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The unschool: Parents opt for less structured education option
Mixing chemistry experiments in his backyard workshop, Kai Stevenson has the freedom to learn whatever he feels like, even if that means pickling a dead bee.
Most eight-year-olds are accustomed to going to school Monday to Friday with their peers, but Kai learns at home. His mother Robin Stevenson is quick to let you know he’s not homeschooling.
“We are unschooling,” she said.
There is no specific time set aside for schoolwork, but Kai is constantly doing something.
Their coffee table is stacked high with books and Kai’s office is full of more books and activities. He’s built a self-contained garden in a two-litre bottle that continues to flourish after three years, but it’s never been watered. He’s created webpages and loves to take apart electronics from “free piles” in his Fernwood neighbourhood.
“He has also been learning to solder,” explained Robin.
While he doesn’t remember, Kai attended kindergarten at Sundance elementary school in Victoria and started Grade 1 there as well.
“We just decided to try something different, I wanted to give him time to pursue his own interests at his own pace,” Robin said.
The decision to unschool rather than follow a distance learning curriculum fit the family better, she explained.
“If the curriculum tells you to study ancient Egypt and the child is more interested in astronomy, why not learn astronomy?” Robin said.
In the Stevenson home the curriculum is “child lead,” and it is working for this family.
Kai’s major interests are science, technology and he enjoys creating programs and webpages on the computer. One of his favourite activities is playing the computer game Minecraft.
Robin creates activities to teach Kai new things using his interest in the game.
“He makes creepers and undermine cushions, we’ve made a Minecraft cellphone cover and we’ve bought coloured duct tape to make Minecraft wallets,” she said.
He is learning about running a business as he plans to sell some of his creations at home schooling conventions and online.
Each week Kai also gets visits from his mentor, an engineering student from the University of Victoria, to help teach him new things, mostly focusing on computers. Which is helpful because Kai would like to have a future in computer programming.
Though there isn’t a curriculum Kai is always learning something and his mother is always there to help.
“I work from home,” said Robin, an author. “Writing is very flexible.”
Even though Kai spends a lot of time with Robin at home, “He is socialized and he spends time with people of all ages, not just with people who were born in the same year as him,” Robin said.
Robin organizes science lectures for home-schooled students in Greater Victoria where Kai interacts with other children, some unschooled too.
Kai also plays squash and is on a robotics team.
Technically Kai would be classified as a distributer learner because he is enrolled in EBUS Academy, a B.C. public school for distance learning. Kai doesn’t take classes or complete assignments. Robin writes up reports on what they do at home and sends it to the EBUS.