I love Freedom to Read week, for a whole bunch of reasons. Here are some of them:
1. I love books. All kinds of books. I love reading them, and I always have. I read widely as a kid and teen, and I read lots of books that wouldn’t necessarily have been considered– I hate this expression– age-appropriate. I also read lots of books that I only half-understood. This was fine– it gave me plenty to think about.
2. I do not like being told what to do. Or not do. Or not read. Actually, just thinking about someone trying to limit people’s access to a book makes me mad. Grrr.
3. I’m queer and I’m an author. I get email from queer teens. I know how important it is for them to see themselves– their identities, their lives– reflected in the books they read. I also know that these are among the books that tend to get challenged or banned.
4. I’m a mother. I don’t censor my kid’s reading and I don’t want anyone else to impose their ideas abut what he should or shouldn’t be reading. In fact, one of the experiences that pushed us in the direction of home learning was his strong desire to choose his own reading materials– and my strong reaction to his reading choices being interfered with. Yes, I do realize that taking your kid out of school could be seen as an over-reaction to a teacher’s insistence on boring leveled readers instead of science magazines.
I could go on… and on… but I have a new stack of library books calling me. So- happy Freedom to Read week! If you feel like reading a challenged book to celebrate, here’s a list to help you find one!
Not all homeschooling families start out with the intention to homeschool. Some do, of course—I’ve met lots of parents who knew they would homeschool long before they had school age kids, who came to homeschooling as an extension of their parenting philosophy– but others, like us, had blithely assumed that their kids would happily head off for school at five and spend most their days there until they were, oh, eighteen or so.
I love homelearning, I love unschooling, I’m glad we’re living our lives this way… but this was definitely not Plan A. We started homeschooling because, for us, school just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right place for our kid.
We’re not alone in that. Over the last couple of years, I’ve met dozens of parents of young kids who have started to homeschool because their kids, for various reasons, were struggling in the classroom. Maybe they were frustrated or unhappy or bored; or maybe they were being bullied; or maybe they were spending more time in the principal’s office than in class… but they were all, in one way or another, not fitting in.
The other thing that many of these families had in common were that their parents were regularly at the school, meeting with teachers, trying to understand and mediate and advocate and somehow make things better for their children. And although none of these kids had been diagnosed, various labels were starting to float around the edges of those conversations with teachers and principals: Attention Deficit Disorder. Hyperactivity. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Autism Spectrum. Dyslexia. Anxiety. School Refusal. Selective Mutism. And on, and on, and on.
I’m not denying the very real challenges that some kids face– or the fact that a diagnosis can be useful in helping in getting appropriate interventions and support for a child. I’m not suggesting that it is as simple as square pegs and round holes. But, but, but…
It seems to me that the range of what is considered “normal” in the classroom is becoming far, far too narrow. Too many of our kids— too many of the eccentric collectors and the quirky tinkerers, the endlessly energetic kinetic learners, the fiercely strong-willed debaters, the artists and the day-dreamers, the deep-thinkers, the outside-the-box kids—are being told that something is wrong with them. That they need help.
But when we’re talking about five and six and seven year old kids… and the problems are only occurring in the classroom… when the summer holidays are happy and unstressed… when the child is in tears on Sunday night and refusing to get out of bed on Monday morning… and when the number of these kids seems to be steadily increasing to the point of absurdity… surely we should ask what exactly it is that needs to change.
About one in eight boys is diagnosed with ADHD– making it more common than left-handedness or red hair. If teachers’ ratings of their students were used this number would double to closer to one in four. And then we have doctors are prescribing stimulants for kids who don’t even have a ADHD diagnosis, because it improves their school performance. Think about that for a minute… At some point, don’t we have to admit that just maybe it is the school environment, not the kid, that needs to change?
We don’t force kids to sit up at six months or walk at one year just because many are ready to do so—and yet schools are set up with the expectation that all kids can and should learn on same schedule. We may know that some kids are ready to read at two or three, and others at nine or ten or twelve, but we don’t allow for this diversity. What is the effect of being forced to focus on reading or writing before you are developmentally ready? Of spending years learning that you are not good at certain skills? Of being made to sit still at a desk when you need to move? Of having to wait to learn about things that interest you because they don’t appear on the curriculum until middle school?
Is it really surprising that so many kids struggle?
I’ve been fascinated by the stories of parents who’ve left the school system after these kids of struggles. Most of the highly anxious kids I know who have left school to learn at home have had dramatically decreased anxiety. I feel like I’ve finally got my kid back, one parent told me recently.
Many kids who were diagnosed with or being assessed for ADD/ADHD have found that once out of school, medication was no longer needed. They may still have the same traits, but they aren’t such a problem outside the classroom. Peter Grey published some interesting research on this group of kids.
Outside of school, the quirky kids are still quirky but they often find their place in the wider world with far less difficulty than in the classroom. Outside of school, there is room for a little more eccentricity. Kids can find their people (hint: they don’t actually have to be born in the same year as them!) and they can work in their own way, at their own pace. Outside of school, there is time for daydreaming and for running and for spending countless hours learning about elephants or taking apart engines or discussing ethics.
People sometimes ask me (okay, they often ask me) how kids are going to be ready for the Real World if they don’t go to school. But think about the world we live in and work in; that world that doesn’t look anything like a classroom. Are our unschooled kids ready for it?
Of course they are. They’re already living in it.
I’ve heard this question a few times over the last month or so. Actually, it seems to be right up there with “What about socialization?”on the list of things people say when you tell them your child doesn’t go to school. Tiresome, maybe, but it’s actually kind of an interesting question to unpack.
First of all, “keeping up” isn’t really a concept that makes any kind of sense within a framework of unschooling, but I assume that the questioner probably means something along the lines of “How do you know if your child is learning the same things as schooled children born in the same year as your child?”
Short answer (for strangers in grocery stores, my dentist, and people whom for various reasons I really would prefer not offend): Oh, he’s learning all the time.
Longer answer ( for people who are actually interested): I don’t know that at all. In fact, with the wonderful richness and variety of things there are to do and learn– and the freedom to make his own choices and explore his passions– I very much doubt that my son is learning the same things as his schooled eight year old peers. Why would he be?
Cue the next question: “But don’t you worry that he’ll fall behind?”
Short answer: Not really, no.
Longer answer: I don’t expect his learning to follow the same patterns or trajectories as that of schooled kids—or for that matter, other unschoolers. He won’t learn things in the same order or at the same pace. He’ll probably continue to delve deep into his interests, spending days and weeks and months exploring them, rather than dividing the day into short blocks of time and jumping from task to task and topic to topic.
At a given moment in time—say, age ten– an unschooler might well look “behind” a schooled kid on a standardized test. Or they might not. Either way, I’m happy that we can opt out of these comparisons and the constant assessment of learning. What meaning would it have to know that a particular unschooled kid is “behind” most school kids in, say, reading? Math? Writing? Who would that benefit?
Learning should be about curiosity and enthusiasm. It should be fun. It shouldn’t be a race. One of the great things about unschooling is the freedom to learn on one’s own schedule. What message does it send to kids if we are constantly monitoring and scrutinizing and evaluating their learning? I love that my son is free to learn in his own way, at his own pace; that he chooses what he wants to focus on; that he owns his learning and takes pride in it.
To which the questioner usually says something like, “But what if he doesn’t choose to learn, say, math?”
And it is usually math that people worry about, it seems. No one ever says, what if he doesn’t choose to learn Mandarin, or what if he never studies Mayan cultures, or what if he doesn’t learn to paint landscapes… because people generally recognize that while those things might be wonderful they aren’t necessary in day-to-day life in the way at least basic numeracy is.
Which in itself kind of answers the question, doesn’t it? No one wants to be incompetent. No one wants to be ignorant. If basic math is necessary in day to day life, it will probably be learned in day to day life. The need for it will arise naturally. Case in point: My son has never followed a formal math curriculum but he had no trouble converting between dollars and baht on our recent travels in Thailand.
But what about more advanced math?
Yup, what about it? How much do you use trig or calculus? I’m guessing, for most of us, not at all. I’m guessing most of us, if we suddenly needed it, would have to relearn it anyway. I’m pretty confident that if my son— who is, despite relative strangers’ apparent concerns about his higher math, only eight— decides to pursue an interest which leads him to encounter a need for trigonometry, he’ll learn it without too much trouble. Motivation is a wonderful thing. So is KhanAcademy.
And it probably helps if you’ve never learned that math is boring, or hard, or pointless, or that you aren’t good at it. It helps if you get a kick out of the Fibonacci sequence, watch Vi Hart videos and make hexaflexagons, and have adult friends who announce, with delight, 3:14 pm as “pi o’clock”.
Bottom line? Keeping up is highly over-rated.
I love Halloween– and this Halloween is special, because we’ll be celebrating two years of learning at home.
Becoming a home learning family was unplanned and unexpected; a decision we made only after sending our son off to first grade and then realizing that it just was not a good fit for him– or for us as parents. Taking him out of school felt like a huge decision, and I had my usual response to feeling overwhelmed: I read stuff.
Actually, I read a lot of stuff. I read about child development and learning and the education system. I read about homeschooling, and the dozens of ways people go about it—unit studies and classical education and Thomas Jefferson and Charlotte Mason and Waldorf and Montessori and school at home and unschooling, and so on– not quite ad infinitum but just about…
I am somewhat allergic to dogma, and tend to resist classifying what we do too narrowly: Basically, we do what works for us. Having said that, what works for us so far definitely seems to be unschooling.
It’s been a learning process for me, or perhaps an unlearning process. My son, on the other hand, took to unschooling like a fish to water. He has always had many passions and he loves to explore and experiment and learn new things… so he was thrilled to have so much more time free to pursue his interests. And– despite my occasional am-I-doing-the-right-thing moments– I love it too. I love having more time to be with him– to dive into projects, stories and games together, to play at the beach or walk around the neighborhood, to spend lazy days drinking bubble tea and sketching in Chinatown, or snuggle on the couch with books and comics. I love seeing him learn and grow in his own way and on his own time.
As we celebrate our two years of freedom from school, I thought it would be fun to pull together some of the many ideas about kids and learning that I have found helpful and share a few quotes from folks whose ideas I appreciate.
So here, in no particular order, are a few of them:
- I could probably just list ten quotes all from John Holt… but this is one of my favorites: “Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world then anyone else could make for them.” ~John Holt
- These words from Pam Sorooshian were very helpful to me when I was just starting out and trying to extricate myself from the school mindset: “Don’t worry about how fast or slow they are learning. Don’t test them to see if they are “up to speed.” If you nurture them in a supportive environment, your children will grow and learn at their own speed, and you can trust in that process. They are like seeds planted in good earth, watered and fertilized. You don’t keep digging up the seeds to see if the roots are growing—that disrupts the natural growing process. Trust your children in the same way you trust seeds to sprout and seedlings to develop into strong and healthy plants.” -Pam Sorooshian
- Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is not at all about home learning or even about children, but I love it for its clarity about how education is always political. Education can encourage or inhibit the learner’s desire to question and challenge, and in this way influence their understanding of– and relationship to– the world they live in. The book is worth reading for anyone with an interest in politics, education and social justice. It makes me think about the hidden curriculum of schooling– compliance, acceptance of authority, subordinating your own needs to the dictates of the system—and about how parenting, also, is political.
- “Give your love generously and criticism sparingly. Be your children’s partner. Support them and respect them. Never belittle them or their interests, no matter how superficial, unimportant, or even misguided their interests may seem to you. Be a guide, not a dictator. Shine a light ahead for them, and lend them a hand, but don’t drag or push them. You will sometimes despair when your vision of what your child ought to be bangs up against the reality that they are their own person. But that same reality can also give you great joy if you learn not to cling to your own preconceived notions and expectations.”—Pam Sorooshian (again, because this one is so awesome.)
- Unschooling isn’t that easy to define but Pat Farenga just says it so concisely. “I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.” –Pat Farenga
See how in this last quote Pat Farenga says “you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise”. The together should be in bold. Unschooling isn’t hands off or lazy, and it’s not unparenting—on the contrary, it means being highly engaged with your kids and involved with their interests and their learning.
It means having an ant farm in the kitchen, learning to solder, and making Minecraft cakes:
Actually, there are all kinds of misconceptions about unschooling– and no one does a better job of addressing them than grown-up unschooler, Idzie. Her blog, I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write, is fabulous. It’s also addictive. Check it out.
It’s September, which means it’s time to not-go-back-to-school.
It sounds like a non-event, and in many ways, it is. September looks pretty much the same as August in our house.
On the other hand, it’s hard to tune out the back to school sales, the fall program guides, the general flurries of haircuts and shopping and school supplies that seem to surround us during the last week of August.
Everyone from grocery store clerks to neighbors asks my son What grade are you going into? Are you looking forward to school starting? Enjoying your last days of freedom? Friends post pictures on Facebook of their kids heading off for their first day of school.
I feel overwhelmingly relieved not to be taking part in it all. We just get to go on having summer for as long as the warm weather lasts. I’m still going to be able to spend the days with my son, who is interesting and funny and great company.
I also feel slightly gleeful– like I’m getting away with something.
But then, the first week of school begins and all of a sudden, the world looks a little different. The kids have all disappeared. We go to Chinatown, or to the grocery store, or the thrift store, and my son is the only kid there. When we spot another child in the theatre at an IMAXmovie, we wonder if he is a homeschooler or a tourist. We enjoy the relative quiet at the park and museum, but I notice that we have become visible in a new way. We attract attention. Strangers and store clerks ask my son if he has the day off school.
It’s like we’re out after curfew.
It’s weird, the way all the children seem to disappear from the world in September, but after a couple of weeks, I get used to it and start to settle into enjoying fall. Life is less busy. The days start to get cooler and shorter, and we spend more time at home. We appreciate the luxury of unscheduled days, of free time, of long lazy mornings sitting on the couch reading together, of not having a plan. If my son wants to spend whole days taking electronics apart and playing Minecraft and reading Foxtrot comics, he can. Or we take our sketchbooks to the park, go downtown for dim sum and bubble tea, try out a new craft, ride our bikes around the neighborhood, go sailing, watch videos online, meet friends at the beach.
And I’m no longer thinking about not-going-back-to-school. We’re just living our life, and it’s good.
Here I am, age six, in our house in England. Engrossed in a book, as usual.
And here I am, two years and a move to Canada later, still reading and– although I didn’t know it– I am learning how to write.
Now, as a mom to an eight year old, I’m watching my son explore the world of books and words and stories. He doesn’t go to school– in fact, reading was one of the things that made us decide to pull him out of school at six. He started kindergarten already able to read, and going over the letter sounds repeatedly bored him. Having to read the same books over and over also bored him. And not being able to choose what to read made him furious. Being a rather resourceful little guy, he brought his own science books magazines from home to read during the dreaded daily “book bag time” but he was told that wasn’t allowed. He had to put those away now to read the levelled readers that were in the ziplock bag with his name on it.
He wouldn’t do it.
And in hindsight, I’m glad he had the independence and strength to object.
He still loves books, both fiction and non-fiction: fantasy novels, science books, graphic novels, and– especially– Calvin and Hobbes comics. I’m not convinced that he would love books if he was still in school.
Until recently, he hasn’t been interested in writing. In fact, it’s something he’s generally avoided. If he were in school, he would no doubt be seen as “behind” in writing. One of the lovely things about unschooling is that regardless of your interests or abilities, you are never ahead or behind– you are exactly where you need to be.
Over the last few months, I’ve been watching his interest in writing gradually emerge.
We’ve had great conversations about books. He’d comment on characters (“It’s hard to believe Harry, Ron and Hermione aren’t real people. It’s so strange that they’re just text!”), motivation (“What do you think about Snape? Dumbledore trusts him but he seems bad. I guess sometimes a character can start out bad but maybe underneath they really want to be good…”), structure (“It’s kind of an ABC pattern, isn’t it? Have an adventure, get into danger, escape…”), and interpretation (“Do you think Hobbes is real? Or is it just Calvin’s imagination that he’s alive? I’m pretty sure he’s real.”)
Then he started to see stories everywhere. We’d come across a science story (genetically modified babies, for instance) and he’s say, “Hey, that’d make a great book. Imagine if a future government decided…” and he’d be off, spinning out ideas. He started wanting me to write these ideas down for him. Then he wanted me to write the stories with him. He’d dictate; I’d type.
Handwriting is slow and uncomfortable for him, as for many kids his age, so the computer opens up worlds of possibility. Thanks to his passion for Minecraft, his typing is getting faster and his spelling is improving (spawn, nether, kick, zombie and teleport may not be on your standard BC curriculum grade two spelling list, but given his interest in sci-fi and fantasy, Minecraft vocabulary is probably more useful to him anyway).
It’s fascinating to watch the natural learning of a child driven by his own curiousity and enthusiasm. And it has made me reflect on my own relationship with reading, writing and school. Although I had at least two great teachers (Mrs. Virgin and Mr. Lister, if you are out there somewhere, thanks for two good years!) I don’t think I learned much in school that really helped me as a writer. I learned to write by reading voraciously, and I became an author because I loved books and stories so much so much that I wanted to create a few of my own.
School has a way of turning reading and writing into work when they should be play. As my son commented at the end of kindergarten, “Work is when you do something because someone makes you. Play is when you do something because you want to.”
Which is something I need to keep in mind for myself, as writing has turned from my part-time hobby into my full time job.
So– off to play with my latest manuscript!
We spent the last days of May in Vancouver, Washington at the Life Is Good Unschooling conference. It was fabulous—and hard to describe.
Picture the Hilton filled with hundreds of families. Picture the lobby and hallways and conference rooms buzzing with the energy of hundreds of kids and teens running, dancing, playing, spinning hula-hoops, toting nerf guns, selling amazing handmade jewellery and cards and crafts, holding hands, making new friends, playing games—kind of like summer camp, maybe, only in a hotel and without the rules and the structured activities.
At home, I often feel as though I need to explain to people why our son doesn’t go to school, why we don’t follow a curriculum, why we don’t work on spelling or give him written assignments to do. For the families at the conference, all that was the norm. It was a given. (As an aside, I thought it would be cool for my son to meet people who don’t begin every conversation with a child by asking what grade he is in… but he was too busy playing Minecraft to notice.)
One of the things I loved about the experience was that I felt pushed in a different direction than usual. Pushed to have fewer rules, not more. Pushed to be more child-centred, more flexible, more accepting of exploration and play–and the mess and chaos that accompanies both of those things. Pushed to say “yes” more often.
Also, what’s not to love about a conference focussed on enjoying life? I’ve been to various (social work) conferences and while many have been somewhat interesting, having fun is rarely an explicit goal.
Let’s face– most conferences would be vastly improved by adding a Zombie Apocalypse Nerf War.
Today was gorgeous– one of those sunny blue sky May days when you feel like summer has just arrived. My son and a friend set up a lemonade stand and sold drinks and cookies. After chatting with a handful of neighbours from toddlers to seniors, as well as a few cyclists who stopped for a quick snack, they began painting and selling rocks as well. Pleased with this expansion, they brainstormed other products they could sell (bath bombs? metal sculptures? spice mixtures?), discussed what to name their joint company and how how they would promote it (a website figured prominently in their plans). They divied up the proceeds from their first day and parted ways, happy and a few dollars richer.
And I was so glad that they weren’t stuck indoors in a classroom on this sunny Friday.
When I decided to take my son out of school, a few weeks into first grade, almost everyone felt compelled to caution me about the importance of… you guessed it, SOCIALIZATION.
I was familiar with the term, because I’ve had dogs. When you get a puppy, you socialize it. You take it to playgrounds and let it get used to fast-moving toddlers and old people with walkers and skateboards and other dogs. You want it to be well-socialized so that it doesn’t grow up and bite anyone who looks strange by whatever standards dogs use.
I hadn’t ever thought of socialization in relation to my child. After all, he’d lived with people his whole life. Nonetheless, it seemed that this socialization business must be a very important function of school, because everyone was far more concerned about it than about my son’s happiness or his well-being or even his academic learning.
But my son was six, in a class of six year olds. I had a hard time believing that other six year olds were the best people to help him develop his social skills. From what I have seen, most six year olds—while very lovely in all kinds of ways– are still a little shaky in the social skills department, prone to occasional tantrums and frequent lapses of tact.
It seemed to me that spending huge amounts of time segregated with other six year olds wasn’t natural or necessary or even likely to be particularly helpful in the development of social abilities.
Of course, there are adults and older students in the schools too, and kids learn from them as well as their peers. We all learn from what we see and experience. But what kind of social behaviour is modeled in schools?
Teachers talk to the kids about bullying and tell them to get along and be friends and learn to compromise… and and meanwhile, the teachers and the government engage in interminable conflict and hostility, and a bitter struggle for control.
The hierarchy of schools is rigid and authoritarian and top-down. From government to school board to administration to teachers to educational assistants to the students, power relations are visible in the very structure and fabric of the school system.
How is this supposed to help kids to learn collaboration and cooperation and the skills to build supportive communities?
Kids in schools copy what they see. They create their own hierarchies, leading to cliques that verge on caste systems, intense pressure to conform, and often brutal bullying. They learn that they are powerless.
Peer influence takes the place of healthy attachments and kids start to see adults as adversaries. They learn to manipulate and game the system. Relationships are currency and individuality takes second place to conformity. Square pegs do their best to force themselves to fit into round holes because they have to to survive.
I love that my son is missing out on all of that. And I look at days like today, which my son spent in the neighbourhood, talking to all kind of people, playing and learning and planning with a friend– and I just don’t understand why people think school is the only place that kids to learn to work with other people. I don’t understand why school is seen as so essential for our kids well-being. There are all kinds of routes to becoming a competent and healthy adult and school does not need to be a part of the journey.
Next time someone says to me, “You homeschool? What about socialization?”, I’m just going to say, “Yes, exactly. That’s one of the reasons we don’t send him to school.”
Most parents don’t question whether we should send our kids to school. Some of us might criticize the school system, worry about class size and whether our kid will get a good teacher this year, or even object to the amount of homework. Lots of us agonize about which school would be the best fit. But once kids turn five or so, the vast majority of us send them off to school to spend a good portion of their waking hours, for at least twelve years, in age grouped batches of twenty to thirty children.
And I don’t think that’s all its cracked up to be.
Before the rant, I have a disclaimer: I do understand that some kids love school, and I know that some kids are happier at school than they would be at home, and I realize that some parents need to work full-time or just genuinely love their jobs, and that for any number of reasons, home learning is never going to be for everyone. I support public education. I think that every child and family should have access to well-funded public schools with passionate and supportive teachers, fabulous libraries and science labs and playgrounds and outdoor spaces, flexible and individualized education for all kids regardless of needs and abilities. I really do.
I’d love to see more democratic schools and more free schools; less emphasis on assessment and grading; and more opportunities for self-directed learning. I’d love to see more multi-age groupings and more mentoring by adults and older students. I’d love to see schools working towards becoming true communities where people come together of their own free will to share and to learn.
If that ideal existed, maybe my kid would be going to school.
But that ideal doesn’t exist right now, at least not where I live. As the school system stands, in my opinion, it is not merely useless, it is toxic. It can damage our children’s sense of self and dampen their desire to learn.
To be clear– this post is not teacher bashing. I have friends who are teachers and without exception, they are caring, kind, thoughtful people who enjoy spending time with children and want to make the school a great place for the kids. In the one year that my son attended school, for kindergarten, he had a lovely teacher—experienced, gentle and kind. So my concerns are not about teachers not doing their job well. For the most part, I think teachers are hard working and well intentioned people who are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.
And despite this, school is often not good for our kids.
As I start writing about this, I am realizing that I am not going to be brief. So this is going to have to be a series of posts: one for each reason I don’t send my kid to school.
Reason #1: School kills kids’ interest in learning.
And that takes some doing. Because kids are learning machines. Like, from birth on. I remember when my son was a few weeks old, how he’d lift his head, strain to hold it up, let it drop against my chest. Over and over and over again, until I had bruises from his head butts and he was screaming in frustration. And then, at six months or so, how I’d find him wide awake in his crib in the middle of the night, rocking back and forth and grunting with the effort of trying to figure out how to crawl.
And when they are little, we trust them to learn on their own. Walking, talking… there is no separation between learning and life. They learn to walk, talk and reason without being taught- they learn through serious play and relentless curiosity and non-stop experimentation.
And then we send them to school, and they learn that none of this was really learning. Learning is something that happens in a classroom. It is something that you are taught- it is passive and it is prescribed and it has right answers. It happens on someone else’s schedule.
When my son was in kindergarten, I asked him what he thought the difference was between work and play. “Work is when you do something because someone says you have to,” he said. “And play is when you do something because you want to.”
In school, learning ceases to be intrinsically motivated, driven by curiosity. It becomes work. As if this wasn’t enough, school also introduces two new killers of intrinsic motivation: grading and rewards. Alfie Kohn has written some great stuff about this.
So I don’t send my son to school. And one of the first things that people often say when I tell them this is probably familiar to just about every home learner out there: “But what about socialization?”
Ah yes, socialization. That’ll be my next post.
We started unschooling almost two years ago now, after my son attended a few weeks of first grade in a local public school. Unschooling– which my son describes to people as “not following a curriculum and just doing whatever we feel like–” been pretty awesome. Awesome for him, which I expected, but also for the whole family, often in ways I didn’t expect.
So here’s a random list of perks of being an unschooling parent:
1. Living with a happy confident child who loves life, loves learning, and makes no distinction between work and play.
2. Not having to pack 1330 school lunches over the next seven years. Also not having to pack a similar number of peanut free snacks. (If you think this is shallow and petty, okay, fine. Maybe it is. Or maybe you don’t have kids. Regardless, I was more or less ecstatic when I realized I didn’t have pack any more lunches. Ever. Again.)
3.Visiting parks, museums, art galleries and science centres during the school day when they are empty and quiet.A also people look at you and your child and say, “oh, you have the day off school! How nice!” Which makes me feel sort feel gleeful, like I am getting away with something.
4. Travelling outside of peak travel times. Everything is cheaper. And quieter.
5. Not having your life thrown into chaos by spring break. Of course, some might argue that our life sometimes seems to be pretty chaotic every day.
6. Finding out about totally cool things that it would never have occurred to you to be interested in. (I’d never even heard of plasma cutters until this year. Or magnetrons. Or gluons.)
7. Staying in your pyjamas all day if you want to.
8. Going to unschooling gatherings and meeting interesting, unconventional people who are passionate about learning.
9. Getting to learn and play and explore alongside your child… and having six extra hours to spend with your child every day. (Okay, I admit that this does not necessarily feel like a perk every single day. There was one morning last week, for instance… But those moments aside, I am so very grateful not to be missing out on all those hours. )
10. And finally—and this is huge– rediscovering your own curiosity and love of learning. Turns out I am just as excited about exploring and discovering the world as my son is… And this unschooling journey has made me conscious of that in ways that I will always be grateful for.
How about you? If any unschooling parents are reading this, I’d love to hear what would make it on to your list…
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