Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's the Difference?

This week we did not 'have school'. In Pennsylvania, we must log 180 days of schooling per year as homeschoolers. The designation for a year runs from July 1st to June 30th. For the 2010-2011 school year, we started counting days in late August and ended our year on May 24th. This year because we weren't making last minute decision on our schooling plans, we started counting one day a week in July and began full weeks around mid-August. Last week I sat down to do the math and found that even if we had no school days this week and took a week off in April for spring break, we could complete our 180 days on May 11th. So I declared our vacation extended!

Now the funny thing about all of this, is that this week didn't feel a whole lot different than any of our 'school' weeks. (The picture above shows the books that are currently next to JT's bed. He NEVER reads just one at a time. I'd say he was doing a bit of learning without any schooling this week.) So for this non-schooling week, the boys spent time reading, watching their new documentaries including The Blue Planet, building with LEGOs, playing outside, playing board games, looking at our latest sand from friends in faraway places, taking old clocks apart to see how they work, playing drums, playing piano and collecting samples of foods with mold for our next science unit. That list includes quite a few things that would be included in our regular school weeks. The only real difference is that I didn't mark an X for those days in the boxes on our tally sheet where we record our schooling.

I really started thinking about how seamless my life is becoming. My husband works from home. He has a job where he's in an on-call kind of situation pretty much 24 hours a day. Some days he's not very busy during 'typical' work hours. If it's nine o'clock at night and he's on his computer checking on a server, is he 'working' or not? If the boys are watching a documentary and taking notes (this has actually happened spontaneously with no encouragement from me!) and it's a day we aren't counting, are they 'schooling' or not? If my husband sits down and explains how the clock the boys have taken apart works, is he teaching them or not? If we play basketball are we having gym class or not? Is time spent thinking about work when we aren't on the clock work?

Why do we feel such a need to compartmentalize everything we do? I am not an unschooler by a long shot. I plan far too much of the boys' schedule to qualify. I want to be sure certain concepts are covered and I do feel the need for some structure in our days. But some days I really wonder how much further we will drift toward the unschooling style of learning.

At a New Year's Eve party we attended, I was part of a conversation with a few moms who were bemoaning the fact that school was starting again in two days. The moms were worried that their kids wouldn't be able to get up since they had been sleeping late every day for vacation. I just smiled a bit and one of the moms said, "Oh, I guess you never really have to worry about that! What time does your school day start?"

I answered that we typically start the structured part of our day after lunch and that morning is a time for free learning. The mom continued by saying that I would need to eventually teach my boys how to get up in the morning so they would be able to go to college and get a real job. I pointed out that there are many jobs in the world that don't require people to work the typical 9-5 work day. I reminded her that my husband works from home, I work in the home and even when I worked outside of the home, I had held several second shift jobs. She contended that those are the exceptions to the norm. But I don't necessarily think that is true. Look at how technology is moving us towards being able to do so many things remotely. Look at the concern over pollution and how that could be lessened with fewer commuters on the road. Look at how more and more colleges are offering classes online. I really believe that what we think of as 'the way things are' will be a thing of the past by the time our children are grown. AND even if it isn't, just because we spend years getting up and going to school doesn't mean we have mastered the art of getting to work on time. Learning to get somewhere when we need to is a skill that can be developed at any time of the day. My boys manage to get to basketball practice when they need to be there. They make it to scouts and art classes and other activities on time.

Maybe what we really mean when we talk about learning to get up and be at work on time is more about learning to accept the routine of monotony that can come with employment. I hope that by showing my boys how much more they can get out of life, they won't be willing to settle for a job that doesn't excite and inspire them. After all, if you really love what you do, are you working or not?

A career that brings you joy might even make it worth getting up early in the morning...

...but I'm not really sure about that.


Dustin Sullivan said...

This article doesn't directly correspond with anything in your post, but I was reminded of it near the end. You might find it an interesting read:

Ingi Mc said...

My kids are getting up later and later. And staying up reading later and later. But I know that they can get up early if they have to, because in 2010, we got up at 6am every day to commute to school. Because they had to. You don't need to practice for that! And it will depend on what sort of job they will do. But if you want it bad enough, it's amazing what you will do.

And I agree? What is learning? Doing book work your mum told you to do, or reading, writing and learning because you are interested? We are headed more "unschool" too, because we see the value in everyday learning. Great post!

Annie said...

I'm late with my comments, but that doesn't stop me. :)

I can imagine you were quite popular at the New Year's Eve party. :)

Your comments about learning to arrive on time remind me of another homeschooling mom's anecdote. She was talking with a woman who asked why here child wasn't in school. On learning he was homeschooled, the woman asked how he would learn skills like taking turns and standing in line at home. This conversation took place as they were waiting in line at the bank.

Cyber Momma said...

Annie - Better late than never! AND so appropriate for this very subject. :-D