Tag: Social Skills

I am trying to decide on an appropriate kindergarten homeschooling curriculum for my autistic spectrum son. Does anyone have any suggestions?

I am not in a position to recommend any specific strategies for your autistic spectrum son.

However, in my (rather extensive) research on schooling strategies, it appears that starting formal schooling too early can actually be harmful.

Parents may be sending kids to school too early in life, according to Stanford researchers

School starting age: the evidence

So, what are the alternatives? Again, there is a fairly rich body of research suggesting that we should let our kids play. (Pretty radical idea … not). I suggest you take a look at some of the writings of Dr. Peter Gray.

Freedom to Learn

Lastly, my opinion.

I have come to believe that children learn best when they are learning about things they are interested in, and enjoy. While I don’t have extensive experience with autistic spectrum children, those that I have encountered seem to become engrossed, occasionally in some really fascinating areas. I therefore believe the unschooling approach to learning is very valuable. (Once again, Dr. Peter Gray writes extensively about unschooling).

Okay, I said I was done, but I had another thought, and wandered off on some additional research.

It occurred to me that the Sudbury school system might be appropriate for autistic spectrum children. A quick google search turned up a number of interesting articles, including this one:

http://sudburyschool.com/content/i-am-not-autism

Anyway, the Sudbury type school may be a very helpful and appropriate choice for your son, so is another avenue worth checking out.

What have your/your children’s experiences with homeschooling been like, and were you/they isolated?

Written Feb 8

We’ve been homeschooling our daughter now for almost two years.

 

She routinely gets together with her old friends from school every week or so. In fact, they are in some of the same extracurricular activities.

badminton

She interacts with a whole bunch of kids several times a week at our gym, where she takes badminton classes. The kids are all ages, ranging from preschool into their twenties.

She interacts with other kids who share her online classes (Skype). They also email and Skype each other outside class.

She routinely texts, emails, Skypes, etc. with her friends.

Most of her interactions are online, with others who share her interests, which include digital graphics, animation, fan fiction, and gaming (League of Legends is the current favorite).

Her academics are a mix of tutoring and online classes.

She is currently eleven. I don’t think she is isolated, and she is very much in control of her friendships and relationships.

Do children become rebellious in all cultures?

Written Oct 8, 2016

Children rebel because we treat them like … children!

For thousands of years, children grew up peacefully, and learned through play and by emulating their elders. I believe child rebellion is a symptom of our education system and, by extension, our culture.

The Paradox of Achievement

In a fascinating paper, the authors note:

Autonomous behaviors are fully volitional; they are freely pursued and wholly endorsed by the self. Controlled behaviors, on the other hand, are pressured and directed, whether by external or internal forces, leaving people feeling like they have to do the behaviors.

In other words, the harder you push people, the more they will resist.

Deci and Ryan’s paper was specifically addressing motivation within the classroom, but can be more broadly applied to all aspects of parenting.

when the climate pressures students to achieve high test scores, not only will the motivational and emotional costs be substantial, but high-quality achievement will also typically suffer for the vast majority of students. Thus, the paradox of achievement: the harder you push, the less you get. (my emphasis)

Similarly, our culture has generally transformed youth from a time of play, to a time of “preparation” for adult life, and for study at school (to get a good job). These expectations cause parents to apply a lot of pressures (extrinsic motivation) to their children, and the result is … rebellion.

An unusual example of “rebellion”

Most people who are familiar with the Amish culture regard it as hard-working, conservative, and strict. Fewer people are aware of Rumspringa. This is an institutionalized form of rebellion within Amish culture. It allows adolescents to have a period of “running-around”. At the end of this period, the youths choose to either return, or leave their community. Rumspringa therefore allows the adolescent to internalize their choice (intrinsic motivation).

The paradox of helicopter parenting

Contrary to the good intentions of helicopter parents (and most caring parents), it appears that the more a child is subject to extrinsic motivation (such as being pushed to participate in many activities, and to get good grades), the more likely a child is to rebel. Therefore, a caring parent may best serve their children by encouraging independence, autonomy, and the freedom to fail.

The implications for our education system

Therefore, according to this paper, the worst things our schools can do:

  • Standardized testing
  • Competitive grading (comparing children to each other)
  • Rewards (such as gold stars)
  • Rigid curricula
  • Homework (without clear purpose)
  • Passive classrooms (minimization of student involvement)

An alternative – The Sudbury Model of Education

The fundamental difference between a Sudbury school and any other type of school is the student’s level of responsibility. In a Sudbury school the students are solely responsible for their education, their learning methods, their evaluation and their environment.

Sudbury school students have total control over what they learn, how they learn, their educational environment and how they are evaluated. They choose their curriculum. They choose their method of instruction. They choose, through a democratic process, how their environment operates. They choose with whom to interact. They choose if, how and when to be evaluated _ often they choose to evaluate themselves. This is radically different from any other form of education and this is what differentiates a Sudbury school.

Once people understand the Sudbury philosophy, they often ask “why doesn’t everyone send their children to a Sudbury school?” My answer is simply that many parents do not believe or trust that their children are motivated to learn. I cannot count the number of times that a parent has told me, “it sounds great, but my child would just play all day and never learn anything _ she needs to be pushed”. Out of politeness, I do not question this belief. In my mind however, my response is, “if your child is not motivated, she would still be lying in her crib, crying for food when she was hungry”. The child was motivated enough to learn how to walk, how to eat solid food, how to talk and many, many other skills. It would truly be easier for children to just lie in the crib and cry for food, but they choose to take the harder path of learning to move from babyhood to childhood. Likewise, children will choose to take the difficult and empowering path of moving from childhood to adulthood.

Conclusion

It’s time to start trusting our children again. Rebellion requires a cause. We need to treat our children like … people.

What does it feel like to be college student who was unschooled?

Written Oct 5, 2016

The following answers are excerpted from Survey of Grown Unschoolers II: Going on to College.

 

Age 20, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, at age 20, had already earned a BA degree and had gained what, for her, was an ideal job in theatre production. She had taken some community college courses between age 13 and 16 and then transferred to a four-year BA program at her state university, which she completed in two and one-fourth years, graduating summa cum laude. She wrote, “It was not a rough adjustment for me. I found that because I had not been in school before attending college, I was much less burnt out than my peers and had a very fresh perspective. I learned basic academic skills (essay composition, research, etc.) very quickly… I struggled some with time management, but eventually developed a means of staying organized.”

Age 21, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This young man was in his third year of a four-year BA program, majoring in philosophy at a selective Canadian university, about to declare honors status and with plans to pursue a master’s in philosophy. In explaining how he was admitted, he wrote, “I set an appointment to talk with someone in the admissions department, to find out what I would need to do to apply as an unschooler. After I talked briefly about myself, my achievements, and my style of education, and after he read a sample of my writing, he said ‘I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be here’, and proceeded to hand me the forms to become a student.”

Concerning adjustment, he wrote, “It was a bit hard to adjust to the amount of skimming-over that many introductory classes do: I can’t bear it when ideas are left unexplored. Mainly because of the depth of the material covered, I’ve found that my best grades, and some of my best work, have come from 4000-level courses. I’ve always learned in a passionate way and don’t want to stop the flow of an idea until it runs its course.”

Age 24, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, who had received a BA from a highly selective liberal arts college, wrote, “In contrast to [my classmates], I found great inspiration from my teachers. At [name of college deleted] the teachers must also be practitioners in their fields of study, so I was working with people who were actively interested and participating in their areas of expertise as a teacher and as an actor, writer, director, translator, and so on. Having someone with such a wealth of knowledge looking over my shoulder at the work I was doing was revolutionary. It was not something I wish I had earlier, not something I felt had been lacking my whole life, but it was something that inspired me for my four years at school.”

At one point in her college career this young woman was asked to lead a meeting of students in order to provide feedback to the instructor of a course. She wrote, “I discovered that people wanted the teacher to tell them what to think. ‘l wish he’d told us what to think when we read Macbeth’ someone said. ‘I wish he’d let us know what he wanted us to do in our Hearts of Darkness essays’ and on and on. It had never, ever occurred to me to ask someone else to tell me what to think when I read something.”

This respondent also wrote that the biggest drawback to college, for her, was the lack of a normal, age-mixed social life—with people who are not all students. To achieve that, she joined the local Unitarian Universalist church where she served as religious educator while still a student.

Age 24, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, who was currently a full-time student working for a master’s degree in English, wrote: “I began attending a community college when I was 16 and enjoyed every second of it. I did not feel as though I had to adjust to anything. After my first psychology class, which was the first time I had to take notes during a class, I went right home and began typing and organizing my notes. I continued going part time for two years until I was 18. The community college accepted my diploma, which I created myself and my parents signed, along with my transcript, which I also created. I turned my interests and activities into ‘courses’ for the transcript and included a list of books that I had read over the last 4 years.”

When I began looking for a four-year university to transfer to, my decision not to take the SATs had a minor effect on my choices for schools. One school refused to even open my application without SAT scores, even though I had written them a letter detailing my success at the college level for the last three years. I chose a university that allowed me to register as a part time student for my first semester and then transfer into a full-time program without having to provide SAT scores.”

Age 29, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, who had graduated with high honors from a selective private women’s college and then gone on to a master’s degree, wrote, “On top of accepting me, they put me into their freshman honors class. I definitely felt strange going into a formal school, especially being in an honors program. I spent long hours studying and doing my homework—way more work than my classmates were doing. After I got straight A’s for the first half of my first semester I started to relax a little more, and I realized I was working way too hard. So I learned how to learn like my fellow classmates were—by memorizing everything just before a test. I still kept getting straight A’s but was doing hardly any work at all. Eventually I learned how to balance it—actually delving into material I enjoyed and memorizing the stuff I wasn’t interested in. It wasn’t hard; it mostly just made me really appreciate the fact that I hadn’t been in school my whole life.”

I definitely experienced a [social] transition in college. I wasn’t into frat parties, drinking heavily and the like, so my first year/first two years I was a bit of a loner, with only a few friends. My last year in school I finally started drinking and going to house parties, so I ‘fit in’ a little better and got a wider group of ‘friends.’ I realized this was how everyone else in college was socializing and it felt off to me, not genuine or a way to really make lasting connections. Out of school I returned to how I had always functioned socially, and lo and behold, that was what everyone else was doing. I met friends through my jobs, through theatres I worked in, through other friends, and at coffee shops.”

Age 29, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at an unnamed college, wrote, “I did have a high school diploma. There would have been greater challenges without that, but for me the transition was logistically really easy. Despite the completely unschooled nature of my upbringing, my mother had our home registered as a private school with the state of CA, so on paper I looked ‘normal’ in the system.

“I went to Community College part time between the ages of 16 and 19 years old. I transferred to a four year school, which I attended for three years before receiving my BFA with High Distinction at 22 years old. I loved college—it stands out as one of the most focused and fulfilling periods of my young life! When I began community college, I was younger than other students, and I was concerned that I would feel behind, but I wasn’t. I didn’t like taking tests, and I still feel a lot of anxiety about tests to this day, but I excelled in most ways and graduated with a high GPA.”

Growing up, I understood we were outside of the norm, and that was met by kids and adults alike with a lot of skepticism at times. Despite my mom’s great confidence, I was concerned about whether I had what it took to succeed in the ‘real world.’ College was the time in my life where I confronted the unknown and decided I was probably OK!”

Age 30, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This man took classes at a local state college beginning at age 16, and then transferred to a small, selective, progressive private college where he completed a BS in conservation biology and ecology. After that, he earned an MS at a state university and completed one year of a Ph.D. program at another state university, before taking a leave of absence from school because of a serious illness. Concerning adjustment, he reported no difficulty with the academic work, but objected to the constraints imposed by the system of evaluation. He wrote, “Even the requirement-free environment of [name of college omitted] felt stifling to me (e.g. its perverse grading incentive to avoid one’s own directions within a field in favor of the professor’s predilections, formal academic bias to the near exclusion of experiential learning, and emphasis on tangible academic products rather than learning/applying process), and grad school has been many times worse (not only in terms of more structured and formalized educational paradigms, but also of lower-level educational opportunities).” He nevertheless plans to return to the Ph.D. program when his illness is brought under control, as he is committed to a career aimed at restoring and maintaining biodiversity.

Age 32, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, now a mom on the brink of unschooling her own children, wrote: “I took a course in Emergency Medicine and worked a couple of odd jobs while I researched college options, selected my preferred school, and went about the application process. I was scholarshipped for a large chunk of my undergraduate education due to a portfolio that I assembled and my college interviews. Applying for college didn’t seem to be too difficult without an official diploma, because I had SAT scores to submit and high-school transcripts that my mom prepared from all of her years of journaling our unschooling exploits. I remember being very restless for the first one to two years of college. I didn’t feel very challenged by the core classes I was enrolled in and was itching to move on to my major and minor classes. College was fun, but I was stunned to realize that the majority of the other students didn’t work or pursue any other areas of their lives apart from their studies and partying. I supported myself throughout my four-year degree typically working at least two jobs while taking well above the minimum class/load requirements so that I could graduate on time. Two years into my degree I took a full time job in the creative department of the local newspaper, where I continued to work after graduation.”

Age 35, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling. This woman, who had earned a BA at a small progressive college and then a master’s degree, wrote, “Through my whole college experience I balked at students who didn’t do the work, even in the courses that were less than desirable or exciting for me. I think my educational background set me up for thinking ‘why are you there, if you aren’t going to participate?’ This was frustrating for me to see. For I have always chosen myself to pursue education, and even though this personal choice meant that there were some courses I had to take that I wasn’t excited about, I still knew what my motivation was for being there. Over time I have learned that these fellow students who were frustrating to be around had been exposed to a drastically different relationship with learning and education.”

Age 19, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past second grade. This young woman had been diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in second grade at school and was taken out of school because of her unhappiness there. As an unschooler, she learned to read at her own pace and in her own way. Later, she was tested and diagnosed with otherlearning disabilities, but these did not hold her back. During her last two years of unschooling, she took community college courses and then transferred to a bachelor’s degree program at a selective private liberal arts college. She wrote, “I enrolled at [name of college omitted], where I just completed my freshman year. I maintained a 3.9 GPA through the whole year, and I am returning there in the fall.

“I think that unschooling actually prepared me better for college than most of my peers, because I already had a wealth of experience with self-directed study. I knew how to motivate myself, manage my time, and complete assignments without the structure that most traditional students are accustomed to. While most of my peers were floundering and unable to meet deadlines, I remained on top of my work because I have always been an independent learner. I know how to figure things out for myself and how to get help when I need it. While I struggled to adjust in the beginning, it was purely due to the difficulties caused by my learning disabilities. By the end of the year I had overcome my struggles and excelled in school. I am currently working on my BA in English from [name of college omitted], and after that I intend to go on for a Masters in Library Science.”

Age 24, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past second grade. This man, more so than most of the others, found that he had to jump through some hoops to get into community college, as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s program at a selective state university, but had no difficulties adapting academically. He wrote, “At first I did not want to attend college. When I graduated from homeschooling/unschooling in 2005, I worked at a gym selling gym memberships for two years. Ultimately I figured out that I needed to go to college so I attended a local community college. It was difficult getting in without a high school diploma, and basically I had to go to the county school board office to obtain a ‘homeschool completion affidavit’ to prove to the college that I actually finished the 12th grade. After a bunch of red tape, they accepted it. Since I never took the SAT, ACT or other standardized test for college prior to enrolling in the community college, I had to take a placement test before I could enroll in classes. After all of this was out of the way, I was viewed as a regular student.

“I went on to graduate from [name of college omitted] with my Associate’s degree and a 4.00 GPA. Then I attended [name of university omitted] and obtained a Bachelor’s degree, also with a 4.00 GPA. Most recently I just finished my Master’s degree at [name of university omitted].”

Age 24, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past second grade. This woman, who earned a BA from a large state university, wrote, “There is an adjustment period going into ‘school’ from unschooling, but you also have the huge advantage of not being burned outand hating school already. Learning is still something you look forward to.” This respondent went on to say that she received nearly all A’s and then a full scholarship to law school, and added: “I’m not trying to brag, so much as prove that unschooling works. We took a lot of crap from friends, relatives, and strangers during the entire time we were unschooling. So now, I like having the credentials to prove that unschooling is a legitimate way to educate and indeed, in my book, the preferred way to educate.”

Age 26, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past second grade. This woman, who had graduated with honors from a highly selective liberal arts college, wrote, “The transition was a difficult one for me, not for the academics, but for the feeling of being trapped within a system. The college bubble felt tiny to me and I was in a constant state of simmering frustration at being told even simple things like which classes to take and when. As someone who had made those choices myself for years, I felt disrespected that it was assumed that I didn’t know what level of study I was ready for. It took most of the first year for me to come to a place of acceptance, remembering that this, too, was a choice that I made that I could change if I wanted to. I never loved college like many people do and never felt as free as I had before college or in the time after I graduated.” This respondent subsequently attended graduate school in a medically related field and reported that to be a better experience, because of the real-world setting of the clinical work.

Age 35, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past fourth grade. This woman, who had gained a degree from a highly selective liberal arts college, wrote, “I applied to eight colleges and was accepted at all of them [in 1995]…I interviewed at all eight colleges; for most of them I was their first ‘homeschool/unschooled’ applicant. Several colleges told me I was accepted at the conclusion of the interviews, right after they informed me that I was ‘surprisingly’ well-spoken and bright. I did take (and did very well on) both the SATs and the ACTs, which probably offset the lack of transcripts.”

The transition was fairly easy, though I was homesick. I think college is a lot like unschooling—you take classes that interest you, do most of the work on your own, and are responsible for getting it done and turned in on time. You are really responsible for your own education!”

From [name of college deleted] I received a BA in both computer science and mathematics. It proves something: I never had any formal math training beyond 5th grade, but ended up tutoring other students in Calculus 1, 2 and 3. I never had a computer of my own until my junior year of college, but majored in computer science where I wrote extensive computer programs, and programmed my own robot.” This person then went on to a BS and Masters’ in nursing, became a nurse practitioner, and, at the time of the survey, was contemplating going back to school for a doctorate.

Age 32, no K-12 schooling or homeschooling past seventh grade; mix of schooling and homeschooling before that. This woman, who had received a bachelor’s degree from an Ivy League university, was a mother unschooling her own children, a yoga instructor, and a student training to do yoga therapy when she filled out the survey. Concerning college admission and adjustment to college, she wrote, “When I was 15, I wanted to take community college courses. At that time, dual enrollment of homeschooled students wasn’t really accepted, so I was told I needed to get a GED to be allowed to enroll. Although I think it disappointed my parents for me to get my GED, it has helped to have that paper that shows I completed some sort of high school education. That said, I refuse to take standardized tests now (because I believe they aren’t a measure of intelligence or even what a student has learned), so I did complete my associate’s degree before I attempted to transfer to a four-year university (some schools will accept a two-year degree in place of SAT/ACT scores.) I graduated from [the Ivy League University] with my BA in psychology in 2003. I think unschooling helped me adjust to college; I was so used to being able to study whatever I wanted that it seemed natural to take classes that interested me. And unschooling also follows the premise that if a child has a goal, they’ll learn whatever they need to in order to meet it. For instance, I don’t like math, but I knew I would need to learn it in order to graduate. So that’s what I did.”

What are websites where I can connect with other students who are unschooled?

Everything seems to be for connecting parents…. where can students connect?

Written Oct 2, 2016

I agree that most of the websites are more for the parents … and this is frustrating.

My daughter has had some success connecting with her peers on YouTube, DeviantArt, and Wattpad. She draws and animates on YouTube and DeviantArt, and sends texts and messages to others who participate. Similarly, she communicates with other writers on Wattpad. Occasionally, they arrange group calls on Skype, mostly to discuss art projects. While it is not clear whether the others are unschoolers, this is irrelevant – it is a community of peers who share the same interests.

She has recently been participating in an online language class (via Skype), and I have noticed that she has started to communicate with some other students outside of class. These are almost certainly homeschoolers, since the classes are held on weekday afternoons.

Therefore, the best way to connect seems to be through general interests.

What is the reason why schooling should be based on social experiences?

Written Sep 2, 2016

Man is a social animal

I suppose if there was a good evolutionary reason for man to exist in isolation, we would have evolved as hermit-like, hermaphroditic creatures. Clearly, that is not the case – we are extremely social. For thousands of years, children in tribal societies learned by playing with other children, and by observing their peers.

Academic learning

While it is possible to learn solely by reading or viewing or practicing (or possibly learning from a tutor), this misses several essential advantages provided by social experiences:

  • everyday play or interaction with other children is essential to learn how to interact with others and handle various situations such as conflict or negotiation
  • discussion (Socratic method) is an excellent method for learning and developing logic and persuasion skills.
  • most importantly … it is essential to explore other people’s worldview, and to learn how to “walk in other people’s shoes”. Discussion groups, mentors, variety of teachers and professors are necessary.
  • Feedback … even if you are an amazing musician (or artist, etc.), interaction with others provides the feedback necessary to improve and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Competition … can drive you to excel

One of the biggest concerns I have with homeschooling our daughter is that she is currently only gaining my perspective in learning. Fortunately, she takes several classes with other teachers, which helps. However, I hope that she will develop mentors who will expose her to other approaches and philosophies of learning.

How do homeschooled children develop social skills?

Ross Hall, Homeschooling dad (believe me, a rarity)

And now for something completely different …

The real question is … How do children who attend school develop social skills?

Before answering this question, it may be worth a detour into the world of Alfie Kohn and John Taylor Gatto (both well worth reading if you are considering homeschooling). Alfie Kohn is a renowned advocate of progressive education, and questions many of the assumptions inherent in today’s schools (such as standardized tests, memorization of facts, and homework). John Taylor Gatto speaks more to the factory setting of schools (even comparing them to prisons), and questions the fundamental approach to education used in most US schools.

One of the topics that emerges from these discussions is the wisdom of forcing a group of 20–30 children, of similar ages, to spend hours each day with each other, under the supervision of a few (authoritarian) adults. Given that, for most of the history of humans, children have learned within the larger community (and not artificially isolated with a large group of their peers), then how do we expect these children to learn social skills?

In fact, it could even be posited that many of the aberrant behaviors so often noted in schoolchildren are a direct result of being isolated (most of the time) from the larger community.

So, what about homeschooled children?

One of the things to understand is that there are a huge variety of experiences with homeschooled families, so every anecdotal story will be different. In our case, our (10 year-old) daughter does spend a lot of time reading, watching videos, and playing games on her computer (uh,oh … stereotypical behavior!). However, she also accompanies my wife (a realtor) when she meets with clients; spends time with her grandmother; has playdates with her (non-homeschooled) friends; and hangs out with her friends when we play at our gym. Interestingly, she is also getting more involved with virtual friendships – last night, she and 10 others were collaborating on a project while on a Skype call.

I am also aware of many homeschool groups in our area that get together for activities (such as hanging out at the mall, or meeting in local parks).

The majority of research suggests that, not only are homeschooled children well-adjusted and scoring well on measures of social adaptation … but they often score higher on these tests.

Of course, in the final analysis, each homeschooled child’s social skills are very dependent upon the parent’s and family situation. But after all, that is the point – the decision to homeschool is a decision about choice.