I studied education in college. In fact, I studied early childhood education in college. And still, I am overwhelmed by the many, many different “schools” of schooling. It seems that there is especially a lot of directional choice when choosing a pre-school. And, like most things with parenting, it feels like a HUGE decision. I commented once that parenting was like making The Most Important Decision of Your Life 100 times a day. From the food we feed our children to the way we discipline them to (seemingly innocuous) decisions like “what should she wear to the park”, every decision we make about our child’s life seems to have to potential to completely alter the course of history.
So, with all of this pressure to make the right choices all the time, the decision to keep GoGo home from school was (is?) wrought with anxiety. We decided that unschooling was the style we felt most comfortable with because we weren’t keen to set up school at home, we liked the idea that GoGo would be an autodidact and that we would facilitate her learning and be there for her as mentors and guides rather than as professors and lecturers. But, there is still so much to think about.
I have read tons of books on parenting and educational theory and we try to incorporate some things from the different pre-school styles in our days. Montessori is probably the best known style and also is one that we do borrow a lot from. Waldorf is probably next on the list of popularity, but (partially due to the licensing issues) is not as prevalent as “Montessori” schools. Reggio rounds out the top three as something that some people have heard of, but can’t really recall anything about.
So, I’m going to briefly list the features of these three styles, and talk a bit about what we incorporate (and what we don’t) and why. I’m totally acting like writing this would do some service to the internet, but really it’s because I want to make myself a chart and figured “if I post it on the internet, it definitely won’t be time wasted…
What it is
It’s not surprising that this educational style is fairly popular amongst unschoolers because the main philosophy is that children should be treated with respect and with the understanding that children want to (and are capable of) doing things for themselves. Including deciding what they want to learn and how.
What we like
I really like a lot of things from Montessori and follow a few Montessori homeschoolers on the internets to steal their ideas. Some things that we do that fall into Montessori territory are:
- Giving GoGo her own child sized water pitcher
- Having cleaning supplies available and within GoGo’s reach so that she can attend to her own messes
- Leaving GoGo’s toys within her reach including pre-made activity trays.
There are other things, but these are the ones that came to mind first and which were directly inspired by reading about Montessori methods. Other things we already were doing like, having GoGo help make food. We’ve done that her whole life!
What we don’t like so much
It’s hard to put in to words exactly what creeps me out about it, but Montessori children seem like little adults. Which is kind of the point, and honestly, we really do try to treat GoGo like an adult in many ways. We value her opinion and treat her with respect and we try our best to acknowledge that she is capable of a great many things people generally think children can’t (or shouldn’t) do… But, Montessori kids seem kind of serious and sometimes almost joyless. Also, I don’t super-love all the Montessori accessories. The minute a toy has the word “Montessori” on it, it seems to double in price. That’s the other thing… they are “materials” and not “toys.” I mean, my kid is wild and likes to run in the mud and scream into the wind. And I like to let her do it. I LOVE to let her do it. I never want to do anything to stifle that wild-fire in her. She’s already so mature in so many ways and we know that by nature of being an unschooled only child, she’s going to be a bit precocious. I don’t think she really needs to spend time making floral arrangements unless it is because she’s just yanked a bunch of wild flowers out of the ground. Everything I see of (true) Montessori schools looks like the children are all wearing pastel colors and sitting peacefully and, I don’t know, reading the Wall Street Journal. It seems almost like a cult. (Sorry!)
What it is
Waldorf schools work under the idea that the teachers must help each child’s soul and spirit grow. The activities are play-based and there is a large emphasis on the arts and fairy tales.
What we like
As a wannabe hippie, I really dig the idea that Waldorf teachers are trying to tend the garden of children’s souls. Also the supplies are BEAUTIFUL (but also very pricey…) I love the emphasis on imaginative play and “experiential education” I mean, that’s what we are all about here at GoGo’s Not School. The use of natural materials, the time spent in nature. All good things.
What we don’t like
There seems to be a pretty strict adherence to the Waldorf timeline, meaning, they won’t teach a child about the alphabet until the child is the correct age to learn about the alphabet. In fact, they tend not to do much “teaching” at all (which seems like a good thing…) The problem with that is they simplify things based on children’s “stages” so they are given information about the world which is incorrect. An example that I saw online was that young children are taught that the continents were islands floating in the water. Eep! That’s not true! When GoGo asks us hard questions, we give her honest, age-appropriate answers. She knows how she was made and born. We don’t plan to lie to her about Santa Claus (it hasn’t come up yet). And when she finds a dead bug, we tell her it’s dead not sleeping. We like facts. Facts are good. And I think my child deserves honest answers to her questions. I also think fairy tales are wonderful and that a child’s imagination should be allowed to run wild. This summer my mother plans to make a fairy garden with GoGo and I think that’s a beautiful idea. But, I don’t think I need to tell my child that real, live fairies come and sprinkle dust over her at night and that’s how she falls asleep for her to find magic and wonder in the world. Or that the continents are freaking floating islands, yeesh.
What it is
The Reggio Emilia approach values children as strong, capable and full of potential and curiosity about the world. The most important difference here is that it is NOT a method, there is no such thing as a Reggio Emilia teacher, as there is no governing body of this educational approach.
What we like/don’t like
I’m going to come right out and say that this is the approach I have done the LEAST research about (at the time of writing this I have THE Reggio Emilia book on hold at the library…). But the fundamental principles all seem like things I can get behind. And, there don’t seem to be ridiculously expensive materials associated with this approach which I can REALLY get behind. Look for more information about this when I finally get my hands on that book.
Our approach to GoGo’s education is going to be pretty much like our approach to everything in life. I’m going to read a ton of books and articles and first hand accounts and then incorporate the things that work and forge the things that don’t. The topic of educational philosophy is one that I find very fascinating, so I plan to think/write a lot about it as we go on this un-school journey with GoGo. As she grows and has more autonomy and a better sense of what education is and isn’t she will start to make choices for herself. For now, all the huge life-altering decisions are up to us, her parents. All we can do (in this endeavor and in life) is educate ourselves and make informed decisions and hope it all turns out okay.