Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Not Back to School" Celebration

Today is the first day back to school for our school district. As children in our neighborhood woke up early, dressed in new clothes and attached backpacks to the their backs, my two children were still snuggled in bed asleep. Today is a celebration for us. A celebration that we have a dad that not only goes to work each and every day but provides us with an income that allows me to only teach part-time outside of the home so that I can be home every day with my children. It is a celebration that we have a dad that supports not only homeschooling but unschooling. It is a celebration that my children are learning at a pace that is comfortable for their own individual beings and a celebration that I get to be a part of their learning each and every day.

My children have never been to school. When my son was about three years old we decided we would give homeschooling a try. When he was five years old I started our "school at home". We worked on some letter recognition for several days and then my five year old Alexander said, "Mom, if you want me to do this I will, but I don't really want to."

This wasn't the way I wanted our homeschooling experience to be. So, I put things aside and started searching for natural types of learning and stumbled on a type of homeschooling known as "unschooling". The name seemed a little negative to me at first but I read on and couldn't stop. This was it! This was exactly the type of learning I wanted to happen for my children.

The unschooling philosophy often comes from books written by John Holt but has many interruptions. What I have learned from meeting numerous unschooling families is that each family has to make it work according to their own family needs taking every one's thoughts and feelings into consideration. For my family, unschooling is a natural extension of attachment parenting. My children shared a family bed, they weaned from my breast when ready, their thoughts and feelings have been respected and their individual time schedules have been appreciated. We have always tried to honor the fact that we are each different and therefore our needs/wants will differ. In order to make unschooling, rather than "school at home" work is that you have to trust 100% that your children are naturally curious human beings that want to learn about the world and all it has to offer.

My children have learned to read at a far different pace from each other. They have learned math, history and science through play, family discussions, reading together and alone, outings, TV, friends and more. We do not provide a curriculum for them but rather follow their lead of interests and needs. People new to the unschooling philosophy often worry that our children won't get everything they need to be successful citizens. I find this the complete opposite. When children have never been forced to learn, they enjoy learning. They crave more and more! They can't seem to get enough. They ask questions, they learn to investigate, they learn to problem solve, they learn how to learn in a way that fits them individually without having to give up their self esteem or love for learning. They also take breaks. Unschooling children are often criticized because they take breaks between learning. I find it fascinating because I do the same thing. I can read and read and read about rheumatoid arthritis, gluten free diets, self healing, etc and then one day I will say, "That is enough." My brain cannot handle anymore and I need a break to allow my brain to let all the information settle and become meaningful to me. Children do the same thing in their own way. They just don't feel guilty about it!

So, today as we prepare for a visit from my mom and participate in a "Not Back to School" picnic with our unschooling friends we feel lucky. We feel lucky that we are free to educate our children in a way that fits our individual family's values and goals. We feel lucky that along this unschooling road we have met so many wonderful people with similar philosophies to our own and many who have had ideas that have clashed with our own but from whom we have learned great lessons from.

As each of us start our new school year out either in school or at home, I hope it is successful!