To teach or not to teach.. that is the ?

Somehow during dinner last night the subject of Big Ben came up and I was pleased that the boys knew it was a clock in London.

When my husband asked where London was the answers ranged from Paris, New Orleans, etc to Asia, Europe, etc.

My husband looked at me and asked what I teach them all day.  

I, feeling secure in our unschooling approach for once, said "nothing about geography.  They aren't interested in that."  

He asked the boys how they find out where London is located and Ian answered the map while Alec said the Internet.  When asked what he'd look up he said Big Ben!  It sounded reasonable enough.  So my husband asked them to go figure it out and told them no one could have snack until someone could tell him what country London is located in. 

As the boys were gathered around the playroom map calling out every and any name they could read I just kept rolling my eyes.  They were motivated, they really wanted snack; but they weren't intrinsically motivated and they were starting to get very frustrated.

My husband finally came to their rescue and helped them find London so Ian told everyone it was part of the United Kingdom which we explained can also be called England or Great Britain (talk about confusing!).

My hubby then tried to explain the difference between a continent, a country, a city, etc and further confused the kids.  He finally looked at me in frustration and I just laughed.

I explained that these aren't easy concepts for children to understand and it's made all the more confusing when certain countries have more than one name to go by.  We live on the continent of North America, in the United States of America (often just called America), in New England (a corner of America), and the list goes on and on and while my boys know this they still have a hard time differentiating between country, continent, state, etc.

It's not a concrete, tangible subject and therefor it's harder to understand. 

I, myself, was even a bit disappointed at one point last night when Ian pointed to the area around Thailand on the world map and told me he was looking for Hawaii, which was probably around Florida somewhere "which is right here!"  After I explained that no that was not Florida, that he wasn't even looking at the United States, my husband and I had a discussion about learning versus knowledge.

I looked at my husband and said see; they knew all about Florida while we were teaching it but they didn't retain it because it didn't mean anything to them.  My husband tried to argue that they need to learn all this stuff.  I explained they are only 5, 7, and 8 and have time still to grasp these concepts.

We as children were forced to memorize all 50 states and capitals when we were in 4th grade so he argued that Ian, who will be in 4th grade next year, needs to know all that.  I argued that one of the reasons we chose to homeschool was so that we didn't have to go by arbitrary state guidelines about what they need to learn and when and then I further argued that it's not really learning anyway.

Now I should mention when I say we "argued" that it's a relative term.  Really it was a discussion and my hubby was playing devil's advocate as he had a big grin on his face the whole time.

I'm sure he experiences moments of panic like I do that perhaps they aren't learning enough and will grow up uneducated, but lately I haven't had any moments of panic. 

I'm sure I will, I just haven't for a while.

Anyway getting back to our discussion I told my husband that I never really learned all 50 states and capitals.  I knew enough to pass the test when the time came but I only retained a handful.  I then asked him (who does know all 50!) if he has ever found that information to be valuable in any way other than "wowing" our boys that he knows all the capitals.  I was curious as to whether or not knowing that information has made a significant impact on his life.  He sheepishly was forced to answer "no."  No one has ever asked him, as an adult, to name the state capitals.  It's never gotten him a great job offer, raise, or helped him in anyway.

So my argument then was why bother memorizing that then?  Seems like our time could be better spent on other things. 

Reading about his own interests 
 I do often question my decision to stop teaching the boys using more formal lessons and plans and it's not something I'm 100% certain we'll never go back to (that's why I have kept all my curriculum books), but for the most part I see them starting to approach life in a whole new way.

I teach them through modeling and answering their questions (as best I can-- or helping them find answers when I have no idea).   

As I sit typing this:
  •  Alec has read for three straight hours while we went and ran errands.  
  • Ian read a short book all about superheroes and the Hulk.   He told me how proud he was of himself that he read a whole Diary of the Wimpy kid book by himself in under 2 weeks.   
  • This morning they played with play dough, trucks, Lego's and the jump rope.  
  • They have made their own beds, breakfasts, and lunches (without any help at all from me! Even when cooking their eggs!).  
They are finding their own way; Alec isn't a pro at multiplying but has been able to figure out his double and triple word scores on Words with Friends using several different strategies (mainly counting by 3's or 4's or using nearby equations he does know).  He's learning the best way to compute his answers.  It shows a better understanding of number sense than just memorizing the times tables.

It's slower (for now) but that's knowledge.  So for now I think I'll stick with not teaching and see where that leads us. 

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  1. when I was in seventh grade we had to know all the states and their capitals for a state test. I had no problem remembering them all and I still know all the states (tho probably not all the capitals) but then, I have always had a love of maps and used to read the road atlas. Even now with the iPhone I will just look at the Google map and notice the towns, the streams, the highways...Jon and I are giddy with excitement whenever we get a new National Geographic map and for a time had one hanging on the wall of the dining room with pictures of family members to show where they lived in relation to us.

    I would say just introduce a map or two three, I don't know what it is, but I love reading them and as a result I am very good at geography, because I don't recall them ever really teaching it at school.

  2. We have a large world map and a large U. S map in our playroom. We look at maps when we're going new places; I know over time they'll just start making their own connections. You're love of maps reminds me of my nephew; he's only 3 and he LOVES maps! Road maps, wall maps, any kind of maps. He's always reading and looking at maps.


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