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Unschooling method grows in popularity

5:46 PM, Feb 28, 2007   |    comments
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“We found out that it was more helpful for him to learn if he got to pick and choose what he wanted to learn,” said Kawai Brown.

Brown prefers the term child-led learning. She homeschooled her sons in the method, which allows them to decide what to learn and when.

“It’s basically, do whatever you want for school,” said 9-year-old Dustin Brown. “You can do math. You can do science. You can do anything. You can read another book.”

Dustin typically spends most of his morning outside. During the snowstorms, he spent his days building a makeshift hill in his front yard to snowboard and sled on. Then, he would spend time breaking up the ice on his sidewalk before finally deciding to sit down and do some work.

“I don’t really like being told what to do,” Dustin said. “So, it’s a lot easier if I can choose what I can do.”

Dustin likes to pick and choose between the common subjects of science, math, and history. He spends a lot of time learning about Egypt and reading books about warriors. His mother says freedom to choose is what child-led learning is about, and that includes allowing Dustin to build a snow hill to sled down in the front yard.

“Child-led learning to me is that we give our children the opportunity to learn,” Kawai said.

She believes time constraints and structure could hinder a child’s education.

“When you’re interested in something and it takes longer than say an hour, a lot of children don’t want to be interrupted,” she said.

“I think it’s nice that I actually get to decide and not have someone hand me the work and just say, ‘Do it,’” said Dustin.

However, parents practicing the unschooling method represent only about 10 percent of all homeschoolers. An estimated 2 million families homeschool nationwide. More common is a structured approach, like what Terri Moore does with her daughter Emelia.

“I just know when I came down to it, that I needed something that was laid out for me that I could follow,” said Terri.

She follows a curriculum put out by a school in Baltimore, Maryland specifically for homeschooled families.

“If I didn’t have things planned out on a daily basis, I don’t think things would actually get done,” said Terri.

That is what makes Terri wonder about child-led learning. She says she is not against that method, but she said she can’t see it making sense for her family.

“The kids run the parents and to me that’s just unacceptable,” Terri said. “When the mom says to Johnny, ‘What do you want to learn today?’ and Johnny says, ‘Nothing,’ you know, okay, so what happens today?”

“We don’t let them just take control of everything, because if we did then our lives would be chaos, too.” said Kawai.

She says academics is the only part of the family life in which she lets her kids have a say.

Emelia Moore says child-led learning is not something she would want to do.

“If I could pick, that wouldn’t really be that fun,” she said.

Terri says her curriculum guarantees her daughter’s learning is well-rounded.

“There needs to be a base,” Terri said. “There has to be something to go from.”

Kawai says she does not worry if Dustin learns enough each day.

“Overall is our main goal, because even if they learn day-to-day, a lot of children forget,” she said.

Kawai says all she knows is that her son reads a lot more if it is something he chose and is interested in.

“When we allow him to choose what he likes to do, he remembers a lot more,” she said.

As far as structure goes, Kawai says Dustin will learn all that in the process.

“They learn naturally about schedules and how to get things done on time,” she said.

The State of Colorado has lenient laws when it comes to homeschooled families. Basically, the government views them as small private schools so they are not regulated, making unschooling or child-led learning legal.

“When you put it into everyday application and you notice that they are succeeding, that’s our main goal,” Kawai said, “for them to succeed in life, not just in school.”

The National Home Education Research Institute, a non-profit research group, recently completed a comprehensive study of how former homeschoolers are faring in their adult lives. Of the 7,306 participants, 5,254 had been homeschooled for at least seven years.

Some findings:

• 74.2 percent had attained some college courses or higher in their education. In the general U.S. population in the same age range, the number is 46.2 percent.

• 71 percent of the former homeschoolers are participating in an ongoing community activity, compared to 39 percent of all U.S. adults.

• 55 percent say they would homeschool their own children.

For more information on the National Home Education Research Institute, you can click here.

To purchase the complete study about homeschoolers, you can click here.

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