When I joined my homeschooling groups last year to begin this wonderful journey, I found that the first questions from other homeschoolers seems to be “what type of homeschooler are you?” They want to know if I follow a Waldorf or Montessori approach, or maybe a classical approach, a unit study approach, or just an all around eclectic approach. A good number of the people in my group also call themselves “unschoolers.”
From my limited experiences, the only thing I could say for sure was that I was not an unschooler. My understanding was that unschoolers were those who did not subscribe to any partiular curriculum and did not force their children to do any kind of school, but rather let them do whatever they want, letting them learn from those interests. I definitely am someone who believes in sitting down and having formal school.
And yet, as the months have now turned in to a year and we’re planning for the next, I’m finding that “unschool” in a broad sense is definitely what I do with my children for the most part.
The most clear evidence is in my science instruction. And as I think back to what my son has learned over the past year and a half, I realize that he has learned far more than I could have “force fed” him through a structured class, worksheets, and so forth. We literally take things as we go and he loves it!
I don’t have a formal science curriculum for Raisin. He’s only kindergarten, and it simply did not seem necessary. Last year, we watched lots of Sid the Science Kid, an animated show in which a preschooler learns how things work by asking questions. We watched some of Peep and the Big Wide World, and my son loves watching Mighty Machines and How Things Work.
It’s not just about passively watching shows anymore. Of course, because he can read very well, his world has opened up for him. He frequently returns home from the library with a few science books because he wanted to learn about that subject. (He loves to find books on a subject via the library catalog computer.)
But also, he observes things and asks about them. For example, my wonderful husband brought me flowers a few weeks ago, which I placed on the kitchen table. As we sat eating lunch one day, Raisin asked about the parts of the flower he could see from his chair. Enter a lesson on pollination and flower reproduction. Another time, it was foggy as we drove, so we had a long talk about the water cycle and clouds. As we pass street signs, road construction, and other engineering structures, he comments on what he sees. He reads signs to me, seeking explanations. Much of the time it somehow ties in to something about how the world works. (A “No Outlet” sign led to a fascinating discussion about outlets and currents, which I had not even thought of before.) I feel like I am learning by listening to his questions and seeking answers to the concepts I am not comfortable explaining. (When I am not comfortable explaining a concept, I realize that I do not really know!)
I’ve also been pondering what this means for the future. I am probably not going to do a science curriculum next year either. My husband thinks we should do observation science as we’ve been doing until Raisin is much older. I am not so sure. At some point, I feel like I need to sit him down with a text book. My fear now is that doing so will kill the genuine original interest he has developed in how the world works, how his body works, how machines work, and how the life around him grows and develops.
What are your thoughts on lower elementary school science?
If you are a school teacher, how much science do you explore with your young ones? If you are a homeschool parent, do you use a formal curriculum? What is the fine balance between continuing to embrace the love of learning about the world and making sure not to neglect the important things?