A Peek at LDS Un-Schooling
A growing number of LDS families choose to use home-based education, and the number of philosophies available as a framework for learning are quite expansive. With the ordered framework of the church itself as a major cultural component, many of the favorite philosophies tend to have a high level of structure as well.
Our family? Well, we’re odd. We chose a path that’s a little different from others. It works for us. Sometimes other people think it’s fun to take a peek into what it looks like on a daily basis. And we’re generally good with that, so long as no one thinks a peek means they get to give the verbal equivalent of high-stakes testing to our kids. Real questions: welcomed. Uninformed judgment lurking as faux questions: my kids are going to look at you funny, and get back to their lives.
So, What Is Un-Schooling?
Un-schooling could be loosely defined as individually-structured learning; some call it “child-led learning” and others “interest-led learning.” I find those terms do work fairly well, though they neglect the role of the parents as mentors and supports to learning.
In our household, we operate with a goal of trust. Trust is harder than it looks. One of my favorite quotes from John Holt, a mid-20th century pioneer in less-structured (non-Prussian Model) education, explains why:
Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple – or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves – and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.
As a society, we don’t usually trust children. We don’t trust them to sleep when they’re sleepy. We don’t trust them to use the bathroom when they have to go, or walk there and back without permission and supervision. We don’t trust them to find their own answers to questions they ask. We don’t trust them to run without falling over. We don’t trust that they want to be and do good. We don’t trust that they can learn without coercion or outside reward structures.
We don’t trust them, because we were taught very young that we, as children, were not inherently worthy of trust. That whole set of philosophies doesn’t jive with our Savior’s admonition to “become as little children,” in my mind, and isn’t terribly respectful of the worth and agency of individual tiny people, either. So, we made a different choice.
What Does It Look Like?
Our choice to step off the entire merry-go-round means our school days don’t look much like school to most people. We don’t have desks, or an official school room, or a set schedule and purchased textbooks for every subject. And while there’s no such thing as an average day around here, there are some overall routines for different seasons. Our household is not representative of all LDS un-schooling households, and sometimes doesn’t even represent our un-schooling household! With the hope of Spring ever present in my heart, our days look something like this:
Mornings see each person rising when their body wakes, and not much before. Everyone does better when they’ve had adequate sleep, so we don’t set alarms unless we really need to be up and moving early (such as days we’re traveling as a family to perform, or early work days, or for commitments like community service, church activity, music, dance, etc.)
We try to maintain a routine of “up, dress, make beds, consider eating something,” because it feels civilized and makes the day run more smoothly. It’s quite individual, though, and we only sit for a formal breakfast a few times a week. The rest of the time, individual children (we have four, ages 16, 14, 8, and 5) work alone or cooperatively with one another or a parent to take care of breakfast. There’s also a lot of snuggling, lumping on the couch in quilts to read, chatting over homemade cocoa, and debating over who deserves the last home-hen egg, and who has to make due with a bought egg.
The mornings are a great time to get laundry going, hung out, folded, and otherwise handled. There will be some hen-cuddling time, and egg-gathering, and probably some Math With Hens, too. My two older kids will check their computer-based interests, do a little personal research on design or game theory or history or a current scientific yearning. We’ll check weather forecasts. At some point, music gets switched on, and there will be an indoor or outdoor dance party.
Mornings are also for building forts and other spaces to use in the afternoon. At some point in the Spring (when nights no longer get below 38), the kids set up the tents, and move into the back garden until early fall. Until then, temporary forts and other small spaces fill the need to create places.
We use internet sites daily, in a free-flowing exploration of topics as we come across them. Sometimes, one child is interested and explores pretty much on his/her own. Most of the time, an idea or concept will catch everyone’s interest, and then we end up with pretty involved family discussions, experiments, and projects.
We use the library heavily, and by heavily, I mean: heavily. As in, we have five library cards. Typically, at least two cards are riding the “items out” limit, which is 50. We change out books at least once a week. We go through a Lot of Books, and a Lot of Topics.
What we don’t use very often is a purchased textbook. We explore language arts and literature by writing and reading as part of everyday life, and for pleasure and work. We read novels, not because they are an appropriate AR level or needed for a lit course, but because they’re good to read, and we like them. We don’t require our kids to keep reading books that aren’t it; they’re free to stop reading.
We explore math and science by using math and science, reading books by mathematicians and scientists, doing cool experiments, growing things to eat, raising pet hens, cooking, blacksmithing, blowing things up now and then, building things, star-gazing, laying on blankets under the trees to study natural fractals, and other interesting pursuits.
Several of the kids are fans of particular scientists or mathematicians the way other kids are fans of sports figures or pop singers. (My kids like some sports and pop stars, too… just not with the same devotion that, say, Tesla warrants. Please do not ask my Eldest to explain Tesla unless you have about a week. She is a true, loyal, and complete fan.)
One constant through the day is reminding, training, and mentoring our youngest in Picking Up Her Pig Piles. She’s a natural disaster zone, and we’re working very hard with her to establish good habits. Un-schooling doesn’t mean we don’t give instruction. We give a lot of instruction! We just don’t give book reports or worksheets or fill-the-bubble tests.
Afternoons rotate between Home Days (individual project time, reading, experiments, laundry, cuddling, naps) and Away Days (errands, trips to museums and the library, visits with friends and family).
Our version of homeschooling also involves music. In our household, we currently own: 1 piano, 1 violin, 1 dulcimer, 1 set bongos, 1 concertina, 2 ocarinas, 2 pennywhistles, 2 Great Highland bagpipes, 1 Scottish shuttle pipe, 8 Scottish tenor drums, 4 Scottish snare drums, 1 bodhran, 1 small acoustic guitar, 1 better acoustic guitar, 3 trumpets, 1 cornet, and a tambourine. We have six family members. And a very small house. Yes, that’s an awfully lot of instruments.
Our choice to Do Music definitely affects our lifestyle. Ours is not a silent home. We also have singers and dancers. Some form of cultural arts practice or performance is a daily item. As the kids get older and more skilled (and as my Beloved and I continue to develop our skills right along with them), it just gets more and more fun.
We don’t choose to own a TV, but do have access to movies and some TV shows through the internet (for the last few years; before that, we didn’t watch TV shows except when visiting relatives. But none of us like commercials, so we usually wait for shows to come out on DVD.) This has only occasionally been a problem (due to others thinking it’s un-American or something to not have a TV), and it’s not a big deal 99% of the time.
There’s no official end to our family’s learning day. We’ve had kids wake up at 11pm because they had a math dream and wanted to practice some. We’ve done buoyancy experiments in the bathtub after dinner. Spring evenings are a great time for family walks and bike rides, star-gazing, heading to the playground to shoot baskets, or watching a show via the internet (we all really like Phineas and Ferb and a lot of BBC programming.)
We’re not the best at reading scriptures together daily, but it’s a habit I’m still working to make firm. We do often have family reading of books-in-general in the evening, as my Beloved loves being read to; it’s been our habit for me to read aloud to him since our first dating days. Bed time happens as individual people get tired, and based on the activities anticipated the following day. The Littles are usually in bed by 9:30 or 10:00; the Bigs by 10:30 or 11:00 (later if it’s a really good book, earlier if they’re working the next morning.)
What About Socialization?
Since our goal isn’t socialized children, but civilized adults, we’ve not found it necessary to do much beyond Let Our Kids Have A Life to encourage their development in social settings. Work, the arts, daily living, friends, church life… they have friends of all ages and are pretty comfortable navigating the world on their own, or with others.
Even after nearly 17 years of this track, I still get a giggle out of the conversations I have with well-meaning people, who wax complimentary about one or another of the kids, how helpful and friendly and focused and capable they are, what a great chat they had, etc… and then ask if we worry about their social skills, what with our unorthodox methods at home? I generally just smile, and refer them to their own Exhibit A: The Offspring.
As our older ones approach normal societal launch points, we’re trying to be a bit more formalized in keeping track of the resources and general courses of study they choose to undertake, so we can sum up for transcripts to support additional, more formalized learning as needed. We’ve chosen to encourage a wide range of post-secondary educational options, including trade schools, liberal arts universities, and entering the business world while pursuing an independent learning course outside of formalized structures. We’re also very big on giving them the tools they need to get the start they want, debt-free.
Each of the kids has a sort of skills and abilities list, full of the various Aspects of Adult Life, that they expect to have demonstrated proficiency in before they head out into the world. That list has academic components and generalized how to be a real person components as well: domestic living skills, entrepreneurial and financial skills (we expect each of the Offspring to start and run at least one micro-business on their own before their Launch), service skills, and things on their own personal Bucket List all factor into their graduation requirements.
We do follow our state’s requirements for legal home education, and stay active in making sure the state legislature does not impinge upon educational liberty and family-based autonomy with restrictive laws. We don’t denigrate those who operate within the current US/Prussian-model systems (we have loved ones who are some of the most amazing, inspiring teachers within those systems!) but we don’t choose to utilize that system for ourselves. We don’t buy stuff from the public school fundraisers (they don’t sell stuff we’d use, and we have to maintain all those instruments at our house!) but we do pay the taxes that support those schools, and we do support positive educational reform to help children in all settings. We’re highly pro-child around here.
So, un-schooling: even among weirdo homeschoolers, it’s odd. Add in the LDS facet, and we’re in a huge minority, so we don’t have many illusions of taking over the world. Well, at least we don’t on most days. We’re content to enjoy our own little wonderful realm, and explore the world together.
Consider me an open book: what would you like to ask an un-schooling LDS mom?