Learning as a separate activity

Many of the mamas in our homelearning group have enrolled their children in the Silverdale program, which DD will be starting this fall. Portfolios are submitted three times a year and evaluated by a teacher. Most of us are unschoolers and readily admit to “pimping” ourselves out for the cash incentives (you get cash and internet connection paid for, as well as some free software like Rosetta Stone). For me it’s more about needing a personal kick in the pants to keep up a portfolio, as well as access to lots of homeschooling-oriented programs (from arts to sciences to sports). Most of the moms I know who are doing Silverdale take the teacher comments with a big grain of salt and don’t share them with their kids. All agree, however, that doing the portfolios is actually fun and provides a nice record of progress and what’s been done.

So this one mama, J, was telling me that her evaluator is pressing for more writing from her 7 year old son. She had included a letter he’d worked painstakingly at writing, as thanks to the coordinator of the theatre program he’d completed: he loved every minute of it and asked his mother to help him write and mail the letter. But the teacher didn’t pay much mind to it and instead suggested he write about the things he learned and discuss what was most interesting to him, etc. (we all suspect that this is an attempt to show “proof” that are kids are actually learning something; the teachers don’t seem to have much faith that learning can take place without some Busywork being required at the end of it).

J pointed out to me that it seemed so contrived to ask her son to write about “what he learned” and that, if she asked her son, he probably wouldn’t really get the question at first. Unschoolers learn by Living Life. The kids ask the questions, follow their interests, but they don’t really think of these moments as “learning”. Learning in school is a distinct activity. You go to school to Learn. Learning occurs during the hours of classroom time, and takes a break for recess and lunch. School kids understand that they are there to Learn and nothing else (no chit-chatting, no game playing, etc). But for unschoolers there is no distinct activity that is Learning. It happens all the time, throughout the day, in bits and peices. The child perceives no difference between watching a movie, colouring pictures, and reading a book about Natural History. These are all just fun things that they do. They are just how the day goes.

J didn’t want her son to start considering Learning as a distinct activity, to start separating parts of the day into “learning” and “not learning”. I agree.

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