Unschooling in the News

Kids Take School Into Their Own Hands: Some Home-School Families Are Opting for a New Approach to Curriculum: Unschooling
BY Claire Scheumann

From stock whips to ballet, Dungeons and Dragons to NASA, some Berkeley students say they are studying subjects they would not have access to in a traditional setting by pursuing a new kind of education called “unschooling.”
Teaching children at home has a long history, but in the past decade, families have been engaging in a learning philosophy which allows students to dictate the curriculum.

Sam Fuller, 12, joined the 10 percent of home-schooled students participating in unschooling nationally when he began his education seven years ago.

“We kind of have phases of learning,” said Sam, who lives with his family on the border between Albany and Berkeley. “We learn what we are interested in.”

Sam’s mother, Pam Tellew, was a teacher before she got the idea of unschooling at a teaching retreat shortly after Sam was born. Sam’s 7-year-old brother Nicky has also begun unschooling.

Unschooled students do not engage in traditional classroom learning, instead pursuing a hands-on approach in museums and outdoor settings.

Skeptics say unschooling may not expose students to necessary subject matter because they follow no required curriculum.

“I want educators to make decisions about what kids need to learn,” said school board member Shirley Issel. “If you only open the doors that interest them at first, they may have a limited range of options available to them when they want to go on to higher education and employment.”

In California, there are approximately 10,000 families a year that file requests declaring themselves as a private school, which allows them to specialize curriculum.

Parents of home-schooled students in Berkeley say their choice was not determined by the quality of the city’s public schools. Rather, an interest in a variety of cultural and learning resources contributed to their choice.

In the Berkeley Unified School District, 129 students participate in the independent study program, which allows them to meet with teachers for only 30 minutes per week, pursuing other interests in the meantime.

District officials say they do not know the number of students in the city who opt for home schooling.

Advocates for unschooling insist the approach creates greater student engagement, leading to deeper learning than traditional methods.

“Personally, my sons outgrew what the public schools could offer them,” said Livermore parent Cyndy McClay, a representative of the California Homeschool Network. “I loved my neighborhood schools, but my kids didn’t always fit there.”

Results of studies examining homeschooled students show, on average, they score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students, said home education researcher Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute.

There is limited research on the long-term success of home-schooled adults, but studies have shown that the students tend to earn their college degrees at a slightly accelerated rate and become more engaged in leadership throughout their adult life than their public school counterparts, Ray said.

One study showed that achievement did not differ between home-schooled students who learn in a traditional setting and unschooled students, Ray said.

In addition, home-schooling typically does not impair students’ social skills, he said.

Sam Fuller has become involved in the Junior Ranger program, which provides outdoor education for children ages 9 to 12, and a fair organized by families with home-schooled students to raise money for charity.


We Do Follow

Most blogs come with 'nofollow' tags built into the comment area. This was originally supposed to be a way to deter spammers because their links wouldn’t be indexed by the search engines.

So, if a search engine (like Google or Yahoo) sees a rel="nofollow" tag on a link, they will ignore it. They don't follow the link, and they don't count the link in the site's rank (the site of the person who posted a comment).

Some bloggers got together and created the "I Follow" movement and it's built up a lot of momentum. Blogs today have the ability to control the comments on their blogs (either through various plug-ins or moderation) so the 'nofollow' tag is not really needed anymore.

I removed my nofollow tags from this blog because I want to allow anyone who leaves a comment, a real link in return. In other words, by removing the 'nofollow' tag, a search engines will be able to find the link that you leave in a comment or when you link to any of the posts here at An Unschooling Life, or my adoption blog and you'll gain a backlink on the the search engines as a result.

What about you?
Are you going to share the love (the link love that is) and join the "You Comment, I Follow" movement? Check the bottom for a loooong list of other Do Follow bloggers. :-)


Homemade tattoo paint

We bought a really fun book that my eight year old found during one of our visits to the library book store (my favorite place to buy and donate used books) called The Ultimate Book of Kids Concoctions.

The first thing she wanted to make was tattoo paint (page 23).
Here's how to do it:

1 TBS Cold Cream
2 TBS Cornstarch
1 TBS Water
Food Coloring

Mix cold cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Stir in water and mix until smooth.
Divide into 3-4 small bowls.
Mix 3-4 drops of food coloring into each.
Apply with a small brush.
Remove with soap and water


13th wedding anniversary

Billy & I celebrated our 13th year married this month. :-) It's been a wild ride but we hung on tight and never fell off.

These pictures were taken on our wedding day under the Verrazano Bridge (in Brooklyn) at Cannonball Park (formally known as John Paul Jones Park).

Our wedding

Our wedding

Here's to the next 13 honey! :-)


What My Girls Are Reading

My two girls enjoy reading much more now that their unschoolers and so much more then when they used to go to school. Both of them (Shawna who just turned 12, and Jacqueline who is almost 9) spend hours reading and the nice thing is...it's their choice. :-) Being an avid reader myself, I love that they choose to read. Here are some of the books (and a magazine) they've been enjoying. Some of them were read by both, others by one or the other.

Into the Land of the Unicorns
On the Banks of Plum Creek
Stealing Thunder
Giant Book of Pencil Puzzles
Get a Grip on New Physics
The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Albert Einstein: Young Thinker
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Chicken Soup For The Horse Lover's Soul
Charlotte's Web
Dancing Shoes
Tips & Tricks Magazine

This post is part of the Lets-Build-A-Summer-Reading-List.


I've been tagged: 8 things About Me

Dharma Mama tagged me to tell 8 things about myself. If you're interested, I was also tagged at my adoption blog Forever Parents and I wrote eight things about my adoption journey.

1. I'm a second generation American. My grandparents were born in Sicily, Italy. I'm Italian on both sides actually. I closely identify with my heritage and speak a little Italian. My father spoke it fluently but not much around me, except the curses. lol

2. I'm a native New Yorker, from Brooklyn (Bensonhurst). Yes, I'm the typical Italian girl from Brooklyn. Fugedaboudit! Think Sopranos meets Goodfellas, minus the killing. lol

3. We moved to Florida about four months after September 11th. Not for that reason though. We had planned it before that day. I documented our experience during September 11 and the aftermath in a website called I Love New York. We lost two friends, and countless neighbors and aquaintances that day.

4. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years. Back when I started, I was the only one I knew. lol

5. I was a punk rocker back in the day. Mohawk and all. Some of my favorite bands were Black Flag, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, The Dead Boys & Generation X. I've been to CBGB's more times that I even remember and loved every minute of those days. I met a ton of great people and have very good memories. :-)

6. I'm still a head banger. Metallica, Godsmack, Sevendust, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Anthrax etc. I've been a big Ace Frehley fan since the 70's and had the pleasure of hanging out with the spaceman a few times. :-)

7. I was raised Roman Catholic (kinda ties in with the Italian-Brooklyn thing) but I've been agnostic my entire adult life. I've recently become interested in Buddhism and enjoy reading Thich Nhat Han. He makes me feel calm, which I need. lol

8. My husband still takes my breathe away when he kisses me. :-)

I'm going to go through the list of participants from the last Unschooling Voices and see who hasn't been tagged yet (don't want anybody to be left out) so watch out for me to tag you!!


Soulful Fathering

One of the members at the Forever Parents adoption forums shared this with us. I thought these these tips would be helpful to any parent (not just dads) who may be looking for a more respectful & gentle way of parenting. Happy Fathers Day!

Soulful Fathering

The five 'p's' of fathering and other tips for spiritual dads.The following tips for soulful fathering are in honor of Father's Day. Pass them along to your favorite dad. (Of course moms can use them, too.)

1. Listen to your heart when you are with your kids. Go with what feels right, not what your dad might have done or what you think fathers are supposed to do. You are the perfect match for your child. You can't make a mistake when you follow your intuitive guidance.

2. Share your hobbies with your kids.

3. Select one day a month or year to spend one-on-one time with each child. Mark the dates in your calendar. Let your child decide what the day's events will be and celebrate together!

4. Listen to your son or daughter. Playing catch is a wonderful time for listening.
5. The old saying "Pick your battles" is an important one to remember. So what does it really matter if your son's clothing looks a little foolish - he's developing his own taste. Staying away from win-lose situations is much better in the long run for your relationship.

6. Don't forget the wonderful habit of note writing. Leave some unexpected words of encouragement in a book, under a pillow, via E-mail. If you travel, begin a postcard tradition. Send your child a postcard from each trip you take.

7. Learn something new with your children.

8. Is there a way you might make some chore a ritual your child looks forward to participating in with you? Maybe you wash the windows every spring and then have an annual water fight.

9. Share your goals with your kids. Let them know how you have achieved a dream and help them come up with an action plan to achieve their own goals.

10. Don't forget the five "Ps" of fathering: Patience, Pure Love, Playfulness, Participation, Persistence.

Remember, no one on their death bed ever said they wished they'd spent more time at the office.

Billy with our two daughters. Yes, Jacqueline decided to cut her own eyebrows. lol They're finally growing back in.



Changing Template

I'll be changing the template here so things may be missing or a little weird until I get it all fixed. Some or all of my blog rolls may be missing until I copy the code.


How we celebrate diversity

Definition of Diversity:
"The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual".

Doc over at The Country Fair asks the question "How do we celebrate diversity"?

We celebrate it by living it

(don't mind the thing on Cimions face-it's on the picture)
Here's our family (in 2003) in a picture taken at our adoption celebration at The Hilton
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We adopted our children as a sibling group. Yes, that's correct - they're biologically connected to each other. Most people think that because Shawna is white she's our biological daughter and that we adopted only Cimion & Jacqueline.

My beautiful children can teach the world a lot about diversity and understanding. They accept (or don't accept) people for who they are based on the type of person they are on the inside. They challange people to look past differences and find a common bond.

Take a look at the faces of the future generation. These three children will grow up to be adults that will not tolerate bigotry and prejudice.

Shawna: Age 12:

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength"- Maya Angelou

Cimion: age 14:

“I feel my heart break to see a nation ripped apart by it's own greatest strength--it's diversity” - Melissa Etheridge

Jacqueline: age 8:

“Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day"-unknown

PS: Don't forget to submit your unschooling posts to Unschooling Voices. The next one is coming out July 1. :-)


Early Christmas Shopping

Am I the only one that does Christmas shopping all year round? I find that with three children, it's financially easier to buy things throughout the year than try to to it all right before the holidays. Also, doing it a little at a time gives me the time to pick out gifts that they'll love.

I've blogged before about Jacqueline's passion for space & astronomy and we'll be re-doing her room with a space theme for her birthday in August. I want to be able to buy her a telescope for Christmas this year and I've been checking out a few sites lately. As I find interesting things, I'll blog about them for anybody else with a space cadet in their family. lol If anybody has any suggestions, I've love to hear them. :-)

One of the sites I checked out has something called meade my sky. It's a hand held, point and shoot guide that instantly identifies over 30K celestial objects in the night sky. It sounds like something Jacqueline would really get into. It says you just turn it on, point it at a celestial object, and pull the trigger to identify planets, stars, nebula, galaxies and more. The price is not bad either and it came with free shipping.

They also have a full line of telescopes. I don't know much about telescopes yet- it's something I'm going to have to read up on before I buy one. If anybody has any tips, I'd be appreciative.


Love of Learning

My daughters have a love of learning.

Shawna has been out of public school the longest, (since 11/04) after being in from K through half of the 4th grade. Like my other two, between the foster care system and the public school system, she pretty much had all the creativity and curiousity sucked out of her.

I'm starting to see a light shining in her eyes.

She's starting to get interested in why things happen and how things came to be the way they are and why something is done the way it's done.

Her passion for horses has taken her through more books (fiction and non) than I can count. She's learning to ride, groom and train horses with one of our homeschooling friends, who has also brought Shawna to horse sales and seminars.
I see her enjoying games and puzzles for the strategy and brain exercise rather than the winning or finishing.

She loves being free to learn.

I think it starts with me not wanting to be their "teacher". When people think homeschooling, they imagine the mom as they would imagine a teacher. While that may work for some, it doesn't work for all and it certainly doesn't work for me. Having the mindset of teacher and student sets up a relationship I don't want with my kids. I want them to know their interests are valid and I don't ever want to have to say, "no, you can't watch that bird build it's nest, I'm teaching you adverbs right now!"

Sandra Dodd has a page on "teaching vs. learning" and this is a quote from that page: ""Teach" has inherently negative connotations. The word "teach" is a verb which places the teacher in the active role (subject) and the student in the passive (object). It implies through the grammatic structure of any statement made using the word, that the teacher is doing the work and the student is merely acted upon. Whereas the word "learn" makes the student the subject of the statement rather than the object. He is doing the work, not merely being the passive recipient of another's knowledge."

Jacqueline has been out of school the shortest (since 4/05) but also spent the least amount of time in (K and almost all of 1st grade). It took a little while but her spark is back, full speed ahead. :-)

This is not a child that you say "you'll learn that when you're older" to. Don't tell her to choose another book because that one is going to be to hard for her. She doesn't even consider that a topic may be to advanced for her.

She been learning about the solar system for the past few months, seeking out most of the information on her own. She copied a list of books from online and speaks to the librarians about it when we go to the library. We bought
Earth & Space and it always has a book mark somewhere in it to keep her place as she reads through the entire book. She asked Billy if he would help her make a solar system mobile for her room this weekend.
All on her own. She's not doing this for a grade or because it's the week of March 14th and that means it's the week to learn about it.

She also wanted to learn Italian. I know quite a bit (being Italian on both sides) and I picked up a few books at a flea market that she's been reading. As she's learning more and more words, she will frequently ask for things or answer a question in Italian.

I also want to be a role model for them. I want them to see me learning, either along side them or on my own. They see me reading and borrowing books from the library. They see me research topics on the internet. They see me interested and learning about growing vegetables and fruit trees. They see me being interested in the life around me.

The whole world opened up to them to day I removed them from public school...

and they're loving it! :-)

*this post has been moved up from the archives*


What to do with your children when school is out

It never fails.

This is the time of year posts all over the internet start popping up on forums, blogs and websites. Offline conversations start having a dominant theme. They usually go something like "AAAAHHHH!!! It's summertime and school is out!!!! What should I do with my kids???" There are also parents who openly complain that they don't want to be subjected to their children all summer and count the days until school is back in session - but we'll leave them alone for right now.

My question is, do parents of schooled children really depend that much on school that they have to wrack their brain trying to figure out how to "keep their kids entertained"? Does school intergrate itself so deeply in their lives that they don't know how to spend quality time with their children without it?

Here's where parents of schooled children could learn something from parents of unschooled children. And if you're reading this as a parent of a schooled child, please don't take this as an attack. take it for what it is - an observation, and some suggestions on how to change your perspective of your children.

Instead of looking for things to fill their time with, fill that time with you.

Hang out with your kids.
Get to know them.
Spend time with them, doing what they love to do.
Get involved with something they're passionate about.

When you stop depending on the school system for social activity, creative play and exploration the whole world will open up for you, and your children.

Explore your neighborhood but look at it through different eyes. Take a a magnifying glass, a camera and a notebook. If your neighborhood is not that interesting, try another one.

Go to a place different that what you usually go to;
a different library
a different grocery store
a different way home
a different playground

Learn something new together. Try karate, cooking, fencing, pottery.

Invite your children into your world and your interests instead of looking for other people and other activites to occupy them.

Children grow up so fast and it's their time with you that they'll remember the most. Use the summer months to get in touch with your kids. Get into their world and their lives. Use this as an opportunity to be involved more.

Who knows? You may enjoy yourself so much you won't want them to go back to school. ;-)


Thinking Blog Award

Dharma Mama gave us our second Thinking Blogger Award (our first was from Doc). Here's what said on her blog:

My third award goes to Joanne at A Day in Our Lives. Joanne and her husband adopted a sibling group from foster care, and Joanne writes about living with and unschooling her kids. She also runs an adoptive parent message board, and I get a lot of good advice and support from her. Thanks, Joanne, for letting me take a peek into your life!

Thanks so much dharma mama!! :-) I'd like to give one to all the participants of Unschooling Voices #9 for making me clear the cobwebs that sometimes form in my brain. :-) If you've participated in this last edition, post that button up on your blog, from me to you. :-)


Unschooling Voices #9

Hello everyone! :-) Welcome to the 9th edition of Unschooling Voices! There's information on how to participate in #10 (which will be out July 1) at the end of this post.

Please link to this post and help spread the word about all the great blogs participating. (Leave a comment here when you do so I can link back to you) Don't forget to add your pictures from this edition to our new
Unschooling Voices Flickr Group. You can also add the technorati tag at the end of your submissions for some extra exposure.

This month we had 22 participants (I think that might be a record) and 33 submissions. We're also welcoming some newbies this month!

Mandy starts us off with pictures of her daughters making jewelry. She says "What better examples than creating art, developing entrepreneurial skills, social skills (her life-long, since birth, public school friend is spending the night-makes for some very interesting conversations as they compare what school is like and unschooling), spelling, to name just a few off the top of my head".

Melissa shared some great pictures of her family. She says "A big life means lots of pictures, lots of things going on. A big family living a big life means even more pictures. All of my children are involved in so many things, and it mostly means I run around like crazy facilitating, but it also means that we have a bunch of kids strewing with each other. So cool!" She describes them all on her blog so click on all the links to see her great big unschooling family!!

Cher at Cake For Breakfast (I just love that title) submitted a few posts. The first is a post about the freedom and opportunities unschooled children have to BE in the "real world" and experience things not common to other kids their age. The second is a typical unschooling day (NOT!), She said she chose this post to give people a view inside an average day in their house and to show the constant flow and movement learning takes for them. The third post shows kids can learn without being forced and it doesn't take "making" a child do something, to have them learn and experience new things.

Holly, from Unschooling Girls submitted her daughter Lucia's new blog. Lucia is a six year old unschooler who's been writing a lot of stories lately and decided she'd like to share them with others. Enjoy! I'll be sure to pass this along to Jacqueline who loves writing (and reading) stories also.

From the group writing blog Life Without School, Linda writes about not following the status quo. I loved this part; "They have permission to change the world, change this country, change their backyard, or just change themselves. They have permission to start something, put it down and try again later. They have permission to not have to do everything perfectly, to not be an expert. They can do things because it is fun, interesting, makes them feel good. It does not have to have any value to anyone else".

Stephanie at Throwing Marshmallows found a study that says that children can add and subtract without being taught arithmetic. She shares her favorite quote from cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University; "We never dreamed that you could simply give children the symbols and they will succeed”.

Lill from Hawkhill Acres, who says she's an "opinionated mom working toward being better at this unschooling thing" (count me in too Lill!), shares her thoughts on the current trend toward busier lives and less time to just hang out and a few other things.

Sandra Dodd wrote about how unschooling has changed her. She also shared some pictures and says "That's what life is about: learning and building relationships".

Summer over at Wired For Noise reflects how she's changed from being workbook orientated to feeling less afraid and more open to learning in freedom. Also, from her other blog, Mom Is Teaching, she takes a look at some of the perks of homeschooling and what she's come to love about it.

I'm envious of Laura from Mind Chatter who's son, a teenage unschooler is building her a pond. I can't wait to see the finished product!

We interrupt this program for a very important public service announcement from Ren at Learning in Freedom. She has declared this week (and the other 51) to be Turn Off School Week! :-) Way to go Ren! She also submitted a slide show, that Geri put together, of their recent campout with unschoolers and homeschoolers from Families Learning Together at the North Carolina coast. Looks like everybody had a blast!

Silvia at Po Moyemu (Russian for 'in my opinion) says she was prompted to write this post by a professor who had asked her to speak to her college sociology class about how homeschooling had changed her. In it she writes about how homeschooling benefits the mother and how some people think homeschooling moms are losing themselves in their children's lives.

Tracy over at In My Head shares some recent pictures of what unschooling looks like in her house. (suddenly I'm in the mood for pancakes!)

Arp who blogs at Tiny Grass submitted a post where he looks back and sees unschooling and attachment parenting in his own childhood growing up in India.

Kelli from Our Joyful Life posted about how unschooling has changed her. I love what she write here; "Maybe that's where unschooling has changed me the most, it has turned a life of limits into a life of possibilites. We now make choices that matter to us in a deep important way".

Nancy at Into The Light shared a photo post about our unschooling experience. It is a collection of black and white photos of her kids doing different things.....capturing what unschooling really means to them.

Laurie from Learning Life Through Unschooling submitted a photo journal of what her creative unschoolers have been up to lately.

Nancy from Kansas Kskatzenjammers shared her "what unschooling looks like" photos of her boys discovering mud puddles. Take a look at the Unschooling Voices Flickr Group for a picture of one of them getting buried in the sand.

Kim over at Relaxed Homeskool blogged about how unschooling has changed her and she says "Unschooling has changed my life and my understanding of life in that it has reminded me how important play is".

Allan submitted a post from the Bastiat Free University blog, which I would describe as a self directed learning college for adults.

Here is my photo-blog of what unschooling looks like at this moment in our lives. Lots of cool stuff going on!

And last, but not least Queana has started a Digg-like site where you can submit blog posts. I submitted this edition of Unschooling Voices so head over and vote on it so it stays on the front page!

Don't forget to share the link to your unschooling blog (or website) at our Unschooling Squidoo lens.

Want to participate in the next edition?
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Unschooling Voices Information.

I hope you enjoyed this edition! Tell me what you thought!