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What is a typical day like?
(This was written May 1998)
We are radical unschoolers, which means we believe that a child should be in charge of his/her own learning: whether or not to do anything, when to do it, what to do, etc. We believe that life is learning, and learning is life. We do not impose any learning on our children. We present options, we follow our own interests, we include the kids in our projects, we encourage and facilitate whatever our children need, but our children can always "opt out" of an activity. We have found that by giving our children full agency over their learning, they are more interested in pursuing a variety of activities and topics. We find that they are happier, retain more of what they learn, and have a broader spectrum of interests than we would otherwise have provided.

We don't have a structure to our days, but we do have a something of a pattern. We are mostly night owls here, so we tend to sleep in. Usually by 9 or 9:30 we are all up. We putter around, get dressed (well, usually), eat breakfast, etc. Of course, days that we have appointments or lessons or events, we sometimes have to get going earlier.

The kids are quite independent. I'm not entirely sure if that is because of their personalities, because of our child-rearing/learning philosophy, or a combination. They entertain themselves until they get hungry for lunch. The "entertainments" have included: reading, reading to younger siblings, computer work, making posters or lists, writing letters, watching tv and videos, calling Grandma, "playing" math (have a shelf full of math manipulatives and fun math puzzles), playing with the globe or maps, observing nature, bike riding, dancing, visiting cousins, playing games (we just discovered "Set" and are really enjoying it), listening to music, cleaning up, cooking, and probably lots of other stuff I can't think of right now. During this time I try to take care of housework, maybe do some reading or internet work, garden, or whatever is on the list for the day.

After lunch (which they usually fix for themselves), they often play with the children of a nearby  hs family. That play can take the form of fantasy play, tree climbing, dress-up, "forts," and other stuff I don't see that includes kids from ages 3 to 10. Or they pursue whatever happens to interest them at the time. One child plays "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" almost obsessively right now. Others are enjoying Highlights' "Puzzlemania" CDROM. We haven't had too many sunny days the last few weeks, but when it's warm, they watch bugs and worms and birds and squirrels. We even had a raccoon in the neighbor's tree last fall. :-)

Around 5:30, we start spiffing up the house and getting dinner ready. We eat when Dad gets home, and then do more of the same until people get tired and go to bed. I read to the kids every day. Right now we're reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book in the Chronicles of Narnia), and Ozma of Oz.  We've also recently pursued an interest in books on tape. My almost-6 has listened to Black Beauty 3 times in two days.

We go to the library; we play with building toys (LEGO, DUPLO, Gears-Go-Round, Bright Builders, plain old blocks, sand, wood); sometimes we play math all day. We visit the local science museum; we walk along the river; we sing and sing and sing; we play the piano. Fridays are always Grandma Days (with the preschool cousins along). This morning, we got up very early to watch the hot air balloon rally at the Boise River Festival. We talked about air currents, weather, gravity, physics . . . .

Nothing I'm writing sounds very spectacular, and I guess that's why I'm always reluctant to write about it. But we just live our lives and learn amazing things as we go. We don't want to teach our kids that learning is something that takes place at a certain time, in a certain way, under someone else's direction.

Unschooling has worked exceptionally well for us. We are very happy with the results, and I don't foresee a drastic change in our future. Of course, unschooling means we change as the children's needs change. We are starting ballet and violin lessons, and we will pursue interests in martial arts, gymnastics, and other types of athletics and dance over the next few years. We hope our family will continue to grow, and that brings its own challenges and learning experiences.

Do you actively (or even passively) teach your children? What and how?
Well, unschooling does not mean unlearning or unteaching.  It means following your child's lead.  If he/she expresses an interest in a subject, we pursue it heavily until the interest is satisfied (sometimes the interest continues indefinitely).  When my children ask for my help, I give it.  If I offer and they refuse, I back off.  Each topic--as well as each child--requires a different approach, in my experience.  I do a mountain of research so that I am prepared for most questions/interests.  I at least have a starting place for most topics.

We try to keep lots of interesting software available, books around, have interesting conversations, include the children in adult situations (as they desire).  Our goal is to allow our children to retain their natural joy in learning.  Their thirst for knowledge (and wisdom) is limitless.

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1998 Amy Bell  

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