December 16, 2010

Utahraptors, Dromaeosaurids, and... unschooling?

Lately I've been preferring the term "home education" over "homeschooling". Mainly because, in my mind, if we didn't "do" enough "school" (ie, a worksheet or something tangible to show), at the end of the day I would feel guilty, like the kids didn't learn anything. This so couldn't be farther from the truth!

There are days when I let my kids watch a little bit too much TV. Those days can feel like big failures of a homeschool day.

But then, like earlier this week when I walked by my son's room and glanced at what he had been writing, a paper on the floor with a pencil next to it - I realized that it's all in my head. He had been copying something he dictated to me last week. He composed this whole thing in his head.

From memory.

The only thing he had to look up was the spelling.

Here's what he wrote:


     Utahraptor was among the second-largest Dromaeosaurids, which were a group of Theropod dinosaurs: small to medium-sized with long, slender arms, three-fingered hands; with a hooked, sickle claw used to bring down prey.
     The Dromeosaurids included Megaraptor, Utahraptor, Deinonychus, Noasaurus, Dromaeosaurus, Velociraptor, Sauronitholestes, Unenlagia, and Bambiraptor [uh, okay - sure, whatever you say...].
     There is also another group of Dromaeosaurids known as the Troodonts. Like their bigger relatives, they had the same features, but unlike their relatives, they had large eyes for night hunting and very large brains compared to their body size. The Troodonts included Troodon, Sauronithoides, Borogovia, and Bryonosaurus. Utahraptor, like all Dromeosaurids, were pack hunters.
     The Dromaeosaurids are found in North and South America and China. Utahraptor is known to be the deadliest of all dinosaurs. Utahraptor's claw measured 15 inches long, it stood 9 feet high, 20 feet long, and weighed 2 tons.


The flow could improve, and for now he refuses my pointers in grammar (he wants to write it his way) - but the content is there. Because I let him follow his interests instead of force-feeding him a pre-packaged curriculum (they never go over well around here), I know he'll retain most of what he has successfully taught himself.

This is the perfect, tangible example of the freedom I have given him in his "homeschooling." Clicking through the other day's post, I come to find out this is called "unschooling" - a word I never really liked because it sounds so... negative. When done right, it is so not. It works. It really works.

Here is the BEST explanation of unschooling I have ever heard - YOU MUST WATCH THIS! Even if you don't unschool, or even homeschool, and never intend to, much can be gleaned from this incredible lecture on how children learn, and how we need to be challenged as facilitators in their learning. A MUST WATCH. This girl (woman) is SO SMART and so succesful, and was never, ever taught a thing. Her vocabulary alone shames me.

So, back to my boy.

He went on to make this Dinosaur Classification Chart - all on his own. Just for fun, I guess. I did not make him do this:


He did not copy this chart from a book. He knew so much about each dinosaur that he was able to classify them BY HIMSELF, all alone in his 10-year-old mind.

And here's some highly classified information I have never shared with anyone. Ready?

I have never taught him a formal science lesson (at least, that I can recall...).

I don't do formal lesson plans (ick!), and have never said, "Today we're going to learn about dinosaurs (or whatever), Son - so buck up."

I never taught him a thing about dinosaurs, or all the other stuff he knows most about (which is A LOT, by the way. Don't ever ask him unless you're prepared for a 20-minute lecture.). As a matter of fact, I've never had a science curriculum for him because it's something he's always naturally been interested in; so I never had to. He's 100% self-taught in this and other areas.

I simply gave him the space, the time, and the freedom to pursue his interests. And he has. And does. With gusto. And tons of fruit to show for it (see above). Kids are naturally so smart and so inquisitive - if we'd just get out of their way.

"All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children." -Isaiah 54:13

"My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness."

Utahraptor siting at the local museum


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