” Hmmm…we don’t really sound very “unschooly” lately, but really the above does not take up a huge amount of time and it has come about from seeing what my kids need and working on finding resources that work for them. And it works…. I think that this is what Cindy means when she talks about collaborative learning. It is not totally child-led, but it is totally based on the needs of the child. It is not “no structure” but it is structure where it makes sense to have structure. And it feels like the right balance (for now) for us.”
Both Stephanie and Cindy have discussed the Right-Brained Visual-Spatial Learner, and because the description sounded like several of my kids, I checked out the book Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child by Jeffrey Freed. It is wonderful to read. My kids don’t seem to be ADD — he says the primary characteristics are distractibility and impulsive behavior, and they don’t seem to have those in greater degree than other kids we meet up with. But they are quite good fits with the other characteristics, and reading the book helped me see how to some extent I had naturally been able to provide them a good right-brained environment and also showed me some things I had been missing out on and could improve on. Cindy at Apple Stars has some suggestions on how to understand and guide right-brained learners, and the book has many more that sound exactly right and doable for my particular kids.
Anyway, it suddenly occured to my rather foggy brain (it’s 1:32 am here) that perhaps the collaborative learning component has something to do with the visual-spatial RB learner’s needs. The reason I’m wondering is that both Cindy and Stephanie mention that a collaborative form of unschooling has been the best suited for their family and children. Stephanie’s description of how she gives the children some structured things to do, but they consent to it though they have not suggested it themselves, is a description of how things have gone best in our household too.
I spent all last year pretty much radically unschooling. It was a leap of faith and trust for me, and it was difficult. It taught me a lot. When I write on this blog about math books and handwriting practice, and well, “assignments”, it makes me feel a bit uneasy, because it isn’t “pure” unschooling. But I am seeing that the kids respond to it. So I like that word “collaborative”. Other unschooling friends of mine have used metaphors like “dancing”. I think sometimes of how I used to bounce Aidan on the mini-trampoline. He had sensory integration dysfunction and the bouncing really changed his mood, sometimes; it helped him organize. He did not ask for the bouncing, because he could not talk or even gesture for what he wanted — part of the source of his frustration was that lack of communication ability! but he responded to it, and it helped him.
I could see where it could be overdone — become a trap rather than a helpful support.
In the past, I too often worked my way into a structured trap. My kids would respond to a small amount of regular academics. So I’d pile on more and more incrementally, trying to get to where I sub-consciously thought we “should” be. Of course, they would then get overloaded. I am reading that “right-brained” learners don’t need the sequence and repetition that “left brained” ones do. So they would shut down. This happened in cycles. My conscious deschooling interim last year — not just default unschooling because I was pregnant or someone was in the hospital, but conscious “masterly inactivity” as Charlotte Mason calls it — was beneficial in breaking that pattern, and I want to continue that way. But the collaboration seems to strike sparks in our family learning patterns that just pure responsiveness doesn’t. These past weeks have gone so much better than the earlier parts of the year, when I felt we were just treading water and not going anywhere.
I have been reading a bit about Montessori recently, and possibly her idea of “normalization” applies a bit here. (the link takes you to a post on my other blog, when I was conversing back and forth with Kim of Starry Sky Ranch, who is a Montessori resource and mentor to me — and expecting her ninth child soon!). Kim wrote once about how her two young sons went through an intense phase of writing out copywork into little books. It may have been triggered by some sort of work she gave them to do, but the motivation became theirs and she described their absorption and focus on this activity and how peaceful they became during the process and afterwards.
I notice a sort of joyful peace with my kids when the work they are doing is not too much, not too little, and “just right” in kind (you can tell I’ve been reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears to Paddy recently). Obviously this is not happening all the time every day. For one thing, I make mistakes — break the rhythm of the dance, step on someone’s toe, lose my concentration. But the challenge of that dance– of doing my part in that collaboration — is very invigorating.
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