I’ve become interested in exploring “unschooling” as a way for my kids to delve more into their interests. The definition I’m using for unschooling is using an interest-led and child-directed approach to learning, rather than using a purchased curriculum or parent-created unit study. I think that unschooling may be a good way to teach my kids how to learn in a way that will serve them for the rest of their lives, and another step toward fully independent learning.
At the moment, I’m trying out unschooling with my oldest for his science studies. Since he’s only 9, I felt that I needed to give him a bit of structure as I guide him in this learning experiment. So I created a printable to facilitate this learning process.
Begin with Questions
Any good science exploration begins with questions, and the printable reflects that idea. After choosing a general topic, specific questions help my son to focus and direct his learning.
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The printable then shows him different ways to learn about that topic, and gives him ideas for each of these learning categories.
- Watch – My kids watch a lot of science-related educational programming on PBS Kids, so I had that in mind for this category. They also love the Magic School Bus and the newer version of that show, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (both on Netflix). There’s a wiki for both shows that tell you the scientific focus of each episode, which is really helpful for when you’re looking for something specific. I’ve also found helpful short videos on scientific topics on YouTube. Documentaries are also a good option, if you can find one to hold your child’s attention.
- Read – Fiction and non-fiction are possibilities here, even fun reference books targeted to children (like a children’s encyclopedia).
- Play – Games, kits, puzzles, experiments, apps, even Minecraft are possibilities here. We also have a subscription to Minecraft Homeschool, which has courses on many topics.
- Create – My thought with this category was for my child to find a way to be creative with the things that he’s learning. So he could create a model, drawing, a Scratch program…even charts and diagrams could be fun creative outlets.
- Write – This could be as simple as having him write three sentences in his science notebook for each activity he does. For a child that loves to write, this could be report or even a story.
- Teach – I’ve been entranced by the leadership benefits for older children in a one-room schoolhouse as they help younger children to learn, so I was hoping to explore that idea in this context. Possibilities could include him creating/running an experiment for his younger siblings, giving them a short lecture about an interesting aspect of his learning, or even designing a lapbook or notebooking page for them to use.
This isn’t meant to be a strict plan. These are just ideas. For our first shot at this, after choosing a topic and writing down a couple of questions, my son and I explored learning activities in the Watch, Read, Play, and Create categories. He wrote down the ones that interested him. We’ll revisit these ideas, adding and subtracting as we go. When he’s ready to close down this topic, I’ll encourage him to share with his brothers an aspect of what he’s learned (the Teach category).
Implementing the Unschooling Learning Plan
So what does day-to-day learning look like when unschooling? Possibilities range from the very relaxed (“What science activity do you want to do today?”) to the very structured (transferring all ideas your child has decided upon to a lesson planner).
In our case, we’re somewhere between relaxed and structured. We keep a copy of this printable in my son’s science binder. I’ve highlighted the activities that are ready to go (we have the book, or the show, or the supplies) for him to choose from on a day that we’re doing science. If an activity requires a lot of help from me, or for someone else to be involved (ex. my husband, a grandparent), I’ll take the opportunity to teach my son to respect the time of others by getting him to schedule a specific day and time for it.
Tracking Learning and Getting Ready for the Future
Besides the learning ideas page, I also created a form for my son to keep track of his learning activities, as well as a form for him to keep track of any new questions he comes up with during his learning process. These new questions will be helpful as we consider a new science topic to explore once he closes out the current topic. My son keeps all of these forms in his science binder.
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