Unschooling and Self-Directed Education: How children learn without school and homeschool

Based on the book, Unschooling To University, this video encapsulates how children’s brains develop, how children learn without teaching, and why self-directed education is the most motivating and individualized education.

Presented by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM, certified in brain and child development, and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices.  Judy is the bestselling author of 5 print books and has unschooled 5 children (3 of whom are university graduates so far).

Judy Arnall describes Unschooling to University

The book, Unschooling To University, is now available at bookstores everywhere including Chapters, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble. If your local bookstore doesn’t carry it, just ask for it.

ISBN Print 97809780509-93

ISBN E-Book 97817751786-06

Order on Amazon.com

Order on Amazon.ca

This book explores the journey of the Team of Thirty, a group of young individuals who unschooled from 3 to 12 years each and were accepted or graduated at university, colleges, and technical schools.  10 went into STEM fields (4 into engineering), 10 into humanities and 10 into the arts. 22 have already graduated. 2 have gone on to Masters degrees. Learn more about what unschooling is, why it is beneficial (61 benefits of unschooling), how to unschool and how unschooling fits with brain and child development stages. This 384 page book outlines everything one needs to know about unschooling and self-directed education worldwide.

Did you know there is a world-wide facebook group for Unschooling STEM?

Join Unschooling STEM

Welcome to Unschooling to University!  

Many unschoolers/self-directed learners often get asked the second most common question in home education, (after the one about socialization) which is “What about university?  Aren’t you messing up your child’s chances of eligibility?” This blog’s sole purpose is to assure you that unschooled children can go to college, universities, trade schools or the post-secondary school of their choice, if they choose to go. When the time is right for them, they will often choose self-directed education to help themselves earn the requirements for admission acceptance.

Most parents can teach their children without curriculum until a grade 7 level.  They just need to regain their parenting confidence after 150 years of schooling giving society the message that only teachers teach. Parents are the first teachers and self-learners are the best teachers.  If parents don’t want to teach, they can let go and watch their children soar with curiosity, learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking at all ages.

Believe me, my “math skills” end at grade 8 and I had 3 kids get accepted into STEM programs at university.  Parents do not need high school subject matter expertise.  They just need to be present when their child needs them, and help the child find the resources if asked.  Parents help the child self-direct their education by facilitating what they need. Most unschooled children reach an age that they wish to learn more and seek out tutors, online courses or simply teach themselves from the internet, Kahn Academy, and their jurisdiction’s textbooks.  Whether they learn the entire high school program, or just the final year courses to prove previously acquired learning, or even challenge the leaving or entrance (SAT) exams, children that are motivated are serious, focused learners and nothing will stop them.

As Dr. Peter Gray outlines in his 2013 study of 75 grown homeschoolers, those children with the least number of formal schooling years (either in a classroom or homeschooled), were more likely to go on to post-secondary learning.  That has been our experience in the homeschooling community as well.  The more time children had for play and self-directed learning, the more likely they were to continue learning and became motivated for greater stimulation outside the family.

The other myth is that unschoolers tend to choose more arts and humanities fields when applying to post-secondary institutions.  STEM options are also available to unschoolers. Many unschoolers find that the years of experiential learning from play, projects and travel help round out a solid background of understanding that numbers and formulas can build on when the child reaches their teens and acquires their abstract thinking skills from the development of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They have real world applications for problem-solving with math and science tools.

We know that not everyone aspires to go to post-secondary schools, and that is fine.  We know that some families do wish to plan for that type of education and we aim to help them navigate the waters from unschooling and self-determining their learning during the “school-age” years to a more formal learning environment during the adult years.

Many of these insights come from our family of 5 children, in which we unschooled (self-directed education) the children anywhere from 8 to 12 years that they would have been in school. We had many family friends that also unschooled and I tell their experiences (The Team of Thirty) in the Unschooling To University book, now available for pre-order on Amazon.  12 of the 30 children profiled, attended university in STEM careers. Some went the high school (and self-designed) diploma route and some did not.

We are not outliers.  The gates to education are still there but the walls are coming down. We hope you enjoy our experiences, thoughts and insights to help you make informed education choices. We also welcome your questions. Yes, unschooled children can go on to post-secondary education and they are excellent learners and free thinkers.  We need thought leaders and world problem-solvers.  Join us!

 

#anyonecanhomeeducate         #letlearnerslead         #unschoolingtouniversity

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Children Learn To Write When They Have Something To Say

Consulting3

Many people are worried about teaching their kids to write. Children will learn to write when they have the passion to say something. And it may not be until high school or even when they are in post-secondary schooling.

What most unschooling families forget is how children’s brains grow – a big reason why I wrote the book, Unschooling To University, and listed children’s capabilities in each chapter by age. By age 13, your children are going to know more than you do about a lot of subjects. They will know how to research their interests, argue on Reddit, and critically discern information from the internet. Again, writing is a skill developed from a passion. Most children need a passionate reason to write and more importantly, to be heard, and then they may decide to learn the 5 paragraph essay method. There are lots of Youtube videos showing how. (Anything that one wants to learn is on Youtube!) If they are passionately interested in writing, as my one child did, they will live, breathe and learn about writing improvement every day. My other 4 kids were not as keen to learn about writing, but did self-learn the basics in Grade 10 and wrote pretty good research reports in University when they self-discovered the need to learn how for their assignments. All of my kids didn’t do any formal writing until grade 10 when they had to write an essay or 2 for for meeting APS outcomes in courses for credits. The one child who is going into a Masters program this Fall (the writing fanatic) only did 1 ELA course in high school – Grade 11. She challenged the  grade 12 diploma exam because she probably knew as much as any English Language Arts teacher with all her independent self-taught research and knowledge. She also had the time to self-learn everything about crafting novels.

As far as children’s capabilities are, unschoolers go from playing video games/life learning/play/projects and interests to mandatory textbooks in high school pretty easily –  again we have to be aware of how much more capable our children are in the teen years. My math skill ends in grade 8. My 3 children who persued STEM careers had the ability to self-teach from textbooks beyond grade 8. They are average kids. All kids have the ability to self-teach from the interest. By age 13, they have their abstract thinking skills so they can pick up a textbook/or screen and read it. No problem. It’s like the difference of toilet learning between an 18 month-old and a 4 year-old – one takes months and the other can do it in a day – because they are cognitively, physically, and emotionally ready. Have trust in your children’s brains. Their learning will bypass your knowledge.  You can’t force and child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning. Learn more about how children read and write:

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You Did It!

Unschooling1

You can’t force a child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning!  Life is learning…and all children are born curious…let them lead their learning.

#unschooling     #homeschooling    #letlearnerslead

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Homeschoolers! Relax! Children Never Stop Learning!

New Homeschoolers! Please-Stop-Worrying! If you have a child between Kindergarten and Grade 3 that you are homeschooling this Fall, please DO NOT worry about whether they will be academically ready to go back to school Fall 2021. I guarantee you that they will be ahead of the pack, not behind.

Grades 1-3 is about “learning to read” so that in Grades 4-6 kids can “read to learn.” You absolutely can’t go wrong no matter what curriculum you use or what you teach! Many unschooling parents empower their kids to play until high school and beyond and the kids go on to universities, colleges, tech and art schools just fine. The kids learn but it’s just that they don’t learn through workbooks and textbooks. They learn math and literacy every day that they are alive and breathing. You can’t force a child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning. When an unschooled child is motivated (and everyone is motivated to learn) nothing will stop them. Nothing. 

I know it’s hard not to worry. To assuage your worry, if you want, go to Costco and buy one of those graded workbooks for $10 so you have a plan of what gets covered in each grade for your country. Then, you can cover those topics in more fun experiential ways other than a workbook, which is how young children learn anyways – through hands-on activities.

Trust your child and grab those teaching moments in real life! For English, make time to read to your child, and cuddle up and enjoy books together every day. Learning to read is not a taught skill.  It is a developmental skill that occurs naturally for every child when they are ready.  Have lots of conversations with your child with rich and varied vocabulary. For math, get in the kitchen and bake. Take them with you to the store to compare prices. Set up a lemonade stand. Let them play LEGO, video and board games. Get them watching Magic School Bus videos – they cover the entire grade 1-6 science topics. Go explore your country this summer for Social Studies. Go camping and take some day trips to places of interest that is local.  Visit museums, science centres, and zoos. Watch age-appropriate films and discuss them as a family. Let the learning come alive for them! You will not mess them up!

My 5 children unschooled for 8-12 years of their school years. They did no workbooks and learned everything through experiential life learning (and a lot of video games!) See the blog post on Video games are Educational!  3 are university graduates, 1 is studying in university and 1 is about to go.  This Fall, we have our first grad student beginning a masters program. Children do not need school or workbooks or textbooks to learn. They need you and their innate curiosity! Your biggest problem this year is that your kids will be so enriched and so far ahead of their grade, that next year, if you put them back into school, they may be bored!

Video Games are Educational

Continue your learning on unschooling with the book, Unschooling To University.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling and Self-Directed Education: How children learn without school and homeschooling

Most parents can teach their children without curriculum until a grade 7 level.  They just need to regain their parenting confidence after 150 years of schooling giving the message that only teachers teach. Parents are the first teachers and self-learners are the best teachers.  If parents don’t want to teach, they can let go and watch their children soar with curiosity, learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking at any age.

This video encapsulates how brains work, children learn no matter what, and why self-directed education is the best education.

Presented by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM, certified in brain and child development, and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices.  Judy is the bestselling author of 5 print books and has unschooled 5 children (3 of whom are university graduates so far).

Further your learning at Amazon.com https://amzn.to/2X1ueGn

Stay Tuned for the Next MasterClassSDE

 

 

 

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

16 Problems with Online/Virtual Learning

5 senses

Is your child not loving online school? Is motivation is a daily battle?  You want to quit but you are worried your child might get “behind”?  Don’t worry. It is not your child’s fault. The fault is an education delivery method that is not compatible with your child’s brain and how learning works at different ages.

E-Learning, distance learning, virtual schooling and online learning is NOT homeschooling or home education. It is government school in your living room and you and your child have no control over it. For a parent, it can be as painful as overseeing homework. Yet, students are now borderless. In true home education/unschooling, the parent and child controls everything: goals, content, methodology, pace, resources, scope, sequence, and assessment. The parent and child can choose what to learn (the world is the classroom), when to learn it (morning, or night), where to learn it from (many countries have excellent courses online), how to learn it (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) and if (may the child is not interested for now…) a child wants to learn it.

*Listen to the article instead of reading!

Virtual schools

Online learning in the past decade has grown exponentially. Our entire education system seems to be moving toward digital teaching. However, I don’t think it is the only way, nor best way, to go. Children should delay taking online courses for as long as they can, at least until the teen years, and continue instead to learn in the physical, real world. Currently, online learning takes place either in the home, where it is called distance education (not homeschooling, because it is not parent or self-directed), or in a school.

Face-to-face relationships are difficult to foster in the digital world, but are critically needed in the teaching-learning dynamic. In response to that need, a hybrid of online and face-to-face learning called “blended learning” is gaining popularity. All of blended learning is school directed, but some of the instruction takes place directly from a physical classroom, and some occurs through online content and/or correspondence.

Online education has some benefits, but more challenges. It certainly is not for every-one. As well, many asynchronous courses just have the student read text from a screen and do an assignment. Read more text and do an assignment. Much of what is learned is forgotten by the next grade. Some courses are synchronous and have a teacher doing a zoom or live teaching. Those are more engaging and better suited for children ages 13 and up that have enough executive function (self-control) brain development to sit and pay attention for an hour at a time. As well, young children’s brains are wired to learn in 3-dimensions, not 2-dimentions through a screen. That is why children learn best through play during their first 12 years.

For younger children, under age 13, the best solution might be to have the child do a home education program that has hands-on learning and experiential activities, and then the parent or child can choose online learning from a variety of engaging apps.  They can pick and choose from apps that deliver quality, engaging, programming. Thus, they are not locked into a year-long online school course that a child is not motivated into doing and the parent is frustrated while trying to engage the child to pay attention and do the work.

Unfortunately, many schools teach online courses through boring text on a screen because they don’t have the funding for licencing agreements that would bring the new, fun, engaging apps to the student population. For example, my kids loved Kahn Academy.  They learned all their science and math through that fantastic website (no, not getting endorsement funds here!), yet, none of the government school online courses recommended or used any of their content for teaching.

This is  Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning and it shows parents what the learning retention rate is through various methods of delivery.

Many schools are scrambling to retain their student rosters in order to retain funding, by offering online programming, but is it really in the best interests of the child’s learning abilities?  No.  Do home education or unschooling instead if you want your child to retain what they learn through real life, experiential teaching moments.

Disadvantages of online learning through government schools

There are numerous disadvantages to distance education through online delivery. Let’s go through them.

1. Relationships are difficult to maintain

Online learning only delivers academic content. The physical, social, and emotional needs of the learner go undetected when there is no visual contact between the teacher and the student. Academic content is easy to find anywhere on the internet, but the best part of school is the teachers’ relationships with students that is missing in online courses, especially when teachers have 300 – 800 students in their virtual classes. The teacher role is that of paid marker or accreditation conferrer, and many teachers have assistants who help with marking. The interaction is mostly one way. As mentioned before, it falls to the parent or even the at-home student to switch to the teaching role the moment the learner needs help. A 13-year-old at home can spend his whole “school day” on the computer and may learn the names of his teacher and his classmates, but he does not talk to anyone until his parents get home from work. This is isolating and lonely. Children need relationships.

2. Bussing

Bussing to a school in order to learn online is unnecessary, a waste of time for the student, and harmful to the environment. Children need adult attention daily, not peer attention.

3. Motivation needs monitoring

Successful online education needs structured parental oversight in the home, or daily interaction with a teacher, or an extremely self-motivated student. Very often none of these scenarios exist, and this is the reason online courses have such a high dropout rate.

Teachers are reduced to being pokers, prodders and markers, trying to motivate learners who literally have to teach themselves the online content. This is degrading to the teaching profession.

4. The learner teaches himself but is constrained by the government agenda

Many online courses have no synchronous live instruction from a teacher, so the experience is no different than students self-teaching by reading text from a screen or   a textbook. After reading the assigned screen text or book pages, they churn out short answers, essays, discussion comments, reviews, quizzes, and lab reports to “prove”  they were engaged in the course. There are no oral responses because there is no synchronous interaction. If students have questions, a teacher’s email response often comes far too late—and by that time, kids have often figured out the answer, or no longer care about it. Or they might search for the answer online. Or watch videos from the Kahn Academy, or from other online teachers not affiliated with a school. Or they ask a knowledgeable parent. In some cases, they acquire an external tutor. This is not online learning. Whoever is doing the personalized explaining is doing the teaching—and they should be giving the mark in the course, not the school. And if a student teaches himself, he should also mark himself, because he knows exactly what he has learned.

A true online course that is delivered by a teacher is one in which content is indeed read by the student, with the student then interacting with the teacher by phone or synchronous live video feed equal in time to at least half the number of regular classroom instructional hours. Anything less than this means the student is teaching himself, or the parent is teaching him, outside of the constraints of school.

5. The parent teaches the child but is constrained by the government agenda

I have learned so many new things by searching and finding answers together with my children. Kids today are products of the “instant gratification” generation. They want things right away. When my children took online courses, they didn’t want to wait days for a teacher’s answer, and they asked me. As noted in the previous section, whoever does the explaining is the de-facto teacher, regardless of who does the marking. If a book or computer screen cannot adequately explain a concept to your child in a learning style they understand, and you have to supplement the written instructions with your own explanations, drawings, manipulatives, and further resources, then you are actively teaching the concept and the course. Schools conferring a mark and commenting on the output does not constitute true teaching. If the parent is explaining a concept in a way they know their child will understand, they should also be empowered to bestow the course marks. As the “explainer” I don’t get paid to “teach” the course, but I do it because I hate to see my child driven to tears of frustration. As a byproduct, my unpaid labor subsidizes the education industry.

One parent describes this pretty well: “The course states, ‘Online education works  with students who can work independently without assistance.’ This is the biggest misconception about online education. Those students that succeed have invisible support and assistance at home. I put my daughter in a Grade 7 English class to help her with accountability. While a teacher did the primary program delivery, I was still very much involved with helping to create schedules, identify deadlines, proofreading, ordering library books, helping with technology such as how PowerPoint worked, figuring out how to split files too big to upload as an attachment and other things. I found that I continued to play just as active a role in supporting my daughter as I did when I was delivering the subject under home education. Only, I couldn’t give her the mark.” (Colleen J, 2008) So if the parent is taking over many of the teacher’s duties in a classroom, why not just have the student self-study from textbooks and from videos on the internet, and allow parents to assess the work and give the mark as they do in homeschooling?

6. Online learning only tickles two senses

Experiential learning encompasses sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, as well as talking and feeling, which embed learning in the long-term memory portion of the brain. Online learning and textbook learning, the economically efficient methods of delivery, are not the optimum methods for deep learning, because they only involve the sense of sight, and possibly, hearing.

Knowledge gained from online learning is present in the working memory but gets dumped soon after the final exam; it never moves to long-term memory. Pamela Gordon states that “Many studies show that we ignore, forget or misunderstand about 75 percent of all the words we hear.” (Gordon, 2012) Anyone who sends an email and has it misread knows what I’m talking about. To get those ideas to stick, people need to make notes and talk to others about their impressions and reactions. That’s why it is so important in adult education to get adults to write their own handouts or at least fill in the blanks—it helps them to remember key points. As the brain processes images better than words, it is often helpful to write notes with diagrams, mind maps, Prezi, or drawings rather than words. Talking about the concept moves information along neural pathways in the brain and takes it from short-term to long-term memory. That’s why we often say you have to teach a concept to really learn it.

When Ryan was taking an online high school math course, he was having trouble self- teaching linear equations. Neither of his two older siblings who were attending university close by could help my son with his math. They had forgotten how to do these equations, even though they had taken the same math course less than two years before.

Schools try their best to help a child retain information by requiring a written “discussion” component from each online class. They require a learner to write at least one posting on a new topic and respond to three postings from other students to earn a certain percentage of the course mark. This type of discussion is not the least bit purposeful. Students hate it; they learn nothing because tone and intent is lost, so they do the minimum required, and check it off the list. And completely forget what they might have written. No learning occurs.

Now, even if online courses were adequate for visual and auditory learners, what about the majority of learners—the kinesthetic ones? Many children want to dissect a real frog, not a virtual one. Who doesn’t remember forever the familiar smell of formaldehyde? Two of my children couldn’t read well from a screen. Some children can’t write on a keyboard either, especially for math problems. Many kids need a classroom, where the simple act of writing notes helps them remember, and a teacher to explain concepts live and in person on a visual board. Then the kids will get up and actively engage physically.

7. Children need to move

Excessive time spent sitting is not good. For many years, I felt bad that my children were on the computer as much as they were, playing video games and learning by reading. I thought that at least if kids went to school, they would move around in the classroom. Teachers soon quashed that notion! Children in classrooms spend a lot of time on their tablets or watching videos of a teacher explaining a concept. Hands-on learning is very much obsolete, especially in the junior high and high school years. Then they come home and spend an average of seven more hours a day online, according to the Vanier Institute. Where is the balance in their life when the majority of their school day is spent online—and then the majority of their off-time as well?

Increased screen time has detrimental health and social consequences. Continuous viewing causes eye strain and headaches. Even when children request a paper textbook, they often can’t access one because schools will not pay for paper copies.

8. Online kids can not hand-write

Many kids cannot hand-write anymore because of their ever-increasing reliance on key- boards. This handicaps children who use a computer all through their school years, but must write high-stakes exams with paper and pencil, slowing them down tremendously. Many professors at post-secondary institutions will not allow computers in their rooms for exams or even lectures. That means kids who never hand-write will be forced to do so for timed exams, and lose marks because of this physical “disability.”

9. Virtual schools require technology support

It’s not the role of parents or teachers to provide technology repair, upgrades, and computer trouble-shooting, but as more schools go digital, funding for the maintenance of technology becomes more important. Even internet access is now an essential service for educational institutions, and the debate rages on as to who should pay for it.

10. Technology creates errors

Computers are machines. They cannot use discretion when they mark online exams. Learners must get the short answer exactly correct with the right characters, capitaliza- tion, and spacing, as their work is computer marked and the program is designed to receive only a specific prescribed response. A teacher with 60 kids in her class cannot look for discretion in answers that are indeed correct but worded differently than what the computer is programmed to accept. Kids may never even know that a correct response was incorrectly marked wrong, as schools will not release marked exams to students to use as a learning tool. Schools are concerned that children will copy digital exams for their friends. This doesn’t help a child learn.

11. Parents are shut out of their child’s education

Of even more concern is the fact that ever more of their children’s day will become invisible to parents. It’s easy to open a textbook or binder to see what one’s child is learning in school, but much harder to log into a website with the child’s password—if the parent is lucky enough to have it, when the child can so easily change it. Many parents do not have the ability to navigate a website, and they remain locked out of their child’s work and his marks. One school board I know of will not even allow their administrators to communicate with parents outside of their own website. The parent must log in to access the teacher and discuss their child’s progress—the teachers are not allowed to send private emails to parents. This is wrong. Firewalls, compatible software, and passwords all contrive to isolate parents from their own child’s education, in spite of all the research supporting the fact that that children do better academically when their parents are actively involved.

12. Online education shifts costs from the school to the learner

Many schools now require students to bring their own laptop to school. But the initial cost of the laptops is only the beginning. Kids will lose and damage memory sticks. The laptops will be dropped, lost, and stolen. They will get infected with viruses. Who pays for ongoing tech support when kids cannot load videos or exams because of incompatible software? Who pays for help in upgrading software? Or lost or damaged headphones and microphones? Who pays for technology trouble-shooting? Will the school offer orientation sessions to parents to support the learner with hardware, software, and networking?

And of course, textbook companies now want to provide online textbooks rather than printed ones. Think of their cost savings! As an e-book author, I know that printing is half the cost of book production; in addition, there are writing, editing, and layout costs. But the e-book cost savings are rarely passed on to the consumer; rather, the non-existent printing costs are still being passed on to you as parents! Just as businesses shift the cost of printing bills to consumers, charging them if they wish to receive a paper bill instead of an e-bill, parents are expected to bear the cost of the electronic tools to educate their children. If parents accept the financial burden of providing electronics, they should have choice in where the content comes from, and it may not be the government or the school.

13. Poor content

Even though there is no excuse for outdated content in digital courses, they are designed by humans and humans make errors. Factual errors, spelling errors, grammatical and editing errors.

14. Online courses are designed to have a heavier student workload

My children took Grade 10 Physical Education online. The course included 50 hours of writing assignments—three essays, ten quizzes, two projects, three discussions, and more. They had to log and prove 75 hours of physical activity. The kids learned all the vocabulary of soccer—but not how to actually play it. The school justified the excessive writing component by saying that they had to give more marked assignments because of the lack of face-to-face visual cues of absorption and feedback that they would receive from an in-person class. This lack of trust in online students contradicts the usefulness of such courses. Understandably, teachers need output to prove learning, but such excessive written output for a physical education course literally has no context or value.

15. Some components of learning are harder to accomplish on a screen

Math characters, for example. Unless one has a math keyboard, it takes so many more keystrokes to write exponents, fractions, and other characters. It is also harder to do group and collaborative work by computer than meeting in person to discuss the project and organize the workload.

16. Poorly organized courses

Course efficiency and organization depends on the learning style of the course developer. Some courses are structured in a very orderly, linear manner and come with clear instructions and checklists; the assignments are easy to navigate and the due dates are clear. Other courses are scattered and unorganized, with assignments here, additional links there, hidden labs elsewhere, and too much visual overload. My children took an art course that was so poorly outlined that they missed deadlines because links were hidden. It may have worked for the course developer’s learning style, but it did not work for linear students. It is easy for a child to lose a vital bit of information such as an instruction to reprogram their graphing calculators because the test supervisors will clear it before your exam—and if you don’t, your answers will be incorrect—because the notice is buried in “visual noise.” As more and more of our lives are dictated by online instruction, we need more simplicity, not clutter. A book is linear. Online courses can be a scattered mess.

Advantages of government schooling through online learning

And there are distinct advantages to online learning, as well, some of which I list below:

  1. It is portable; the portal can be accessed and assignments submitted from any- where in the world. Caution: learners must account for different time zones for live tutorials.
  2. Text books can be outdated, while online content is easier to update and correct.
  3. Videos and recorded webinars can be watched repeatedly.
  4. Kids can ask questions When they “raise their hand” virtually, class-mates cannot see the hand nor hear the question, so it encourages children to ask questions without fear of embarrassment or ridicule from peers.
  5. Students do not need to socialize with classmates. They avoid being subjected to bullying. This is a relief for introverts who just want to concentrate on the learning.
  6. It is ideal for people with barriers that prevent physical participation: lack of child- care, mobility issues, transportation difficulties, and others.
  7. It works for both visual and auditory learners.
  8. Students can work ahead or fall slightly behind, within reason. Some teachers post the entire course at once, which is great for big-picture learners; however, many teachers will post the course in sections.
  9. Learners do not have to sign up for the full-time school package to get teacher- directed content and personalized feedback on individual courses.
  10. Learning is border-less. Learners can access courses that originate in other countries, if they feel they would be better served.

If kids are going to spend more of their time at school online, why not just stay home and pursue their own agenda on their own schedule? No matter what textbook learners read or which online course they take, they will learn enough math, biology, and literature to pass their exit exams, or post-secondary entrance exams, if they choose that direction.

If the internet were to become the main learner-centered educational hub, schools could provide valuable support as centers for teacher and tutorial help, supervised field trip coordination, technology support, and resource lending libraries. Post-secondary schools could provide the benchmark accreditation for getting accepted, and learners could learn anywhere.

Internet would be the “institution.” Schools would be the support. Not the other way around.

Excerpted from Chapter 19 of Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content, by Judy Arnall

Unschooling To University is available at Amazon

 

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The Stages of Play and Friendship

How to teach emotional intelligence

How does socialization work in homeschooling? Children play differently according to their brain development. They move from single play (babies play with toys by themselves) to parallel play (toddlers play side by side but don’t interact other than to grab a toy) to cooperative play (preschoolers begin to “play together”) to associative play (young children that really play together in free play or organized play) which is elementary school years. Children ages 4-12 have friends based on who is around them and shares the same interests. I remember my child telling me about his friend at age 6 but couldn’t remember his name or where he lived. As children move into the teen years, their friends are deliberately chosen based on shared interests but also shared values, beliefs and attitudes.

All children need is one good friend and siblings count, although they can have scads of them if they want. Most homeschooled children are still very much close to family and siblings because family comes first, but also see many outside the family friends because homeschoolers do not stay at home! They “community school.” Friends come from lessons, outings, group projects, co-ops, musical and art community groups, Girl Guides, church, neighborhood, etc. Friends are not just the same cohort as classmates. So homeschooling socialization is more diverse than an age-sorted classroom. Friends are from all cultures, races, genders, family shapes, and ages.

Friends also change depending on life cycles. My daughters friends in early childhood are not the friends she had in high school and not the same friends she had in university. There are new friends for every new life stage. We were looking at photo albums the other day and she doesn’t remember any of her childhood friends before age 12. Same with my other 4 kids.

Socialization doesn’t have to be a worry in homeschooling. Friends are everywhere!

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Government Oversight of Homeschooling is Over-rated

people-mother-toddler

This week, Erin O’Donnell wrote a caustic article published in Harvard Magazine on why Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program director believes that governments should not allow homeschooling.  Elizabeth Bartholet, the CAP program director is organizing a conference in June to discuss “the problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling, in a legal environment of minimal or no oversight.” The article is available here:  https://harvardmagazine.com/2020/05/right-now-risks-homeschooling

Ms. Bartholet believes that homeschooling provides a non-diverse view of the world, isolates children so the parents can continue maltreatment in secret, and gives children a sub-class education.  She cited Tara Westover’s book, Educated, as an example of what can happen when parents isolate children at home. See the blog post on why “Educated” is a book about Adverse Childhood Experiences and mental illness, not homeschooling. https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/?s=educated

People who don’t understand homeschooling think that we lock up our children in our house for days on end. They can’t know that we actually community school and our children are running out and about among all people in society – all family shapes, faiths, cultures, race, genders, and most importantly, ages. That is diversity in action.  Being locked up in an institutional school for 8 hours a day with same privileged status and age grouping is not what I would call diversity.

It’s always interesting to me that society, school administrators and the government feel the need to provide educational oversight in home education. They insist that parents must provide an education “equal to the education children would get in school.” Many home education parents provide an education that is not the same, but is far superior to what children might get in school. Providing children with a lot of time to pursue interests and passions leads to incredible learning and insight into direction of future careers.

Where we live, the kids learn 1 hour of coding per year in the government curriculum in classrooms. In unschooling, my children not only self-taught coding, but also website design, blog writing, public speaking, cyber-security, and network installations. Their  self-education was superior to school.

Unschooling (self-directed education) provided freedom, passion, choice, control, personal responsibility, creativity, determination, motivation and unequaled absorption of learning for the sake of learning, rather than learning to get marks. Children can’t get much of that in a classroom dictated by school rules, policies, and restrictions and government oversight and underfunding.

Even the maltreatment argument is flawed. The most important years for brain development is from ages 0-6 years. Children need 3 dimensional experiential learning (not 2 dimensional online screen teaching) to develop brain cell connections for healthy growth. Does the government intervene in parenting in order to provide children with the optimal conditions for development in those years?  No.  Society trusts parents to do a good job raising children in the early years. Why then the distrust for the school-aged years? If there is no government oversight in parenting, then there should not be for education either. Parenting is the act of raising children with the values, beliefs and worldview that one holds.  When children grow up, they decide whether to keep or reject those values.

The other reason society wants to regulate home education is the theory that a teeny tiny number of children may be maltreated, and will occur under the daily oversight of teachers, coaches, bus drivers and school nurses.  Yes, that may occur.  But it also occurs to children in school.  Abusive parents are good at hiding their child’s bruises in school. Many school staff people are too busy to notice the hidden signs of abuse.  I should know.  I was one of the abused children in school whose staff never seemed to notice or care what happened when I went home at the end of the day. The percentage of children abused at home and attending school is far higher than the percentage of children that are home schooled and may be abused. We don’t make laws based of the .000000001 percent that might be affected by them.

Parents should worry more about the daily, relentless abuse their school children are experiencing at the hands of school bullies. The toxic stress caused by bullying is real concern for the impact on brain development, self-esteem and ultimate social and emotional development of children.

Besides, the vast number of abused children are toddlers and preschoolers, not school-aged children. Young children have very little executive function (self-control) abilities and parents who don’t understand that their children’s “not listening” is a development issue and not a discipline issue, tend to use punishment to correct what they perceive as a defect. It’s wrong, it is misguided, and we have no government oversight for those children. They are essentially abused (yes, spanking is abuse) on a daily basis and nothing is being done for them. By the time children are school-age, they listen better and the rate of abuse goes way down.

Harvard’s Centre on The Developing Child has excellent research on childhood brain development, the effect of caring parental relationships that mitigate the brain impairment caused by toxic stress, the importance of adult-child serve and return interactions, and the development of executive function in a nurturing environment.  All of these practices are enhanced by the one-to-one relationships made possible by homeschooling.  Many of these ideals are impossible to accomplish in a classroom with 1 adult and 30 kids.  It is incredible how one branch of Harvard (the Centre on the Developing Child) can be so isolated from the research of another branch of Harvard (the Child Advocacy Program).

Just as for parenting, government oversight is not required for homeschooling, anywhere, or anytime.

The excellent essays below make good points on why Homeschooling is beneficial to society and eloquently dissect the philosophical holes in Ms. Bartholet’s arguments:

This article from the Washington Examiner is one of the best essays refuting Ms. Bartholet’s lack of evidence for the bold assumptions she makes:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/harvards-homeschooling-dystopia-denies-reality

Another great article from two child abuse lawyers:

https://thefederalist.com/2020/04/27/harvard-attack-on-homeschooling-has-nothing-to-do-with-childrens-best-interests/

Fred Bauer wrote an excellent rebuttal to Ms. Bartholet views here:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/04/proposals-to-ban-homeschooling-are-an-attack-on-pluralism/

National Review’s awesome post:

https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2020/05/18/harvard-law-takes-aim-at-homeschooling/

Business Insider also published an excellent article on why homeschoolers were increasingly being recruited by Harvard and top prestigious schools in America:

https://www.businessinsider.com/homeschooling-is-the-new-path-to-harvard-2015-9

 

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What do Kids do All Day if Not Directed by Adults?

What will unschooled kids do all day if not directed by adults? And will they learn? What do they learn through play? What does a typical unschooling day look like? Scroll way down to see the charts of what unschooled children do and how it fits nicely into schooly definitions of “subjects.”

Excerpted from Unschooling To University, by Judy Arnall

Children miss so many opportunities and discoveries when they are in school. They would get the chance to explore more things in life if their time were not constantly directed by adults. The key is trust. We must develop trust that our children will find things to do when they are bored. So let them be bored. Kids who are not used to people entertaining them, start to own their use of their time and embark on projects and inquiry to satisfy their curiosity. Many homeschoolers know this from practice. There is no way we are going to spend our days entertaining our children. That is their job! All we have to do is ensure they clean up their messes and make sure safety rules are followed.

Unschoolers comprise about 20% of homeschoolers and follow the home education methodology of self-directed education. The learners have free time the whole day. Many learn through the excellent and engaging resources on this list.  The other 80% of homeschoolers do some bookwork every day.  But even that doesn’t take a lot of time:  Grades 1-6 takes 30 minutes a day, Grades 7-9 takes about one hour a day and Grades 10-12 with 2 core subjects and two options can be done in two hours a day. That leaves a lot of free time to seek out information and soak in content.

Unstructured time worries people. They are uncomfortable without evidence of structure, especially externally imposed structure. But consider the following three ideas.

First, children who need structure impose it upon themselves as their executive function grows. My 15-year-old daughter disciplined herself to go for a walk every day. My 17-year-old son hopped on the treadmill every day at 5 p.m. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular times. The children read in the evenings, not during the day; daytime just doesn’t work for them. We take our vitamins and read the newspaper every day. Except for the teens, we go to bed most nights at midnight and get up at 9 a.m. Yet most people consider our day unstructured because we don’t homeschool or school. Just because the government doesn’t impose structure in the form of established school- day hours doesn’t mean that people don’t impose their own internal structure on their time. Ask any retired person and they will tell you that they are busy and that their days and weeks have structure, rhythm, and purpose.

Second, an unstructured day doesn’t mean that children will be up to no good. Children who are used to filling their time with projects and meaningful activities will not spend time loitering around malls, vandalizing, shoplifting, taking drugs, or having sex when adults are not around. The adults in their lives trust them to fill their time productively, and they have had lots of practice doing just that.

Third, understand that learning is non-stop and non-linear.  As my friend Brandie Hadfield states: “When parents begin to fear that their children aren’t learning anything, it is because they are not seeing it. Sit and observe your child playing a video game, ask questions about their interests, and watch how they light up by your appreciation for what they love. Another aspect of earning worth considering is how you learn something. When we are truly passionate about a subject, we usually “binge” it. We do not abruptly stop at 25 minutes and change subjects. During the deep dive, multiple “subjects” naturally present themselves within their adventure.”

One mom explained how they structure their unschooling time:“We do things in four ways—I do things with her that she needs and wants to do (play and projects). She does things with me that I need and want to do (work), then we do things together (chores and errands) and we do things separately (I practice piano while she plays).” (Stephanie J, 2004)

My son Neil went to a high school for eleventh grade. He had more than enough credits to take two spares in school instead of the one spare that the school allotted to Grade 11 students. When he was caught up on homework, he would go to the library during his spares to sit and reflect. The adults were unhinged by this behavior. Why wasn’t he doing an activity instead of just staring into space! No wonder he came home to finish high school his way the following year.

Here are some activities my kids did entirely on their own because they were bored! This list might look very daunting. But there were also many, many days that my kids played video games nonstop! We eventually expressed our need for them to vary their activities, and they agreed to turn off the screens and look for something else to do. (See more on the educational benefits of video games in Chapter 18.) I’ve also indicated the subjects that each activity can teach, to show the reader how simple activities are educational without even trying to be.

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
5 – 11-year-old children
Legend:
M–Math E–English SC–Science SS–Social Studies A–Art D–Drama PE–Physical Education
Cook and bake M Play restaurant, factory, garage, etc. M, E, SC, A
Play board games M, E, SS Do household and neighborhood chores and projects M, E,

SC, SS, PE

Make board games E, A Play postal person and deliver mail to members of the house E
Paint, sculpt, arts and crafts E, A Make potions and set up a shop SC
Make craft kits A Build carpentry kits from home improvement stores M, SC, A,
Sew, knit, or crochet dolls, puppets, stuffies, and blankets A Do projects and badges from Girl Guides, Scouts, 4H, Jr.

Achievement, Jr. Forest War- dens, Cadets

M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Do puzzles E, SS, A Play casino M
Build workshop projects M, SC, A Visit friends and have sleepovers E
Play Barbies, Polly Pockets, Pokemon E Garden SC
Build snowmen and snow sculptures SC, A Gave a demonstration or speech at a homeschool fair E
Make sand sculptures SC, A SC Watch videos: Pokemon, Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy SC, SS
Play Stock Pot Inn (paper dolls) A Make movies E, A
Make circuits SC Video record a homemade movie E, A, D
Read stories, comics, and reference books E Create a theater, mime, or puppet show and make

tickets, signs, scripts, puppets; sing, dance, perform skits

M, E, A, D

 

Make a dictionary, diorama, cookbook, list, map, mobile, mural, photo album, puzzle,

tape recording, time line, poster, animated movie, movie, etching, picture, TV program, dinner, trial, survey

E, A Create a dance, filmstrip, model, musical instrument, newspaper, cartoon, radio program, recipe, slide show, slogan and ad, board game, bumper sticker, petition, piece of art, questionnaire, experiment, new product, costume, display M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Write stories and illustrate picture books E, A Play at the park alone or with buddies or in groups PE
Scribe and illustrate books (before reading age) E, A Play badminton, catch, rollerblade, swim, ski and many other sports PE
Illustrate a story, diary, calendar, chart, collage, mosaic or collection E, A Host a lemonade stand M
Research items of interest on the internet and in stores M, E Go on field trips to city amenities, zoos, and manufacturing plants SC, SS
Make trains, castles, and cities from cardboard boxes M, E, SC, SS Collect cans and bottles for recycling M, SC
Make bumper stickers E Shop M
Collect items, research and organize them, and display the collection E, A Plan a journey M, E, SC, SS
Write a book, computer program, letter, letter to the editor, new law, news report, poem, song, story, essay, article, play E, SS, A Travel M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Volunteer M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
12 – 15-year-old children
Cook and bake M Do household, neighborhood, community chores and projects M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Play board games M, E, SS Clean rooms, help with home maintenance M, SC, A, PE
Make board games E, A Fix cars SC
Paint, sculpt, draw cartoons, make arts and crafts E, A Learn to maintain appliances SC
Make kites SC, A Build projects in workshops M, SC, A
Build snow sculptures SC, A Work on a lathe M, SC, A
Sew, knit, or crochet dolls,

puppets, stuffies, and blankets

A Run errands with parents to learn about consumer relations E
Do puzzles, sudoku, crosswords E, SS, A Visit friends and have sleepovers E
Go camping SC, PE Garden SC
Work out at the gym individually or in group classes PE Give a speech, demonstration, or evaluation at Toast- masters Youth Leadership E
Go for bike rides, walks; go rollerblading, skiing, skating PE Participate in interest-driven homeschool groups M, E,

SC, SS,

A, PE, MU

Play computer and video games M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Go on field trips E M, E, SC, SS, A,

D, PE, MU

Program computers, design apps and websites M, E, A Host a debate E
Participate in social networks E Plan a training session E
Read books, newspapers, websites, blogs, and forums such as Reddit E Participate in a mock interview E, D
Write in a journal or learn a language E Play music MU

 

Write stories, novels, comics, blogs E Play musical instruments: guitar, piano, drums; play in a band MU
Research items of interest on the internet and in stores M, E Write music MU
Self-study with textbooks and workbooks; work out the problems and review the solutions in the workbooks M, E, SC, SS Participate in interest- based clubs such as First Lego League, NaNoWriMo, Computer Programming,

Writing, Parkour, Beakerhead, Sports, Karate, etc.

E, A,

SS, SC,

M, D, PE, MU

Collect items, research and organize them, and display the collection E, A Work at a job outside the home M, E
Travel M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE, MU

Volunteer M, E, SC, SS, A,

D, PE, MU

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
16 – 20-year-old children
Cook, bake, make beer and jam M, SC Do household, neighbor- hood, community chores and projects M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE

Paint and sculpt A Participate in home renovations M, E, SC, SS, A, PE
Work on projects that will strengthen knowledge and appreciation of the arts, environmental stewardship, community engagement M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, MU

Work on bicycles, motorcycles, cars SC
Play sports, work out, ski, skate, toboggan, ride bike, go camping PE Fix and maintain appliances SC
Attend formal online or physical classes of academic subjects or personal interests M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE, MU

Go to maker studios to work on projects of many kinds SC, A
Fix computer viruses and reformat hard drives SC Build a 3D printer SC
Program computers, scripts, java, video games; design apps and websites M, E, SC, A Run errands for parents: dry cleaner, bottle depot, craft store, supermarket, bank, etc. M, E
Read novels (both genders read about 3 hours a day, every day) E Visit and host friends for parties, gaming sessions, and events E
Read books, newspapers, websites, blogs, and forums such as Reddit E Give a speech, demonstration, or evaluation at Toastmasters Youth Leadership E
Keep a journal, or learn a language E Participate in interest-driven homeschool groups M, E, SC, SS, A, PE, MU
Write novels and short stories E Go to concerts, festivals, and day trips to local amenities M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE, MU

Spend time at the library M, E,

SC, SS, A

Mentor young or inexperienced person in an interest, such as coding, Latin, French E

 

Self-study with textbooks and workbooks; work out the problems and review the solutions in the workbooks M, E, SC, SS Take drivers’ education and learn to drive M
Visit relatives in distant countries, alone or with family M, E,

SC, SS, A, PE

Teach themselves to play a musical instrument MU
When traveling with family or friends, visit the local cities’ museums, zoos, science centers, and cultural centers E, SC,

SS, A, PE, MU

Participate in interest-based clubs such as First Lego League, NaNoWriMo, Computer Programming, Writing, Parkour, Beakerhead, Sports, Karate, etc. E, A, SS, SC, M,

D, PE, MU

Work in temporary office,

retail, or warehouse jobs

M, E,

SC, SS, A, PE

Volunteer M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE, MU

Everything children do is educational.  Everything!

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Healthy Families Are Always the Best Learning Environment

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15 Problems with Testing Unschoolers and Homeschoolers

 

img280Excerpted from Unschooling To University, by Judy Arnall

Listen to the podcast:

15 problems with testing unschoolers and homeschoolers

Testing is the most common form of assessment in schools. Yet it is problematic in un- schooling  and homeschooling because of the unique content and delivery method of education in the home and not a classroom.

1.          Unschooling learning is neither compartmentalized nor linear— the very forms in which tests are designed to measure; exams test the wrong outcomes

The Concordia University (Chang, 2011) study measured not what the 12 unschooled children learned, rather what they didn’t learn that the government thought they should be learning. We could say the test was measuring different objectives.

Unschoolers don’t follow subjects or a school year. There are too many areas in science and social studies, history, geography, languages, and art to test children. Unschoolers who choose an area to learn about don’t go looking for a test in that area to measure their learning achievement. There is no point. As well, it would be unfair to subject unschoolers to grade-level exams as they may not have chosen to learn about any of the topics tested on the exam. Learning is constant, across all disciplines. Only school chops learning into subject areas, periods, and school years.

Mothers worry if their children are taking enough vitamins for health; governments are concerned about whether the children are learning. Mothers don’t measure the vitamin A in their child’s body every week to see whether it has been absorbed, nor should teachers have to give tests every month to test learning. Parents know that over the period of a month, their child will eat a variety of good foods that with give him the nutrients his body needs. Similarly, parents know their child learns. The trajectory of educational progress is often more like that of a butterfly, rather than that of a bullet. It is neither straight nor linear. It has plateaus and hills and valleys that depend on the child’s development, age, interests, and personality.

Many times, learning is invisible. Learning takes place even when there is no output or measurable proof; when children do not write exams, make a product, or write an essay, there is no output to prove the learning. But it does not mean learning has not taken place. That is why recorded parental observation should be considered a valid, and valuable, assessment tool, as it is often the only one parents have outside of the learner’s self-assessment.

2.          Assessment changes the learning

When assessments enter the picture, the nature of play changes. As soon as outcomes are targeted, the play becomes directed and is no longer free or spontaneous. If children know they will be tested, they will focus on the material they will be tested on instead of enjoying the learning for its own sake. They learn to allocate their time and energy. They don’t “waste time” learning what will not be on the test. Nothing kills the enjoyment of reading a good novel faster than knowing you will have to write a book report on it!

Children cannot explore new subjects or delve deep into subjects because measurable outcomes must usually be met under significant time constraints. Marks do have their place, but should they determine curriculum, or should curriculum determine the marks? Many teachers complain that “teaching to the test” takes a lot of time and places unnecessary constraints on true learning, in that it curbs meandering and discourages natural curiosity. I agree.

Even option courses have grades. Why? The purpose of options is to stimulate a child’s interest in an area. It’s a low-stakes way to try out something new. If a child knew he wouldn’t be marked, he might take more risks in learning and strive to meet new chal- lenges.

Unschooling promotes true learning that is free of the bondage of marks.

3.          Testing takes a lot of time and is stressful

Testing in schools is expensive and time-consuming. It takes time away from actual teaching, which is the main function of schools.

4.          Testing becomes the content and may not be the best way to learn

How do teachers know that they’ve nailed it? They read children’s faces. When they don’t have that feedback, in online learning, for example, they give a lot of assignments to provide the necessary assessment component. My son took a Grade 10 Physical Education class online. It consisted of 50 hours of writing assignments and only 75 hours of recorded physical activity! Clearly, the school did not trust the children to do the physical activity and they needed a way of evaluating them, so they assigned them 10 quizzes, three essays, two projects, and mandatory marked written discussion. The writing component of the online class was far more difficult than it would have been in a physical class. This does not make sense. Teachers and parents know that kids are learning when they are engaged and enthusiastic.

5.          Tests assess teaching ability at the learner’s expense

Teaching and learning is like throwing and catching a ball. Teachers know when a child catches it by the excitement on their faces. But it is hard for teachers when they throw  a ball and a child does not even try to catch it. In school, the responsibility for learning must be on both: the teacher ball-thrower and the student ball-catcher.

In unschooling, it is only the learner’s responsibility.

6.          Tests often don’t tell where areas of weakness are

A single number or letter mark does not tell a story when a teacher assesses a student; many biases can positively or negatively influence a test score, such as misunderstanding the meaning of a question.

Most institutions or programs will not allow a student to review their marked tests to see where they need to improve to move on to the next level of learning. This is wrong. All test-takers should be allowed to view their mistakes and at the very least, be shown the correct answers to show them where they went wrong. A grade of 80% is great—but it doesn’t tell them how to correct the 20 percent of the questions they got wrong.

There is great value, however, in using tests for self-assessment. If a child wants to start a math program and needs to determine his level, a test is a great tool. The resulting mark is insignificant; it’s importance is as an indicator of the optimal starting level for the student.

7.          Tests are often geared to future students, not current ones

Standardized achievement tests allow schools to plan improved delivery and content for the next year’s crop of students, rather than current students. Consequently, the test results may not correctly evaluate learning.

8.          Tests often measure the ability to take tests, instead of measuring the learning

When my children began taking tests at 12 years of age, they needed instruction on how to mark the bubbles and not get lost on the bubble sheet. They needed guidance on how to gauge and budget the time allotted for the test and how to reduce pre-test anxiety. Often, test questions are formulated so poorly that the learner cannot decipher what is being asked. The problem is the test, not the learner’s knowledge.

Unschooled children are not used to tests and may do poorly even when they know the content, simply because they are not schooled in the testing procedure. One of my sons had a bad experience that illustrates this. Going into an exam, he was not told to reset his calculator before the teacher cleared it, essentially sabotaging his configurations. His math test answers were incorrect because his graphing calculator was in radon mode instead of degree mode. Obviously, the test results did not accurately reflect his knowledge.

9.          Testing must cover a beginning and an end

Learning doesn’t end or begin. It doesn’t start in September and end in June. It goes “off track” naturally. My children learned the most during the summer months, when they had access to a broader range of books and videos from the library. During the “school year” we were busy running to outside activities, groups, and play dates, and we often didn’t have much time to read a book in a hammock. So, if the kids had been tested  in September, they would have shown a great increase in knowledge since June. By the same token, June testing would show less progress. As well, there are dry spells when kids don’t appear to learn much academically, and that is okay—after a dry spell comes a tsunami of provable academic learning! Testing cannot possibly capture the ebbs and flows of meandering learning.

As well, testing has time limits. Very few events in real life are timed. The stress of a timed event can impact the learner and prevent her from successfully outputting her knowledge, resulting in an artificially low mark.

10.     Academic testing only measures the learning during a particular chunk of time immediately prior to testing

Testing does not measure knowledge retention a few years after testing—that is to say, it is not an indicator of true, intrinsic learning. If leaving-school achievement tests were given to adults two years out of school, they would almost certainly fail them, unless they were actively working in the field!

11.     Tests teach values

Test questions are very school-biased and give a child the impression that school is “normal” and homeschooling is, therefore, “abnormal.” His learning experience and that of his homeschooled peers is not reflected in the questions. My daughter took a Grade 3 Math exam and figured out, at age eight, that over 70 percent of the questions featured “boy” scenarios. What does that tell her about math and girls? Because parents rarely see the test that are given to their children, these biased embedded values are rarely caught.

12.     Testing measures subject matter content only

Testing does not measure the fundamental soft skills essential for success in life: initiative, honesty, creativity, problem-solving, or interpersonal communication skills. Children may be highly gifted in intelligence areas such as music, art, dance, drama, sports, movement, and other personal skills that cannot be measured by testing. Heavy emphasis on test results in core subjects tells children who excel in art, humanities, and sports that their intelligence is inferior.

13.     High-stakes testing promotes cheating

When my kids went to university, their exams were weighted at anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the final course mark. When I asked why so high, the explanation was that cheating in course assignments was rampant, and that it in an exam environment, it was easier for administration to control cheating.

14.     Grades can damage self-worth and self-confidence

Grading compares a child to others, rather than evaluating her own progress. Grades hurt self-esteem, especially in children with special needs and learning disabilities that have many alternative aptitudes, intelligences, and abilities. As Thomas Armstrong and Howard Gardner note, there are at least eight ways to be intelligent. School tests only measure two: linguistic (English) and logical (Math) abilities.

15.     Learning can be assessed through many forms other than testing

Assessment of portfolios, projects, photographs, physical evidence, observations, and self-reflection are valid to prove learning. However, this form of evaluation can make it difficult to compare one student to another—a required element in our environment of mass delivery, standardized curriculum, and conveyor-belt education. Bias is embedded.

One teacher may reward an essay with an A—another might evaluate it quite differently. The best assessment, always, is the learner’s self-assessment.

Do we test for social, emotional and physical health?

There are four dimensions to a  child’s  development:  social,  emotional,  physical, and cognitive. As a society, we do not regularly or mandatory test a child’s physical, emotional, or social health to ensure that taxpayers are getting a reasonable return on the funding of parenting programs, health care delivery, or even child benefit payments. We leave it up to the parents to monitor child’s health in those three dimensions and ensure satisfactory progress from six to 18 years of age. To demand that parents subject their children to a “well-child” check-up every year in exchange for continuing to receive their child tax benefit would be considered undue interference in the private realm of parenting. We have to trust that parents are not giving their children ACES. So why are we so concerned with testing a child’s cognitive health every year? Are they learning? Are they keeping up with their cohorts? And why is it important that they keep up  with their cohorts in learning? What is wrong with personalized learning that allows comparison only in relation to a child’s own progress?

As in healthcare, government regulation and interference in unschooling should be non-existent.

Trust parents

In 99.9 percent of homeschooling families, parents have their children’s best interests at heart and their well-being firmly entrenched as their first priority. We have to trust that parents know their child best in all four areas of development and give them the ultimate say over their child’s education and cognitive development, in the same way we trust them with their child’s emotional, social, and physical development.

No marks until high school or beyond

Test-taking is a life skill and we all need to learn it. We take tests for driver’s licenses, yoga teaching qualifications, swimming and karate levels, and post-secondary admittance. But do we need to start when kids are six years old? No. At that age, they don’t need to endure the stress that testing causes; they will learn test-taking skills when they need to. The first tests some of my children wrote were the non-mandatory Grade 6 government achievement tests in Math and English. Some of them did not write a test until Grades 9, 10, or even 12, in some subjects. They caught on quickly when they needed to. High school is plenty of time to learn and polish their test-taking skills.

Grades were also unknown to our children until high school. Believing that self- evaluation was the best form of assessment, we asked our children from time to time, “What was interesting about that? What did you learn from…?” We did not record their responses. We asked questions to start them down another line of thought. Our record keeping consisted of keeping track of the resources we offered to the children,

not what they produced with them. Much of the time, they didn’t produce anything that looked “schooly.” How do you write, in educational jargon, that the kids put on a puppet play over their bunkbeds? When they produced something interesting, we took lots of photos and videos. Those are things I still treasure today, and always will.

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