My relationship with our decision to unschool goes back and forth between calm excitement and sheer panic. Whenever I sit down to write about it, I stop because I lack the courage to associate myself with something that is not well-known or understood, a method of learning that looks perhaps lazy or thoughtless from the outside. No curriculum? No set teaching times? Yes, it’s unsettling for even me still. But I want to begin to open it up — as always, writing is cathartic, and honestly, I need a space to sort out my thoughts. I have a spasm of curriculum-induced fear every four days or so, after which I print out a frenzy of grade-appropriate worksheets that never get used. I’d like to save the money in printer ink. 🙂 Maybe this will help.
Here are the reasons, simplified, that played a big part in our decision to ditch public education, forgo curriculum-based home learning, and dive into unschooling:
1) Both Bryan and I enjoy learning, but don’t remember the years of elementary, junior high, and high school to be characterized by this joy. I look back and see a lot of time spent memorizing and forgetting, thinking about the fastest and easiest way to an A, and worrying about what my classmates thought of me. I thoroughly enjoy books now that I remember hating in high school, purely because I worried more about what how many pages I was supposed to get through and what things I would have to write about on the essay test. What a royal waste of time! I want to give my kids the freedom of that time while they are young, to be engaged by the world and its many wonders in their own way.
2) We have an extremely head-strong, independent-thinking firstborn who was never motivated by the group mentality of a classroom. So what if everyone else is painting? I’m interested in reading a book right now. Obviously, this caused problems, and we as parents felt like we were expending more energy in helping Jones fit into the classroom environment than in helping him learn. It was exhausting and frustrating to be disciplining your child about something you could care less about. If he wanted to read a book, I thought, “Well then, read the book!” But I also knew that this wasn’t fair to the teachers and other students Jones encountered. Eventually, the excitement we had about seeing our son’s mind grow was overrun by frustration with him for being so different and not fitting in. Thankfully, God woke us up. And this greatly played into our choice of unschooling over curriculum-based home education — we didn’t want to just change the surroundings of this battle to fit the mold, from a classroom to our house. We wanted to revolutionize the learning environment for our children, and work with their natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge, instead of against it.
3) My personality and our family lifestyle were big factors in this choice. Have-to schedules and structures squeeze the life out of my creativity, even when self-imposed. And when my creativity is inhibited, then I become a sad and not-so-fun person, which doesn’t help me mother my children well! I feel invigorated and energized by on-the-go, spontaneous things — one of my favorite things to do is to scrap my plans for the day and take the kids to do something fun: get ice cream for dinner, go to a movie, drive to a scenic view, leave the house for the day with a few diapers and no plans. With this personality bent, I felt I would excel at helping my family learn via unschooling — seeking information on what fascinates you, what questions you are currently asking, what is happening around you, how you are feeling today. If going off-chart was stressful instead of invigorating for me, unschooling would be more difficult. As it is, I love it! (**) Also, as a family, we love and are committed to hosting within our home. Unschooling allows us more freedom with this — in fact, when Jones was having to get up at 6:00 every morning to be out the door by 7:15 for school, I was rather hostile in my thoughts toward those who wanted to be with our family during unscheduled times. And real life usually happens in an unscheduled way, not taking our day-planners and bedtimes into account! A looser routine for learning has enabled our whole family to be excited about welcoming unexpected events and guests, which is a Kingdom value we really want to nurture in our house.
4) The more we read and researched, the more we became convinced that learning guided by interest and a freedom to explore was a really excellent way to not only be educated, but to grow up. We don’t see the decision to unschool as a decision about education, but more a decision about life and learning and how it will impact our kids and our family.
I learned of this video a few weeks ago, and Jones and I watched some of it together. The 13-year-old speaker is describing what he terms “hackschooling,” and both Bryan and I jive a lot with what he said.
(**) Last night, in fact, I spent two hours with Jones, post-bedtime for the little kids, discussing all manner of things: heaven, earth’s tilt and rotation, seasons and daylight savings time, volcanoes, the hulk, plate tectonics and earthquakes, and the Bigness and Being of God (ie. He was never made, but existed before anything). We opened the Bible, watched YouTube vidoes, paused to ask questions, watched some more, brushed teeth and got under the covers, and then snuggled and talked more until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. It was amazing, and I thought to myself, “This is why I want to do this!” and simultaneously thanked God for His good timing, because I have been stressing about our learning and wondering if we are doing enough, etc. Jones was over-the-moon to have all this time to think and ask questions and learn with his mama by his side — he kept kissing me and saying, “I love doing this with you, mom!” It wasn’t in a classroom, but we covered theology, philosophy, physical science, geology, and computer science (he kept asking how the graphics and videos were made), with tons of imagination. This doesn’t happen every day, not even every week yyet, but when it does, its easy for me to remember the “whys” behind our decision to unschool.