24 August 2008

The Free Range Kid is home!

Madeleine is finally home after spending most of the summer with family and at camp. She is happy to be here, but I think it has more to do with high speed internet than parents. The great thing about our new arrangement of me being a peasant and her homeschooling is that summer isn't over until it's actually over. We have no arbitrary first day of school to spoil the fun. And no Labour Day weekend spent schlupping through overcrowded big box stores carrying a list of school supplies (no substitutions!) muttering unseemly things about teachers, malls, children and why can't a backpack last more than one year?

We've had lots of questions about our plans to homeschool this year. I'll attempt to answer them here, keeping in mind that everything is subject to change as conditions warrant.

If we had to attach a label to what we plan to do, it would be unschooling, but I'd rather not get dogmatic about it. I think it would be more correct to say that we're living free range and learning as the natural outcome of living. I'll act as facilitator, mentor, guidance counsellor, parent, and whatever else I'm capable of as required. We'll try to get involved in "real life" activities according to our interests and energy levels.

Q: Are you going to follow a curriculum?

A: No. We're not going to do school at home, and we're not going to "do" the arbitrary list of learning objectives as set out by any government or school board department.

Q: Will you do standardized testing?

A: Eek! No.

Q: How will she learn ______?

The quick A: The same way she learned to walk, talk, ride a bike, read, care for her rats, knit, identify reptiles and absolutely everything else.

The longer A: The question has some built in assumptions that deserve questioning. The first is that there are important things in life that can only be learned in a school-ish environment. And some of these important things need to be learned in a specific order. And no one would want to learn them unless they were in a structured environment and it was mandatory. When Madeleine figures out why she needs to know how to graph a polynomial equation, there will be no shortage of resources available to us to help her learn. It may be a book, something on the internet, some software, a tutor, or a correspondence course, or maybe I'll be able to reach back into the dusty corners of my memory and show her. Of course, there are all kinds of things that she may never know she wants to know, unless she is exposed to them. But that's true for everyone, not just kids. As an adult, I have never felt the need to go the the government of Ontario web site to check that I have achieved a sufficient understanding of the complete curriculum for grades k-12. Of course, if I went through this exercise, I'd have to make sure that I started at the beginning and worked my way through in order, so as to make sure I had the proper foundation for the rest. Or, here's a radical notion: I will never bother to check my skills and knowledge against an arbitrary list, and it will make no difference to the rest of my life. Likewise, Madeleine will learn everything she needs to know to do what she wants to do.

Q: What about friends?

A: There obviously isn't the same opportunity to interact with kids of the exact same age, if you're not confined with them for several hours a day. We'll be seeking out opportunities to interact with people of all ages, and maintain friendships outside of school. I'm not convinced that a typical middle school environment is the best for social enrichment, anyway.

And so, with the confidence of the inexperienced, we start our free range learning adventure.

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