The experience of a unschooling family using SOLE from their book. “Jump, Fall, Fly How to get from Schooling to Homeschooling to Unschooling”
More info in http://unschoolingthekids.com/
How it played out for us.
A quick story on SOLE projects and social media. I was very inspired by the SOLE project’s website, which is called School in the Cloud and I was interested in looking at the ‘BIG Questions’. Sugata Mitra believes that children learn best when they are asked the big questions, i.e. ‘Why does hair grow and not stop growing?’ ‘Does a frog know it is a frog?’ ‘Why is the sky blue?’ ‘Is the sky blue?’ etc.
So I thought I would set something rolling and see if they were interested. I couldn’t think of a big question, so I looked on the website and there was a great question. It went along the lines of ‘What is that big round crumbling down building in the centre of Rome and why is it so important?’ So I posed the question, being in Italy at the time we had an unfair advantage on that one. The kids went on Google Maps and they ended up digging into the heart of the Coliseum, which lead on to Roman History, Horrible Histories, hilarious and gruesome discussions about what Romans did to their guests etc., (i.e. lions in the guests’ bedrooms) it set off a great topic, which went on for a while, led by the children.
After one day I thought I would look on Twitter and see if anyone else was working on a SOLE project. I typed in ‘Anybody else working on the Roman Coliseum #sole’ and sure enough within about six hours I got a response ‘Yes!! We are!’ And then began our relationship with a school in New Jersey, USA. We arranged a Skype session and the next thing you know we were skyping with thirty American school kids. Our five and thirty of them!
So from there a relationship began. Their kids sent our kids questions, our kids sent their kids questions. Big questions. They sent us power point slide shows of their work, my kids said ‘we want to do that’ Our girls taught the two Italian kids to use power point. My eight-year-old (at the time) son asked how to do it, they taught each other. They sent their slide shows to New Jersey.
Our kids made movies about bees and how they make pollen, they became the bees. Our son drew a poster about how language was formed and made a short film about it. I helped him as he is younger but he quite liked the fact that a ‘B’ looked like a bottom and an archery bow. The questions that went back and forth were really great, and as a
‘facilitator’ I had to stop myself from being attached to the outcome of the questions, or the questions themselves in as much as once connected to a ‘school’ I found I wanted to jump in and become more schoolish, which speaks volumes about me. We had one skype call where our girls still had the black bee makeup on and the Italian boy and girl in the group were both eating pizza during the session! Our son was dripping off the chair and generally moving around non-stop. In that meeting I think the headmaster of the New Jersey School had come in to watch what goes on in a skype session and when I saw us all on our screen, in that little Skype box I did for a moment feel like we were possibly looking a bit like a modern day version of the Addams Family. We did at that point seem totally and utterly unschooled and I thought, Lehla, the kids are unschooled, it is fine and this is who we are! I even heard one kid whisper in the US class ‘Those girls have got makeup on!’
Both groups of kids asked wonderful questions. It was a hard lesson in that moment to NOT control my group’s questions. (A dreadful admission…in that I found it hard to not be in control, I wanted to make sure that their questions sounded intelligent, again all about me in that moment not them at all.)
Then on the other side, I also had to stop myself from being attached to the questions (Oh it is horribly hard being an adult.) One question from America was ‘Who started the first ever American Underground Railroad network?’ To me, when I heard that question (sorry American class) I thought, that is really boring. But it was probably the best question we had. It was SUCH a good question. I almost don’t want to write the answer here. Ok I will. The answer was Harriet Tubman, it had nothing to do with railways or trains at all, it was a secret underground network and she was an African American abolitionist who smuggled hundreds of enslaved family and friends to freedom using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
I had to help the kids to some degree with this one. Really they were stuck. So, sorry Sugata Mitra, they weren’t that self-organised in this one. However, once they had found the answer they were off. My daughter, who is not an avid reader printed out the information from Wikipedia and said full of excitement ‘MUM, LISTEN TO THIS CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS WOMAN DID?’ and she went on to read the Wikipedia information on Harriet Tubman. She had NEVER read anything from Wikipedia to me, and in this instance she could hardly catch her breath and was really fluent at reading, when previously she had really stumbled across her words. They wanted to do something for the New Jersey class around Harriet Tubman. So I said what will you do? They didn’t want to write, draw a poster or do a power point but the girls were itching to do something. The boys not so, they had lost interest. So I said ‘what do you like at the moment?’ they said they really liked a Shadow Puppet Theatre Company from Hungary…that do a really really sad but beautiful theatre piece on the X Factor (am not crazy about the X Factor but that is another topic.) They said we could do that. So they were off, they chose the music, the cut out bits of paper. They got the lights, I helped them set up a curtain. I told them a bit about beginning, middle and ends of stories as they wanted to tell the story. They told me to go away. I did. (It was really hard to go away on this one as I am a trained actress and this is my thing!) They told me to come back 40 minutes later. I did and I watched their show. What they did was truly beautiful, they really committed to it and they managed to include our son, he ended up making the ‘snow’ for the final scene and his job was to throw it at them. Harriet Tubman, what an amazing woman, if you have a moment go and look her up!!! They sent the film to New Jersey via WhatsApp. The kids in the US watched it on their big computer screen, they saw our English/Italian kids doing a shadow puppet show which had been inspired by a really great question (thank you the class in the U.S) and a theatre company that they had found on YouTube. We talked about it afterwards on Skype. And all these big questions had been inspired by the S.O.L.E. project which is run by Sugata Mitra and is funded by TED. You see all those italics? That is the beauty of technology and the worldwide classroom in your living room. In my opinion, in this day and age it is absolutely crucial to let kids use technology and the internet. It is a beautiful tool for connecting to what the rest of the world is doing and for sharing what you are doing and if used well I think incredible synchronistic magic can happen at the click of a button.