For a long time, I've felt that unschooling is the very thing for each and every child of every age; I've literally felt guilty every time I tried to teach reading or math, even if my children responded well, and doubly so if they bristled. After writing this post, and engaging in a very interesting discussion in the comments, I went through a process of in-depth introspection which convinced me that:
- It's quite alright and, in fact, advisable to actively teach children older than 6 to read, write and count.
- It's quite alright to gently but firmly enforce discipline in homeschooling, just as in other areas of home life (chores, meal times, times of visiting friends, etc).
- I'm not a bad parent if I sometimes make my children do things they don't like. I will occasionally encounter tears, tantrums, whining, and complaints, and my confidence as a parent should not be undermined by that. I don't need to be afraid that they will hate me for setting some rules, on the contrary (as long as it is all done with good intentions and a loving spirit).
- I'm not destroying spontaneous learning or my children's interests/hobbies/curiosity if I introduce some structured learning into our day. The total of the basic subjects (spelling, reading, math) I aim to cover each day takes approximately two hours, spread through the morning: for example, an hour of math after breakfast, then a break and mid-morning snack, and another hour of writing/spelling before lunch. We don't have homework. So this still leaves plenty of time for the children to pursue their interests, do crafts, play outside, read, write, draw or look at picture books, meet friends, and so on.
I am still a big proponent of plenty of quiet free time, especially exposure to nature, for each child, every day. When I say "free time", I don't mean sitting in front of the TV or computer, naturally, but anything that stimulates curiosity, creativity and imagination: reading, crafts, dress-up, exploring the outdoors, etc.
I have made a quiet resolution that I will correct my daughter's written work only during "school time", but not when she shows me a story she had written for her own and her sister's amusement (unless she specifically asks me to check her spelling). I believe that a child who perhaps struggles a little with spelling at this point, but who loves to write and does it all the time, eventually will become a better writer, with a richer language, than a child who does everything in a perfectly neat and orderly way, but only as a school exercise.
This need for free time and unstructured play is felt by me especially strongly in the winter days, which are so short. I see school children coming home when the best part of the day is already gone - barely two hours left before sunset, when it gets too cold to be out. The children, as young as 6, are already so bogged down with homework that one of my daughters' friends told us last week she might not be able to attend the birthday party at our house because she has so much homework. This, I believe, is tragic. Surely little children deserve better balance.