February 8, 2011

Unschooling - So Far, So Good

Just one month ago, we reformatted our home school to an unschool. Gone are the math and grammar books and a structure to rival boot camp. In their places are robotics, classics such as Gulliver's Travels and a nifty little unit study on Zombie Fire Ants with another home school family that we call Tuesday school. How is it going? Not too bad.

When we first started this experiment, David had the idea that unschool was synonymous to self-indulgence, ie. doing whatever he wanted however he wanted to do it and whenever he felt like it. LOL, right? I've read some great blogs about unschooling and the wonderful things that kids with a working executive function are doing. This will not be the case with a boy who would be content to play video games for the rest of his natural born life. For our unschool to work, it has been quite necessary to build in parameters lest the entire day, week, month and life fritter away before our very eyes. There are limits on video games, limits on television, bedtimes and morning alarms. Without some structure and expectations, the possiblities for self-centeredness would be enormous. Maybe not true for other families but most definitely the case for this one. 

And, so, again, I ask - how's it going? Not too bad. He has built possibly 40 robots in the last 30 days. At this very moment, he is testing an electronic measuring tape that he made with the Lego NXT. He measured a large box and is now converting the metric measurements of the NXT to compare them to the standard measurements of our Stanley measuring tape. The only thing I've done was to google the conversion table and tell him that 1 inch equals 2.54 cm. He is testing the accuracy of the NXT measuring tape. Results? It's accurate.

The Lego NXT robotics kit has consumed most of his waking time. He has been learning how to follow intricate construction instructions and programming basics. More than that, though, is that he has been learning frustration tolerance with an instructor and a methodology that I could never in a million years implement. There are, in fact, a hundred different things that can go wrong when building and programming a robot. When it doesn't work, he has to retrace his steps and look for the errors. When he first started building robots, he made many errors and he was quickly overwhelmed with frustration and anger. I would simply encourage him to go back through the steps and find what he had missed. In many cases, it was something simple and, once fixed, it worked. In the past, he has allowed his frustration to overwhelm him and things ended up broken from being pounded on or bitten, etc. (an ADD characteristic.) 

However, he has not been willing to take out his frustration on an item that he worked so long and so hard to get and would be so hard to replace. Now, he takes a deep breath and then begins to retrace his steps to find the error. He's learning to control his frustration, not let it control him. Without me! It's a beautiful win-win!!

In the beginning I had to keep telling myself to relax and trust the process. And, in fact, we are still early in the process. The only thing he's really been interested in is the NXT and sometimes I've allowed myself to be a bit too concerned about that. But, then, something like this will transpire and I know that I should just relax: we were reading an item together and a reference was made to the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. Since we haven't had too much American history or political science, I wasn't sure what he knew about it and decided on an impromptu quiz.

"So, what is the judicial branch of the United States government?" I asked.

"The Supreme Court," he said.

"What is the legislative branch?"
"Uh, Congress?" he answered rather hesitantly.
"Very good, David! And, what is the executive branch?" I asked again.

"The President!" he triumphantly replied.

"How do you know this?" I wondered.

"I don't know, Mom. I think it's because I watch the news with you and Dad."

So far, so good!

Best regards,


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