Earlier this month, I innocently chimed in on a conversation on Ben Hewitt’s blog. He was jawing on about unschooling, which is what he and his wife call their method of teaching their boys. Well. I think they do a whole lot more than that. “Unschooling,” to me, and I think to a lot of people, connotes not schooling. I do know that most proponents of unschooling do work very hard to insure that their children are learning every day. I just don’t favor the term. The first picture that pops in my head is Mom on the computer in a wild and cluttered home, with the kids–who knows where?–running amok.
Once again, that’s not the way I think about it. But why is that the picture that always enters my head when I hear that term? Maybe because I knew somebody who “unschooled” her children, and her situation was this: she would take her computer into her bedroom and shut the door, and leave the kids to run the house by themselves. It filled me with horror when I found out that this was the way it was at her house most of the time. Lord of the Flies. This is not schooling, it’s not even parenting, for Pete’s sake, to shut your children out of your life and expect them to raise and teach and care for themselves.
This isn’t the path most “unschooling” parents take, I know. But I’m not an expert on unschooling. I’m just an expert on how we teach our children, at our place. And that’s the beauty of the fact that we have this freedom. I thank God for this every day! I savor the hours that I spend teaching my children by my side, and some of these precious, finite hours are spent across the kitchen table, giving spelling tests and teaching English grammar and some of them are spent in the living room, reading history and discussing current affairs, and some of them are in the garden, learning how to thin radishes and how to plant beets. Some are spent in the kitchen, learning how to bake bread and make bone broth.
Some are at the kitchen table in the evenings, learning how to play games like Catan and Pandemic and Qwerkle, and learning how to be a good loser. And a good winner.
There are so many things to learn in life, aren’t there? How to identify which mushrooms are good to eat, and which could kill you. How to plant trees correctly. How to gut a chicken, and how to cook it up so it’s good to eat, too. How to make a chicken vomit. How to be good to your sister even when you really don’t want to be. How to shuck corn. How to make angel food cake (oh wait, I need to go learn that from my mom). How to clean out the chicken coop, and why we should do it. How to, how to, how to. It fills every day to the brim. And then some.
That’s where I was coming from when I made my innocent comment on Ben’s blog post. I merely mentioned that I didn’t favor the term “unschooling” where his family is concerned. I liked something like “Immersion Learning” much better, since that’s clearly what Ben, his wife Penny, and their two boys Rye and Fin, are doing. That’s the life they are learning.
You know what “Language Immersion” is, right? Here, from Wikipedia:
“In complete immersion, almost 100% of class time is spent in the foreign language. Subject matter taught in foreign language and language learning per se is incorporated as necessary throughout the curriculum.”
I’ve learned bits and pieces of several languages: French, in high school classes with the excellent Mr. Spirk. Dutch, when I went with a group of college students to do mission work in The Netherlands. Italian, when Bryan and I spent a semester in Italy. And now Latin, with my own students at home. Each time I’ve learned a language, I’ve thought about how much easier (and harder!) it would be to learn a language if I were just dropped into the native culture and had to assimilate it all on my own. Language Immersion is tough, but it works. (Ask any baby.)
When you are homeschooling your children, you are engaging in Immersion Learning. Your children learn from you–day and night–no matter what. No matter if you ever crack a book open, or not. They learn how to react when you are frustrated. They learn how you act when somebody messes up your plans. They learn how to can tomatoes. They learn how to take care of animals and friends and neighbors and grandparents. They learn about cellular biology and why praying mantises look like they’re praying and why the sun goes down in the west and up in the east, and why yeast makes a bread rise and why it’s not proper to shoot Mom with a water gun when she is unarmed (cough). And how quickly she can arm herself, when in that situation (ahem). Why you should always consider other peoples’ needs first. Children are naturally inquisitive and will ask, and ask, and ask. By bedtime every night little Mack has asked enough questions (and rebutted enough answers!) of me to render me nearly mute. This Immersion Learning is a tiring business. It’s what we used to call “Life.” Meanwhile, Mack is soaking up everything I say (bless him) like the proverbial sponge.
Thank God I’ve got Wikipedia at my fingertips and a good set of encyclopedias, to boot, and that’s where I send him when I can’t answer a question that satisfies him. “Look it up, honey,” I say, and then we sit down and read about poisonous mushrooms, or wolf spiders, or the planet Mars, or the history of the bicycle together, too. How to be nice to your mama. I wonder if that is in Wikipedia?
Immersion Learning is a wildly effective way to teach your children, if you’re present and available to them. And I have no doubt that Penny and Ben are available. Else how would their children be able to do all the things they do–weave baskets, catch fish, hunt for game, help with harvest–so well, especially at such a young age?
The cool and obvious thing to me, too, is that Immersion Learning is based in scripture, and this scripture is the basis for why so many Christian folks home school: so they are there. Available. Present. And willing. In Deuteronomy 11, Moses is telling the Israelites how keep the law.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”
Ben’s got a new book out that is causing all kinds of ruckus. He is shaking things up in the world of learning and education, and I think that’s a good thing. I can’t wait to get myself a copy. He’s a fabulous and self-effacing fellow, and I love to read his blog. His new book is called Home Grown and you can get a copy of it for yourself here.
Check out all the great links at The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop this week! This one will be there, in good company!
- “Better-than-Campbell’s” Homemade Tomato Soup
- Our Ponca West Weekend: & 10 handy tips for your own family camp-out