When we first decided to homeschool I didn’t even know what it was. I pictured families in matching denim jumpsuits with super conservative and narrow minded values. I had no idea that there are all kind of people who homeschool for all kinds of reasons.
The reasons we started out homeschooling were so simple compared to what I love about it now. I was actually very scared to admit (to myself and others) that we were homeschooling. It felt like I was doing something wrong, illegal. It was so out of the norm of anything I knew, it felt like I should not be doing it.
Plus, we lived in New England at the time- just north of Boston. This is an academia capitol and we take education very seriously. What I have learned though is that learning and education mostly don’t mean the same thing.
I have learned that learning is something that can be done only for one’s self. We can’t be “taught” concepts and information. We can be given the time, space, and resources to learn, but now I see that education mostly interrupts learning.
Why We Chose to Homeschool
When we (really, I) first decided my kids would not go to school the reasoning did not have much to do with learning, at least not directly. For the first five years of his life my oldest had his needs met consistently. He slept, ate, played, drank water, and used the bathroom when he needed to. He was not on somebody else’s schedule. I could not imagine sending him to a place where his life would be so uprooted. I could not imagine sending him into a schedule the was kept for the masses, instead of for his tiny and still new body.
Also, as my son entered school age I first started to really find my motherhood groove. I had been so overwhelmed and resistant to fully stepping into motherhood up until then. Just as we were starting to find peace and calm, I was going to opt into the disruption of schedules, packing lunches, and homework.
Plus, he was still so little. Intuitively it made no sense to me that his tiny body would spend so many hours away from me. School is overwhelming. There’s no time to dive deep into blocks or books. Everything has to be kept moving- whether that is for specials, recess, or lunch, the day does not allow for kids to play until they are done (nope, not even Montessori or Waldorf).
None of it felt right or like the best choice for my son, so I committed to keeping him home with me until I found a school option that was better for him than being home with me.
Not long after this I was introduced to Radical Unschooling and I immediately breathed a huge sigh of relief. This felt like an extension of how we were already living and like a way to support my kids as they flourished into the people they wanted to be.
I was lucky to be introduced to solid Unschooling resources. There are many resources out there who will lead families in the exact opposite direction of where they want to go. I understood learning to Unschool well was going to take a lot of work, but the vision that was painted for me was what I wanted for my family.
Fast forward to now. My oldest is nearly 13 and my youngest 11. Other than a couple of months of preschool for my oldest, they have never been to school. I, on the other hand, have spent all of these years unlearning assumptions about learning and living so that I can Unschool my children well.
Unchooling is Not for Everyone
Unschooling is not something that can be done short term or a few days a week. It’s not something that can be done after school or on the weekends. Unschooling, especially Radical Unschooling, takes a tremendous commitment on behalf of the parents to create an optimal learning and living environment for their kids. Click here for more resources about this.
It has taken me years to deschool, step back, and get solidly comfortable questioning my beliefs and assumptions. It has taken tremendous personal change to be able to create peace in my home. This is true for a lot of us who Unschool.
It is just in the last couple of years that I feel like we are Unschooling well and that it is just how we live. Now, it requires far less thought and effort because it is just the way we operate.
Here are five things I love about Unschooling:
1. My kids can deep dive into anything for as long or short as they want. Whether that’s WW2, learning to play drums, or a Japanese anime series, my kids are not told to stop what they are doing so they can be “taught” the next thing. Real, deep learning does not happen that way. Real, deep learning happens through play, passion, and having unlimited time to be curious and find the answer to “what if?”
Real, deep learning is not interrupted by a grumbling stomach, a brain tired from being woken or having most hours in a week scheduled. It is not halted to practice handwriting or flashcards. A commitment to real, deep learning is allowing kids to follow their passions and curiosities and staying right there with them, excited about being involved so that we can make sure they have all the resources, support, and love we can provide.
2. My kids’ time isn’t wasted learning things that don’t require so much time to learn.
Reading, multiplication tables, parts of speech (or whatever it is kids are doing these days 🙂 )… they don’t need to be separated out and taught. Learning to read comes as a byproduct of living a rich and full life. I know this is hard to wrap our head around but it is true. It’s not true just for me but countless other families who have watched the same happen for their child.
Whether from playing video or board games, writing in a journal, or talking about road signs, reading comes as a byproduct of learning everything else. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum in my experience. As an Unschooling mom I am nearly always available to answer questions. It might be “how do you spell…?” or “what does this say?” but eventually kids really do learn how to read while they are learning so many other things, too. The same is true with everything else.
I love that with Unschooling my kids’ real, deep learning is not being interrupted to waste so much time on things that are learned easily and naturally along side so many other and important things.
3. Life is not broken into subjects so neither is my kids’ learning.
I always accepted that education is broken into subjects. For most of my life I assumed this was for good reason- “good” meaning rooted in making learning more profound or accessible for children. Now though, I see that attempting to control learning in this way is a contradiction in concepts.
As I sit here writing this I am reflecting on how nutty it is that we make school so different than life. Imagine if life were separated by subject? This post is already too long for me to share examples but I think that would be a pretty fun activity.
When we are growing a garden, cooking, experimenting with flex seal, playing basketball, tracking a storm, or exploring at the beach, we are not thinking about what “subject” we are “choosing to learn”. We are playing and learning about so many different things; science, geography, math, reading, or history all at once. It’s actually kind of fun in a geeky sort of way to break out our normal activities for the portfolio we have to submit each year.
This is the way life works. There is no such things as “subjects” in our every day lives. Even a scientist is utilizing so many different skills as she works. It is all related and one of the things I love about Radically Unschooling is that we are not artificially separating them out.
4. Contextual Learning
As I reflect on my own school experience this is one of the things that makes me feel so sad. For my whole life I thought I was dumb. I didn’t understand how one historical event connected to another. Math and science did not make sense to me. Social studies was interesting but so abstract.
It was only as an adult, and then through learning to Unschool well that I began to understand the issue was not my own intellect, it was that nothing was learned in context. I wasn’t exploring chemistry because I was curious, I was doing work required by a teacher for a grade to get into a good college. It was only after this realization that I allowed myself the freedom to learn.
I can’t find a way to express the feeling of excitement and happiness I get when my kids stumble on a cool discovery and have no idea that they are doing “science” or “math”. I cannot find a way to articulate how cool it is to see those skills just quickly flow out of them instead of spending a whole year learning how to do it.
5. Developing Self Worth Through Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is an important skill to have for a happy life. Another thing I love about Radically Unschooling is that my kids get to develop this without being hindered. They eat when they are hungry, rest when they are tired, drink when they are thirsty, go outside when they need connection with the outdoors, and veg out when they need it.
Moving through a school day does not allow for this. With large groups of people comes a need for some scheduling. Even if one school or classroom seems to be better at this than others, it’s not possible to replicate what happens at home at school. The most basic example of this is that kids need to get up from sleep at a certain time to get to school. Therefore they need to go to bed by a certain time and probably eat dinner by a certain time and so forth and so on.
There are so many more things that I can share about why I love Radically Unschooling. It has given my family a tremendous and life changing gift of living in a connected, peaceful, and wholehearted way. It has made life happy, fun, and playful just about every day of the year.
Getting here was not easy. It took a lot of work by my husband and I. Our kids are thriving though and my heart is absolutely full knowing they are not spending the first 18 years of their lives preparing to live in the real world and instead are living in it.
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