Living Life & Learning!

Friday, April 17, 2015


When we first chose to pull our twin sons out of 1st grade in public school, I often articulated five key reasons why this decision was the right one for our family.  We (my husband, my sons and I) each had our own reasons for wanting to forego the structure of school and rediscover our love of learning. These were...

1) One son, an introvert, struggled with the rapid fire interactions from teachers and was disinterested in many of the mundane and repetitive tasks asked of him.  He is the kind of kid who seems to be learning nothing until one day he masters the task at hand.  School wants all kids to be willing to go along (aka: obey) and to show consistent "up and to the right" progress every day.  It was obvious that we'd be in constant conflict with the teachers and the system every year of this kids' school experience.
2) One son, eager to have a strong and unique friendship, fell in with a kid who was for all intents and purposes a bully.  This kid assessed the commitment of each friend in his posse daily and often communicated the acceptability of their commitment to him on his own or through minions.  Add to it that wrong answers he gave in class were laughed at by the other older kids in class (with no intervention by the teacher) and his once exuberant, empathetic personality seemed dulled by the 6 hours of strife a day.  I got to experience his weekly, after school tantrums, general unhappiness and the deterioration of his relationship with his twin brother, with whom he was always very close and rarely fought.
3) I found out very quickly that the school schedule and special activities trumped everything else on our once very manageable daily routine.  There was always some reason for me, a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), to be asked to volunteer my limited free time as well as our cash reserves at the school as room parent or library volunteer or art room helper.  For someone who had limited extracurriculars with my family to let my kids enjoy tons of free play and self-directed activities, this was a huge adjustment for me.
4) My husband and I were also expected to become de facto "Agents of the School."  This meant that I needed to take the side of the school when my children fought against doing homework or projects that they knew were busywork and uninteresting.  I was expected to strongly encourage (aka: force) my children to complete this busywork every week, which adversely affected my ability to act as a safe haven for my children to come home to every day.  This broke the relationship of trust that I had fostered with my kids since birth and it felt horrible to have to sacrifice my relationship with my children to get them to complete tasks that were not useful in the learning process no matter what teachers might want to believe.
5) Having raised our children in a respectful, conscious way since birth, the utter disrespect for children in school was the final straw for me.  I watched children be lorded over by adults, yelled at, ignored and undervalued for the wonderful energy and unstoppable curiosity that young kids can have.  I watched teachers take away recess when the kids were acting rambunctious - a little counterintuitive.   I saw a child physically restrained, screaming to have the aide "let him go" during a parent/child activity one day.  I watched school staff belittle and shame children every day as I walked through the halls.

So all of this made it evident that school was not going to work for our family, but how did we move toward unschooling?

I knew out of the gate that I would never want to replicate school at home.  I watched my children, who always loved learning and exploring, wilt when I tried to lead them to some sort of learning.  I read a ton on how kids learn.  John Holt and Peter Gray were some of the first books that really confirmed for me that human beings learned what they needed to know to live for centuries before compulsory school.  And I set out to create a rich learning environment in our home and to foster a community of like minded souls with which to socialize.   But I also knew that we needed to slough off the damage that school inflicted on my sons and reinvigorate their joy of learning that was nearly lost in their short stint in public school.  Unschoolers call this deschooling and it's the time for kids to find their own passions and interests again without having an expectation that the day or weeks have any goals or achievements.  For me, it was a time to read the writings of those who have come before and to check the schoolish thoughts that I may have had regarding how kids learn.  I needed to really get on board with the belief that my kids will self-identify interests and that I was a passenger on their journey but they were steering the boat.

We passed the 2 year anniversary of leaving the public schools just a few weeks ago and I am in awe every day of the joy, excitement and wonder that my children experience in their daily activities, most of which never take us out of the house!!  My sons are now expert readers but school pretty much killed the love of reading books for them.  My daughter is being granted the ability to learn to read on her own schedule and at her own pace.  She is nearly 7 and not quite reading, but I know that she will read when she is motivated to do so and it's wonderful to see her work through the process of reading the words she chooses to decipher.  My kids have a wonderful grasp of mathematical concepts and add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads naturally even though they have never had formal instruction from me in this area (except for the horrific worksheets from school ;).  And their grasp of history and mythology is better than mine!  We often discuss politics or what happened in wars or the stories of religions.  My kids are interested in computers, engineering, sword play, weapons, war, feats of strength and many more topics.

I cannot predict where the future will take us, my kids know that they can choose to re-enter school at any time.  But I know that for now our lives will continue without school or overly structured learning - as it just kills the joy of figuring things out.  Over time my children may choose to engage mentors and experts to help them deep dive into topics that hold their interest and I will eagerly help them find those helpers, but for now we enjoy our very simple, yet rich lives close to home.

The joy, wonder and happiness experienced when kids are allowed the freedom to be kids, to be explorers and to be respected as full fledged participants in their lives is something that fuels more joy, wonder and happiness.  Our unschooling journey, while still in its infancy, has brought us closer and we rejoice in the freedom it affords us every day!

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