Monday, February 27, 2012

How We Became Unschoolers

When my husband and I first committed to homeschooling when my oldest was just two-years-old, I thought for sure that by the time she was five we would be following an age-appropriate, established curriculum--at least for certain subject areas--and would have time allocated each day for "teaching & learning." In those early days, when I would talk to the homeschooling moms of older kids at homeschool park days or similar meet-ups, I thought those "unschooly" moms were a little "out there." They were a bit too radical, I thought, just letting their kids do whatever they wanted, not requiring mastery in certain areas at certain times, not establishing expectations for academic performance. Radical.

And now here I am. Radical and out there. And loving every minute. (Ok, almost every minute.)

It wasn't that I woke up one day and decided to become radical. It wasn't that I was trying to make a point or hop on a bandwagon. It was that I actually saw my children learning, of their own accord, following their own developing interests, without my tutelage. I watched as their natural, innate childhood curiosity guided them to discover and explore and widen their imaginations. I watched as my oldest learned how to read, not because I sat with her to review letters and sounds and "sight words," but because she was surrounded by literacy and was ready to read. I watched as she grew increasingly interested in mathematical concepts, not from using a math curriculum or reviewing math problems, but because she was surrounded by numeracy and wanted to know more about how numbers and patterns could be applied. I watched as she became increasingly interested in learning the piano, in practicing and experimenting, not because I told her to practice or because her piano teacher asked her to, but because she was excited about making music. I saw her doing things, learning things, mastering things that I would never have thought to teach her; and that maybe if I had taught her, might not have resulted in so much originality and skill.

I realized, through the fascinating process of watching my children learn, to trust them: to trust a child's natural drive to know and create, to explore and synthesize. I realized that "unschooling" allows this natural learning to occur in many unanticipated and meaningful ways by allowing our children to show us the way, to reveal to us their passions, their gifts, and to constantly astound us with their capabilities when given the time and space to develop them naturally.

I learned that I am not my children's teacher. I am their follower.

Radical.

14 comments:

  1. Kerry, yet again you have written another post that I find myself nodding along to and smiling a great big grin at! Seriously, girl, one day soon we *must* meet up! I could not agree with this post any more than if I had written it myself! :)

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  2. Shel, it's so fun that we share the same ideas regarding homeschooling (unschooling) and mothering! Nice to have some "kindred spirits" nearby! I do hope we can meet soon. Do you belong to the Homeschooling Together yahoo group?

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    1. Hi Kerry, No, I'm not on that one yet. Had not heard of it and will have to go check it out! Thanks for the heads up! :) Once spring is officially here and things are blooming we should plan to meet in Boston one day! We love coming into the city, though we don't do it nearly enough!

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  3. I relate to this post. My oldest is five and we are kind of unschool-ish. Still I keep thinking okay *someday* we're going to have to really buckle down and . . . do what I'm not sure. We don't follow curriculum (sort of a homemade one sometimes, but not really) and guess what? They still learn stuff. Like you, I don't really feel like their "teacher" at all . . . more of a facilitator on an as-needed basis. It's working, so I don't plan on messing with it. Although I think it makes my husband a wee bit nervous. (Mine, like yours, are 5, 3, and 1, so really we are at the beginning of this journey.)

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    1. I think it's great that our kids are the same ages and we are on a similar homeschooling/natural parenting journey! I remember once my husband suggesting that maybe we should do "spelling quizzes" at some point, and then he saw the words she was *actually* spelling, on her own, and realized they wouldn't be necessary!

      Thanks for visiting!
      Kerry

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    2. Agree. Oh! And I got about 3/4 of the way through a master's in education program back in 96-97-ish and QUIT and never finished it. (A cross-country move, a disastrous marriage, and an ex-husband may have played a wee role in that.) One of my biggest regrets is never completing it. I really was quite close . . . like a thesis and a class or two away close. The credits, of course, now are basically useless. But it's always in the back of my mind. Maybe someday.

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  4. I like your thoughts and experiences with homeschooling. We use a Waldorf curriculum, but I really find that most of our experience is very similar to unschooling. I too find that when I take a step back from "teaching", my children thrive and have such a drive to learn on their own. And yes, I agree with you, I am amazed at what they think up all on their own. So creative and imaginative. I am a new follower to your blog visiting from the blog hop. Would love a visit from you if you get a chance.
    http://naturallymom.blogspot.com/

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    1. Pricilla, thanks for visiting the blog and linking to yours. It is lovely and I look forward to reading more on your site!!

      We too try to incorporate a lot of Waldorf principles into our days. I love their focus on home-like settings, modeling behaviors, natural toys and materials, lots of outside time, fantasy stories for little ones, etc.

      Thanks for visiting!
      Kerry

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  5. Question about unschooling: if your child never shows an interest in a particular subject, will you completely bypass it, then? I can see how they would show a natural interest in most things, but do you (or anyone else reading this, for that matter) have an example of something they're not interested in and therefore won't learn, but should?

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    1. Anon, this is a really great question. I think we'll just have to see. I'm not wedded to unschooling on principle, only because I see that it works well for us right now. If learning needs change, we'll change with them. Right now, following our children's lead captures more "subject-matter" than I ever thought possible. My assumption is that this will continue in later years as well. For example, if one of my children wants to attend a top college, he/she may see the need to take formal, accelerated classes (which he/she may not be inherently interested in) at a community college and will pursue that route. Another child might want to learn a trade and find apprenticeships and classes that would help in that area. For now, I'm trusting that they will reveal their learning interests and needs and we will follow accordingly.

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

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  6. What a cogent argument for unschooling, Kerry. My daughter is just 2, and I'm just exploring methods of homeschooling. I had been skeptical of unschooling until just now when I read your entry.

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    1. Thanks again for visiting, Pigmentia! Glad to hear you are still on the homeschooling path. It is a great journey!

      Kerry

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  7. Really, they just start reading without teaching them letters, sounds of letters, etc? I'm curious as to how that works?

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    1. Yes it is remarkable. Many unschoolers will agree that if you surround children with literacy-- if they are read to frequently and see caregivers who value and model reading-- they will learn to read when they are good and ready, barring any reading disabilities of course.

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