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I wonder what the grade five curriculum would look like if it had been developed in northern Ontario. Perhaps skinning a moose and preparing the hide would become standard grade five practice. The skill is very relevant and important to those living in traditional northern communities.

Are you considering unschooling? If your child(ren) have limited or no school experiences, you should find it relatively easy.
If your family is used to a great deal of structure, you may find you need to allow time for adjustment. It may seem like nothing happens for days, weeks or even months. Be sure to spend this time reading and researching homeschooling, and surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people. Keeping a journal may help you see the learning that isn't otherwise obvious.The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents website is an excellent starting place for support.

Is it a Cheetah? An excellent article about gifted children

We live in an age in which we are inundated with information and misinformation. Our schools follow standardised curriculum and subject students to standardised tests that are constantly altered in order to achieve the appearance of "above average" achievement for all, often by watering down or eliminating subjects such as calculus and music. Creativity, collaboration and critical thinking are no longer valued as much as solitary rote and computational skills because they are easier to measure. Busy work and repetition, often in the form of unreasonable amounts of homework, have become the norm.

We can think of people and their talents in terms of colours on an artist's pallette. If we combine colours gently, yet also allow them to show themselves as they are, the results can be spectacular. The differences contrast and complement each other, and can create beauty. But if we mix them together until the colours are all uniform, we end up with a great blob of brownish grey, and all the potential beauty has been lost.

The Unschooling Option
Some personal thoughts

Lately, when I meet with fellow homeschoolers, I find that there is a growing assumption that a set curriculum should and will be followed.

I've learned to expect that assumption from people who do not homeschool and are unfamiliar with it. However, I wonder how many homeschoolers are missing out by simply bringing school into their homes.

Maybe your child will be inspired by that pre-packaged "grade in a box". Some are; I probably would have been. But as homeschooling families, we have the freedom to choose. In leaving the system where it is assumed "one size fits all", it can be hard to accept that we don't have to shop "off the rack" anymore.

There are as many reasons to homeschool as there are homeschoolers, (maybe more), and what works for one child may not work for another. This is one of the most valuable rewards of homeschooling--the freedom to tailor the learning to the needs of the individual.

Often when I mention that I unschool it is often assumed that we sit around and do nothing all day. Sometimes it seems there is a fear associated with these attitudes--"What if something happens and your kids have to go to school?" "How will they cope?" "How do they learn anything?" and "That's all well and good, but there are certain things I want my children to learn!"

In my experience, unschooling allows children to grow and learn who they are and what they wish to become. In our family, my children function well ahead of their schooled peers in all academic areas. Outsiders often write that off, saying they are exceptionally bright, and don't represent children in general. My motherly pride likes to believe they are bright, of course! But I believe that it also comes from the natural way they learn.

We've all seen parents take their children to the store and teach them how to pay for an item and count the change. The children learn money skills because they are using them for a real purpose. We just take it a few steps further.

The learning in their lives is relevant to them.

When I taught grade five, we were required to teach the kids about electrical circuits. Why? Because it was on the curriculum. It was on the curriculum because someone in Texas thought that every fifth grader should know about circuits. In our society we use electricity, and should know how it works. Our educational administrators in Ontario thought that made sense, so it became part of our curriulum as well. Is there relevance to this? Perhaps, for some. There may be some kids who take it further at home. A couple of my students built mini-robots based on our studies. But there were others who memorised it, took the test, then forgot it, because at that time it had no personal relevance to them. In eight years, when they are living in their first apartment and need to replace a fuse, they will need to learn it over again. What a waste of everyone's time and effort! But if we learn it through life, we will remember it.

The electricity unit took three weeks. My own six year old learned the same concepts in an afternoon because he wanted to build an electric train layout.

He remembers the concepts now, three years later. I wonder how many of my grade five students do?

Why is it that we as parents and educators assume that one way is best for all? Why do we allow someone who has never met our children to determine the material they will learn, the way it will be presented and the order in which it is presented? Moving from one prescribed curriculum in the school setting to another at home may work for some, but we need to be careful.

Our world is changing. The rate of techological growth is faster than ever before, and promises to continue to speed up. How many of us learned to navigate the internet in elementary school? But we can, and still do, learn. It isn't what we learned, but how we learned (and learned to learn) that remains relevant. How presumptuous are we to assume we know what knowledge and skills will best serve future generations? The best we can do is to engage our children as learners, encourage them to explore and grow in body, mind and spirit, so that they will be ready for the challenges they will face in life.

In the early 90's, I worked for several years as an occasional teacher. I had an opportunity to visit dozens of schools, see hundreds of classrooms, and thousands of students, with all of the labels--average, gifted, slow learner, learning disabled, physically challenged, behavioural and intellectually challenged. All were further segragated by age (which is another whole issue in itself). One thing quickly became clear: no matter how many labels were introduced, the children were individuals, with their own dreams, passions (those that weren't stamped out of them), interests and abilities.

In the field of Special Education, children in Ontario are given IEP's (Individualized Education Programs). The adults involved create a learning program that is, in their opinion, tailored to suit the needs of the student. The reality is that they are still in a class with other students whose needs must also be met. Some fantastic teachers are able to inspire and motivate their students in such circumstances, but many are overwhelmed, or are themselves uninspired.

We homeschooling parents have a unique opportunity to do better for our children. We can involve them in decisions that affect them, and encourage them to take an active role in their own education. This is how they will learn to make good, responsible decisions throughout their lives. We can create and follow our own IEP's for our children, and update them as often as needed.

In our family, I am here to provide guidance, suggestions and support. I am a fellow learner and mentor. Sometimes that role is quite challenging, especially when new interests require skills that I do not possess. But we talk it out, explore community resources and make it work. I have a responsibility to ensure my children are exposed to a rich variety of life experiences and perspectives. I take that role seriously. The children will learn--that is the nature of the human child.

Laura Lamond

Unschooling and Related Sites

The Ontario Federation Of Teaching Parents
Life Learning Homeschooling Resources
Institutional Learning vs. Free Thought: A YouTube Video
Life Learning Magazine
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning
Articles and Interviews with John Taylor Gatto
Radio Free School
More homeschooling resources