Sunday, June 25, 2006


Once in a while homeschooling skeptics raise the issue of teamwork. "Well sure," they'll say, "homeschooled kids learn really well and can follow their interests at their own pace and all that. But I think there's value in the kind of team-based work that happens at school. Kids need to learn to work as part of a team, to give and take a bit, to be good leaders, and to be good followers, to make collaborative decisions and problem-solve together."

Of course, to my mind, this is what families are for. Families are groups of interdependent people who work together, who collaborate, who problem-solve co-operatively, who tackle big jobs as a team, who learn from and with each other. If kids spend the lion's share of their productive hours apart from their families, then of course they'll need to be taught teamwork using artificially-contrived team learning projects. Here teamwork is learned by being part of a family.

And not just family either. Our unschooling has naturally grown to encompass the community around us, and there's plenty of opportunity for meaningful teamwork that inspired the kids and contributes meaningfully to the world around them.

My children are involved in music, and through playing in duos, trios, quartets, and community orchestra, they're involved in teamwork where "pulling one's weight" is absolutely essential, and where leading and following are both incredibly important roles.

My kids volunteer with me from time to time at places like the nursing home or the local community garden where a crew of community volunteers does all the maintenance. There are many jobs to be done and there's lots to be learned. The kids are learning how to offer help and find places where their help is needed and appreciated, without being directed.

We also have the gardening/environmental club where we do everything co-operatively and democratically. We've built a productive organic vegetable garden from scratch and taken on a number of community service and environmental advocacy / education / facilitation projects.

The kids exist on the fringes of a number of volunteer activities that I'm involved in, and often participate in those activities themselves. For instance, I'm involved in organizing music summer school and my kids have sat in on meetings, watching how problem-solving happens, how budgets are fleshed out, and so on. And they've helped the program take shape by working with me on the tasks I've been delegated, whether by talking to someone about the use of a facility or creating an enrichment activity or laminating nametags or analyzing enrollment data and identifying trends.

The kids are also involved in our community soccer league so they get the more traditional sports team experience that way. This year we also participated with a group of families putting together a series of radio documentaries about homeschooling and how it allows families to follow their passions. While each family or pair of families put together one or more shows on their own, we all had to collaborate with each other on technical aspects, intro and outro scripts, theme music, getting oriented to the studio and learning from and with each other about the audio-editing software we were using. Our family did two shows on our own, and one collaborating with another family from the gardening/environmental club. All were aired on the region's co-op radio station, and the series then evolved into a fundraising project for the radio station.

So for my kids, involvement in family life and in our community is giving plenty of opportunity to work as part of a team, with absolutely no need for school-style "teamwork projects".

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