Adding Fuel to Their Learning

by Shanna

I unschool my kids… no, that’s not right…  My kids unschool themselves.

What is unschooling?  If you don’t know you may want to click the link to find out:  Unschooling, what the heck is that?!  

If you already know what it is you also know that it’s MY job to nurture them, support their efforts, and facilitate their learning.  I know I’m doing a good job if my kids are always happy and engaged in an activity of some kind (but it doesn’t really matter what kind, as long as they aren’t hurting themselves or property). Even playing Minecraft or watching TV can be learning, as long as they are engaged.  Yeah, I hear your brain-gears turning… you’re wondering “well, how do you know if they aren’t engaged?”   Ah… the golden question.  Well, they’ll tell you. Listen for the clues (usually in the form of irritating whining): “Mama, I’m bored.” “Mama, I need something to do.”  “Mommy,… *sigh*… I’m tired of playing…”  (?!)  Also, you may experience their behavior reflecting anxiety or irritation, especially with each other.  If your kids are getting aggravated and not playing nicely this could be because they aren’t engaged in learning any more.  Children who are in the middle of discovery are excited, happy creatures!  They want to share the knowledge with each other and, believe me, they want to play.  Learning is like fuel to kids; you will recognize if they’re running on “empty”.


Anyway, I realised that my kids were getting bored when they became fussy with each other. Usually it’s time for a field trip when this happens.  I like to take them out into a new environment and expose them to new things that spark new interests for them to delve into for days, weeks, months…  Alas, I’m broke.   😦   Woe is me!!  What’s a learning facilitator to do?! 


Hmm… what’s free and full of new information?  The library!  We have an awesome library, not because it’s huge, but because it isn’t.  It’s actually the size of a small apartment. Why’s that good? Because no matter where I am in the library I can keep an eye on my littlest kids, they aren’t out of earshot, and I can always see the door.  But I digress…


We went to the library and I discovered that they had the entire collection of Magic Tree House books!  Did you know there are over 50 of them now?!  My oldest one just turned 12 and has finished the Lord of The Ring series, so the stories aren’t really as gripping as they once were, but she still enjoys being read to.  Who doesn’t, really? I saw that the first book was about dinosaurs and the Cretaceous period.  Excellent.  There were plenty of dinosaur books of all reading levels, so I grabbed Magic Tree House #1 and two arms full of dinotastic learning and we headed home to begin our own journey into the wonderful (albeit frightening) world of the Cretaceous period!  I read to all five of them.  They soaked it up.  When I emptied out the library book bag it was as if I rang the dinner bell.  Those little carnivores grabbed at the books like oviraptors at their prey.  I was so proud. 


You can really do so much with so little.  All it takes is a bit of inspiration.  While two of my kids could go on learning more and more about dinosaurs, the other three have already had their fill.  I’m going to start the next book tonight; it’s about knights and castles.  I’ll make another library trip tomorrow to see what I can dig up on the middle ages and medieval times. If you have any suggestions for crafts, games, activities, food, or books to go with that I’m all ears!  🙂  I’ll keep you posted.


The Marble Jar Solution


As an unschooling family we spend a lot of time doing what we like to do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I let my children play Wii, watch TV, or use electronics all day long. While that stuff is good, and has its place, we don’t believe children get all they need from that alone. We want to encourage our children to play outside. We want them to read, create, think of new ideas and new projects! We even want them to do chores. So where’s the balance? How do you monitor the time? With five kids it’s enough to drive a person crazy! This is the idea behind the marble jar. 

At my house each child has their own marble jar. The children earn marbles by:
• doing their chores
• performing random acts of kindness
• reading
• projects
• taking care of each other
• volunteering to help
• fulfilling personal responsibilities
• miscellaneous other things

The kids can spend their marbles on:
• Movies
• TV 
• Internet
• iPad 
• Wii
• Other electronics
• “junk” food/treat (Although we never have anything that “bad”… just special)

We generally say one marble is worth 15 minutes on whatever device they choose, or one treat. 

Some might argue that this is the negative method of “carrots and sticks” talked about by John Holt, to which I would argue that it is not. It is merely a learning tool encouraging them to balance their own time, and spend it productively. 
Not only does it teach them the numerical value of moments, but the value you put behind every moment. 
It teaches them fractions. “Two marbles is half an hour. One marble is 1/4…” 
It also teaches them budgeting skills. “If I want to watch a 2 hour family movie tonight, I had better not watch too much TV this afternoon.”
Addition, subtraction, reasoning, time well spent versus time wasted… I could go on and on! 
This is not some punishment and rewards system. This is the “real skills learned in the real world” system that we talk about, no, brag about, in our unschooling lives. Did I mention they put the marbles in their jars themselves? They also take their own marbles out of the jars when they spend them. This in itself teaches them responsibility, integrity and honor. 

This is a fabulous system and it has worked for us… I mean them.
Try it for yourself. You might find it changes the whole feel of your home as it has ours. Again, this is NOT about punishment vs. rewards… it’s all about teaching them balance.  Good luck!