I have been putting off writing about unschooling for some time now as I feel it’s verging on the impossible to explain how we approach it. However, I have been asked about a billion times (yes that many) how and why we unschool and so I think its time I tried to put it into words. (Even as I type my spell checker is trying to change the word unschool into school. I’m rolling my eyes.)
Before I can begin to explain our approach into unschooling (blog posts to follow) I will fill you in on the journey that led us to this point.
Homeschooling was never on our radar. I didn’t even know it was legal to home educate in this country so it was not something that we had planned. Pops was our first born and it became quite clear from an early age that she was super shy and found being away from mummy something of a challenge. As a stay at home mum that was never really a problem as I could be there for her all of the time.
I have to admit that as she grew older I began to get a bit of a gnawing feeling in my stomach about the thought of her starting school but I assumed all mums felt that way and pushed on regardless.
In readiness of Pops beginning school I enrolled her at a local nursery two mornings a week. She was three by this point and I felt the need to prepare her for starting school. However, after a year of attending I was still called up an hour after drop off to collect her and console her. Alarm bells started to ring as my gut was telling me that she wasn’t ready to face school. I put this down to my own personal anxiety and fobbed it off with the thought that all kids had to go through this right?
With every day that got closer, friends and neighbours would ask Pops if she was looking forward to ‘big’ school and I would visibly see her clam up and begin to panic. (Why does everyone call it the big school? It sounds so scary!)
So, the day arrived when we could take Pops in to see our local school and make a decision about if we wanted her to attend that particular one. (It was the school I went to as a child.) When we first arrived we were popped into a queue to await our meet and greet and to receive a name badge for Pops. When it was our turn the teacher said her hello’s and bent down to ask Pops what her name was. At this, Pops froze and displayed very clear body language that she, in fact, did not want to wear a name badge. I want to pause the story here as this was the moment. The defining moment that changed everything. In the next few seconds our entire lives changed course and started the ball rolling into the future we now call today. I’ll continue. So, seeing how shy, distraught and uncomfortable Pops was the teacher then proceeded to take Pops wrist, pull her away from the comfort of me and stick a label on her despite her cries of no. It told me all I needed to know about her understanding of children’s emotions and more through shock than anything else I uncomfortably smile/laughed and herded pops away from the teacher and into the main hall with the rest of the pack. The next hour dragged by in a flurry of Pops’ tears and a poor show and tell of all of the tired school equipment and then we were on our merry way home, silent, shocked and scared.
I need to insert here that I know not all schools are like this and indeed not all children are as hesitant to the idea of school as Pops was but needless to say I spent that night researching the hell out of our options and stumbled upon the glorious option of home education.
We spent weeks learning about home education and we were lucky enough to meet some awesome local home educators (shout out to Roz and Nicky) who helped confirm to us that this was the right choice for our family. I was pretty scared to tell our family about our very radical decision but as always (because we are blessed with an awesome family) they supported us and agreed that it was the right thing to do for Pops and indeed for Fin too.
So, if like me you are having that same gut feeling about sending your little one to school, be reassured that there are other options. Somebody once told me that the hardest thing about home education is making the decision to do it in the first place. This is so true. Follow your gut and listen to your child as it’s much easier to send them to school if you find home education isn’t right for you than it is to undo the harm made by school if they weren’t ready to go.
Ok, so how does that bring us to unschooling I hear you ask? Well, it really has been a slow process to get us here. We began strongly with a traditional curriculum at first. Partly due to us wanting to keep Pops up to speed in case she decided she wanted to go to school at some point and partly due to not knowing any better really. We concentrated on reading and writing first as we believe if you have these skills then you can learn anything. She responded really well to this but not so well when we pushed the other subjects. (I know now that this is because Pops’ passion is reading and writing and therefore lapped up any work related to it.)
Over time school work became a bit of a battle. I could see she was losing interest and would sometimes become quite upset and frustrated with herself/me/her brother you name it. I realised that if I had wanted her upset at a desk not absorbing any information and wasting her childhood then she would be at school. This was when we decided to take a break to deschool. In that time Pops turned into a completely different child. She became curious, creative and excited about learning again. It helped her and Fin bond as it meant they could both learn through play and she turned into a mini teacher, taking him under her wing and sharing her enjoyment of the new exciting life she had to lead.
So, there you have it, we are unschoolers. It took me a while to admit to this. I love lists and control and unschooling leaves me wide open in the sea of the unknown. Is unschooling easy? Hell no! It’s the opposite of the easy option. I have to support their interests every second of every day. I have to be prepared to show Fin a Youtube video of a hatching crocodile egg at 9 pm at night (way past his normal bedtime) because we have just read a book on life cycles and he wants to know what else hatches out of eggs. I have to be prepared to record all of the ‘One Born Every Minute’ episodes and discuss placenta with my baby-crazy daughter over breakfast. I have to kiss goodbye to my favourite display cabinet as its now the globe holder or dinosaur land. I have to let my kids ‘help’ make every meal and scan every bit of shopping (slowly, so slowly) and tie-dye all of their t-shirts. I have to follow every whim, watch for their every passion, their every interest and support it with resources, time, days out, games, apps, books you name it. Unschooling is not an easy option but I bet you it’s the most fun one. Some days my kids teach me things, some days I teach them things and most days we learn new things together. My kids have made me smarter. Every day is a joy for me and them. An adventure waiting to unfold. The stained tablecloth, the muddy faces and the giggles in bed all tell me that this is the best decision my family ever made.
I’m not sure if I’ve answered any of your questions about unschooling. I’d be happy to discuss specifics in more detail if you want to contact me with any questions. As a way of trying to explain further and for my records also I am going to be answering a set of questions at the end of each month. It will be a log if you like of all of our best (and worst) moments from each month. Here is a link to January 2018. The first of our records. We hope you enjoy! Remember this is just a snippet of what we achieve. Every day is a new day filled with endless possibilities. We hope this helps you start your adventure.