Why Do We Unschool?

Not So WaldorfyWhen I first decided to homeschool it felt like I needed to take in a tremendous amount of new information and very quickly. I suppose like many people I thought that I needed to be an expert of some sort to do it, so I read a lot about homeschooling methods in a very short time. I chose Waldorf-style. I liked it, it jelled with me – using crayons and drawing to learn the alphabet, as well as using other natural materials to learn with, which I have long preferred for myself, and spending a lot of time in and revering nature – this all sounded like good and fun stuff. Homeschooling was going to be fun! We started taking parent-child classes at the local Waldorf school and we both got a lot out of them. He got to bake and play, I got to study a teacher implementing Waldorf techniques. We were going to rule this! But then the eldest and I took it all home and immediately hit a couple of glitches.

My first born didn’t like crayons. Or drawing. The rare times he did draw, he liked to use a ball point pen, a tool in Waldorf pedagogy that wouldn’t be introduced to him for several years. Rigid, inky ball point pen is simply not the same for picture drawing and coloring as beautiful color and texture producing (ridiculously expensive) beeswax crayons. The lessons just didn’t translate well.

Then there was the… artifice problem. Breaking away from our regular stuff – meals, outings, chores, visting – to do school time stuff felt unnatural to me. I just didn’t feel like I was pulling it off, this new Mama Teacher role. Son didn’t seem to be falling for it at all. He would get annoyed with me, like Really Mom? You want me to put the duct tape down and do the crayon stuff???

So I went back to the books. Actually that time I hit the internet and found the unschoolers. I also found deschooling, which is crucial stuff for homeschooling parents, as in the parents need to be deschooled. Around the same time I was beginning to think that maybe I had one of these “strong-willed” children. Not a bad guy per se, just very focused and determined, so this idea of child-led learning was starting to sound plausible. So we tried it. I started strewing, filling our home with interesting books, art supplies, science stuff and open-ended toys. We spent lots of time, like daily, outdoors and usually in inspiring natural settings – super easy to access both in Portland, Oregon and later in Anchorage, Alaska.

I kept hoping that my kids really were learning stuff and in time they began to overwhelm me with just how much they were learning. “But what about the math, the math??” everyone everywhere always asks. My kids do this cool and common unschooling thing. They check themselves. They are also curious and concerned about how much they are learning, so time to time they binge on Khan Academy lessons and quizzes to get themselves up to age appropriate level or close enough for their own comfort.

I don’t doubt that unschooling isn’t for all people all the time, as evidenced by our current struggle with handing the reins over to dad. More on that later, God willing, but I also know that my kids are going to have plenty of complaints about how they were raised and how they were/weren’t schooled me be at the very top of the list for some of them. But I still very much believe in child-led learning, I see it work every day.

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