View Full Version : The Unschooling Handbook, by Mary Griffith

04-04-2010, 12:26 AM
Thanks to those of you who recommended I read this book. I sat down with it today and took copious notes (that's how I learn!). It was actually much more enjoyable reading than I anticipated. The style was easy to read, and she did a very good job of touching up on all aspects of unschooling (IMO) and answering all the questions an apprehensive parent like me might have. I really recommend this to any parent wondering what the heck unschooling is all about and how it works.

I especially liked the interspersed interview segments with unschooled kids. This was really enlightening and entertaining.

While some sections made me go "uh?" (notably the section on History because I personally believe that history SHOULD be taught chronologically because so much is effect and reaction... how can you truly understand an event and its consequences if you don't know what led to it in the first place?), a lot more made perfect sense. I got a lot of insight from the parents' comments as well.

I loved that she identified curiosity as being the prime requisite for unschooling. I recognize that while intellectually, I strive to foster curiosity in Noah, too often IRL I rush him along or dismiss something he might ask, because of MY agenda and MY plans for the day. I resolve to be less selfish and more attuned to what he has to say and how he feels from now on. It won't change the fact that we have to abide by a certain timetable each day because of my other kids' schedules, but certainly there is a lot of room for me to let him take the reins of his learning in the mornings. I'm awaiting the Student Planner that I ordered with impatience so we can try the "letting him decide what he wants to do when" approach without totally falling into chaos and a giant cartoon-watching orgy.

I was also very relieved, frankly, that despite all the structure that I provide and have required so far, I seem to also provide a lot of the resources and experiences that she says unschoolers provide... oops, I should have said "facilitate"! I actually am very hands-off outside of homeschooling. Noah and his siblings are required to take responsibility for a lot of their entertainment and other aspects of their lives. I will provide the toys, the books, the games, etc. Most of the time I'm happy being, in fact, the facilitator but not always a participant. I will take you to a museum, I will drive take you to the playground, I will enroll you in a science club, I will suggest books you might enjoy. I don't have much patience for it on the one hand, and I also want them to learn to be self-sufficient. My kids all do their own laundry, are in charge of cleaning their rooms (OK, once a month I pitch a fit when I open the door to my teen boys' room!), aren't showered with praise each time they do something "right". I don't reward for good grades (their dad bases their allowance on that, however), heck, I don't even give allowance at all. DH and I believe that if they want money, they need to be earning it by doing chores (or getting a job outside of the home). But we do carry binoculars in the car in case we see something interesting, Noah has an adventure journal that he brings along sometimes, we do have a telescope (well a Gallileoscope that I never was able to operate properly!) and a microscope (need to get a new one, ours doesn't seem to work at all!). I do have a whole chest full of craft supplies that the kids can dip into whenever they feel like. We are growing a garden, go on a ton of field trips... phew. We collect interesting rocks, bird feathers. We started a notebook on birds a couple of years ago that we keep on adding to. We got to reenactments and living history events (Renaissance and medieval faires, Civil War reenactments...), we go to the theater, the concert hall, the movies, the library. We attend civic events like Veterans' Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. I think we're doing pretty well!

The edition that I read was pretty dated (1997) as she refers to videotapes and email lists (majordomo, anyone?) so someone wanting references that are more up-to-date might want to check if there is a newer version out there.

04-04-2010, 11:20 AM
Your review has me intrigued so I might just have to look this book up which is something because I usually can't get through books like this. I looked up the reviews on Amazon and for the most part they are positive. As I've mentioned before I suspect Mitchell might do better with less structured learning, but I do need to learn myself how to encourage him to learn things on his own. I'm often letting him choose what we do for school work, but sometimes have to make him choose because at 7yo there is still plenty of things he'd rather be doing rather than school work. Recently I wanted him to write something. It didn't matter what, I just wanted him to write. So I let him pick the subject which turned out to be the F-14 Tomcat. But how do I encourage him to explore math (or other dreaded subjects)? Does this book help with that?

04-04-2010, 11:55 AM
David, I knew that I had forgotten to write something in my review and this is it: I am also relieved that we are past the "let's learn how to read, write, and basic math" stage because I don't think I could handle unschooling when it comes to that! As for math, here are the notes I took on that chapter (the author dedicates 1 chapter per subject by the way so it makes finding the information that most interests you very helpful): I might have paraphrased what she said a little so I'm not putting in quotation marks: Unschooling families favor an approach to math that emphasizes conceptual understanding over simple rote memorization and manipulation of formulas. This assumes that children will learn basic math facts and computation skills through their everyday activities. They see real-life applications and participate in them directly. She suggests playing games like Monopoly, Blackjack, Yahtzee, etc. For the high-school set, she suggests hiring tutors if need be.

Doing this would require me to substantially change the way I conduct our everyday life... I just don't have the time to let Noah learn math through real-life experiences 100%. Yes, I know some of you will shudder at what I just said, but this is our live. Different people have different lifestyles, and I am totally realistic about ours and it's not about to change because of outside circumstances. I DO provide him with real-life math experiences as a way to practice the concepts that he is learning through his math curriculum though. I have bought him (at his request) an analog watch and insist that he wears it and tell me the time when we're out. We do a lot of estimation practice. I don't use cash very often if at all so using money is one area where we could do better, but we have fake money at home, and play games with it. One game we like is Presto-Change-O. We discussed ratios when we visited the Leonardo exhibit on Friday and saw the Vitrurian man. We compare distances in the car, temperatures when we hear the weather report, etc. But I also really like that he is getting a solid math foundation through Horizons 2. He is learning his multiplication tables now and while we quiz him on them from time to time, I have found that playing "Multiplication War" and multiplication file folder games have helped him learn them much faster than by just memorizing a boring table. I also prompt him to deduce what 7x6 is, for example, by pointing out that he knows what 7x5 is and that 7x6 is just 7x5 plus another 7. Since I don't remember my multiplication tables a lot of times, I just teach him the tricks I have used myself throughout the years. She does mention doing that in the book. One game we play in the car is spotting animals and we assign totally random "point values" to each kind of animal. For example, Noah decided last weekend that a sandhill crane would be 7 points each. He thought he was being a smartass unti I spotted 4 sandhill cranes a few minutes later (they usually are spotted in pairs) and he had to calculate how many points I had earned (and he got it right!). Since we drive around quite a bit, this is a game we practice often.

She does make the point that while unschooling is easy, it can also mean a lot of work for those of us who are used to delegating the teaching to outside sources. It's true that it seems to take a commitment to being more available to your children and it certainly takes a lot of trust that they will learn something no matter what they do because it's something that they WANT to do.

04-04-2010, 06:22 PM
Thanks Nathalie. That makes sense. So perhaps unschooling is the sort of thing I would gradually move into over the years so that we can get the basics down (math and language arts mostly I assume). Yes, I think I really have to work on making it fun which I find difficult in math and LA. Again the history and geography is easy. I was watching a show about the WWI battle between Italy and Austria in the Dolomites so Mitchell ran for his globe so we could look up the countries and the area of fighting. He asked questions about what kind of weapons they were using.

The geese and ducks are returning here now so perhaps I should have him assign values and see how far we get. :)