Unschooling

Unschooling.  It’s a buzz word.  We’ve heard about it on USA Today.  We’ve heard it associated with whole foods, the hippie movement, and anarchy – but for those of us who have chosen unschooling as a way to parent our children, we see the concept as a way of life. 

As we move our brood toward unschooling or immerse ourselves in the teachings of John Holt and Sandra Dodd, many of us find that there are more obstacles to overcome than we first thought.  It’s not as easy as it looked on the pages of that RV family’s blog.

Obstacle 1:  You, yourself, and you.

This is the toughest nut to crack for most of us.  As a former public school student and former public school teacher, thinking outside of the schooling box has been nigh unto impossible.  What about my child’s “reading level”?  How will he or she “score” on the SAT and other competitive exams?  How will I “teach” math? 

The first way around this foreboding obstacle is to start over.  De-school.  Begin the process now. Stop thinking about teachers and reading levels and standardized tests and start thinking about your child as a natural learner.  Start thinking about all of the skills necessary for life as things that are tangible – think back on your toddler as he or she learned to walk.  Your baby as she learned to crawl.  Your son as he counted on his fingers and learned which color matched which word.  School was not necessary.  Questions, curiosity – these are the tools of learning.  It is our job to present our children with a fascinating world in which to live.  The learning is up to them.

Obstacle 2:  Your “classroom”.

While the world is truly the classroom of the unschooling family, the home of the unschooling family has got to be an exciting part of that world.  We see unschool families portrayed as junk food eating, TV junkies who sit around all day starting at the boob tube and playing video games while munching on hot wings and potato chips and going to bed at 2AM.  There is unschooling, and there is neglect. 

Neglect is allowing your child to do whatever they want in an environment that looks just like that of a child who goes to school.  Unschooling is providing a rich educational environment in your own home.

This might mean you can’t have those red leather couches or that breakable antique vase.  It means that you might need to save up for aquariums, terrariums, bookshelves, and puzzles.  A microscope might replace that antique vase.  You’ll need to invest in park passes and interesting magazines and maybe a personal computer for each kid.  You’ll need to strew math puzzles and video games and documentaries and tickets to the museum opening.  Instead of checking out, the unschooling mom and dad have to check IN.  Use your local library and make friends with some lab technicians.  Get your child’s brain ticking by making your home an exciting place to be and each day an exciting adventure.  Life does not have to be boring.  Learning does not have to be fact-dumping and multiple choice tests and hand-raising for potty breaks – but YOU, the parent, have to be willing to invest the time to make the change.

3.  The others.

You know who I mean.  Your mother-in-law.  Your mother!  Your other mom friends.  The homeschool playgroup.  The waitress at the restaurant asking “shouldn’t you be in school?” to your eight year old as she peruses the menu.  The dad who asks why your kid can’t read yet when he hands out baseball uniform shirts.  They create a huge obstacle to a conducive unschooling environment.

Know your rights.  Know what the law says about radical homeschooling options.  Be ready to tell anyone who asks just what your legal rights are in choosing your child’s education.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Have positive responses to all those negative comments.  Keep records of your child’s achievements in a huge binder to show off.  Take note of the things your child can do vs. the things the traditionally schooled child can do and be ready and armed with those things when questioned.

Find other unschoolers.  Maybe none live near you.  Join a blog community.  Attend an unschooling conference.  Join an unschooling forum.  Make your voice heard and ban together with like-minded parents.

Be pro-active.  Live your own passions.  Hug your kid.  The obstacles may be mighty, but truth in experience is a powerful antidote.