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Chicago Style Unschooling, Winter Unit Ideas, Lesson Planning Tips

By Heather Idoni

Added Friday, December 29, 2006

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 7 No 62 December 29, 2006
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2006 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!

If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!




Notes from Heather
-- Chicago Unschooling
Helpful Tips
-- Winter Crafts & Studies
Winning Website
-- Singing Science Songs
Our Reader Question
-- Lesson Planning Tips
Additional Notes
-- Archived Newsletters
-- Email Support Group
-- Sponsorship Info
-- Reprint Info
-- Subscriber Info

Notes from Heather

Chicago Style Unschooling

Evidently the Chicago area has a thriving unschooling movement.
This is a fantastic, positive article that centers on a particular girl
who was accepted at Princeton... as an unschooler!

(Long article follows below.)


'You have to trust that the child will learn' --
Unschooling movement leaves education choices up to kids.

by Rosalind Rossi - Chicago Sun Times Education Reporter

Eighteen-year-old Abby Stewart got word this month that she won
early admission to elite Princeton University, even though she has
never set foot in a high school classroom.

She also wrapped up a huge challenge -- dancing the Snow Queen
role in "The Nutcracker Suite" at the Athenaeum Theatre -- largely
because she has never set foot in a high school classroom.

Five years ago, frustrated with the pace and depth of a Chicago
Public School gifted program, Abby withdrew from eighth grade
and entered uncharted territory -- a branch of home schooling often
called "unschooling".

Under this ultimate form of "child-directed" learning, Abby used no
set curriculum. She called her own hours, worked at her own pace
and, most important, followed her own interests -- without taking
tests or receiving grades. Some days, she'd wake up, grab a bowl
of cereal and go back to bed with a book.

Since then, she has amassed a six-page reading list ranging from
Charles Darwin's 'The Origin of Species' to Holt, Rinehart and
Winston's Calculus to 16 Shakespearean plays.

"I do exactly what feels right to me," says Abby. "If I want to just
read literature for three weeks or three months, that's perfectly fine
with my family."

The flexibility of unschooling made it easier for Abby to take ballet
classes six days a week, resulting in the shopping bag full of pointe
shoes in the corner of her Hyde Park bedroom and her recent role
in Ballet Chicago's Studio Company production of "The Nutcracker

Abby also volunteers three days a week at the Field Museum, where
she reduces animal carcasses to bones. Her first day at work, she
was given a pair of gloves and a scalpel and directed to the remains
of a Siberian tiger.

"Compared to a kid in high school with worms and frogs, it's pretty
heady stuff," said her dad, Dana Stewart, a sleep researcher at
the University of Chicago Hospitals.

'Delight-driven learning'

By some counts, Abby is part of a growing movement, at least in
the Chicago area.

Federal officials estimate that about 1.1 million students nationwide
were home-schooled in 2003, up a hefty 30 percent from four years

Although numbers on unschooling are more difficult to come by,
since 1999, at least five unschooling online support groups have
sprung up in Illinois, four of them concentrated in the six-county
Chicago area, said Melissa Bradford, founder of Many Rivers
Unschooling, serving mostly DuPage and Will counties.

"It's definitely growing. Look at our group," said Winifred Haun,
a choreographer and dancer who co-founded Northside Unschoolers
of Chicago in 2001 with some half-dozen families. Last year,
membership hit 100.

Unschooling is rooted in the ideas of education reformer John
Holt, who said children are innately curious and will learn what
they need to know when they need to know it.

That doesn't mean unschoolers won't ever take conventional

Art enthusiasts may take art classes. Teens who want to go to
college may take community college classes first.

Unschoolers figure out what they want to do in life and then learn
what they need to get there. Advocates say they absorb material
better by learning it when they need it.

One unschooling Web site calls the approach "delight-driven
learning." Author Pat Farenga, a student of Holt's, calls it "the
natural way to learn."

"This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we
learn when we leave school and enter the world of work," Farenga
writes in 'Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Unschooling'.

One Northside Unschoolers mom was seeking an alternative to the test
emphasis and heavy homework in her public school. Other unschooling
parents may want to avoid labels schools put on especially active kids
or late readers.

"The hardest thing for most people ... is that you have to trust that
the child will learn," said Mary Griffith, author of 'The Unschooling
Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom'.

"For those of us who had late readers, it was really hard. A lot of
unschooled kids don't learn to read when they are 6. Sometimes
waiting until they are 7, 8 or 9 is quite common," said Griffith.
"But once they learn to read, they read anything and everything."

The tools of unschooling in the early years are scattered across a
third-floor playroom of Winifred Haun's turn-of-the-century Oak Park
home. Dice and board games help daughters Athena, 10; Iris, 5, and
Selene, 2, learn math -- and social skills. Pads of paper, pencils and
markers are there for writing and drawing. Books are omnipresent.

This "unschooling" morning, Iris and Athena have completed math
problems they asked their dad, Stephen Parke, a Harvard grad and
physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, to create.

"Iris was interested in 1 plus 1 is 2," Haun says, so Parke's worksheet
expands the idea all the way up to 50 plus 50. Athena's problems amount
to early algebra.

Selene plays on a futon as Iris works with her mom on sewing
and Athena announces "I need to practice my writing."

Athena has seen what she's missing -- and doesn't miss it.

"I've been to school for a day. It was fun, but I like it here better.
In school, they just sat there while the teacher talked," Athena says.

Athena knows some question whether home-schoolers will develop
the proper social skills away from a classroom full of kids their age.

"I say home-schoolers do get social skills," Athena says. "I go to
choir where there's one other kid who's home schooled. And I go
to a home-schooling group where there are kids of all ages. And I
have Girl Scouts and ballet."

Haun said some days her kids "just noodle around, but they are
investing in days when they produce more."

Besides, she said, "You can teach your kid in 90 minutes a day
what it takes the school six hours. ... The other 4.5 hours are,
'Stand up. Sit up. Let's go to the bathroom. Let's take attendance.'

"If my daughter needs to know ... how to find her friend's name in
the phone book, I can take five minutes and explain to her about
alphabetizing," Haun said. "I don't have to test her. I know when
she can look up the name on her own."

In their teenage years, said Grace Llewellyn, author of 'The Teenage
Liberation Handbook', unschooling kids can study biology with a
textbook, in a community college or with software. Or they can
befriend a doctor and brainstorm on books to read or projects to do.
Or they can volunteer to work in a veterinarian's office.

"The sky is the limit," Llewellyn said.

Abby's dad and mom, a hospice social worker, gave their three
children a taste of school (all won admission to gifted programs),
and eventually let them decide if they wanted to stay there. All
three wound up pretty much unschoolers, with the oldest gradu-
ating from Dartmouth in June. Abby wanted to go to college, too,
and plunged into subjects she'd need to get there.

To prepare for the SAT college admission tests, she bought some
test prep books and took some old subject matter tests. She
posted knockout scores: an overall SAT of 2,350 out of 2,400.

To pad out her track record, she also took the SAT world history,
literature and U.S. history tests, scoring 800, 790 and 780,
respectively, on an 800-point scale.

Not all unschoolers or home-schoolers have Abby's scores, but on
another popular college admission test, the ACT, test-takers who
identified themselves as home-schoolers have scored a notch above
the national average for the last decade. This year, they averaged
22.4 on a 36-point scale compared with a national average of 21.2.

Before Abby got the news last week that she had won early
admission to Princeton, she had researched applying to seven
other colleges and found them "pretty forgiving" about her lack of
a traditional grade-point average.

At Harvard University, admissions director Marlyn McGrath Lewis
said, unschoolers without transcripts can submit college admission
scores, and then "tell us what they have done in the way of academic
preparation for college, and we'll take it from there."

Some may wonder if unschoolers can adjust to the structure of
college life.

After the regimen of ballet classes, Abby doesn't expect problems.

Unschooler Sam Dickey, 23, an Oak Park native now attending
Beloit College after four years at a community college, said he has
no difficulty making it to classes. He found he performs well on
deadline and is a "very good writer" despite never having written a
research paper before college.

But just like traditional schoolers, not all unschoolers want college.

Jan Hunt, an unschooling counselor who operates the Natural Child
Project Web site, said her unschooled son didn't go to college. He
started a computer consulting company instead.

"He continually beats us at Trivial Pursuit. He's an incredible editor,"
said Hunt. "He can do any math problem in his head. I have the
proof in the pudding right here."

Yet even advocates caution that unschooling is not for everyone.

"It's just kind of a scary way of doing things. Not many people are
willing to go out on that limb," said Dorothy Werner, founder of
Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience, an Illinois home-
schooling support group.

"You have to trust that children want to learn. You can't believe
that children must be forced to learn," Werner said.

"Parents who need to be in control ... would have a hard time. If
you want your child to be learning the same factoids as the child
next door, unschooling is not for you."

Home-schooling researcher Michael Apple, an education professor
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is "wary of the hype". He
wonders what unschoolers are really learning about people of other
races, religions and cultures.

"There is no public accountability," Apple said.

Counters unschooling author Farenga: "Who is going to be the
commissar of correct thought?"

William Schubert, professor of curriculum studies at the University
of Illinois at Chicago, home-schooled his daughter using a few
unschooling ideas.

He says unschooling can be positive, but requires time, resources
and "dialogue with... well-educated people."

"We don't know that children are innately curious. The question is
open," Schubert said. Some unschoolers "may not get any further
than eating candy bars."

Unschooling may be easier for parents with the time and resources,
Farenga agrees, but "everyone can find that within their own little

"I'm not trying to make this sound like it's easy," Farenga said, "but
it's not easy if your child is failing or hurting in school, either."

Abby and others insist every child has a passion waiting to be

"Every person has something they absolutely adore and would
like to do for the rest of their life," Abby said.

"If you can pinpoint that, and have your kids run with it, you'd
be amazed how excited your kids can be about learning."


Here is a link to the original article online:

Do you have comments to share? Please do!
Send your emails to: heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip

Winter Crafts and Studies

Elaine from HelpMe2Teach.com shared some neat links in her
recent winter newsletter. Here are a few I thought I'd share here!

Fancy Paper Snowflakes -- You can learn a lot of fancy tricks by
following the directions on this page...

And a good title for this one would be:
"The Ultimate Christian Winter Unit Study with a Snow Theme"...


Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Winning Website

Singing Science Songs

The owner of this website dusted off a set of LPs from the early
1960s and recorded them in the MP3 format for this generation to
enjoy. The songs cover various areas of science including space,
energy, nature, weather, experiments and more. The recordings
have the occasional 'scratching' sounds of an old LP, which (to
me anyway) add to their charm.

-- Cindy Prechtel, www.HomeschoolingFromTheHeart.com

Last Issue's Reader Question

"Do any of you have any homeschooling organization tips to share? I seem
to have the most trouble keeping up with the lesson plans. I have 3 boys
all about 3 years apart and the planning is an enormous job for me. I
have found myself letting it get behind then struggling to catch it up.
It is required by law in my area to have a lesson plan. One lady
suggested to me to use note cards that way if a lesson changes, I don't
have to rewrite the whole week's lessons. I loved that idea. Share your
other organization ideas please! I really need them." -- Deanna

Our Readers' Responses

"In our state we don't have to keep records, so I don't keep things
long term but what I did this year might help you. I bought a teacher's
plan book and put all the lesson plans on sticky notes on the day I
hoped to get them done. Then if we do them that day I remove the note
and write what we did. If we didn't get it done I just move it to the
next week and leave it blank. You might want to put what you did work
on for those days. I don't know how many details you need but maybe
this could help. Also to help with organizing the plans I put all the
kids' plans in one book, which I keep sometimes. If I don't have the
time to go over what needs to be done with the kids, I will just put
the sticky notes on their books so they know what to do." -- Dawna


"I’ve tried many ways of lesson planning -- from computer software to
writing out a weeks’ worth at a time. What I have found that works best
for us is to write down what we actually accomplish in a day. So as I’m
meeting with each of my children, I write down what I assigned them to
do and what we’ve done together. I have a laminated list of things I
want to cover (subjects like Spelling, or History or books like Thinking
Skills or Reading Detective) for each child. Just write down what’s
being assigned that day. It works out quite well." -- Dawn


"This may not be new, but I finally am able to keep my 4 kids
organized this year. I run 5 sheets of paper off, per child, per week
– with their scheduled courses listed. I date the top (by hand) and
list what specific assignments they have to complete by end
of day/week. These are stapled together by child and I can check
off each as they do their assignments and make notes regarding
what needs work, etc. (I tried writing grades on these then going
through at end of year – that was a mistake for me – it took forever,
but it did work.) If we have to slow up due to a concept, it isn’t hard
to redo one class lesson, and easy to alter if we are speeding through
as well (though you cpuld just allow them to finish early for the week).
At the end of the week, I put a sticker or some mark on them to know
I have checked the week's worth of materials and the kids keep
notebooks with them all inside for the remainder of the year. Bonus --
if anyone needs to see a lesson plan, they can look in one place
and we can quickly tell who was sick or had doctor appointments
quickly by going backwards. This may not work for everyone, but
after struggling with different methods for 4 years, this one has been
working since the beginning of last year. One suggestion -- do not
run off more than 1-2 weeks at a time -- you will probably want to
make adjustments after you create the first one. I made several
adjustments to my form by child and my high school student has
new ones each quarter." -- Lucinda


"I do most of my planning during the summer and I try to plan out
what I think will take a whole year. If not a whole year, then at least
a semester. I do VERY little lesson planning during the traditional
school year.

I plan each subject separately, rather than everything that would
occur on one day. Doing it the latter way was stressing me out and
I'd be 'behind' in one subject and 'ahead' in another. I was always
rewriting lesson plans. Drove me nuts! (I was a teacher, you know,
and I was trying to do my homeschool plans like I did my school
plans and it just WASN'T working.) Then a friend told me about her
lesson planning method and I tweaked it to make it work for us.

I just make a grid for each subject - usually 15 squares on a page -
and fill each square with as much as I'd like to accomplish in one
teaching session. I do as many sheets as I need for that subject
and I put them all in a binder. When we do Bible, I turn to the Bible
sheet and write the date on the square with today's lesson in it. If I
skip something (say a History assignment we decide not to do) or
take longer to do something (say, a 2-day art project that I originally
planned for only one day), I just note it in the square.

Voila! Records are kept. Lesson planning is simple." -- Lisa W. in MI


I have one 10 year old son that I home school. I teach my 4 year old
also. I use just a plan ol' weekly planner and print it out from this
website -- www.donnayoung.org. I pencil in the daily work we do and
add in any not there at the end. This way I can erase if something
changes. I don't have to this for the county, but I like to see what we
do and sometimes I forget where we left off with history, etc., so this
helps me!" -- Millie Johnson


"I use a spiral notebook for my lesson plans. Each page has a section
for the subjects that the children study together, and a section for
each child's individual subjects. I write down the plans for each child
for each subject, and check them off when we get them done. If I don't
quite get finished with everything, we simply start where we left off
the following day. Thus, we don't always start with the same subject
every day, which some would not like because they prefer more routine.
But if we run out of time and don't get everything done, it isn't always
the same subjects being neglected. I have a master weekly schedule with
a skeleton plan for the week, but I do detailed daily plans at the end
of each day for the following day. That way, if things don't go as I've
planned (which is usually the case), we don't get thrown off by more
than one day, and I can easily adjust. I rarely spend more than 15
minutes on lesson plans each day. I count my planning time as part of
our 'school' time. Most teachers are allowed a planning period, so I
doubt that the state would take issue with that." -- Mary Beth

Answer our NEW Question

"I am leading my homeschool support group and I'd like to have
some ideas of what really ministers to you when you attend your
support group. All ideas are welcome!" -- Melinda E.


Do you have some input for Melinda?

Please send your answer to: HN-answers@familyclassroom.net


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Send it to HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
if we can help you out in a future issue!

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Tags: Chicago homeschooling, unschooling, Princeton accepts homeschool, homeschool to college, home educated, education, college prep, delight driven learning, natural learning, interest-based, winter unit study, lesson planning, curriculum planning, tips

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