Unschooling at Home and the Zoo

I often start panicking that my boys are not learning anything because I am not directly teaching them like I used to in the classroom.  

It seems like just when these feelings are at their highest I start to notice all the ways in which they are learning.

I caught the boys reading unprompted!  I was so excited.

Ian was pulled in by the idea of reading a children's book on my kindle while Alec noticed the title of one of the library books and thought it sounded interesting.  Then Alec read a second book just for something fun to do.  I was so happy to see them reading not because they had to, or because I asked them to, but because they wanted to.

As laid back as I am most days I do occasionally panic and think we're just not learning much of anything when I let them unschool.  I think mostly I feel that way because I'm a teacher at heart and if I'm not teaching then they mustn't be learning.

I know it will take a while to change my thought pattern on that but usually I can go through our day and pick apart conversations we've had or moments where I felt like real learning was taking place.

But today I'm trying to remind myself of some of my original goals.  Watching the boys read just for the joy of reading reminded me that I don't want to force them to read so many minutes or so many pages a day.
  • I don't want to force them to read at all.  
  • I want to build a love of books and stories first.  
  • Once that has happened we'll focus on reading skill.  
That way, when they just can't wait to hear another story, perhaps, like today, they'll pick up a book and read because they love it and just can't help themselves.          

There were plenty of other signs of learning taking place during our day too.

Then the next thing I knew Ian had put together a jig saw puzzle.

Evan attempted to build a fork lift out of an erector set- like kit.

Alec asked to play sound bingo.  All of the boys joined in and we played 4 or 5 rounds of sound bingo.  Sound bingo is a game I have had forever and we've just never found the time or perhaps the interest to play.  Much like the name implies you listen to a CD of sounds- anything from instruments, animals, and tools, to a toilet flushing and as you hear the sounds you cover up the image of what makes that sound on your board.  The boys loved it!

I was surprised how engaged my 8 year old remained and that a few of the sounds were challenging for them to figure out.  The whole time I was thinking what a great way to work on listening skills!  

Intermixed with playing the game my two older boys periodically took time outs to play words with friends and even worked cooperatively with each other to come up with words so they could get back to sound bingo faster.   They're developing great spelling skills and are even learning to experiment with the letters themselves to make up new words (that we they typically do a quick google search on to learn the meaning).

We learned so much while vising the zoo too. 
We went to a local zoo that was having a special event night last night.  We had a great time.  We ate a picnic lunch and made animals face masks, the boys all got their faces painted and ate a free ice cream sundae.

While waiting in line for face painting I spotted an animal trivia card game.  I picked it up and started reading some of the questions out loud and not all that surprising Alec knew most of the answers.  People nearby started piping in too and we had a fun impromptu lesson on animals.

We did learn that Koala's (that are not bears by the way) only have babies every 2 years, Iguana's use theirs tails as a whip for defense, and many other little tidbits.

We walked around and managed to see most of the animals in the hour we had left.

There had been a scavenger sheet that the zoo provided as well that we took for Alec to fill out.  The questions ranged from easy (what is a baby kangaroo called?) to advanced (how much does a giraffe's heart weigh?).

In filling out the sheet we learned many new facts (and vocabulary words too like elaborate and prehensile!) about animals we had seen many times before.  By the end of the night we only had 3 questions we didn't get around to answering because we didn't get around to seeing those animals.

One neat thing about being in the zoo after hours was that some of the animals are much more active at night. 

We got to hear the Siamangs and lemur's making all sorts of noises and sounds, some my kids thought were pretty spooky.  The alligator, who is usually in the water during the day, was out on the lawn next to his pond so we could really see just how big and long his body actually is.

With so few families there though compared to a normal zoo day it was very quiet walking around and felt like we had to zoo all to ourselves.  We even heard the parrots and macaws talking; I swear one of them said "slow down!" and I'm sure they hear that phrase a lot.

By the time we headed back to our car I realized they had done so much reading, learned many new animal facts, talked about map skills with my husband (like when Evan walked up to a map and said see this red dot here dad, that's the island they live on it's called Madagascar!), and counted countless times how many animals they saw.  We also talked about how the baby animals we had seen just a few weeks ago had changed and grown so much and the skills the new babies already acquired.

Tons of learning all done in just by letting it naturally unfold. 


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