Sunday, March 27, 2011

Freedom in Learning and INHOME Conference

On Friday, Alexander was a panel member with five other teens for the workshop "Is Freedom Scary?  The Best and Worst Things About Being in Charge of Your Own Education" at the annual INHOME Conference in St. Charles, IL. 

On Thursday, he was looking over the agenda for the workshop.  Each panel member was to introduce themselves and then share "what it's been like to have freedom in education".  I asked him what he was thinking about sharing.  He said, "I don't really know.  I have never known anything but freedom so I don't know how to compare it to anything else."  Awesome!  

The last two days have been exhausting but full of energy and memories.  As I sat in my workshops and listened to Peter Gray who is a research professor of psychology at Boston College, Sandra Dodd who has written and been speaking on unschooling for years, and Blake Boles who writes, speaks, and leads trips for self-directed teens, I felt renewed in our decision to unschool.  Peter Gray spoke on Sudbury Schools and how his research on graduates who learned in freedom did not show one person who regretted their educational experience or felt they did not have the skills to progress in life successfully.  His presentation on lessons we can learn from hunter gathers was amazing.  I could have sat for hours listening to him. Sandra Dodd started off her workshop explaining that her children are now grown and she wanted to share the unforeseen benefits of unschooling and there were many.  In fact, she continued on after the workshop was over because she had so much to share.  As I sat listening to her, I knew I could also make a rather long list of the unforeseen benefits we have experienced.  Blake Boles's workshop was on unveiling the works of John Taylor Gatto.  Interwoven into the works of Gatto were Boles's experiences with homeschoolers/unschoolers in his leadership training programs.  What I took from his workshop is that our kids do amazing things and with time and freedom they are able to experience failure, an important part of living life fully.

Besides being a participant on a panel, Alexander attended many workshops.  He gained a lot of information from his workshops with Blake Boles. In fact, one of his first workshops was titled "Speed Meeting."  He loved this because he met a large number of teens face to face right away.  Later at the teen dance he felt free to walk up to (or dance up to as I have heard) many people.  I guess he danced to every single song.  I will never forget how happy he looked coming out of the dance. 

For Sophia this weekend was all about independence.  She told me upfront that she wanted to be on her own without having to text me about her every location.  She loved having the freedom to decide if she would attend a workshop or not.  She had a wonderful time.  The only problem she experienced was not being allowed into the  teen dance.  Last year she attended the dance without any problem and never assumed she wouldn't be allowed in this year. For months now the girls (about eight of them) have been planning outfits and dreaming about this dance.  When I picked up Sophia's friend early in the morning they were both bouncing on the seat of the car as they excitedly talked about the dance.  Together the girls all celebrated one of the gal's birthdays at the swimming pool and then headed up to the hotel room to get dressed.  The rules had changed this year for the dance and they were very strict on being 13.  Sophia won't be 13 until June.  One friend had changed her birth date when registering to attend the workshops for kids 13 and up and all the other friends were already 13, 14 and 15.  So, Sophia was the only one that could not attend the dance.  One of the moms tried explaining the situation and then I talked to them but they would not budge.  Due to a little sneakiness, Sophia did finally get in and had the time of her life.  As we talked about it on the way home, she totally understood that at some point they have to have a cut-off and agreed it should be for teens.  The problem I had and still have, although I don't have a solution, is that homeschoolers (maybe it is just unschoolers, I don't know) tend to be big braggers about how our kids aren't confined to an age group or friendships within a certain age range.  I felt like a little leniency could have been applied when it was obvious that a large group of girls were attending together, had planned this out together (they were wearing tutu's), and only one was not able to attend.  Anyhow, I admired her determination to get what she wanted at whatever costs.  

Overall, a wonderful weekend.  We ran into a lot of friends we haven't seen in a while and I think all three of us took a lot of good information and wonderful memories from this weekend. The kids could not stop talking as we drove home.  They were both full of great stories to share.  We definitely appreciate all the hard work that was put into this conference and can't wait for next year.          

Moms enjoying a little fun together while teens attended the dance.

The dads arrived at the hotel Friday night for a little parent fun!   

Sophia (far left) and friends

Alexander with a few friends before the dance


  1. How interesting, I've never met anyone who's been homeschooled so never really considered it. What made you decide to do it, were you homeschooled yourself? Hope you dont mind me asking!

  2. Squirrel, I don't mind you asking at all. I was a 5th grade teacher before my kids were born and I saw many students who had wonderful skills and abilities but felt like failures when it came to school. I always wanted something different for my kids. We practice attachment parenting (see my "pages" for more information) and keeping the kids home to learn in a natural environment at their own rate and with their own unique style seemed like a natural next step. My kids have never been to school or been required to learn anything they didn't want to learn. This often surprises people because both of my kids love learning. They have always been curious about life and we just follow those instincts and go with the philosophy that learning is happening all the time in everything we do. We have never regretted our decision. It has just always worked for my family.

    Feel free to ask any other questions. Unschooling (child led education) is a huge passion of mine. We do homeschool differently than a large number of other homeschoolers and I know it can be a little confusing. Thanks for asking!

  3. Wow that sounds great, a conference just for those schooled at home. It really is becoming quite common. The county that I live in has a very high perctange of homeschoolers and there are a lot of resources out for them.

    I was unschooled for the rest of my education after 7th grade and I really enjoyed it. We created our own curriculum.

    For Sophie, I am looking at possibly following a curriculum called Oak Meadows, which is a waldorf inspired curriculum. I like the idea of being on track, but still very flexible in what we learn because they include art, science, learning about healthy eating etc.

    Mostly though, we're just trying out different things and seeing what works best for us.

  4. Heather, Waldorf is probably the route I would have gone if we didn't unschool and I know several people who do a combo of Oak Meadows and relaxed homeschooling. For me, unschooling is such a natural extension of attachment parenting that it has always felt right for me. That is really the important thing in parenting - doing what feels right in our hearts for our kids. I am glad you found what works for you and Sophie. :)

  5. I've always wanted to ask but I wasn't sure so here goes. Will your kids go to college? If so, how does unschooling play into that. I know most schools want past grades and ACT/SAT scores.

    I've spent the last 3 weeks with Hope due to the flu and I'm amazed how much learning we have done during that time.

  6. Hi Melissa,
    Will my kids go to college? Definitely....if that is the path they choose to follow. They know they have our support either way. Getting into college doesn't appear to be a problem for unschoolers because if they want to pass the SAT/ACT, they tackle it like anything else in life they want and make it happen by studying areas they are weak in.
    I think what suprises most people about kids that have learned in freedom is that they end up having a pretty well rounded education because everything in life is interwoven.

    Alexander is not yet 15 but will most likely start taking classes at the community college in the next year or so. What I see him doing is taking classes in a variety of areas of interests so he gets a clear understanding of what he actually wants to study. (Once he has classes at the community college, he can transfer to a four year college without taking the SAT/ACT.) He might even try to shadow someone in the field. He attended a workshop on Zero Tuition College which gave him lots of new things to think about.

    Sophia is 12 but she already sees herself as a traveler. I think she will probably do whatever she can to make that happen - work odd jobs, write, etc. If she finds that she "needs" college to fulfill her dreams, she will do it. However, she won't do it just because that is expected of everyone when they turn 18.

    I think both kids will look at life with a very open mind and I am truly excited to see where they end up as adults. What they have learned from being home and having plenty of time to play, explore and develop their love for learning is that life isn't about doing what everyone else is doing or what everyone is expected to do. It is about following your heart and taking the road that fits who you really are as a person. Honestly, I don't want anything different for them than that.

    Thanks for the question. I know many people wonder the same thing so it was a perfect question.

  7. This site provides great information about unschooling and college if you want to read more: