How do I stop wanting to see structured learning?
How do I not feel guilty about letting a day go by that we don't crack a book? It would be my son's choice to spend all day on the computer playing games, or playing PlayStation.
You've put those two right next to each other and they need to be separated. Your son doesn't need to bear the burden of relieving your emotions by behaving in ways that comfort your fears that don't have a foundation.
It's your responsibility to take those fears out and deal with them face to face.
As Sandra pointed out you need to deschool. Declare it summer vacation so you don't feel like he needs to be doing anything. :-) Read here. Read about the unschooling lives here. You need to find and embrace what's better about unschooling for you to be able to relax. Unschooling isn't just a nonforceful way for kids to learn academics. Unschooling is a totally different philosophy based on respecting someone for who they already are and trusting that exploring what interests them in a rich free environment will provide them with what they need.
Schoolish methods are like dumping a truckload of manure on a flower because "all plants need fertilizer." Kids get buried beneath the manure.
Unschooling is sprinkling a flower with water and the type of fertilizer it's asking for and making sure it has the sun it's particular variety needs. But it's up to the plant to draw in what it needs. We run the world through their lives. They reach out and explore the parts that intrigue them.
My question to you all, is how do I get out of this rut of "you have to sit down and do work on paper to learn" and let them learn how to write, spell, and do math on their own?
Reading how others are actually doing it I think is a biggie.
Probably one of the big problems in relaxing is that all the models we have of learning are forced learning. And we've heard so many reasons why that's the right way to do it. And we know that if kids are temporarily released from "the right way", that all they'll do is avoid learning. So the natural conclusion is that kids won't learn unless they're made to.
To counteract that, you need lots of stories to reassure you that the conclusion just isn't true. Kids will learn by living life.
It won't, of course, look like kids doing school work without being made. It will look like play very often.
So you need a new model of what real learning looks like. Your first model might be to compare how your kids learned to speak with how kids "learn" Spanish in school. The first looks like play and nothing like being taught. They just use it and as a side effect get better at it. The result is fluency in a few years. The second looks very much like being taught and the result of 2 years of dull, boring forced work is a few words and phrases.
I know they will learn eventually on their own, but there is the part of me that feels they won't unless they sit down and put it on paper.
It's natural to want feedback that something's happening. Especially when it's our responsibility that it happen.
One thing that helps is understanding how natural learning works. The unschooling philosophy is a replacement for that physical reassurance. It's the knowledge that though we often can't see learning happening that it is there. That's not enough for most people so unschoolers hold onto that knowledge and look for reassurances from our kids, from other unschooled kids that it really and truly indeed is true.
Another thing is the knowledge that any feedback we get has nothing to do with learning. Whether they reveal they've learned something doesn't affect whether or not they've learned it. All it does is prove to us they learned it. That's something we need to let go of.
I'm not saying coming to believe any of that is easy. It's just that if you've set your sights on unschooling, you know letting go of a need to see learning is where you mentally have to be. And you just keep climbing towards those ideas because you aren't going to give yourself a choice not to.
If that makes sense.
I'm worried they won't know how to spell words correctly, write in cursive, write legibly LOL.
Well, ask yourself why you don't think they'll spell correctly, etc. Why wouldn't they want to?
The answer is that kids in school don't want to do those things because they're made to for reasons that make no sense to them.
But there are real life reasons for spelling correctly and writing legibly. (Though loads of doctors and executives get away with bad handwriting and spelling.) Standard spelling doesn't exist purely so schools can force it on kids ;-) Standard spelling exists so others can understand what we've written. When it's important to them that others understand what they're writing, then spelling and grammar convention will be important.
Stories, IMs, message boards, emails, snail mail, notes, directions are all real reasons for putting words down. And all real reasons where it's important that the other person be able to read it. Which, in the case of IMs and such, doesn't necessarily mean standard Strunk and White English! ;-) But just as they talk differently to their friends than to their grandmother, they'll recognize that different audiences need different language. A kid will automatically know grandma won't understand IM-speak. (Unless she's a really cool grandma! :-)
I'm worried I will have failed them if I don't sit down with them and show them how to do it on paper. I guess I need reassurance that if I don't, I won't have been messing them up. Please tell me how I teach them to write, spell, and learn math without making it schoolish, without forcing pen to paper! And please don't flame me for asking this!
You do it by not teaching them. You make sure they have access in their real lives to opportunities that need those skills.
Opportunities can come in the form of internet communications, games (including video and computer), art programs, various tools for drawing like compasses and t-squares and templates and so on. Anything that has to do with their interests. My daughter has created spreadsheets and databases for Pokemon and the Pokemon-type creatures she creates.
If they don't take up the offers they may not be ready yet, it isn't important to them yet, or it's not something they need yet. They need the opportunities available. When they need them, they'll pick them up.
Reading about other unschoolers will reassure you lots. The message boards at Unschooling.info are a great place for that. It's important that you get lots of stories because one or two stories look like people have some secret for getting their kids to do what the kids do, like reading science books or watching history documentaries. I could tell you my 12 yo daughter writes loads but it isn't because I've done anything to get her to write. It's because I've allowed her the opportunity to do what's naturally in her. (And that writing comes also with lots of TV watching and video game playing and pretend playing with friends.)
Unschooling is helping them be who they are so they can grow into who they will be rather than trying to shape them into what society says it would be best for them to be.
Last updated: April 2009