Exactly two years ago, I was happily teaching science in a very respectable high school with intelligent and well behaved students. A colleague friend of mine and I were yapping away during lunch and she told me about this thing called ‘unschooling‘. I’d never heard of it.
“You know,” she said, “Like ‘no-schooling‘. Like, the kids don’t go to school, they get homeschooled, but it’s even more radical than that. They can learn whatever they want and whenever they want.”
“BUT… BUT… WHAT?!?!” I replied… “That’s crazy!!!”
Here I am, two years later. My older daughter should be starting school in less than a year, and well, I’m almost positive she won’t be attending. Not because I think school is bad. Not because I want to shield my child from the ‘system‘, not because my child is ‘too good for that‘… but because I believe that there is more than one way to educate a child. School is certainly the better option for many children and their families, there is not doubt about it. Also, there are some pretty fantastic schools and teachers out there. But… if the situation allows it and parents know that there are alternative options to education out there, they should know that home education is 100%, a viable pathway of learning.
Unschooling in our house worked like this today: After a few quiet days of seemingly average play, all of a sudden, today BAM! A huge lesson on the solar system, because she asked about it. I mean, I TEACH THE SOLAR SYSTEM TO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, and I’m not joking when I say that I taught my 4 year old as much in half an hour than I would have taught to an entire class of high school students over several hour long lessons. Teaching at home is just so much more time efficient! After the ‘lesson‘, we went outside and played and then she asked more about another ongoing interest in rocks and volcanos.
In the afternoon, we went to a yoga class, where she fit right in with kids who were 6 or 7 years older than her. Later that night, she plopped down on the couch with a pen and a workbook (a gift from grandma in America) and did 19 pages of, ‘Math Concepts Workbook’ for kids, aged 3-5. The next morning, she woke up and finished the other ten pages. I mean, would YOU sit down and do 29 pages of maths right before bed and right when you woke up just for the hell of it?! She’s not some genius child either… just a regular smart 4 year old.
She initiates all of her learning. I only facilitate and provided materials to her if she asks for them (often she does it all by herself). The learning happens spontaneously because she wants to do it and much of the learning is actually occurring while she’s playing. This is how our days are and we haven’t even ‘officially‘ started unschooling, but I can see where it’s is all going. Of course, I recognize those learning windows of opportunities when I see them and it’s the right time. The ‘teachable‘ moments… The ones that they tell you about when you’re studying teaching, but actually rarely come up naturally in the classroom. You don’t have to be a teacher in order to make this all happen. Also, unschooling is not just about ‘teaching‘ children at home, all their ABC’s, it’s also about letting children have autonomy about a lot of other aspects of their life and about dropping our own inhibitions, as parents.
I think the hardest concept for most adults to accept about unschooling is the idea of trusting a child to make good decisions about their own education. When my husband was twelve years old, he walked out of school. Just left and went home. He is very smart, but he hated school. He stayed out of school for six months, and during that time, worked with his father, who was a photographer. He went back to school eventually because he had to. In high school, his art teacher recommended that he go to a special art school… but for whatever reason, he never ended up going. He then went on to attend one of the most prestigious engineering universities in America. But, can you guess what he ditched engineering for and did as a career instead??? Photography and graphic design. He ended up becoming a professional photographer, graphic designer and photojournalist and worked for big newspapers like the Washington Post…
It’s pretty clear, from an early age, that my husband already knew what his interests were, but was anyone listening to him? No. He’s pretty lucky because he eventually found his way, but could his career and talents gone even further if his desire to be artistic had been nurtured from an earlier age? Imagine the potential that all kids have if their interests and passions are encouraged and trusted right from the start? If a child could be responsible for making informed decisions about their own education, it might just be pretty damn incredible.
I’m not opposed to school and who knows, maybe down the track, my daughter will want to go to school. When she makes the decision that she really wants to go, or when she chooses a teacher in something that is of her choosing, then I have no problem. But, for now, we’ll see where this unshcooling path takes us, because it seems pretty fun and incredible so far.
Oh, by the way, Margo also has her own blog… Just as I was about to publish this, my husband received a notification that Margo’s blog has twenty five posts now. A few months ago, he showed her how to do it and we had NO idea she was posting photos to it on her own, but here it is… Margosurfs.