Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Archaelogical Dig: The First Post I Ever Put Online. . .

[As always, (double) click to see better.]
Along with this post, I wanted to put up a photo of something done by Aimee, and this was the only thing I could find this a.m. Aimee created this everyday nature page in the same year my first-ever post was written (1998)--she did one of them a day for awhile. The photo-quality here is poor, but I don't have time to take a better picture because I'm hurrying to post this--I'm going "raspberrying" with my sister this morning!
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I had barely learned how to use the internet, but I found a Christian unschooling message board and began to quietly read the posts. One day a man asked if there was anyone who had older kids who could maybe post about how unschooling works for them (he actually specified that he wanted "success stories"). Well, none of my kids had finished homeschooling yet, but they were older than the kids of the other moms on that board. I wondered if I should post something.

It took me two days (at least) to get up the nerve to post, and when I did I almost had a panic attack (not really, but I was nervous!). The internet and message boards were completely new and foreign to me then, and I have to say, a little scary. Prior to the internet, people only communicated (on an everyday basis) with those in their real community, in real life, so opening up and telling about us to the (conceivably) entire world felt like stepping on the moon. Scary unknown territory.

When I was unpacking boxes last week and ran across this very first post, it seemed sort of historic. Now, here I am, 13 years later, keeping a public blog of my everyday life! (And I can’t help but consider, once again, with all of the positives the internet has to offer, what has been lost.)

Reading this first post again, I have to say that my opinions about “unschooling” (we never entirely followed the philosophy) were firmer then than they are now. A lot of my opinions were packaged with more certainty. Even back then I never thought that everyone should learn the way we did—not at all!—and, while I’d do it over the same way again (maybe even moreseo!), I am quite convinced that there’s no one right way to educate children.

In the post, I describe 15-year-old Aimee’s days, and now it does not even sound like her! Three years later, at the end of her homeschooling days at home, her life and education had really developed well beyond what I wrote about in the post. And some of what she had planned to do didn’t end up happening at all.

Without further adieu, but with a whole bunch of cringing and reluctance (why did I say I would post this?!) and just a bit of editing, here’s that first post:

Tuesday, January 20, 1998, 1:36:48 EST

(“Blah, blah, blah.” Leaving off a bit of beginning-of-post fluff. . .)

“We all love learning while so many of our homeschooling friends are burned out and frustrated; based on this alone, I consider our homeschool a success.

“We have homeschooled our four children—15-year-old girl, 14 year-old-girl, 12 year-old-boy, 10-year-old girl—for nine years using relaxed/unschooling methods.

“We don’t formally teach writing, but our oldest child placed 2nd in the 1997 National Written and Illustrated contest out of more than 7500 final entries. She competed as a 14-year-old in the age 14-19 category. Contestants write and illustrate a 16-24 page book, and winners are published. She has placed in the top 15 in this contest before, and her sister was a Top 100 Finalist in last year’s competition.

The best measure of success, though, is a child’s love of learning. Since she is oldest, I’ll use my 15-year-old as an example: She decides what she wants to learn and do each day, and is completely self-taught. Her current interest in the Great Depression has led her to read several books, and now she plans to write a story set in that time period, possibly to enter in the writing contest I mentioned. She writes beautiful worship songs (words and piano music) and is often asked to sing them in church. She also loves to play classical music on the piano. She reads missionary stories, one after the other, and studies each country she reads about. She is learning French. She writes to penpals in Sweden and New Zealand. She is finishing Algebra 2 and will probably do Advanced Math—her decision. She loves to flower garden (reads about it—and botany—all the time) and plans to take a Master Gardener course through the state university extension program this spring. She has read books about midwifery and has an opportunity to accompany a local midwife to home births. She loves Jane Austen and the Brontes and has read all of their books and also biographies about the authors. She also reads Dickens, Hawthorne, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and many others. She has studied many other things in-depth and continues to learn about them. Once the door to an interest is opened, it never closes. That’s the beauty of unschooling—there is no final exam. It’s a lifelong endeavor.

I can’t stress enough that if you give your children freedom to play, even while other kids their age are filling in blanks in a workbook, you’ll be amazed later at how much education was really going on. Let them think, wonder, and create as they lie in the grass, play legos, stack blocks, swing, catch grasshoppers, bounce a ball, build forts. . . When we take them from these valuable endeavors and put a workbook in front of them, we begin to strangle something precious. Play will move naturally into study as children mature if we give them plenty of time and freedom. Allow their interests to develop and run their natural course, and you will see incredible results. We water the seeds by providing encouragement, support, and resources. Never rush or push a child. Resist the temptation to control their learning—I speak from experience.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that there is an important relationship between play and learning. What can look like dawdling or time-wasting may not be at all. When my 12-year-old boy used to take FOREVER to wash the dinner dishes, he wasn’t dawdling. He was doing buoyancy and water displacement experiments with the dishes. I saw this and asked myself, “How important is it that he finish those dishes within a certain amount of time?” It wasn’t. He turns almost everything he does into an experiment or an analysis of how something works. He couldn’t just vacuum his room—he had to take apart the vacuum cleaner to see how it worked. He is now reading the college text, Conceptual Physics, just for fun. The transition between play and increasingly serious study is gradual and happens at a different age for each child. My 14-year-old girl was 13 before she really threw herself into anything that appeared academic, and then she did it with a vengeance! My son, on the other hand, has always immersed himself completely in his interests.

Finally, I want to say that the kids are very mature and pursue whatever they do to a high level of excellence. Unschooling produces results far above any we would have gotten from traditional studies. I know because I’ve tried it. Even our very skeptical-of-homeschooling public school teacher friends now admit that this type of learning takes kids far beyond what they would do in public school. They are now seriously considering homeschooling their gifted seventh grader “so that he won’t be held back by public school.” Suddenly people around us are saying how gifted our children are. . . I say they aren’t gifted—they have simply been allowed to learn in a free, relaxed environment according to the nature God has given them. This will always be successful.

(And then I quote Einstein):

“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect [upon me] that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year. . . It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”

Well, there it is. My first post ever.


  1. I've been wanting to ask a question ever since you posted the pic of the girls' books and the calendar that your sweet daughter made for you year after year. In that post you mentioned the playing that took place with the stuffed animals. It sounds as though in all the "play" and "art" that it was always done with such excellence. Do you feel you did anything to foster this? We create things in our home all the time but sometimes it seems it is only created for a very temporary purpose and not a lot of time and energy is put into it...not always what I would consider excellent work. (This could very well be because I don't value it enough or don't leave them alone long enough to do the things that I don't deem worthwhile at the moment???) Did you ever guide in "play"? I don't mean interfere and actually be involved in the play (that seems to always take the fun out of it, and besides that's just not the way I mother) but for instance when they were making the house for the stuffed animals, did you encourage excellence somehow in how they went about doing it?
    On a side note, your home looks so lovely and airy! You have a knack, I do believe! :)
    Happy day,

  2. Great post, Susan!
    I couldn't agree more about the importance of not forcing or coercing children. There can be something very crushing to the natural spirit in that. As a therapist, I see every day, how precious, unique and individual we all are and how being almost scripted and molded to the expectations of others, adversely impacts our lives. When I work with adults, there's a lot of work for them to firstly see how this came about and then they finally have some freedom about where to go in the here and now with it. When working with children and young people, some of the most beneficial, learning & growing parts of their process is in their expression through creative means as they haven't yet had that crushed out of them. The same applies to some adults who simply have no words for whatever trauma brought them to me. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that each human being learns, grows, changes (and heals) in their own uniquie way and at their own pace. Facilitating and providing an environment where this is encouraged and nurtured is an absolute joy for me,in my work. I think you're spot on that this is the way in which "school" learning should lean. It was never an option here. In fact I still don't know anyone who homeschools their children. My boys are 18 and 13 now, so well up already. We're Catholic and their schools are Catholic run and maintained (though not by priests, nuns or christian brothers, as mine were) Though still fairly strict, very good community based school,with much input from us parents, they've done well and are happy there. If I had to start over with them I would be def be of the home "unschooling" train of thought.
    Your children all seem to be beautifully creative, going by the work shown on this and other posts. Love it!

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  4. I would be interested in any advice for fostering excellence as well. Also, any advice for fostering that love of reading? I love reading, have a large library at home for our family, have read aloud for years, have a MS in Reading Education and have "done the right things" to grow that love, but my boys cannot stand to read. They are very proficient readers; they just do not enjoy it to the dismay of this Momma!

  5. These are good comments and questions! First, Claina, your insights are really interesting and thought-provoking, coming especially from your profession as a therapist. I really appreciate that you shared your thoughts at length like this!

    Renee and Michelle, I am already thinking about how I will answer your questions, and I will definitely respond to them the best I can in the next two or three days (don't know how the weekend will go yet). Michelle, can you remind me how old your boys are?

  6. I would love to hear any ideas you have! My boys are 11 and almost 9. Speaking of excellence, it just struck me how much care, time and attention they do take in making their Lego creations - just not written work. Maybe it is a matter of maturity.

  7. Michelle brings up a good point about the Legos. As I think about it my children do certain things with excellence. One of my children is such an inventor/creator. He lacks in patience.....he just wants to know RIGHT NOW if something will work or not. I look forward to your response!

  8. This really takes me back! When I started homeschooling in 1987 there were no computers to speak of. I remember going to the library and they had installed computers for the patrons to use. My boys were pretty young, but unafraid to try them. They've been using them ever since and Mom jumped on board as well. My boys learned using mainly a textbook approach (Christian Liberty), but my daughter was more of an unschooler. If they don't want to do the work it can't be forced. She turned out just fine and is very self-directed in her life. The 1980's were a scary time to be homeschooling as our neighbors in North Dakota were being jailed for teaching their children, but God gave us the courage one day at a time to continue and I've never regretted it.

    This was an interesting post. I can remember spending a lot of time on a non-Christian unschooling website and the discussions got pretty spirited! It was so exciting to finally have a tool (the computer) to communicate with other homeschoolers after feeling so alone out here in "the sticks"! :)