purposefully.

#15:  Duct tape.  The kids will find a reason.


Anonymous said...

Amen! That's all I can say about that. : )

Nancy Piccione said...

Terrific! Especially time.

Helenrr said...

Oh yes. :) Nailed it...I'd add fling open the kitchen and arts/crafts :) Patience for both self and kids... Car schooling rocks...follow the rabbit trails. :)

Kimberlee said...

Great list, MacBeth! But you forgot tea. Actually, we would ditch 5 & 6 for a teapot, but that's just us. ;-)
We're so weird we like our books made out of paper, all the time.
I think silence and 'wasting time' can be quite good for the mind, and even though we have the ability to be listening to someone or something all the time doesn't mean we're wasting time if we aren't. Don't ya think?
(but how could there really be a home without bookshelves?!? wouldn't it fall down?) (and do we get bonus points for starting our fires with flint and steel?)

Chris said...

Wonderful, MacBeth.
Love your tips, love your style.


Allison said...

great list! Sharing it on my blog's FB page and on Pinterest.

Had to smile when I saw the shower curtain part. We've had the SAT words and Italian words. Hope they make lots more.

Divine Theatre said...

Education is organic. We are led by our daughter's instincts and interests. Rules and lists only get in the way of that.


MacBeth Derham said...

No lists? Heh...Pretty good rule, there, Andie, but don't let it get in the way of educating your daughter.