Last week a mom on a message board was asking about unschooling. In responding to her post I stumbled on expressing a thought that I wanted to expand on:
You can't plan what someone else will learn.
This is the fundamental flaw with schools and curriculums. The system is set up around a plan that the student will learn X and then Y and then Z all "on time." If the student doesn't, they have "failed." This so-called failure is inevitable because you can't plan what someone else will learn.
Unschoolers recognize this, but sometimes think the answer is to stop planning *anything.* Sometimes they are afraid that if they are planning lots of things, someone might think they aren't really unschooling. Sometimes they are afraid that they are misunderstanding unschooling if they make plans to do things.
Granted, a huge benefit of unschooling and homeschooling in general is the freedom from being held to the school system's arbitrary schedule. Part of unschooling is deschooling yourself and realizing that you don't HAVE TO schedule your kids every waking moment. For unschooling to work, it is necessary to drop the fear that if your kids are happy playing all day that they aren't learning. Because they are!
On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with making plans. I make plans for myself and my kids all the time. The difference between the types of plans I make and the types of plans influenced by schoolish thought or the use of curriculum is that unschoolers shouldn't be making the mistake of thinking they can plan what their kids will learn. It's impossible! It is perfectly ok, however, to make plans of things to do, places to go, people to see and all kinds of things to make life fun, interesting, rich, and to borrow from Sandra Dodd- SPARKLY! You can't plan what someone else will learn, but make life interesting and they WILL learn.
Here are some things I take into consideration when I'm making plans:
1. Motivation. Are you planning a trip to the zoo because your child loves animals or to expose her to something new? Or are you going to use the plaques in front of each exhibit for a "reading lesson" and come back and do a "unit study" on her favorite animal? You can't plan *what* your child will learn from the zoo, but you can plan to take them, enjoy the time with them, and trust that they are learning whether you see it happening or not.
2. Enjoyment. Is this something you think your child might enjoy? Or is it something that all the "good homeschoolers" do? If you have a choice between a Lego Convention and a Science Museum, don't choose the Museum if you know your child loves legos, just because the museum is more "educational." On the other hand, don't scoff at the museum if you think your child will enjoy it just because it looks "schoolish."
3. Cost. If you pay for an annual membership or 3 months of classes and your child doesn't like it, are you going to force them to go to get your money's worth? Or feel resentful if you let them drop out? Either make sure you can gracefully handle their decline or only pay for a little bit at a time.
4. Flexibility. If you make plans to go somewhere, even if you are excited about it, be willing to change your plans if your child isn't interested. On the other hand, I have heard of parents asking their three year old "Do you want to go to the museum?" and then being disappointed that she doesn't want to go so they never try it. She doesn't know what it is that she is declining! A few days ago, we went to the Discovery Museum. My kids have never gone, so I didn't ask if they wanted to go. I told them a few weeks ago that we were going and when. I have mentioned it a few times since then and tried to explain what it is. On the day of the trip I woke them up and said to get ready, we're going. Once we got there, if they had been bored or overwhelmed or not enjoying themselves for any reason, we would have left (or in this case, sat in the car and waited, since my mom was our ride and visiting with her other grandchildren). Part of unschooing is exposing them to new things, but if they aren't enjoying themselves, it's time to be flexible and let it go. Also, my kids know that they can tell me they don't want to do something and I won't make them. They usually go along with what I plan, but last week their grandma was going to take them to do something (still undecided and vague at that point) while I went shopping. E had been sick and said that she didn't want to do anything with grandma except lay on her couch and watch a movie. So I called my mom and let her know, no big deal.
5. Over Scheduling. I have seen some new unschoolers try to match school hours with their activities thinking that all those "educational things" are a substitute for classroom learning. It's ok to make some plans. It's ok to have periods of busyness if everyone is enjoying it. It's also important to have down time and for kids to have lots of time to play, and to deschool to the point that you are no longer comparing what you are doing to school.
6. Personality. Is your child an introvert or extrovert? A trip to the zoo might be more fun with a group for your extrovert. It might be more better for your introvert to go with just the family and take your time and look carefully at every animal.
7. Tune into your kids. Most importantly, figure out what works for *your* kids, not some theoretical child of the same age, not the kids in your homeschool group, not how your child was last year, but your child right now. Some kids need to know about plans way in advance, some don't mind spontaneity. Some like to go somewhere every day, some prefer to stay home most of the time. Some like crafts or reading about a subject, some like videos. Whatever you are doing, rather than worrying about planning what your child is learning, ask yourself is my child having fun and is this making life interesting?
And on the flip side, if you and your kids do fine just waking up in the morning and winging it, that's great! This is addressing the fear that making plans is somehow anti-unschooling, but if you do fine without plans, don't feel like you have to start making them.
Also, if you or your child are still deschooling, maybe don't jump into making a bunch of plans just yet. Let there be plenty of time to recuperate and decompress and then only add in plans if your child is ready and enjoying them.