Tag Archives: unschooling

Parenting Challenge—Inspiring Learning

learn about the world

Some people are incredulous when I tell them that we live without electricity at our home. Whatever do we do all day? These astonished souls comment they would just die without TV. That’s a sad commentary really. There are so many other things to do besides sitting mindlessly in front of the boob tube waiting to be entertained or enriched with essential knowledge that supposedly can only be had by watching the nightly news. I can guarantee that we are never bored. We have animals antics to watch, chores to do, gardens to plant, inventions to create, tables to dust, books to read, building to do and so on. I am not saying television viewing is all bad. There are all sorts of educational programs out there. And we enjoy a good movie or two. We do have the capacity to watch movies despite not having electricity. We have a Portable DVD Player, and it is such a sweet treat for us at the end of the day to curl up and watch a movie together. Because of years of use, the power never lasts for more than one full-length movie, so our viewing time is limited, but who really has time for hours of movies anyway?

 We are more ready to be done unto than to do; we do not care for the labour of ordering our own lives in this direction or in that; they must be conducted for us; a press of engagements must compel us into what next, and what next after. We crave for spectacular entertainment, whether in the way of pageants in the streets, or spectacles on the boards. … There is nothing intentionally vicious in all this; it is simply our effort to escape from the ennui that results from a one-sided view of education,––that education is an atmosphere only.–Charlotte Mason

My family in the U.S. sends us one box chocked full of goodies, things hard to come by where we live, once a year, usually in January. We tear into it with gleeful anticipation. This year was no exception. In fact, I believe they outdid themselves this year. In addition to a Kindle with more than 300 books on it, oh how many hours of pure bliss there, they sent my son some projects. When we laid out the boxes, I told him that regular class would be suspended and he could build one project a day. He was delighted.

There were several Lego sets, a music box kit, and a solar educational kit. He could barely wait to finish breakfast the next morning before he got started. After he put to together the boxed sets according to the instructions and marveled at them a few days, he set about taking them apart and designing his own stuff. He analyzed how much solar power he would need to charge his cell phone and tried tweaking the kit to fit that purpose. It wasn’t strong enough for the task at hand, and he was disappointed, but he kept up with his experiments. No boredom here!

Education is a World Business.––Next, we may have poetry, or art, or philosophy; we cannot tell; but two things are incumbent upon us,––to keep ourselves and our children in touch with the great thoughts by which the world has been educated in the past, and to keep ourselves and them in the right attitude towards the great ideas of the present. It is our temptation to make too personal a matter of education, to lose sight of the fact that education is a world business, that the lessons of the ages have been duly set, and that each age is concerned, not only with its own particular page, but with every preceding page.–Charlotte Mason

I had been trying to get my son interested in reading some of the books on my shelf to expand his understanding of the world. One of the books I wanted him to pick up was about Greek mythology, but he wasn’t interested, and I didn’t want to force the issue. One day, I brought home a movie, Lightning Thief, that I thought he would enjoy. Well, the next morning, he was still going on about the characters and the film. So I casually tossed my mythology book on his bed and said that he might find this book useful in understanding the movie better. He spent the better part of the day devouring the book and then watched the movie again, absolutely delighted with the information he now had. I didn’t feel that we needed to have a “proper” lesson on the subject since my mission had been so easily accomplished.

A Wider Curriculum.––Give children a wide range of subjects, with the end in view of establishing in each case some one or more of the relations I have indicated. Let them learn from first-hand sources of information––really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon. Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher’s business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children. Peptonised food for a healthy stomach does not tend to a vigorous digestion. Children must be allowed to ruminate, must be left alone with their own thoughts. They will ask for help if they want it.–Charlotte Mason

The next movie I am going to recommend to my son is The Patriot and then toss Johnny Tremain on his bed and see what he makes of it. World History includes U.S. History after all.  And this inspiring learning bit, rather than formal lessons is a walk in the park for both of us.  How enjoyable!




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Teaching

Homeschool variation

scarlet king snake

Red touches yellow kills a fellow. Red touches black, a friend of Jack.

As an educator, I have always been concerned about my son’s education. I felt, since the moment he was born, that my principle task as a mother was to help him learn to be a well-adjusted, happy and successful man, no matter where he might live.

When we arrived in México, my son was 4 years old, and according to his Spanish-speaking grandparents, he didn’t speak any Spanish. However, he did understand everything he heard. In order to jump start his language acquisition, we decided to send him to a bilingual kindergarten. I found a position with a private school, and he attended with me. We both liked this arrangement since Mommy was his teacher for 1/2 the day. His Spanish improved immensely.

At 5, we needed to make some decisions about schooling. We planned to make México our permanent home, not just a 2 or 3-year stint. It was evident that there would be things I just wouldn’t be able to adequately teach my son about Mexican culture and language. Thus began our homeschool variation.

My son attends public elementary school from 2 pm in the afternoon until 6:30 pm. His normal subjects include Spanish, Math, Science, Mexican Moral Values, Physical Education and Mexican History, with brief sessions of music, art, and computer classes. So my mission was to supplement these courses with those that I thought he might need. We began a home study course in the mornings and on weekends.

I left Spanish alone. A native teacher is always better than a foreigner. At 10, he speaks Mexican Spanish fluently, without a trace of an American accent. He also is the top reader in his class, having been elected several years in a row to represent his school at various reading competitions.

Math, other than learning the terms in English, again was something I didn’t need to focus too much on since numbers are easily understood in digit form in either language. Anyway, I wasn’t much help with the metric system, having learned the English measurement system when I was a girl. His dad does most of the teaching for this subject. Having worked in both the United States and México, he is able to use both measurement systems well. He and our son used hands-on math in the construction of our home.

I added World History to his morning agenda, using interesting books or fun activities like word searches or hidden picture books. I also had him play Civilization on the computer, which really was his favorite lesson by far. If you’ve never played the game, the idea is for you to grow a civilization from the hunter/gatherer stage to a scientifically advanced one. Your scientific and military advancements depend on the civilization you choose. I think, for this reason, he never complained when we had to gather vinas (a bean type plant) or cut grass for the animals. He imagined he was gathering, just like in the game. Now that his reading ability has caught up to the textbooks I brought with us, he enjoys comparing what he learned from the game to the information in the books.

In line with our world culture study, we recently added Bible lessons as well. We can really relate to some of the early biblical accounts as we too have sheep and goats and have to haul water and make good trades. I found Semana Santa (Holy Week) a good time to present the life and times of Jesus since there are live reenactments of the trial and death in this very Catholic nation. He also is my assistant in designing Spanish Bible games for a local Christian church.

Science has been the easiest by far. We live off the beaten path and every day provides opportunities to study native flora and fauna. I remember the day we saw a dung beetle rolling its dung with his hind legs. Having only ever seen that creature on TV, we were very excited to be sure. We watched it for awhile, then raced home to do more research in the bug encyclopedia.

On another nature walk, we came across a snake that my son was able to identify as a non-venomous scarlet king snake, not its poisonous cousin the coral snake, from his readings. Then there are the butterflies of México, every size and hue imaginable. After the rains, butterflies can be found in groups of hundreds. You can literally walk through clouds of butterflies. No museum trip can match the wonder of that.

With the native vegetation, I am as an avid a student as my son. I have been unable to locate any composite books on plants of México, so am always full of questions for my husband and my in-laws. What is the medicinal value of this or that plant? Is it edible? What animals eat it? Which are poisonous? Can it be made into a tea? How do you eat it, raw or cooked?

We also began our mini-ranching about the time our son started school, so he has had hands-on experience with a number of different animals, much more learning intensive than a day trip to the petting zoo. He has helped with births and hatchings, with daily care and milking, with the selling and butchering. He has learned, along with us, about the interconnectedness of the environment. For example, the horses eat grain then poop. The chickens eat the flies and the undigested grains and lay eggs. We eat the eggs, which gives us the energy to plant the grain that the horse eats. He has also seen the agonizing results of improper or inadequate care and learned how we have a responsibility to our animals to provide adequate food and shelter and what benefits we receive in return.

Of course, his daily homeschool curriculum includes liberal doses of English. He helps me design exciting language games, reads, does his (in his opinion ‘not so fun‘) daily grammar or spelling activity, and uses the language every day with his father or me or my other ESL students. He speaks English without a Mexican accent, although he often spells as if the word were phonetically Spanish. We’re working on that.

With non-academic courses such as physical education, music, art, and computer literacy classes, most Mexican public schools do not have a lot of funding for intensive year-long classes, but they do provide sessions as teachers become available.

My son had an art class working with barro (clay) which is a traditional medium for many everyday items still made and used here in México today. He is also learning Zentangle design from a student of mine in exchange for English classes.

He has had a few flute classes, but he never mastered that well. So now, he takes Mommy piano lessons on Saturday and is progressing nicely.

Our daily lives, with its many activities, provide ample physical activity for a growing boy. For instance, my son’s job is to fill the barrica (barrel) using the hand pump so that we have water to wash with. We tease him about how the girls in his class must notice how muscular he has become because of this daily task. We also love to take family bike rides to the next town and back.

And he has had access to a computer from an early age in our home. We have recently been able to get internet service, and the whole world has opened up for him with the click of a button.

I wish I could provide more for my son. The area that we live in is so backward regarding technology and at times, culturally. But I hope that I am providing enough that wherever he may go, he will have enough knowledge to survive and succeed.

After all, as Joseph Campbell says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” and that should be enough for anyone.




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms