Monday, January 11, 2010

tot school philosophy: unschooling?

Hey, what about "unschooling" for my 18-month-old....? Bing! The little lightbulb above my head just lit up! Took me long enough, considering that "unschooling," in the case of tots, would be also known as "just letting them play around." Only took me about six months of research to stumble over the obvious!

Just to clarify what I'm talking about, though, the article that finally flipped that lightbulb switch for me was this one: the acceptance speech given by a guy called John Gatto when he was accepting the "Teacher of the Year" award for New York City. I found the link on one of my favorite Montessori blogs, What DID we do all day?, but apparently it's a cornerstone of the justification for homeschooling or unschooling for many homeschoolers.

I'm not planning either homeschooling or unschooling, but all the same, I was really interested in his emphasis on the value of allowing the child to pursue her own interests and pick up skills along the way, rather than schooling the child in skills which will be applied to real-life situations at some vague, far-off date. I was pretty convinced by his argument that this kind of learning will probably stick in her mind much better than learning which stems from a pre-set curriculum. Plus, it sounds like I could be more sure that I'm not force-feeding my toddler with random "academic knowledge" if I make sure that the activities I offer her are based around things she is currently interested in.

So what does that mean for us and Tot School? Well, it provides an answer for all my previous worries about what I should be doing when I offer a tot school activity that Basbusa doesn't get the hang of: I should be putting it aside and not even giving it a second thought! So the new plan is to offer lots of variety, but absolutely encourage her to play with the ones she likes best, rather than re-suggesting the ones that she "had difficulty with." And look for ways to base lessons around her current favorite things, whether that be pouring water, cutting bits of paper, or the Hungry Caterpillar. And look for ways to make her favorite activities even more fun and appealing, rather than looking for ways to disguise the ones she doesn't care for in order to trick her into liking them.

Whew! So glad I got that one sorted out in my head! I never felt comfortable doing anything remotely resembling "pushing," but was worried that I was causing her to miss out on all kinds of valuable experiences by not trying to direct her towards activities she's not interested in right now. And even in our tiny smattering of experience so far, I can already see things that ring true from Gatto's article: I was astounded by the number of things she discovered during our rice pouring activity. And although most of my attempts to introduce her to the names of colors have been giant flops so far, she does happily point and say "pink!" when I ask her if she want to wear her pink diaper or her blue one. So, looks like she does get more out of "real life" situations.

We did more rice-pouring last night :)

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