Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Year of Transformation

We are nearing the end of another school year - our first year unschooling. I have a mere five days left to record. Learning happens 365 days a year in our house. However, according to the state of South Carolina, I only have to keep records for 180 of those days. As I looked back over those records, I am able to see the transformation that took place during the past few months.

My 10 year old started last fall with the belief that he was supposed to do the easiest thing possible in order to check that subject off on his list of "things to do to keep mom off my back". We redesigned his record book in order to facilitate his transition from quantity to quality. We wanted him to undergo a paradigm shift from the content based subject oriented learning that he endured during his last year in school to a more organic, child centered learning model. We threw out the schedules and encouraged him to choose his learning path. Along the way, he discovered Shakespeare through a production of Julius Caesar that we attended. He learned about history, mythology, and ancient civilizations through comic books and video games. He learned about the metric system through science experiments and erector sets. He experimented with the laws of physics through bowling, outdoor play, and building blocks. One day, he even baked a castle using homemade icing mortar and blocks cut from pound cake. He learned to delight in using his own unique problem solving methods to create mathematical solutions faster than mom and most cash registers. One week he fiddled with a little calculus as he experimented with several exponential series. Through it all, he has maintained his unquenchable need to devour the written word by reading anything he can get his hands on.

During the past few months I have come to accept and even rejoice in my 7 year old's preferred method of learning. For this exceptional boy of mine, learning must be entertaining, and it usually involves a video screen of some sort. Learning has never come easy for this sweet boy. I still remember his frustration when, at three and a half years old, he could not tell me what color popsicle he wanted. Language has always been a challenge for him, and it continues to thwart his attempts to communicate fluidly. Today, he has learned to use the phrase, "certain thing," to fill in for the words he cannot recall. Reading is especially challenging for a boy who has trouble recalling words. It is somewhat difficult to read the word "shoulder" when you have forgotten that such a word even exists. Because of his language and reading difficulties, he has learned to love television programming such as Animal Planet and The Science Channel. "How It's Made" is his favorite television program. As I watch him play his favorite video game, Heroes, I rejoice at the skills I see blossoming. He continues to develop his math and reading skills through the game prompts and labels, as well as the purchase and allocation of resources. He has to use problem solving and strategy skills. However, as I listen to him playing, I realize the most spectacular learning occurs with his imagination and conversation skills. He immerses himself in the game and carries on pretend dialogues in a way that he was never able to playing with his toys as a toddler and preschooler. I am joyfully embracing this method of learning that is doing for my Aspie what no other therapy was able to do.

The greatest transformation has taken place in me. I have learned to let go. I have learned to respect my children's choices. I have learned to watch my children's development unfold like an awakening flower bud rather than trying to shape them like a lump of mud. I am learning to follow the child.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Anne of Green Gables

I recently started reading the Anne of Green Gables series of books by L. M. Montgomery which was first published in 1908. I couldn't help comparing Anne's world with mine. As I thought about how much things have changed, I also noticed that much is still the same. Certain passages jumped out at me, as I pondered their relevance to today and the future.

'Diana, you might take Anne out into the garden and show her your flowers. It will be better for you than straining your eyes over that book. She reads entirely too much' - this to Marilla as the little girls went out - 'and I can't prevent her, for her father aids and abets her. She's always pouring over a book. I'm glad she has the prospect of a playmate - perhaps it will take her more out-of-doors.' (Chapter 12)

I found this passage interesting for two reasons: (1) After 100 years, mothers still sound the same (simply insert tv or video games in the place of books), and (2) We now worry that our children don't read enough where mothers of the past worried that their kids read too much. This lead me to imagine mothers in 2108 complaining that "Johnny won't play his video games."

During Jane Austen's time (appoximately 200 years ago), novel writing was not considered a worthy carreer, and apparently this idea was still held true by some as recently as 100 years ago.

'I think this story-writing business is the foolishest yet,' scoffed Marilla. 'You'll get a pack of nonsense into your heads and waste time that should be put on your lessons. Reading stories is bad enough but writing them in worse.' (Chapter 26)

Again, something that was once considered a waste of time is now considered an essential skill.