Unschooling Rules #2: Focus on the three Rs

This is a series of posts discussing the book Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich.  I wanted to share with you just a few of the 55 rules he listed, and my take on how we could use them to be better homeschool teachers.

From Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich

Focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.

Take away:  As you are planning your shorter school day, focus on the three things that are the most valuable and useful for everyday adult life.

Mr. Aldrich states that these subjects were considered the basics by our ancestors for a reason.  They are the subjects which are children will use every day for the rest of their lives.  I would further his statement by stating that as parents are starting with preschoolers, focus just on one:  reading.  Once a child can read well, he can teach himself anything he wants to know.  Schedule time for reading in two different areas:

  • Child learning to read or reading aloud.  This may include workbooks (I loved Explode the Code) or simple readers (like Bob books.)
  • Parents reading aloud to children. This is the most important because without a desire to enter the world of books, the child will not make the effort to learn to read.  That desire comes from the realization that what is in a book is valuable: for entertainment or education.  Parents should read both fiction and nonfiction to their child at levels far more advanced than the child’s reading level.

After reading, writing follows naturally.  A child has a natural desire to “draw” letters.  As a parent provides opportunity for practice:  making lists, writing notes, and perhaps art projects that convey information (science posters, anyone?) writing can evolve naturally from a child’s reading experience.  A child who is read to and reads often will naturally desire to communicate with others in lasting, written form.

Math also begins naturally for a young child, and it is that math that we learn at a young age that is the most valuable to an adult.  I also believe that while using manipulatives is important to teach concepts, learning to do what the Saxon books calls “mental math” — use basic math inside their heads rather than on paper– is a very important skill that parents should reinforce nearly daily.  This skill will serve them well later in life when they are staying inside a grocery budget, checking a bill before paying, and even estimating gas mileage for a car.  When you don’t need an exact number, that kind of mental calculator is very valuable.

What if you don’t have time to study anything else after you’ve studied the three R’s?  Don’t sweat it.  Soon, your child will be an excellent reader, and you can use some of his reading time to read science or history.  Or, choose those type of books for your read aloud.  Other knowledge is picked up easily by learners, which is what you are creating.

Are these subjects the main focus of your homeschool?  What subjects do you consider vital?  Does it change as children mature?  Please leave me a comment below.

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Unschooling Rule #28: Shorter school hours for homeschoolers

Over the next few days, I want to share with you just a few of the 55 rules listed by author Craig Aldrich that really made me think about I teach my children and how our learning can improve at home.  I have reflected on the disservice we do ourselves and our children by calling it “school.”  After all, that gives most of us the immediate idea of the public school we attended ourselves, and may make us strive to duplicate that experience at home.  Yet, the very reason we are homeschoolers is that we didn’t want that experience for our children.  Here is one of the rules I thought very most important for homeschoolers.

From Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich:

One traditional school day includes less than 3 hours of formal instruction and practice, which you can cover in 2.

Take home lesson:  Stop trying to fit in so much schoolwork!

As long time parent-teachers, we know that our kids do not waste as much time as public school children.  There is no roll, no waiting for another student to finish the work or to understand a concept, nor waiting for another student to quit disrupting the class.  Since our formal work takes so much less time, therefore, there is the temptation to fill up the rest of the day with busywork or even valuable learning experiences.  If the child is learning, is this a problem?

The problem may lie in the amount of learning that a child can do in a formal way during a certain period.  Mr. Aldrich makes the case that there is a capacity filled in about 3 hours per day for most people.  Most of us just cannot take in more new information that would be accommodated in 3 hours of instruction.  After that, it’s just like pouring more water into an already full glass.

What can we do, then, to make our homeschool more effective?  Keep track of the number of hours of formal instruction we are scheduling for our children.  Even homeschoolers who are “relaxed” or mostly “unschoolers” often have a few things that they refuse to leave entirely to chance (math is the most common.)  Do not allow these hours of scheduled learning to take up too much of our child’s day.  Instead, allow time for exploration of other subjects and life experiences as leisure time by your child.  These allow for a different kind of learning which is equally useful to the child, and also allows time for the absorption of the more formal instruction.

How do I put this into practice in my home?  For my younger children, I still make a list of what I would like them to accomplish during each day.  This includes any assigned school work, lessons, and chores.  As I make my lists, I make sure that (if they stick to their work) these assignments (including chores) will take less than four hours during any one day.  That means that on music lesson days, we don’t have time to do math or English lessons.  On days that math or English is assigned, we often do little or no other formal instruction.

How do they fill up the rest of their days?  There is no television in our house, so reading is the relaxation of choice.  It is certainly not all educational reading:  right now Max and Lucy are drowning themselves in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  They play outside in the sandbox, inside with Legos, doll house, or cars.  They started learning to play chess this week.  Sometimes they whine about being bored (and I offer to help them find work to do!)

I was glad to read this rule because it is liberating to stop trying to fill the days with worksheets and allow kids to really love learning.  It is a lesson I wish all homeschoolers could learn in their first week of homeschooling, rather than coming to it gradually over a course of years as I have.

Do you keep track of the hours you schedule for schooling?  How do you make sure your children have freedom in their learning experiences?  Please leave a comment below.