I don't do academic lessons with my children. You won't find me sitting at the table showing them how to do addition problems or asking them to sound out the words in a reader. You won't find spelling tests or guided reading assessments or math tests or science quizzes in our house. We have loads and loads of books but I've never asked my children to show me if they can read any of them.
So how do I know they are learning?
- Yesterday Anna (7 years) read the titles of 4 episodes from a favourite DVD box and Holly (5 years) completed a colour-by-number picture without asking me to read the colours for her. Honestly, I don't know if either girl was reading by sounding out the words, guessing based on the initial letter of the words, memory from previous knowledge or experience or if they were really reading. It doesn't matter. It was reading. Reading is when your eyes and your brain work together to make ideas out of symbols. They did that.
- At the grocery store I bought 2 boxes of 12 taco shells. Holly looked at them and said, "Wow. 24. That's a lot of tacos." I'm pretty sure she didn't whip out a pencil and paper and make a sum to find the solution. She did it in her head. Math.
- Jasmine (3 years) wanted to make a card for her grandmother who is planning to visit us next week. She asked me "What are the numbers for 'Mimi'?" I said, "M-I-M-I." When I looked later, she had written the letters correctly. I have literally never gone over the alphabet with her. I didn't even know which letters she knew! Technically, she doesn't know the difference between numbers and letters, but does it matter? I mean, she's 3!
These are just small examples of ways that my children are able to learn without coercion and ways that I observe their newly-acquired skills without testing them. Their scientific knowledge is also astounding! To listen to them talk about life cycles, habitats, predators and prey, wildlife conservation, tree species and outer space, you would be amazed at their knowledge and ability to access prior knowledge when in new situations. For example, recently I heard the three sisters discussing why it is 'OK' (in their opinions) for the zoo to keep some animals in captivity if their natural habitats are being destroyed because "wouldn't the animals rather at least be ALIVE, even if they have to live in a zoo?" Quite fascinating insight for such youngsters!
By far, the most incredible areas of learning in my three oldest children are gross-motor skills and artistic expression.
We are a very physically active family so our children have plenty of opportunities to develop their physical abilities. My three daughters are all confident swimmers in deep water, all without a single swimming lesson from an instructor. They cycle, they ride scooters and they are all excellent climbers. Recently Jasmine climbed a ladder and walked across the roof of our shed. Her dad was nearby but she got on and off the ladder by herself. She felt confident that she could handle it and we trusted her instincts.
I'm actually more amazed by the physical prowess and coordination they exhibit than their academic/intellectual abilities. I mean, I'm smart so I kind of expected them to be smart. But I am TOTALLY non-athletic, so their confidence when approaching a new physical skill is entirely incredible to me.
I am equally amazed by their artistic skills and confidence. Holly has recently discovered that she can use perspective to show that some objects are behind others in her pictures. She can also use eyebrows and mouth shapes to show different facial expressions. Anna draws pictures of such incredible detail--leaves, petals, feathers. They love to show me their pictures and my awe is genuine. I can remember as a child seeing the drawings of my classmates and feeling so inadequate because I could not draw like them. The art of my children has never been critiqued nor compared to the drawings of other children, so they draw with wild abandon and utter authenticity. It is truly a joy to witness.
What wonderful new skills have your Unschooled children recently displayed?