Unschooling Diaries: First Day of Unschool

We didn’t take any special “first day” pictures, she didn’t have a new outfit all picked out and there was no emotional moment of waving goodbye to her in such a monumental way.

We had been collecting some supplies since our neighbourhood department store put out it’s back-to-school stock. And I’ve been getting myself organized with a planner to take notes in, and a binder to make into a sort of portfolio.

My oldest is a very organized person, too, and she has a passion for words and some talent for soaking up and applying simple math. She actually loves to pretend play that she is in school, and we have some wipe-clean workbooks, and I’ve made many little “worksheets” for her just for fun.

It’s easy to find something to do!

But we don’t have a real curriculum here, we are not on anyone’s schedule, and while we follow guidelines from Alberta Education, we are in charge of what shape her education will take.

So the first day for most kids going back to school was a bit anti-climactic for us! I had decided that would be the day I’d start taking careful notes of her day to day activities. Translating her everyday experiences, shifting interests and progress into recognizable subjects and working out what is working well for her, and what supports and challenges she might need to keep moving forward.

I’ve learned a bit in the first few days already! As an example, she was so easily overwhelmed and frustrated when she did not know how to make one of her favourite characters out of clay, it got me thinking that she might love and get a lot out of craft kits that come with simple, specific directions instead of always just being free to experiment with materials.

So I am tailoring our fluid plan to her needs, learning style and curiosities.

She can continue to ask me how to spell words, practice writing them until she remembers them, draw pictures next to new words she’s written in her notebooks for reference, and get lots of practice when she wants help composing a letter or a story of her own invention. She’s free to work on sight words this way, or to practice phonics while comparing rhyming words and the way they are spelled, or words that are spelled in a similar way but sound different.

I’m learning to translate some of her everyday observations and questions into the mathematical equations that best represent them, and giving her the terms and the symbols to work or write these things out on her own. And baking and coins give opportunities to work with fractions and more!

First grade science can focus on the natural world. We will continue to witness the changes of the seasons, and their affect on the outside world and on our lives. We already do this as a pagan sort of family. And I will make sure to provide her with more resources or craft or play projects related to any plants, animals or natural cycles that she wants to learn more about. She can work through these things in discussions, in her drawings, in songs or stories she makes up…

For social studies we will encourage her to notice her role in her family, neighbourhood and community. She can gain more mastery over what it means to be a good friend, to be a responsible house-mate, a compassionate family member and a contributing member of society – no matter how small the contribution. We can take advantage of any community service opportunities that come up and fit her interests or abilities.

For health, we’ll be engaging her to promote her awareness of the impact that adequate hygiene, nutrition, sleep, exercise and hydration have on her mood and energy levels. Helping her to take more responsibility for meeting some of her simple needs, and helping her to recognize when she hasn’t been getting enough of something. And to include mental and emotional health, we will help her to recognize signs that she is getting overwhelmed and needs a break, and help her learn tools to calm herself or keep herself motivated when things get tough.

Arts and crafts…there is never a shortage here anyway. We can work with pretty much any materials, and we spend a lot of time drawing, colouring, painting and making strange creations anyway. And we can use different mediums to explore other areas of her “studies” as well!

And she will be free to play or to work with a variety of our own instruments, and we will continue to encourage her to sing her story songs for us when the mood hits her!

This will take some work, and we will probably still do some sit-down focused work as it comes up for us. But I am so pleasantly surprised with how this plan has come together, and how easy it really was to work out some goals in each subject that we know she can work towards, and that we can document and track fairly easily.

Now we’ll be spending this year playing, exploring, creating and sharing things together. I would love to share some details of our experiences as the year unfolds! I know there are not often many published unschooling experiences, especially locally, to draw information or inspiration from. But we are here!