Diving into Unschooling

diving into unschooling

I wrote my first post about unschooling and how we were thinking about ways to homeschool a little less than three weeks ago, and pretty much right after I wrote that, it became clear we would be jumping in head first, sooner than later. As the testing began and the pressure rose for our first grader, her days became more miserable and her nights filled with stress and anxiety. We found ourselves thinking (again), surely there must be a better way. So we took the plunge and pulled her out of school.

To her school's credit, they reached out through her teacher to offer to "work with us" to keep her there. But how could we explain that it was the fundamental nature of the school—and the system—that was pushing us to try something else? In the last two weeks since we've begun our unschooling adventure, here's what's happened…

As I read in this article, much of what we've been grappling with the last couple of weeks is unlearning. My wife and I have our own school experience to let go of and unlearn, and our child has to come to terms with the fact that we're not her new teachers—at least not in the "traditional" sense. She's learning that adults don't have to provide the lessons or guidelines or answers. She now gets to play an equal, if not greater, part in what she learns, how it's structured, and what the guidelines are…and all of this has been difficult.

For my wife and I, it's been a roller coaster of fear, frustration, and uncertainty. Fear that we're not doing enough or that this whole thing will fail and we'll let our kid down by not providing enough of an education for her to make it in the world. Frustration with not having the answers or knowing how to communicate with each other about what direction(s) to take. And uncertainty about nearly everything. So from what I can gather, we're right on track.

For our first grader, the last couple of weeks have been a major adjustment. Mostly she's been happier and more relaxed. We try not to bring it up without her lead, but on the occasion I've asked if she misses school or her friends there, she replies, "No, not really." in a very nonchalant way. She has been a little more emotional than usual, but with such a big change, we expected that. The trick for us is being patient—with her and with ourselves.

So what has learning looked like so far? There's been a lot of playing. With her younger sister or on her own. Sometimes it's outside making mud pies or building forts, sometimes it's just around the house or playing games on the iPod. She goes to preschool with her younger sister on Monday and Friday mornings, something I struggled with at first. Is it a regression? Is it "below" her? What will other people think? But in the spirit of following her lead, we let her go. She never went to preschool regularly before going on to kindergarten, so maybe it's an important missing link for her. The school is mostly an open format where the kids play and create, so it seems like a good thing so far. Plus, we're lucky that we don't have to pay extra for her, probably because she helps entertain the younger kids. There's been some reading on her own, but it's hard to say how much. Most of the reading still happens before bed time, and she hasn't shown much interest in writing (which may be partly attributed to her healing broken arm).

My wife has been taking the lead with most of this, so this is just what I've picked up while working from home and checking in with them. We also had our first "curriculum" meeting yesterday. My wife and I sat down, just the two of us, and brain-stormed ideas for sparking learning. Again, we don't want to provide too much structure or come across as being the "leaders," but we also want to provide enough so that our child feels supported. Here's a list of ideas we came up with, many of them directly from our child:

  • Music (Tuesday/Thursday) [this is my area of expertise, so we’re scheduling this in order to work into my lunch break]
  • Building obstacle courses
  • Building/painting/art
  • Trips: Oso de Oro park, Woodward Park, Millerton Lake, Shaver Lake
  • Reading time
  • Writing station/opps. to write/illustrate
  • Journal to write observations/things of interest/whatever
  • Writing silly sentences and drawing a pic to match
  • Activity Wheel that has stuff to do on it that she spins, like a game
  • Making puppets, storytelling
  • Running list of topics/projects that are out and open to see for everyone
  • Magazine/collage
  • Learn Japanese
  • House tasks [she actually really enjoys doing dishes and laundry]
  • TV/video game opps., what are the limits?
  • Cooking projects

We're always picking up new ideas—from our first grader and everywhere else—but this list came out of a short (30m) meeting where my wife and I had dedicated time to talk about what was happening, how things were going, and what each of us can be responsible for. For instance, she'll be looking into the affidavit we have to file to become a private school, and I'll be researching funding that we may be able to get to help pay for supplies or field trips. We're also looking into ways to learn Japanese (something the whole family wants to do). We both thought it was a great meeting, especially as a means to sync up, so I think we'll be making it a weekly thing. We may also see if our first grader wants a similar meeting.

So that's where we're at. Although it feels like we've been at this for a while now, it's still very, very new to all of us. This last week especially, we've been reminding ourselves that it's a major change, that we don't have to have all the answers, and that we have to be patient. More to come…