We started home schooling our 7 year-old son in mid-November 2007. My approach was relaxed but still, there was a curriculum. As part of our materials, I had chosen a phonics program that I had heard good things about—very interactive, lots of songs and games and play. BUT the other half of the program was worksheet driven. I knew I was in trouble during our 2nd week when I introduced the day’s worksheet only to have my son look and me and announce he had done 2 of those yesterday. Yikes! Yes, he had. And worksheets were just about all he had done in public kindergarten and a brief stint in 1st grade. I thought I would cry to see him bring another worksheet home from school so I understood his complaint.
I have to admit that when I first heard about unschooling, I thought it was nuts. Of course, my initial opinion was a poorly informed one that did not yet understand what unschooling really meant. But that was my starting point. As we ventured along in our home schooling, I begin to see myself resorting to things that I hadn’t liked when he was in school—coercion, bribery, rewards, etc., to get work done. I had started down the home schooling path to “un-do” school and found myself recreating “schooly” things at home. As I read more about home schooling, I kept coming across unschooling and increasing my understanding of it. I finally came to understand that unschooling was not benign neglect, not hands off, not throwing one’s children to the wind. Done in the spirit of true unschooling, it is actively following and supporting your children’s learning—on their timetable, in their style, for their reasons. So, I had the “ah ha!” moment and I felt giddy. I had seen the light—so why was I still so scared?
For those of us who were traditionally schooled (read: most of us), unschooling is still a leap of faith. We get it intellectually, understand the reasons that it makes sense, but few of us have experienced it ourselves or with others close to us. Hence the need for our own massive deschooling.
We took a week-long trip at the beginning of May. Our return seemed like a good time to drop the curriculum and plunge right in. So we did. What follows are my thoughts as we make the transition to unschooling.
Day 1 - May 2007
I’ve read everything on earth about unschooling, child-lead learning, delight-driven learning, whatever you’d like to call it. It speaks to me, it makes intuitive sense to me—which works because my learning style is intuitive. What in the world will my logical husband think? I’m sort of afraid to bring it up because I’m not sure I can go backward in my thinking if he wanted me to—but I, of course, want his agreement and support.
I’m giddy with feelings of delight and freedom at the thought of taking the unschooling path. I’ve been on two unschooling yahoo groups and am starting to see that this line of thinking will impact our whole lives. This way of living isn’t limited to “school hours” because school hours don’t exist. Life is learning, learning is life. Freeing and scary at the same time.
My husband and I talk about it and he’s open but cautious. His hesitations are the ones I had in the beginning. I’ve had so much more time and brain space to devote to learning about this and he’s playing catch-up. I have asked him to read Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee. This book, with it’s long view of an unschooling family, was pivotal in my “getting” what unschooling looked like. He’s willing but, with so little time for personal reading, I’m afraid he won’t read it.
I’ve been spending lots of time on unschooling websites like Sandra Dodd’s and then following a million links from there. I’ve started to print articles for my husband. Usually they’re only a few pages. I put them in his “in” basket on the kitchen counter and he reads them as he makes his morning tea or eats his cereal. He hasn’t said I’m crazy yet! Now I need to stop reading and start unschooling!
--Today is an at-home day as the kids have requested. They got up and immediately turned the TV on. I struggle with not limiting TV and computer time. I decide that today I am going to keep absolutely quiet on the subject and see what happens—but, oh it’s hard! They watch morning TV for about an hour then drift away to something else. Sometimes they also play a computer game. But I notice that they also eventually drift away from that too—and I haven’t said anything. I start to see a pattern over the day. They have some “screen time,” drift to something more active, come back to computer or TV and then drift away again.
--Today I’m panicking. The kids are fighting about just about everything, they keep turning the TV on, I am restless and am having a hard time not suggesting more “appropriate” activities ( go outside, read a book, color, draw—anything where I can SEE that you are doing something!). I wonder if I can do this with little break from them. I am craving a quiet house and time to myself. But I know in my heart that I don’t want them back in school. I didn’t like what I saw there, my older son’s curiosity and love for learning were dying, and it wrecked our family life during the week. I repeat my mantra—have faith, trust your intuition, take the long view.
--I’m playing a game with my 7 year old who does not “know” his multiplication tables. He has to figure out 4 x 5. I pause, ready to help him, when he says the answer is 20. I’m stunned. I ask him how he figured it out. He shows me how he counted to 20 by 5’s and it took 4 of them to get there. Wow—he just multiplied! I tuck this memory away to use against my next unschooling panic.
--We have appointments in the morning. Then the kids are desperate to go to Chuck E. Cheese. I don’t really want to go but it’s a Friday, school is still in session so we’ll have the place to ourselves and I really like to play skee ball. Plus, when I’m not playing with them, they’re occupied enough to allow me a few moments of reading. Can I do this? Is it really okay just to have fun while all those other kids are trapped at school? Shouldn’t we be doing something more—what?—worthwhile? I decide fun is worthwhile.
--I’m have trouble not evaluating what we do. We went to the library today and I realize that I feel some relief that we did something that has some traditional educational value. I don’t like this but I guess I’m not going to overcome 16 years of traditional education in a few months, no matter how much I believe in unschooling. But I do sometimes wish I could just excise a large part of my schooliness out!
--I’m still anxious over lifting controls over TV and computer time (we don’t have video games—yet!). The kids have mostly played a motocross game on the computer or watched TV for the last 2 days. Admittedly, today was rainy. But I feel myself getting tense and anxious over their “screen” time. It’s hard to bite my tongue. I’m not sure exactly what bothers me: the fact that they’re glued to the screen, the noise from the TV or computer, or my general anxiety over the popular view of screen time. I’m still prey to the prevailing belief that if they don’t go outside NOW, they’ll turn pasty white, become overweight and fail in life!
I realize two things regarding this: one, if they were sitting on the couch reading all day, I’d be less concerned; and, two, my experiment with giving them freedom over these things has been very short. I know that I need to take the long view and let their TV and computer focus run it’s course, to trust that those things will take their place among lots of other choices of things to do.
June 30, 2007
Feeling restless and bored, aimless. I’m doing the most deschooling of anyone. These blocks of time drop into my lap and I am unprepared. What were all those things I’ve been dying to do? At times I’m unsure whether to let the kids be or to try to insert something into our day. Lots of stay-at-home time lately which they seem happy with but I’m feeling bored. How to meet the needs of each of us? Especially when we have a total homebody, a semi-homebody and an always-ready-to-roll extrovert?
Summer has arrived and schools are out, making it easier for me to unschool since all the other kids are "unschooling" too. Summer is about lots of swimming, playing on the slip-n-slide, watching movies when it's too hot outside
Jokes by Levi
What did the ice cream say when the banana asked when it could come over?
Only on a sundae!
What does a drama king wear to bed?
What do you call a swashbuckling rat?
What do you call a shoe that has a problem?
An is-shoe! (An issue)
What do you call a video game that you play with more than one person?
What do you call it when someone listens in on Christmas Eve?
And one contributed by a friend:
What's brown and sticky?
Levi called me into his room saying, "Oliver's a quarterback." Oliver was on the bed on his tummy with 4 quarters on his back.
What does a crocodile say when it wants to be a rooster?