Friday, January 23, 2009

Schedules and Lists and Things

Funny things happen when you begin to take away the structure from a previously-over-structured kid. I don't think I would have ever been able to grasp just how programmed my child is/was - that is, until we began homeschooling. It also hadn't occurred to me that Cole has been picking up my organizational habits and methods his entire life, and more pertinently, since he's been home with me, working, almost every day.

When we made the decision to pull Cole out of school, I knew I wanted to pursue a classical ("trivium") method of homeschooling combined with an unschooling environment. I spoke to experienced homeschooling parents and hung out with their families. I liked what I saw - open, loving, intelligent and engaged families. Four months later, this is still my ultimate goal.

Though I know it will realistically take years to achieve, I hope to provide a true unschooling environment for Cole with rich and diverse resources, activities, and groups available to him. I know in my heart this is the key to his success and joy in learning. There have been glimpses of it from the beginning. So, I'm starting to relax into our new life, and this new calm gave me the courage to begin loosening the reigns in Cole's daily schedule and giving him the opportunity to naturally discover learning situations throughout the day or an opportunity to create them to his liking as the ever-nagging boredom monkey on his back dictates.

I wasn't quite sure what our days would bring, but I knew Cole would be excited by the freedom, and I was excited by the new lesson in self-direction and responsibility Cole would find in occupying his time productively. For six long years, someone else has always told him what to do and when to do it without bothering with the why to do it, necessarily. This was going to be a tremendous change. When I told Cole of my idea, he was, as expected, very happy and proud to be trusted with this almost incomprehensible freedom. What would happen the following day, I could never have guessed.


The next day found me up early working at the computer as usual. Cole lumbered out of bed, mumbled a good morning, and plopped himself down on the couch. I replied and kept working away. I was in the dining room, and I could see the top of Cole's head just above the couch in the living room. He was so quiet and hadn't moved; I assumed he fell back asleep as often happens during the week. So, I kept working.

Pretty soon, I was startled by Cole jumping up abruptly to make his way over to me. He was carrying a spiral notebook and pen, and I realized about half way through Cole's trip from the living room to me that he was describing the schedule he had just worked up for himself for the week!

SCHEDULE! Schedule?!

really? Hadn't I JUST abolished this idea of restrictive and prescribed learning? I thought I'd liberated us both from constraints and deadlines, but alas, after covering the 20 short feet from the living room to the dining room, the kiddo had reinstated...The Schedule. LOL.

At least it was a schedule to HIS liking, and being the overly-organized person I am, I smiled proudly at the little man for his wisdom in planning out his day. It may have been scheduled learning, but it was still his day filled with his choices. And, how smart to plan to have all of your studies done just in time for your friends to be home from school? I believe Cole was so excited by his new control; he expressed his joy in meticulously rendering this detailed agenda in which Monday included reading, language arts, math, and art; Tuesday was much the same with a little computer work and time outside with the dogs; and so it went.
What did I learn here? There is a difference between being programmed to do something a certain way every day verses scheduling a list of chosen activities.

Cole asked what his daily "Special" was going to be every day for three weeks after we pulled him out of school. A Special is an activity outside of normal classwork such as Library, gym, computer, art, and music. It's taken Cole about four months to realize that if he wants to make a poster or work on a drawing rather than doing his math at any given time, he can. If he wants to go hang out in his den and dig on some music while playing with his Army men, that's great. Cole is allowed to go outside to play with the dogs at any point in the day. He knows when he's antsy and needing to burn some energy.
In fact, as long as Cole completes a certain amount of reading, writing, and math each week, he can do as he pleases most of the day. We are all learning that Cole knows more of what he needs than anyone (including US). That's not to say he doesn't need some direction; he is only 11, but my point is that given a learning environment rich in resources, he will take advantage of it - and not just the art and music and time with the dog - though all of those are wonderful learning experiences. Two weeks ago, Cole asked if instead of looking up spelling words in the dictionary if I would consider making a crossword for each list. !!! Brilliant! Cole still learns the definition of the words and gets to work a puzzle in figuring it out. He never complains about this weekly task as he has ultimate buy-in; it was his idea!

So, what did we learn from this experience? In the most basic terms, I learned that even unschooling can exist within a scheduled environment (and I like it that way too! ha ha ha - no surprise there.), and Cole has found there are days when there's nothing you can do but set aside the worksheets and the pencils and the schedule to simply hang with the dogs, listen to some tunes, and think. Cole and I are finding our brains work so much more effectively and creatively if we allow our tasks to mirror our moods and to stop worrying so much about checking off the list; rather, we use the list as a map in the event we feel lost.
We are truly independent adventurers in our own journey in learning!

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