Friday, June 27, 2008

How I Became An Unschooling Mom

1. My parents. I was born to parents who I would not characterize as hippies by any means, but parents who had experienced three other children in the school system before me and had some alternative views on education. They instilled in us the belief that the experiences we had on summer break were just as important in our lives as our school year experiences.

2. My Mom. My mom bravely volunteer bussed us to a black neighborhood my kindergarten year. I remember my mom riding the bus with us the first day of school. The environment of the school was wonderful. Each year we met new and interesting people. My two sisters and I grew up with not only one black female principal, but two. So, I feel like I had a pretty alternative school background.

3. Teaching. When I became a 5th grade teacher I was fortunate enough to teach at Horace Mann Foreign Language Magnet School. Not only was I exposed to children far below an economic level I grew up in, but I was exposed to children who came from all over the world with a variety of ideas on education. This was such a rich experience in my life that clings to me still.

4. Principals. In my short seven years in the public school system, I had the privilege of working for two awesome principals. The first, Dr. Lewis, came into my room the first week of classes to look at my lesson plans and wanted to know why we were memorizing multiplication facts. He said that was "a waste of our time". Instead, he wanted me to teach them different ways of finding the answer. The second principal, Keith Wilson, trusted us. He trusted us as professionals to be different and try approaches that weren't the norm.

5. Students. When I was teaching 5th grade and then middle school ESL, I saw many students, especially boys, who had so much knowledge in their heads it just blew me away. However, they were not testing at grade level for reading, writing, or math. Something inside me always felt there was a better way for them. I didn't realize what it was until I discovered unschooling.

6. Attachment parenting. As a family we slept together and woke up together. Both kids naturally weaned when they were ready which meant I tandem nursed for years. One of my fondest memories is nursing both of them at the same time and looking down to see them holding hands. They are both still so close.

7. Alexander. When he was three years old, we were talking about going to school when he turned five. He said, "I am not going to school and you can't make me." This was very unlike his personality which made me think, "Why am I sending him to school? I love being with him and would love to share in his learning journey."

8. Sophia. She loves to play. Since about the time she was two years old we have had to put on a production of her favorite books. We would read morning, afternoon and night and in between she would be one character and I would be the other. The idea of sitting her in a desk all day and robbing her of her creativity seemed so wrong.

9. Steve. My husband has always been very supportive of unschooling. He patiently shows the kids things he is doing and includes them in his daily life. Without him, this would not be the success it is.

10. Me. I unschool for selfish reasons. I love to be busy in the kitchen listening to Alexander and Sophia play, I like watching them discover things for the first time, and I get satisfaction from seeing that when they are allowed to learn at their own rate, they truly do learn it. They feel confident in their abilities to learn and don't feel they have to follow a timeline to learning set up by strangers. Most important for me, I unschool because I love having my kids home with me. I love laughing with them during the day, cooking side by side with them, running errands together, having quiet time together and I like that we are together enough that they know me better than anyone else in this world and I know them just as well. I trust my kids to listen to their bodies and know what is right or wrong for them. I feel like unschooling is my gift to Alexander and Sophia and luckily for me, I get to share in this gift!

11. Unschooling Community. (Thank you Darcy for reminding me. How could I forget this influence?) Alexander, Sophia and I are fortunate to have made friends with many families that also participate in unschooling. This wonderful group of friends allows us to feel like our alternative lifestyle is the "norm" rather than an oddity. We meet weekly to socialize and learn together. Not only do the kids learn from each other and the other wonderful moms, but I learn so much from each person in our group whether it be a child or an adult. I can't even express the knowledge within our group. I feel that because of this wonderful community, I have the support to raise my children the way my heart has led me.

12. Family. My extended family (mom, dad, sisters, brothers) has been more than supportive in our unschooling journey. They may not always understand what we are doing, but they never seem to doubt that we are leading our children with the best of intentions. I know this is not a luxury all unschooling or even homeschooling families have. I am very fortunate.