Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What? You Don't Use a Recipe?

One of the hardest things about unschooling, is that it daily exposes me to my rabid insecurity. I'll sit in a happy circle of home-schooling Catholic moms. Suddenly the talk changes from apple juice prices to lessons plans.

Fear traps my body like a vice. Am I doing it wrong? My relaxed, improvised approach to learning, does it count as actual school? Is it possible that my golden haired child is going to be the one kid who ends up at 20, not knowing the short vowel sound for A?

I pondered my fear over the weekend. Then, I decided that unschooling is similar to cooking without a recipe.

I don’t have any natural competence in baking. I’d never attempt to make a pineapple upside down cake without some helpful directions from Betty Crooker. Yet, I know plenty of seasoned cooks, who whip up new recipes with things they have on hand, yummy pasta dishes or new types of cake.

My Mom didn’t sew me a chic apron when I married. She didn’t bequeath me a worn recipe book. The bad Catholic that I am, I still begrudge my Mom the 12 hours a day I spent in day care starting at age six weeks. Yet there was something about hanging out with a master educator for all those years. Like a girl who grew up under a talented cook or working musician, I’ve got the hang of the educational basics. I trust myself. And now I like to throw out the curriculum workbooks and go off road.

It’s about improvisation. It’s like Jazz.

You can learn music in the classical method. Piano lessons. Fingers curved just so. Note value and Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Our you can hand your kid a clarinet and let them blow. You make the music first, and then you fill in the knowledge gaps as you go along.

The second approach is more rare, more unconventional. But for those of us allergic to routine, playing real tunes on the clarinet as we master our notes is a far faster way to get to adore the difficult trills of Mozart than years spent dutifully learning our scales.

I’m glad this tension between teaching with a curriculum and teaching through unschooling exists. It reminds me clearly that we are all one body in Christ. No matter what, I have less in common with secular families who mimic my preferred teaching style. I need time with my Catholic home-schooling friends to recharge my spiritual batteries. They keep me focused on my most important task, helping my spouse and children reach heaven.

Beside, all that time with her Catholic friends is good for my daughter. Maybe, one day one of the younger kids will teacher her how to spell J-E-S-U-S.


  1. I can really appreciate your post - love the comparison to Jazz, too!!

    Be bop a dop a doobee do waasooo!

    I've noticed as they get older there's a craving for structure - it seems backwards to some - but the reality - at least for us - was exposure to the world and then more applied learning....we would find the interest instead of a mandated subject, if you will!

    I think you're a terrific writer!

    Haven't I said that before? ;-) and I too, need to be recharged by my Catholic homeschooling buddies!

  2. Go for it, Abby! I think a homeschooling mom, generally*, need to use the system, or lack thereof, that works best for her. Children learn best from happy, confident parents. I can't imagine unschooling, but then I'm the one who follows recipes to the absolute tee. Structure will help me be the happy, confident homeschooling mom I need to be for my kids; unschooling is doing that for your.

    *Of course, if I had a child who simply could not learn in a structured enviroment, I certainly would be turning to you for hints on unschooling. While I think mom's preferences go first in the homeschooling, obviously I would pay attention to my children's learning styles.

  3. I have gone from a very stuctured - workbook touting catholic homeschooling mother who is ever so slowly working her way towards the freedom of unschooling. Haven't quite gotten there yet. This year we are doing more of a Thomas Jefferson Education, but the farther away from workbooks I get, the more fun I see my children having while they learn.
    God Bless!

  4. One of my education professors once said that until the end of 2nd grade, really you can do anything and it is educational. I agree with the above post that children generally need (and are happier with!) more structure as they get older.
    That having been said - I used a very very loose approach (not quite unschooling, but no "curriculum in a box") with my son in kindergarten. I thought it was a great approach - it was a terrible fit. Some kids really need structure more than others. You are lucky to be starting with a girl!!