I wanted to put together a brief explanation of my stages compared to other educational models out there, like a Thomas Jefferson Education or classical education or Montessori, etc. When I homeschooled my children, I wasn’t following any “educational protocol” set out by anyone. I was trying to be as organic as possible and keeping myself open to being directed by the needs of each child. If I had been following a theory, it was unschooling. And yet, I had chosen unschooling because it had matched what we had been doing up until that moment of starting our homeschooling lives.
So, unlike what some unschooling proponents dictate, during the exploration stage of learning (ages 8-10), I found myself drawn to collaborating with my children in a freestyle and flexible kind of way by asking them to join me in some learning activities that I felt they were ready for but not exploring on their own. That might be some math, or grammar, or science experiments, or other foundational skills of knowledge. Primarily, I continued to feed their interests and facilitate access to resources of their initiation.
Then, around 11 years old for each of them, I felt very strongly that each child was letting me know that it was time for more formal activities, and the ability to gain goal setting skills and prioritizing and a mental work ethic, etc. I felt it had to start slow and build year to year. I felt it needed to incorporate all the information we had figured out so far about how each child learns, timeframes associated with their style of learning, temperaments, and a base grounded in their gifts. In this way, together we started a more serious collaboration regarding their learning lives, and incorporating these other skills (prioritizing, goal setting, work ethic, concentration, etc.). It appeared exactly what they were needing and ready for in the natural developmental path of learning.
Then, a few years later, having built up to a “full schedule” of activities that could take up to about three hours to accomplish, and they were doing so independently, a new stage occurred. Each child took this new knowledge of goal setting, concentrated work ethic, etc., and was translating that into large chunks of time being devoted to an area of interest on their own initiation. A sharp focus has occurred for each of my children during this stage of pursing a gift. Suddenly, we knew where each was heading. Balance became very important during this time, as well as seeking outside resources to assist in building their abilities.
Only one child has entered the transition stage, and one is entering it now. There is a shift during this time period for my children, naturally. Truthfully, we’re still trying to figure out how to navigate it correctly. We are trying to understand what our role is in supporting them during this time. What we have figured out so far is that an increase in responsibility is necessary at this time, particularly outside the home. It is equally apparent that we are as needed as ever in helping them navigate their way out into the world, yet stepping back and being counselor more than facilitator.
My development of these stages was not in creating a new “educational model”, but to try to give voice to what I saw as an organic, natural development to the learning process. I was trying to be “undefined” by outside educational models as I raised my children and supported them on their learning paths. Instead, I wanted to provide the necessary resources, support, facilitation, information, guidance, or direction that each stage that presented itself called for.So, my collaborative learning stages were created as they emerged. I did not try to fit my child(ren) into any existing educational method in order to produce “x”. Does that make sense?
How I view using these learning stages is to be useful in recognizing what role a parent can play during each stage and how the environment can be shaped to support the stage. By the time I figured out something, I found that the stage had changed. It would take a year to figure out what had happened, another year to figure out how to adjust things to support it, and another year that it came altogether, and then, bam, it switched again. So, I was lucky if I had one good, flowing year. I view them like the developmental charts at a pediatrician’s office. It’s good to know what stage is coming up so that you’re not surprised when the stages shift, and maybe you feel a bit prepared in knowing how to gather the appropriate resources to enjoy the new stage sooner.
The Collaborative Learning Stages
The Love ‘Em Stage (Ages Birth-1). That’s the best I could come up with for this age group! And, to me, it’s self-explanatory.
The Temperament Stage (Ages 2-4). This is the stage that I was able to tell what type of personality and temperament each of my children have. It is also easier to see the difficult parts of their temperament as well as the easier parts. I have discovered that temperament certainly plays a huge role in learning, but especially in determining the style of relationship that is most conducive to living and learning together.
I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out what style of communication and interaction works best for this child in developing mutual respect and trust by using emotional collaboration.
The Learning Style Discovery Stage (Ages 5-7). Right on the heels of recognizing and understanding the temperament of my child came the discovery of how they best learn. Because play is their “work” during these ages in our home, it becomes apparent to what resources, tools, and toys they are naturally drawn. It is also the stage that what interests them is more apparent. Both of these combine to help you know a whole lot about what motivates them and gets them excited about learning.
I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out what style of learning and motivation works best for this child by honoring and giving value to what they were interested in and how they liked to go about learning more.
The Exploration Stage (Ages 8-10). This is the most fun stage for me as a homeschooling parent. It is the stage that the children did a lot of exploration in many topics of interest. Although each child had a style or interest that would be revisited consistently, they would move off of it easily using it to explore other arenas of potentiality. It is like sampling from the buffet table, but bringing the food back to your preferred table to eat.
I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out how to open up the world and marry it back to how they best learn by facilitating requests, expanding through resources, and using knowledge collaboration.
The Collaborative Learning Stage (Ages 11-13). This has been an important transition stage between a more unschooling collaborative approach (collecting valuable information and honoring it) to a collaborative learning approach (sharing valuable insights about adult living and supporting the process in working toward their unique futures). This is where more formal discussions and frameworks are created in helping each child own and take responsibility for their goal-oriented learning lives.
I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to structure their learning and create goals by sharing information and insights about their learning style and timeframes by using learning collaboration.
The Gift Focus Stage (Ages 14-16). This is the stage that suddenly the child knows what he/she wants and loves to do and begins to pursue it passionately. This is the focus that will be pursued without reservation and for long periods of time independently. The child will encounter the need to know how to balance the pursuit of their gift along with other responsibilities and learning opportunities.
I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to prioritize their gift and balance their goals and responsibilities by having discussions and sharing experiences about living by principles and remembering the purpose of life.
I feel that all the previous stages combine to produce the stage of being able to discover and focus on the gift to which you will excel. If there was not an environment that valued and honored exactly who you are, and helped you flourish in the style and timeframe that works with who you are, and provided a setting that allowed free exploration of all that is available, how would you know what unique gifts and talents that were given specifically to you to bless your life and the world in which you live? If you do not have an environment that shares information and skills on how to organize and focus your thoughts, and a support system to create and develop short- and long-term goals, and experience balancing a full life, how do you fulfill your hopes and dreams? I feel a specific stage needed to be mentioned about how one transitions from the unschooled approach to a more collaborative approach, for my model, versus entering a type of “overachiever mentality” that I sense from the classical education approach. I agree, though, that this stage in particular would be the time to move to more outside mentors wherever possible to enhance the child’s opportunities to develop their gift(s) and personal guidelines.
The Transitional Stage (Ages 17-19). This is the stage that the child moves from a home and dependency based lifestyle to a community and independent based lifestyle. Some will move seamlessly into this stage, while others will be hesitant, and yet others will be outright resistant. This stage can encompass such things as consistent work, volunteer opportunities, college preparatory pursuits, entrepreneurial steps, and/or travel options. It is time for a full adult schedule, whatever and wherever it ends up.
I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to enter an adult lifestyle of their choosing and embrace a full schedule by sharing experience and insights regarding any acquisition process and modeling a mindful lifestyle through peer collaboration.
To summarize, I believe our homeschooling lives progressed from an unschooling paradigm to a natural stage of being ready for a more structured/goal-oriented setting achieved through a collaborative paradigm with adult mentor. I feel it represents a more “organic” paradigm of “natural stages” of learning versus an “overachiever” paradigm I feel is associated with the classical educational approach. I feel it represents a more interconnected paradigm of mentor based collaboration of learning versus an “island onto themselves” paradigm I feel is sometimes associated with the unschooling approach.
Strength-Based Learning and Parental Roles
On my Homeschooling Creatively yahoo list, a question was asked about further explaining what I talk about when I discuss our strength-based learning model in our home. Here is the lister’s question:
When you teach to their strengths, does that mean gear your curriculum towards what they are good at (ie- lots of time with music if that’s your strength) OR does it mean to adjust your subjects to include their strengths (ie- compose a song on the piano to get the feel of a poem instead of writing an essay about it) OR does it mean both??!!
This question allowed me to further explain some of MY interactions with my children through the various Collaborative Learning Stages.
Because this is the first stage that focuses primarily on the learning aspect of life, I will begin here in my descriptions:
The Learning Style Discovery Stage (Ages 5-7). Our learning environment for this stage was mainly set up to give value to those objects, topics, and interests that most appealed to each child. I would (1) add fuel to each focus (i.e., if they liked whales, I might find a book, movie, or toy on such), (2) expand the interest (i.e., if they liked whales, I might talk about the oceans each live in), and/or (3) bring in other ideas based on similarities to the child’s focus (i.e., if they liked whales, what about sharks?). If this was not the environment focus at this stage, how else would one discover the preferred learning style? At no time during this stage did I do the other variation that was asked about: using their interest or strength or learning style to ask them to do other subject areas of non-interest. To me, it seemed instinctive that it would interfere with the learning style disclosure process.
The Exploration Stage (Ages 8-10). During this stage, there were additions to and a slight shifting of my interaction style as facilitator. The above focus on their preferred strengths, interests, and topics was still prevalent at about 60% of devoted time.
However, now I would also add (4) open the world to them, as another role and responsibility in my repertoire to cover about 30% of devoted time. I would do this by using the new and good information I gathered from the previous stage about how they like to learn, and find interesting resources in various topics of non-interest that encompassed that preferred learning style. For instance, Eric didn’t show any interest in poetry, so I bought Shel Silverstein feeling that the creativity exhibited in his work as well as the corny and literal line drawings along with the humor and wit would really appeal to him because it fit his learning style . . . I was right. So, this is a form of the integration of learning style into a subject, but because it was bringing in resources and ideas, it wasn’t required. It was simply a form of exposure using their preferred method of learning. This is also the place where I chose books to read aloud that might peak interests in various topics.
For the last 10% of devoted time began my exploration into some (5) knowledge collaboration, by inviting the child to join me for short teaching moments utilizing their preferred learning style methods and processes. In the areas that the children were not exploring on their own, and I felt it would be information that would be important for them to know on a foundational level and I could sense the child would not be happy later in not being provided this information incrementally or conceptually at this time, I used the information gained about learning styles and temperament in laying this foundation. At this stage, the key was SHORT teaching moments laying the FOUNDATION for certain concepts and skills that would be IMPORTANT for that child.
The Collaborative Learning Stage (Ages 11-13). Another shift occurs within the interaction style with the children as concrete and conscious collaboration begins to occur. Everything stays the same as above except number five, knowledge collaboration, shifts in how it is implemented. Instead of invitations to short teaching moments, it changes to meetings to discuss formal goal-based learning.
Conversations begin to occur on a more mindful and conscious level about how the child likes to learn, where he/she thinks his/her education will take him/her, what the child finds important, and what goals and pursuits interest the child for his/her immediate future and later future. I share with the child what I see might be important for them, where I think his/her education can take him/her, and what I think might be good goals and pursuits based on the child’s view of his/her immediate and later futures as well as my bigger view of what possibilities exist. This may actually be the first realization for my children that an education was occurring; whereas, before, they had simply been experiencing the joy of learning.
The collaboration now begins on what formal goals to pursue. Depending on the child, usually we start with one topic or subject or interest that would be important to them, but is not typically pursued by them naturally. This means it usually comes from those subjects that were in the 10% category in the previous stage. As we sit in collaboration I point out why I think a subject might be important for her/him to pursue. Often, they agree and desire to add it to their learning process. Then, together we collaborate on how best they want to pursue the topic through a brainstorming session, bringing in the ways she/he typically like to learn. Over this entire stage, the subjects/topics pursued in this area grow until it is encompassing about 30% of their pursuits. Then, the next stage occurs . . .
The Gift Focus Stage (Ages 14-16). This is the stage that it all comes together where mindful independent pursuits and collaborative decision-making is all utilized for a cohesive goal-based learning environment.
Because of the shift to mindful decision-making in the areas of non-interest-based areas, the children naturally start becoming more conscious of their areas of strength and interest. What I noticed was another shift from my having to do a lot in numbers 1-3 (add fuel, expand, and link to similarities) in the early stages, to now each child is pursuing these strengths, interests, and topics naturally, willingly, and with self initiation. If they need something, they come to me now. When the collaborative planning meeting occurs, I look to them to show me what and how he/she wants to pursue these areas of strength. This can be non-typical subjects such as drawing, music, animal care, or typical subjects like writing, math, science, or reading. This area continues to encompass 60% of time given.
The 30% timeframe continues the process completed in the last stage by focusing through the collaborative process on those areas that are revealed as being important to the child, but they don’t pursue on their own or have a natural like for it. This might drastically change through the course of this stage based on when the child begins to dramatically focus in a particular gift area. At that time, it became even more important that I be honest with myself and make sure I don’t think certain things that society values as important is what and why I was making certain suggestions. For instance, it became apparent that Abbey was really going to focus on writing and animal care (non professional), so math is not going to be important to her except to the level of taking care of day to day needs, which she had learned by 15, so she desired to drop math. But, vocabulary development might be important to her, but she wasn’t pursuing that on her own. Since Abbey likes to write, I found a resource that has about ten vocabulary words at a time at a level she was ready for, and she chose to take those words and write a short story using those words. This would not work for Eli who dislikes writing, so he learns through mnemonics, which capitalizes on his pictorial image skill and literal humor.
Sometimes, I might suggest something that will be important to them, let’s say they want to go to college, and they need a couple sciences although they won’t be science-driven. I suggest they do a science, but then we brainstorm which one would be most interesting. Astronomy, Chemistry, Biology, Entomology, Anatomy and Physiology, etc. Most often, the children aren’t interested in pursuing “typical categories” that schools rely on.
In the last stage, we had phased the 10% category into the 30% category, which is where we are now at above. So, now what about that 10% timeframe? This now encompasses areas that I feel are not important to the child, or what they are doing, but I feel might be good to have a very general exposure to it. This is now using knowledge collaboration to share my wisdom in learning certain subjects to a basic level. For example, history was one of those things for Abbey that she never liked. I shared with her that I think knowing about history to a general level is always good because it shows where your roots stem from and lessons learned. I empathized with her how it just didn’t appeal to her, because it didn’t for me, either. So, we brainstormed ways that it might become appealing. We knew she LOVES books, and historical fiction was always very interesting to her as she went through an American Girl phase and a Dear America phase. So, I found some unit studies with books that I thought she might like and gave it all to her and suggested she read the books and do any of the activities she was interested in. She ended up LOVING history. But, a season was enough in the grand scheme of things.
The Transitional Stage (Ages 17-19). The final shift that we have experienced is into independent adult living and learning. Remember, each of these shifts is seamless . . . they flow right into one another and one style slowly fades and reshapes into another. As one may have noticed up to this point, the 60% devotion timeframe continues throughout to stay focused in the strength-based, individualized gift and talent area of each child. This stage is no different. However, one may find that certain non-preferred areas of learning are getting greater attention and added into this arena if a particular goal has become of more importance, such as entering college.
In the 30% timeframe, encouraging my children, if it doesn’t come naturally, to add work to their schedule is important in the transition to adulthood. At first, this could be paid work through family, but I have experienced that moving toward outside employment to be a good step by 18. Further, this segment should also include some kind of formal learning opportunity outside of the home, such as community college classes, a volunteer opportunity in their field of interest, a serious mentorship or internship, and/or travel.
The last 10% would be filled with such objectives as SAT/ACT tests, application processes, interviewing colleges or people in their field of interest, or any other type of preparatory activity toward adult and independent living.
The shift that occurs in this stage that is different from every one previous is that I sat more as a counselor than a collaborator. At this stage, each child has been more confident about taking the role of self-initiator and goal setter, but still very much need wise counsel from an adult mentor. This may very well be someone trusted outside the family as well. But, scheduling an actual meeting to discuss their life goals and pursuits in a formal manner is crucial. Mindful planning and accountability are still important elements in helping our children transition successfully, is what we discovered so far.