Friday, April 23, 2010

The FAQs of Me: What is Unschooling?

Growing up, I didn't know there was any other thing but school. When I hit high school, I knew there were some people who were able to test out of grades, etc. and graduate faster. I tried but my principal told me it wasn't possible. So I just dropped out, eventually got my GED, and eventually went to college to become a teacher. By then I had learned a little about home schooling and heard the arguments against it, but was still not convinced that it wasn't a good thing.

Then I met Jacqueline, and through her, many other families, who unschool their children. Usually when I tell people that my children are unschooled, I get puzzled looks and they want to know more, or they don't fully understand and assume I meant home schooled. (Truthfully, a lot of times, when strangers ask about the kids' education, I'll use the term home schooling just to avoid a lengthy discussion.)

But what does it mean to unschool your kids? What does it look like?

Well, what does it look like to send your kids to school? Let's see, fight to get the kids up in the morning, fight to get them dressed & fed appropriately, then send them in a stranger's vehicle to a place where they aren't *really* heard or seen, where they spend more *quality* time with their peers than with an adult. They are forced to sit still, ask to get up, even for something as private and unpredictable as using the bathroom, be quiet, listen to someone *teach* them things they might already know or have no interest in, then regurgitate the information as expected or face the consequences. Then they are pressured by their peers to have the right clothes and accessories, listen to the right music, watch the right TV, look and act the way they do... or be teased unmercifully. The battle continues after school when they are required to do homework and bring it back the next day - yes, even some of the kindergarten classrooms I've been in have this expectation! Then you need to get them into bed at a reasonable hour so they can be well rested to do it all again the next day.

But this is what we're all used to, the status quo, the norm.

Home schooling is better, but still not perfect. The kids can sleep later perhaps, they spend their quality time with an adult who loves and cares for them, they don't have to leave home and be with strangers all day, and they probably don't have to raise their hand to ask questions, wait for *more appropriate* times to use the bathroom, and may even be allowed to sit or stand however is most comfortable. But they still need to do *lessons* and have someone *teach* them things they might already know or have no interest in, then regurgitate the information as expected or face the consequences. They still *do* school, but not in that cold uncaring environment.

So to unschool, there is no school. Our kids do what they want, when they want. But it's not like they're running willy-nilly with no guidance. We're still there to discuss things with, to bounce ideas off of, to encourage and support them in all their endeavors. Yes, there are times when our son (17) is on the Wii for eleventy-million hours at a time, but when he tires of whatever new game has enthralled him, he grabs his skateboard and heads outside, or picks up his guitar and practices, or creates some new gadget with leftover parts from some machine that broke. And if we need some help, there's no argument before he comes and helps, because he knows he has the freedom to say "no," or "in a minute," or even "in 3 hours," because he knows no one is going to punish him, or even be mad, for doing what he thinks is most important at that moment. We are reasonable with our requests, respecting what's important to him (and our daughters), even if we may not see it as so important. To them, it is.

The same for our daughters. They've all fallen into different sleeping patterns, with our eldest at home (16) being a night owl; she gets up and has dinner with the family and then stays up all night. She draws, watches movies, chats with friends, learns about different cultures, dances, and is even teaching herself how to speak, read, and write in Japanese! No, we don't worry about what she does because she is *so* open about it all, even things other teens would be sure to hide. (Even her friends are open with us!) In the morning she has quiet, alone, connection time with Jacqueline, when she shares what she's been up to all night, gets advice on problems, and just hangs out before heading to bed.

Our middle at home daughter (13) is a morning person, like her mom; shortly after her sister goes to bed, she gets up and has *her* alone, quiet time with Jacqueline. Then she spends some time chatting with online friends, writing stories, singing and dancing, teaching herself French, and taking many long walks outside, even in the winter! She loves to cook, and spends a lot of time helping in the kitchen and around the house. When her younger sister wakes up they play elaborate role playing games, with many characters each and different voices and personalities for them all!

The youngest (12) sleeps until about noon. She loves to do everything her siblings do and is the most outgoing of entire family. (She is the one who, when we moved here in early November years ago, convinced the her siblings to go caroling with her to all the neighbors' homes!) She stays up late with her night owl sister for a few hours after her morning lark sister goes to sleep, so she can have quality sister time with them both. And all through the day she connects with her mom and brother and me. She draws, paints, makes jewelry, writes stories, spends lots of time bike riding and walking with her sister, and likes to make sure everyone in the house is happy. She wants to be a doctor and for the past year or so has been studying a lot of "body" books for children and teens.

But what about Math, or English, or Science, or [fill-in-the-blank-with-your-subject-of-choice]? Well, about you, in your life? Is it all neatly compartmentalized into different subjects? Not really. Sure you might do math at specific times, like balancing your checkbook, or making a budget, but do you think about sentence structure when you read? When you bake a cake, do you need to remember the chemical formula for the ingredients? When you see a painting, do you need to know the color theory to appreciate it? When you watch the news, do you need to know the history of Eastern Asia to know that war is bad? No, you just do it. And if something piques your interest, you look into it more. Do some research, google some things, read some books...

No, we didn't even give them lessons on that. Reading is a big part of our lives; we read constantly. We always have easy readers in the house (We like pictures books! We're artists!), and we're always there to answer questions (What's this word? How do you spell...?), and don't always send them to the dictionary or make them sound it out; that only leads to frustration. Our son taught himself to read by playing a video game; it had words and he needed to know what it said. So he figured it out. Our morning lark & night owl did the same for different reasons. (I believe it was the Harry Potter books.) The youngest figured it out later in life than the most children, and she got some teasing from the kids in the neighborhood because of it, but now, she reads and spells better, and has a bigger vocabulary than they do. All of our kids do.

But surely they aren't socializing like other kids, you might think. Well, no, frankly they're not. They're not forced to play only with children their age. They don't have the constant pressure to fit in and be like everyone else. They can develop better friendships, with whoever they get along and share common interests with, whether older or younger, male or female. They aren't forced to change their interests because their friends think whatever they *really* like is "stupid" or think they should be into something else. They all seem to get along well with anyone, but they choose for the most part not to hang out with the local kids too much because of the drama the other kids create: smoking, drinking, doing drugs, dating too young, petty arguments, lying, stealing... Our kids don't understand it. They don't like how "illogical" and "stupid" so much of it is.

Unschooling isn't for everyone and it doesn't look the same for all those who do it, but one thing I do feel certain of is the fact that respecting our children and their needs and desires, just as much as we do each other's needs and desires, has led to less *battles* and feelings of guilt and shame (on both sides!), and more love and joy, which sounds really trite, but it's true. It's not easy to go against the flow of mainstream society, and change decades old thought patterns, but it is *so* worth the effort.

1 comment:

I love getting comments! They make blogging so worth it! So feel free to say anything you'd like.... And look! No silly Captcha or anything... ^_^