Before I get into the subject of tonight’s post, I must confess I feel the urge to talk a bit about the past. Shortly after we started this site, I briefly recounted our history of homeschooling. The thing I wanted to remind you of is that we were not always unschoolers. All 3 of the older children started out with an out of the box curriculum. So, many of the things I talk about are lessons that have been learned the hard way. Probably the main reason I am able to write with the surety that I do is that I’ve already tried the alternative. But, the main reason I take the time to write is to share our experience, so that anyone reading will not be as alone in this as we were for many years. And that, in the last few years, I’ve come to realize that the experts really know very little about what they are talking about in many instances.
Since I’ve been away during the week, Andrea and I have been using Google Chat to talk at night to allow for longer (and more convenient) conversations and save on long distance charges. In the first week, occasionally, Andrea would send a message for Emma. But the next week, Emma wanted to sit on Andrea’s knee and watch. The first thing you know, I’m getting messages typed by Emma. Some of them are something like ‘asfadflkfdj;sdlfndmcn,smcniowafhewoude’, others resemble things she would say. One of those is ’emmatodade’ (Emma to Daddy) followed by ‘iloveyou’. And once, she sent me a ‘fune’ (funny) in reply to something I sent her. Since then, she has taken to counting with me, ‘12345678910’ and then I say ’11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20′. Then she giggles hysterically.
This week she did, ‘123456789100’. When I got home last night she wanted to know if I thought it was funny that she ended with one hundred. That’s the number we count to when I’m tucking her in for the night (she always has to say 100). She has also caught onto a number of the ascii ‘smiley’s that the chat turns into a graphic. Of these, her favourite is <3 which rotates counter-clockwise and into a heart. What Andrea did this week was set her up with her own profile on a second computer so she can chat with me on her own. She loves it. Mom is close by if she needs help, but otherwise, she can do it independently.
I realize that circumstances have created a situation which has heightened the interest in learning something. I’m sure the experts would argue that the chatting doesn’t support unschooling because of the extenuating circumstances. But, that couldn’t be further than the truth. This is a perfect illustration of both how and why unschooling does work. The how is really simple. If children are interested in something, they will invest the time and energy into learning it. The whole point of unschooling is that if children are interested they can and will learn. If you eliminate all the situations in a child’s life which heighten his or her interest in learning what you are likely to be left with is, …well, something pretty much like a classroom.
The second half of the title relates to Emma’s growing investment in creativity. To step back in history again, we had abandoned alot of the structured element of the older children’s education by the time Emma was born. The transformation I went through involved me realizing that alot of the things that I had formerly assumed about children were not necessarily true. Having been graced with her, I had (and have) an opportunity to discover and learn about children. And so, I’ve done a great deal of observing and making mental notes. One of the things I’ve watched along the way is the development of her ability to exercise her creativity.
One of the things I’ve done with Emma has been respond to her motor skills being unable to keep up with her creativity differently than I did with the older children. When they got upset that they couldn’t do something because of a lack of coordination or fine motor skills, we used to try to comfort them by telling them it was ok. With Emma, what I’ve done is hug/hold her and ask her if she’d like me to help her. Sometimes she accepts and sometimes she refuses. The thing is, whether you are 2, 5, 10 or 50, when you can’t do something you really want to do, it’s not ok, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to give the impression that I think she is more creative than the older kids. But, that I think responding in a different way has allowed me to be more involved in her creativity and she is more willing to allow me to help her by hurdles.
Having said that, this week she made a car out of a cardboard box. Essentially, she drew alot of the details found in a car on appropriate locations on the box including a rearview mirror. In the rearview mirror you can see the sun, an ice cream stand and a car parked in front of the stand (because the driver is buying ice cream). It has an ignition and keys, a gas tank with fill cap, gauges and controls, etc. It’s very elaborate. She put alot of time into it. At the same time, you can tell it’s the artwork of a child.
When I was teaching at the college, this was the time of year where I taught the first year students their first language specific programming course. Likely, in the last few weeks, I would have discussed the course workload (very heavy compared to the other courses they had) and that the reality they were up against was that programming was like riding a bike. You can watch all the videos about riding bikes that you want and you can talk about bikes all you want, but you will never learn to ride a bike that way. The way to learn to ride a bike is to get on one and ride it. And that’s what creativity is like. It’s learned and developed through exercising it.
That’s one of the reasons I’m not really a fan of alot of early educational materials. Many of the materials out there in common use are intended to develop ‘skills’ but provide very little exercise outside of that. An example of that is a colouring book. The only real creativity involved in colouring a predrawn picture is choosing the colours. (We don’t prevent her from having such things. We just don’t limit her to those.) I guess what I want to say is that, wanting children to be able to produce a picture that looks as though it could have been done by an adult is a poor excuse for depriving them of the opportunity to develop the ability to create a picture they can call their own. I would rather be able to sincerely faun over 10,000 real drawings that undeniably show the development of real talent, imagination and expression than the best of the colouring competitions.