Monday, October 5, 2009

Slow Schooling, Making Connections

I started using the term Slow Schooling this year because it best describes my approach to how I homeschool my thirteen year old son. When I took Ryan out of school three years ago I didn’t want to do school at home, but instead wanted to embrace a learning philosophy that would allow learning to unfold in an environment suited to my son. Ryan disliked the way school broke learning up into fragmented parts, forcing him to memorize bits and pieces of knowledge that he had no connection to. Soon after taking Ryan out of school at the beginning of 4th grade, I discovered unschooling which allows learning to be child directed, encourages parents to have a hands off approach, and trusts that the child will learn on their own accord, at a pace that is comfortable to them.

Through unschooling, I thought I had found the perfect solution for Ryan. Allowing a child to learn what they want, how they want, when they want. It really sounded great in theory, but putting it into practice can be difficult, especially when there is a lot of disagreement in the unschooling community about how to properly unschool and the conflicts based on semantics are divisive. Those that radically unschool feel that their kids should not be taught anything at all unless learning is initiated by their children and anything else is considered a form of coercion. Eclectic unschoolers allow for freedom in some subjects but teach others and feel radical unschoolers are not properly preparing their children for the challenges of life. These differences play out in negative ways and resulted in dividing the community I was a part of four different times over the space of three years. Hardly a supportive and enriching community for children to be exposed to.

Desiring a move away from the negativity of unschooling yet looking for a form of schooling that shares some of its philosophies, I discovered Slow Schooling. Based on the same idea of the Slow Food Movement, where you form connections to the food you consume by knowing the farmer that grows your food, Slow Schooling allows children to form connections to what they are learning. By embracing hands-on, experiential learning, Slow Schooling allows kids to understand why they are learning what they are learning and how it connects to the broader world. The emphasis isn’t placed on learning facts but more on the learning experience and forming deep connections to the material being taught. It requires searching for new ways to make learning exciting and is called Slow Schooling because quality learning can’t be rushed.

Under the banner of Slow Schooling, I still let my son select much of what he wants to learn, but I round out his education by teaching him the things he may not choose on his own. Last week for instance, I encouraged him to read his Oak Meadow science lesson which discussed living organisms that are neither plants nor animals. After reading the short lesson, he had to choose between one of five projects to do. He decided on the one that required him to go to the grocery store and find examples of protists, monera, and fungi in the food we eat. From that experience, he decided he wanted to make dinner based around one of those food items. So last Friday, we ate the mushroom soup (fungi) that Ryan had prepared from one of our favorite local based cookbooks called “Hudson Valley Mediterranean.”

As I sat at the table eating my soup, I couldn't help but think about all of the connections my son experienced that day. Those made as he discovered that the seemingly obscure things he was learning about in science are all around us in the grocery store. That cooking for family exposes him to not only the subjects of math, science and home economics, but also serves another purpose. One which brings family together at a table enjoying the connection of being together in community.

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