Saturday, November 24, 2007

Optional Chores?

For most of a decade now, my husband and I have had a policy of letting the housework go to the one who is the most bothered by it. Unless you have tried this, you have no idea how liberating this is. There is a huge difference between "I have to clean the kitchen" and "This messy kitchen bothers me so I am choosing to clean it." The key distinction is choice. I am free to clean or not clean as I see fit. However, there is a caveat. As we both have this choice, we must both respect the other person's choice. This means there is no complaining when something is not done, and there is no grumbling from the person who chooses to do the work. Once both parties accept that there truly is a choice in this matter and learn not to resent the other person's choice, there is room for true helpfulness and consideration.

How does all this relate to our educational journey? A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this level of respect in terms of my children and their education. They already have the freedom to choose their educational path. I started thinking about what would happen if I gave them the same freedom to make choices about housework. I became more consistent about asking them to do things instead of telling them. I made sure they understood that I really didn't care if their room was clean. I also assured them if they decided to clean something I would be more than happy to help. Then I proceeded to take care of the work that was bothering me.

At this point you may be thinking, "Whoa, hold on here! How are those kids ever going to learn responsibility if you don't force them to do chores?" To this I respond, how will they learn self-discipline if I am always telling them what to do? So bear with me while I tell you how my little experiment turned out.

When I asked the question "Will you do...?" I received one of three responses: no, sure, or later (worded in various ways) which I accepted with no strings attached. I discovered that when allowed to choose, my kids responded positively more often than negatively, and when they did a task, they did it joyfully. Those who have had to deal with a kid grumbling and slamming the cabinets as he puts the dishes away can appreciate the impact of this.

As for the messy bedroom. . . Therein lies the greatest victory. It turns out my older ds has discovered the benefits of a clean room. He wanted a friend to come over to play, but he realized there was nowhere to play. He had trouble finding a few things. He stepped on a few toys. He had a few overdue fines at the library. He came to me one evening and said, "Mom, will you help me clean my room?" Inside I was doing a very enthusiastic victory dance. On the outside, I calmly replied "Of course I will." Thus, he cleaned his room with out being told because it was his choice, and he did it joyfully.

Monday, November 19, 2007

About our learning journey

Those who know us, know we homeschool. However, you may have some inaccurate preconceived notions about what that means. You may think we do the same things "schooled" kids do, only at home. You may be surprised to learn that for the most part neither of those notions ("school" and "home) is true. We typically spend more days away from home than at home. We also spend very little time doing things that look like "school". Instead our family has adopted an authentic child centered model of learning. This was not an overnight decision. We did not wake up one morning and decide "Oh, gee, let's let the kids be in charge of their own education." See, now some of you are cringing. I hear a collective cry of "Abdication! Anarchy!" But let's back up a little bit here. I do have a Master's degree in education after all. I have learned a thing or two about child development, theories of learning, and the like. I have taught in both traditional and alternative (i.e. Montessori) educational settings. I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of children and observe for myself what works and what doesn't. I have learned that children learn best when they actually want to learn. I have learned that all children are born naturally curious and eager to explore and make sense of their world. At some point during the school years that natural desire to learn is crushed out of them, and they suddenly have to be coerced into learning. Suddenly graduation is the magical destination. They can't wait to graduate so they don't have to do any school work any more. We decided this is not what we want for our children. We desperately want to protect their joy of learning. We also want them to understand that learning is not a destination, it is a journey. We are trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning in our children because we, their parents, are lifelong learners who are most joyous when we are learning.

Maria Montessori was first and foremost a scientist who used the scientific method of experimentation and observation to develop several theories of education that are near and dear to my heart. Children need meaningful work. The work of the adult is to complete a task; the work of the child is to complete himself. All children have sensitive periods during which learning is achieved with the greatest ease. All children have an inner guide which directs them to that which will satisfy their needs. The adult is merely a guide in the prepared environment, rather than a teacher. Her job is to make sure the child has all of the materials and resources he needs, and to show him how to use those materials and resources, as well as provide assistance when requested. I could go on and on, but I trust you are getting the idea. I merely wanted to give you a bit of the scientific basis for the educational philosophy our family embraces.

Why this lengthy explanation and justification of philosophy? On the chance you decide to come back and visit again, I didn't want you to be shocked to hear my seven year old played video games all day, or my ten year old had a comic book reading marathon. I very much want you to understand that authentic learning can happen outside the traditional paradigm you possibly grew up with. Children do not need tests, grades, and the like to learn. In fact, those traditional tools are actually quite damaging to the learning process, as they program kids to fear failure and resist taking chances (two concepts that are essential to the learning process).

You may ask, "Don't your kids goof off all day if you just let them do what they want?" I'll let you be the judge of that. In future posts I will let you know what they have been up to, and you can feel free to post your opinion as to whether my children are being educated. Of course, as the owner of this blog, I can feel free to delete your comments ;)

I leave you with this little glimpse of what each of my children chooses to do when left to his own devices. Last week, while I was unpacking (we just moved), my 10 yo ds (dear son for those new to the lingo) walked in and announced he was off to the library. He had just finished reading the huge stacks of non-fiction (WWI, WWII, Revolutionary War - you get the theme) books he had checked out a couple of days earlier, and he was ready for more. A couple of hours ago I left my 7 yo ds upstairs working with a snap together electronics kit. As for my 2 yo dd, she is continually coming to me with her Sandpaper Letters or her "bead work" and asking me to work with her on her letter sounds or her numbers.