October 29, 2008

Rekindling an Old Flame

Posted by meli on Wednesday, October 29, 2008 in | 4 comments
Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom ~Albert Einstein

We're an unschooling family. I used to just love talking about this lifestyle. I was filled with so much enthusiasm and passion, and I just wanted to shout it from the rooftops! But, not lately. I've gotten so used to *not* talking about it. Tired of the condescending looks that just dripped with judgement, I suppose. I can only take so many of those encounters before I retreat a little bit.

I've also had sporadic moments here and there where I've really struggled with our decision to unschool. Even with our decision to homeschool, period. It's not easy... stepping outside of "mainstream" and forging our own path. Especially where our children are concerned. It can kick up many moments of doubt and insecurity. During those times, it's especially difficult to find yourself in a situation where you being looked at as though you've sprouted an extra head. You're already feeling insecure enough all on your own, you certainly don't need judgement that confirms all of your worst fears.

So, I've lost the enthusiasm and passion that I once felt so strongly. I still entirely believe in this way of life, in this way of learning, I just haven't been eager to share it. I've been questioned a bit lately, out of pure curiosity, and I haven't really been elaborating too much.

I don't like that!

I want to find the fire, so I'm going to blog about unschooling today, as scattered as my thoughts will probably be right now, and hope that gets the flame really burning again.

Why do we unschool? So many reasons, but let me start with ... we are letting our children have a voice in their own lives. We're not forcing them into an institution for the majority of their awake day. An institution that embraces uniformity and discourages individuality. We wont allow them to waste their entire childhood conforming to what everyone else thinks they should be doing, only to spend the next several years trying to find out who THEY are, separate from everyone else. It's a practice that just does not resonate with me. They are able to fully and freely explore themselves, as individuals NOW, without the pressure of "being like everyone else, knowing what everyone else knows, doing what everyone else does".

The idea that each child needs to know how to read by age XX, or should know multiplication by age XX, or should be able to recognize world geography by age XX, etc, etc, etc ... it's just absurd to me. We're each so very different, and as adults, we're quick to jump to that conclusion, so why are we trying so hard to force our children to be exactly on target with everyone else in their "peer group"? What happens if they're not? They fail, right? What kind of life lesson is that? If you're not like everyone else, you're a failure. WHY would we want that for our children?

Our children are learning because they WANT to learn, not because they are being FORCED to learn. They don't memorize facts that they could care less about, just to pass a test. My kids learn facts because they are interested in the subject matter. My children have an internal drive to want to learn, to want to accomplish things, to want to do the things that make them happy. They are doing it for themselves, not for anyone else. They are becoming the people THEY want to be, not the people society says they SHOULD be. They aren't having their natural, instinctual passion for learning beat out of them with teaching to pass tests, standardized anything, grading scales to show "how smart you are", ridicule, etc.

My kids are still pretty young, so they may want more structure when they're older, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. Right now we are letting them pursue whatever passion they have. Larson is 9, and he has been into human anatomy for several years now. He far surpassed the knowledge I had on the subject quite a while ago, lol. Now we learn it together. Rylan is 6, and he has a love for dinosaurs that is borderline obsessive, haha. He has since he was 2. He knows all of their names; even I struggle with remembering those darn names, lol. There isn't much at all in the house that the kids can't touch, play with, learn from. One day Larson decided he wanted to learn how a vacuum cleaner worked. We let him take apart our 1200 dollar kirby, so he could get that knowledge for himself, hands on, rather then out of some text book.

They seek out things that he wants to learn about. He taught himself how to read, because he loves books! We have read to our kids since they were all still in the womb, so they've always been exposed to words. One day it clicked with him, and he took off with it. He loves reading. Rylan is learning how to read right now for no other reason then to be able to copy my picks in football. Each year our family does football picks (we have a list of all games played each week, and we each pick who we think will win each game). At the end of each season, I have come out WAY ahead EVERY year since we started this tradition, haha. Rylans knows this, so he is determined to read my picks before it's his turn, so that he'll be able pick the same teams, and then he'll win, too! Smart kid, lol! Larson is learning math, not because he has an interest in math per se, but simply because he wants to be able to calculate his allowance, see how it all breaks down, so he'll know how much he's able to spend (they are only allowed to spend 50% of their earnings. 25% goes into their savings, and the other 25% goes into our charity jar that we give each month). He didn't really have much desire to sit and learn math until a situation came up (money, haha) where he found he needed to know how to work with numbers. Simple as that.

Think about everything you were forced to learn in school. Do you even remember a fraction of the stuff?? Or was it more of remembering facts, short term, in order to pass the tests? When my kids learns things... they WANT to learn them, so the information actually sticks. They aren't wasting their time learning things they'll never remember, or don't care about. They are learning the things that will help them pursue the lives they want to lead.

Sure, they may be behind in some areas that public school kids are expected and forced to know by now. Larson struggles a bit with spelling/writing words. He can read them just fine, but when he tries to write the same words down, he struggles some. He is making marked improvement, however, not out of fear of failing or being made fun of, but because he WANTS to. But they're also advanced in some areas that public school kids their age aren't even being exposed to right now, because it's out of their grade level (like the human anatomy and dinosaurs ...).

A lot of people give me the argument of "well, if they want to learn about something not yet covered for their grade level, why can't they just pursue them out of school".

When Larson spent those 4 months in kinder, he had to wake up at 6-6:30am for him to be to school by 7:30, and then we got home at about 2:20pm. After a snack, homework, dinner, chores, bath .... it was almost time for bed again at 7 (we had to move his bedtime to 7, from 8:30, because he was just so exhausted). There wasn't much time to pursue the things that he wanted to. On the weekends, he didn't want to do anything that might even resemble learning, because it had become a chore to him. It was work. It was something he was forced to do for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, and it wasn't fun for him anymore. Before he went into Kinder, he LOVED learning new things. In kinder ... I could already see that fire in him diminishing. In just 4 months! Sure, he had a really crappy teacher that put him down and made him feel like he wasn't good enough, so perhaps on average it takes longer then 4 months, but why put your kid into a system that causes that kind of damage - no matter how long it takes? It's really very sad.

I've been told, many times, that I'm setting my children up to fail. I've been lectured (yes, with a wagging finger and everything) "shame on me, I'm letting my boys slip through the cracks". I've even been told parents aren't qualified to teach their children. Wait, What? How are parents not qualified? Would it be fair to say, that as a parent, we know our children better then anyone? Fair to say that we love our children more then anyone else could? Also fair to say that we want the absolute best for our children? Assuming all of that is accurate, please tell me how we would ALLOW ourselves to let our children slip through the cracks with unschooling? We wouldn't! We're in tune with our children. We know what our children's passions are. We help them pursue those passions to the depths of their souls. Slipping through the cracks? No, I don't think so.

I've also gotten the argument that we're "babying" them by not sending them to school. That we're not letting them face "the real world", and when they are finally turned loose "out there", they'll be completely lost and unable to take care of themselves. I've even been told that being bullied is an important part of growing up! Why is that again? And this "real world" that they talk about, are my children not living in it now? Apparently not, because it seems only adults can be in "the real world". I guess it's their opinion that children are just in dress rehearsal waiting for "the real world" to come along. In any event, how is going to a school relevant to being ready for "the real world"? In "the real world", are adults herded along according to age group? Not allowed to talk or communicate with one another? Ridiculed if they get an answer wrong? Of course not. Life involves people of all ages, all backgrounds, living and learning together. If you encounter a bully in the adult world, you can do some thing about it. Call the police. File a report. In a school system kids are made to feel as though they have to "suck it up", "it's part of life". Why? Why is bullying part of life?

I also get the college argument quite often. How our kids wont possibly be prepared college. Or "if unschooled kids only do the things they want to do, they wont succeed in college" (pre-requisites and all).

Believe it or not, we don't have expectations of our kids going to college. If they want to go, great! If they don't, great! Our only expectation is that they pursue a life that will make them happy. But because we give them the freedom to exercise their internal drive to learn, instead of suppressing it, and letting external forces be the drive for their knowledge, I truly believe my kids will forever seek out knowledge. They enjoy it so much. They love learning. And they'll already be so self driven (rather then being pushed along by outside forces) so college shouldn't be as big of a shock to them as it is with so many public schooled kids.

As far as pre-requsites, if they have a goal in mind, they'll accomplish it. Just like the math/money example I spoke about above. Larson wasn't interested in math, but when he found out that he needed math in order to work with his money, he became interested in learning it. If Rylans goal is to become a paleontologist (that dinosaur obsession of his, haha), he'll know exactly what steps need to be taken, prerequisites and all, in order to get to the nity grity of dinosaurs ... so it WILL be something he wants. He'll do the math, the english, etc because it will be working toward his goal - dinosaurs.

It's a pretty simple concept, actually.

all photographs are of my lovely unschooled children, living life the way in which it was meant to be lived - FREE!!!


  1. Thanks for the wonderful thoughts on unschooling...all of those thoughts are in my head as well, but I have yet to write them out. I do believe that most of the time when we encounter criticism about our choices, it's simply because that person feels threatened or judged just because we made a different choice than they did. As if somehow, because we are doing a different way, that the way they did it makes them a bad parent. I wish all kids could be unschooled/homeschooled...or I at least wish that the parents would consider it. It breaks my heart when I hear a parent say "oh, I could never homeschool because the kids drive me crazy, I have to send them to school to get rid of them!". As parents, we are called to embrace our role and that includes the role of teacher. Congrats to you for sticking with it...your children are some of the brightest and sweetest children I've met, so you are doing something right!! Take care mama...


  2. Maybe I can offer another point to help reinspire you. The world is changing so rapidly, we really have no idea what our kids will need to know to be successful in the world they will be adults in, our school systems were created for a past society that isn't likely to resemble the developing future societies. As long as they are able to learn they should be able to adapt and thrive in whatever our society develops into, and of course many of us unschoolers unschooler specifically to preserve their love of learning, so we're doing the best that we can to prepare them for an unknown future.

  3. A wonderful entry. Lovely photos of your "3 lil beans". I struggle everyday with our decision to homeschool. I thought unschooling was totally for us, but we aren't radical, so we do use some teaching aids. I do agree with you on what society says is right, and I do feel that is why alot of homeschoolers second guess their decisions.

  4. I'm really glad you posted about this, just so I could reply! If I had children I would love to do exactly what you are doing. Don't have second thoughts. I totally believe that every word you say about unschooling is true. Your boys will be so smart and so successful because of the environment they are in now. Too many times I have witnessed children's desire to learn being squashed out by the burden that is the "mainstream" school system. I was one of those children. Keep up the good work. And blog about it. I would love to see how your children grow!