Have you ever had a sudden, liberating realization? Well, I had one over the course of last week. It started with the realization that something was wrong with the way my kids were learning. Tigger is able to understand concepts, but she hates sitting at the table doing work. And, of course, the boys are so little that it’s difficult for them to sit still for more than a few minutes. So, I started taking them out of the house more often – the aquarium, the children’s museum, park days, etc. And those are good too, but also difficult with 2 under 2 1/2. Needless to say, I was more than a little frustrated.And then it hit me. Unschooling! Unschooling! Unschooling! Now before you say, “But, that’s not REAL school!”, let me explain how I came to this point of view. I’ve been planning to homeschool since we found out we were pregnant with Tigger. But, I kept envisioning a “school at home” method, with the desks and the blackboard and the school supplies. That’s what we did in my elementary school and I liked it, so I planned to recreate that at home to keep Tigger from missing out. After our preschool year, I found out that at home we need more flexibility than school-at-home offers, so I ditched it and became an eclectic homeschooler.
If you’re not familiar with eclectic homeschooling, it’s essentially a use-what-you-like approach. So, I liked aspects of school at home (worksheets, a chalkboard) and I liked aspects of Charlotte Mason (nature study, short lessons, copywork, narration) so I used it all and we started kindergarten. Kindergarten went better than pre-K but still had its ups and downs, particularly having a newborn in the house. But, I was still feeling frustrated with both the lack of flexibility with the methods and Tigger’s growing resistance to schedules.
We embarked on first grade with a new approach – still eclectic, but far more relaxed. And it just has not worked for us. AT ALL. I’ve been frustrated, Tigger’s been frustrated and Pooh and Roo have just been enduring. I’ve read a lot of books about unschooling and, from what I’ve read, almost every parent who has decided to unschool has done so after starting with school-at-home like me. But, when I read the books, I thought “I’d never do that. I need structure and I can do this in a way that will work for my kids.” I never thought about whether my homeschooling method would work for me. Turns out that if it doesn’t work for me (the teacher), it’s not going to work for the kids.
I read an especially inspiring quote about unschooling from Kelly Lovejoy. It says:
“If you knew you only had a year more with that child, what would you expose him to? Where would you go? What would you eat? What would you watch? What would you do?
If you had only ONE year—and then it was all over, what would you do? Four seasons. Twelve months. 365 days.
Do that THIS year. And the next.
That’s how unschooling works. By living life as if it were an adventure. As if you only had a limited amount of time with that child. Because that’s the way it IS.”
Reading that almost made me cry. I want to enjoy my life with my children, not endure it as we try to get through each grade level. Things really can change in the blink of an eye and I would be so hurt if my proudest moments as a parent centered around my children’s test scores or objectives.
The core unschooling principle is that children learn all the time, no matter what they do. It’s the job of a parent to “strew” things across their path to pique their interest, but instead of coercing them into learning, we create a learning environment by encouraging them to be curious about the world around them. Sandra Dodd has a great website about unschooling here.
Anyway, I’m still new to this way of doing things, but I’ll be posting pics of us hopefully enjoying our learning experience!