A good (learning) day

There have been some good posts about what a good learning day looks like on some of the blogs I read (and some I don’t read regularly). Karen has collected them here. I got there via Willa’s comment in Lissa’s entry, which I went to from one of Willa’s posts … Very convoluted but glad I made it. These posts are very interesting and there are lots of things to ponder in all of them.

However, as I read, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something underlying the initial question — “What do you consider a good day of learning?” — that we should question a bit more. Is there a sense in the question that every day should be a good learning day? Or even that it is only a good day if lots of learning happened?

While I recognize that learning is always happening in one way or another, I am also bothered by a sense that it is only the learning that is valued in our children’s lives. Or maybe that the learning is valued over other things. This has bothered me for a long time in respect of “educational toys”. Lots of them are fun, but shouldn’t kids get toys regardless of the educational value?

So this tendency to overvalue the learning aspects of children’s lives is in no way a criticism of homeschooling parents (much less these homeschoolingn parents) because it is pretty clear that this view is pervasive in our culture (both in North America and in Europe, and probably Australia and New Zealand but I couldn’t say for others). And it would be odd if we didn’t get caught up in it, but I think we need to question it, nevertheless, and consider whether we want to accept this view or whether we want to consciously try to subvert its dominance in our lives.

I also wonder whether as homeschoolers, we feel some pressure to identify all the learning that happens and claim it for part of the homeschooling process. I suspect those who follow a more structured curriculum don’t feel the pressure to do this but those of us who are more unstructured (including unschoolers but also those who feel uncomfortable with the unschool lable but are not very structured, as many of those linked in Karen’s collection seem to be) may feel that we need to identify the learning in an activity to demonstrate that the unstructured approach does lead to this culturally desirable outcome.

When Tigger was small (and even sometimes now), I would often claim that I was a “bad mother”. Sometimes people would (unnecessarily) reassure me that I wasn’t. My claim was not a sign of lack of confidence in my ability but, rather, a statement that my approach went against the cultural grain of “good mothering”.

I guess, for me, part of the reason I homeschool is that I don’t wholely accept the basic premises of school. I don’t accept that there is a certain body of knowledge that all children need to learn. I certainly don’t accept that parts of the knowledge must be aquired by certain ages or in a certain order. I don’t accept that reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important than history, music, art, physical activity, etc. I don’t accept that the knowledge and skills a child possesses can be solely attributed to the quality of the teaching (or parenting) nor that the faults a child possesses can be blamed on the quality of the teaching (or parenting). Life is just more complex than those views allow. And they do more harm than good in the school setting so I have no desire to import them into my home setting.

To return to the original topic, I do recognize good days. But not all of those days are good learning days. Some good days are good because Tigger learns a lot. Some good days are good for other reasons.

My response to the original question might challenge the terms of the question and address the “elephant in the room” which is a certain amount of understandable anxiety that homeschooling ignites. I might say, not every day will be a good learning day. But that’s okay. Observe your children. Approach the task of parenting, schooling, and just being in relationship with them in a thoughtful and loving way. Trust yourself to do the best you can. And forgive yourself when you make mistakes. And maybe that is what some of the other contributors to this discussion meant when they said that they know one when they see one.


10 thoughts on “A good (learning) day

  1. This is a thought-provoking post. I think you are right that our modern western society tends to over-emphasize learning. Perhaps along with the idea of “human beings as workers” comes the idea that “a child’s learning is his work.” Then learning has to become “total learning” and everything is about that. Something for me to ponder.

    Anyway, your post brings to my mind the further question (about the room the elephant is in, perhaps?) — What IS learning, anyway? (not just talking about academics here) What is NOT-learning? How can you tell? Hmmm…


  2. This is a great post. I agree with the idea that unstructured homeschoolers tend to sort experiences into learning categories to convince or remind themselves that the kids are learning. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.

    It’s easy, when you’ve been schooled for a dozen or more years, to forget that learning is what human brains are wired to do. People will learn under pretty much any circumstances. If one can take the teacher/parent emotions out of the equation, then fixating on learning makes about as much sense as fixating on breathing. But then, I used to check on the boys’ breathing when they were babies, too.


  3. A great post. Yes, I had the same instinct when I went back and put up my second post, calling it “a different kind of good” … and even that is not the *whole* picture. Sometimes the best “learning day” is when we learn or relearn that we can simply *be* and that that’s valuable and important. Sometimes the best learning day is to not think about learning.

    I’m reminded, too, of an email a friend of mine received — he got a note from another homeschooler and it was signed, “Have a productive day!” I recoil ….

    This is getting too long … I’d probably better go post again. 🙂


  4. “‘Have a productive day!’ I recoil ….”
    I should clarify … I don’t shudder at all productivity. 🙂 And we, too, have and enjoy “productive” days, as well as “non productive” days … it was the full context (which I didn’t give in detail) in which this person said the above that got to me, and probably my underlying, ongoing challenge to the idea that we always have to
    be doing, producing, achieving, etc.


  5. Excellent post! I feel tremendous pressure to document all the learning that goes on here (as you mentioned). I find myself questioning myself daily “why do I choose to document this and not that?” “what distinguishes the “real” learning from the other hundreds of things that happen throughout the day?” It is interesting and thought-provoking … and can easily drive one crazy. 😉


  6. I should clarify, for those who don’t know. I live in a province that doesn’t require any reporting. This makes a HUGE difference. If you live somewhere that requires portfolios or meetings with ‘facilitators’ or whatever, I suspect the pressure to document everything is huge.

    And I know that there is value in documenting SOME of it (not least so the kids can look back and feel pride in their accomplisments) but if that doesn’t come organically from the activity, I think it takes on a different meaning.

    And, Karen, I cringed at that bit of your first comment even without the whole context. I was just thinking aloud about productivity since I use that myself.


  7. If you live somewhere that requires portfolios or meetings with ‘facilitators’ or whatever, I suspect the pressure to document everything is huge.

    We’re more classical than unschooling (though are starting to lean toward classical unschooling), but because we do live in a province with facilitators and where we have to register with a board, there is a tendency to want to have things on paper and in a portfolio — even photos from the photo album — as “proof of learning”.

    Of course, I’m the bad mom who usually forgets the camera, and then when the facilitator arrives and the kids want to show off the photo album, I have to pull out some of the “not for sharing” photos lol.

    This is the first learning day post I’ve read, so I’m not quite sure of the tack the others take. I know most days around here are learning days, though they’re probably not always “homeschool learning” days.


  8. Great post!
    Great slant!
    I had read all the other posts and found them good reading. However, my blood pressure was rising a bit. I think it is because of late I have been seeing these ‘productive days’ as the good days…. but upon further reflection, I realised the last two weeks of full blown digging and picnics and outside days have been awesome (It is very hard to stay indoors in Winnipeg in the Spring- it is sort of 6 months of winter, one week of spring, a couple months of intense heat, then back to winter!!!)



  9. It is a fine balance to strive for, isn’t it? It took me a few years to get out from the public education mindset in which Ihad been indoctrinated. I often see new homeschoolers of very young children struggling with society’s view versus the natural truth of homeschooling.
    While I am more goal oriented than some, I try to make their learning directly relate to those goals. I have found this last year I am more concerned with character development/maturity than the traditional benchmarks. That meant a lot more discussions, real-life lessons and stuff that doesn’t really fit in a “curriculum”. But those learning moments are probably going to have a longer lasting effect than a dozen science and history lessons.
    Great post!!


  10. I agree so much with what you are saying! From my observations over the past 6 years, good learning days just happen of their own volition. Sometimes being prepared and pushing an agenda helps them along, sometimes it sabotages them. Sometimes going with the flow creates a lovely learning day in surprising directions you never would have imagined. Sometimes it simply creates a peaceful environment.


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