This kid (the one you can partially see at the bottom of the photo there) has worked hard on focusing and finishing some basics (math, grammar, writing) this week. We unschool for the most part, but to make sure he’s learning what he needs to, we require a little work for four days a week toward sharpening math skills, grammar, writing, and reading.
It was tricky to come to this when we had decided to take an unschooling route years ago. We didn’t want to force August to work on things he didn’t want to. We still don’t. But then we found that he would be perfectly content going multiple days without picking up a book, be intimidated by a basic math problem, and unfocused and annoyed when we’d ask him to write something like a sentence or thank you note. We decided that August might need a little more structure.
We cut a lot of the extras that most curriculums have. We don’t push any subjects but the necessary for functioning ones. This means history, science, geography, and art are a lot more organic (he leads these lessons with interest and we try our best to dive into them with him and provide what he needs to understand them as much as he wants to). It’s not that they’re not important, but they don’t hold the weight that being able to read, work out a math problem, and write sentences do. We don’t push him to be advanced or at any level but the one he’s at. The one expectation we have is that he make an effort.
On a “regular school day,” when August finishes the basics (usually takes an hour or so depending on the day), he is free to do whatever he wants–video games, monitored Internet surfing, chasing the dog around outside, playing with legos and stuffed animals inside, etc., etc.
We introduced all of this at the beginning of the year. At first, it was tricky for all of us (it still can be), but he’s finally realizing the freedom he can have by just doing what he needs to for a small fraction of the day. At the same time, Mark and I are learning patience and acceptance for where he is and what he needs, as well as what we need in this process. It’s not always easy. We still struggle with doubting ourselves regularly, or comparing August to others his age (there are areas he’s ahead, behind, or right where they are); we are trying to be graceful with all of us and remember that we are homeschooling so that he can be any and all of the three and that it would be okay, and our family can have the daily freedom we’ve worked so hard to have.
So, we agreed that if he finished his work with focus and a good attitude four days a week (he has a chart to keep track of progress), that he would have three days that he wouldn’t have to pick up a single workbook or worksheet.
This week he’s busted his little ass. He’s woken up and started his work without being told and focused on and finished it without griping Monday through Thursday. So, today until Sunday he can do whatever he pleases, which is usually play video games until he’s sick of ’em or watch Voltron to his heart’s content, and what is he doing?
He’s two hours into a book.