Unschooling’s 2nd Anniversary

The Mist

Today marks our 2nd anniversary of unschooling. I was reading through last year’s postand was reminded again of how much we’ve grown. We’re not so much about “doing unschooling right” anymore as we are about just living and allowing life to unfold. Last year still contained so much focus on the “un”, as in what we weren’t doing (workbooks, tests, etc). There was still a lot of justifying that had to be done to skeptical family members. There was a lot more to learn and to change within myself and as a parent. It was a wild and exciting first year.

Our second year was much more comfortable. We still had some skepticism thrown our way; some of it pretty hurtful. But it’s become just something that happens and doesn’t deter us. Another person’s doubts doesn’t send me scurrying for advice or wondering if I should purchase a math workbook. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is mighty rich in flavor these days. Things interest him; things that baffle onlookers. He’s well-spoken with a large vocabulary (words like conundrum are common place). He’s confident and kind. Any small amount of time spent with him will tell you unschooling works for us. Works very well, indeed.

But what has baffled me is what I was told might happen and what I truly wasn’t expecting. At least not yet. Sure we saw his mental growth. It would feel almost sneaky sometimes watching him learn to type while playing a computer game or learn math while playing cards. But what I wasn’t prepared for was a more formal interest in learning. This is not the happenstance, inevitable kind of learning; not like the little things he’d pick up here or there to connect the dots in his head. This is an active searching for knowledge, an interest in the formal. Want some examples from a proud mama? Of course you do!

1. First, there is all the spelling going on. A dozen times a day a new word will be triumphantly spelled for us. If a mistake is made, he’s eager for the correction (an amazing feat for a perfectionist to take such mistakes in stride). When a new word is spelled for him or a misspelled word is corrected, he takes a quiet moment and you can almost see the letters formulating themselves behind his eyes as he commits the information to memory. We discuss the sometimes confusing phonetics of the American language. We test each other. This is great fun for a Word Junkie Woman like me.

2. Then there is all the questions that fly around. Questions about history, society, how things work. A recent conversation about the holidays started off when he asked why some stores are open for the holidays and why some people will work on those days, which didn’t seem fair to him. We talked about people who have no family to celebrate Thanksgiving with, people who may need the overtime offered with holiday pay, people who come from a different culture and don’t share our traditions. We talked about other religions that may not celebrate the same holidays, which led to a description and history of Hannukah, which led to the history of Christmas and its Pagan origins. He soaked it up and spent the rest of the car ride mulling it over.

3. And how can I forget his interest in political and social issues? He’ll listen to NPR while we drive (seems like much of his learning happens on the road!), asking questions and sharing his view. He listens to both sides of any subject and answers my questions on what he believes. Once he became so frustrated with a news story that he cried, “They’re gonna ruin the world!” He even pops off political jokes, sometimes having to explain the humor that went over my head.

Of course, all the hidden “Where did that come from?” learning is still happening, like his being able to name the assassinated presidents or describe a medical procedure. And the blossoming of critical thought and in-depth problem-solving is also fun to watch. But through all the sharing of knowledge, it’s been so natural and easy. It happens, all day and every day. No hours put on his learning, no test to prove his skill. We know his skill; we see it all the time. More importantly, he’s begin to know and see it himself.

Things aren’t always perfect. Some days are downright shitty. There are still some things that were picked up during his school years (by him and us) that rear their ugly head a little too often. And as much as I’d like to say “We’re there”, I don’t truly believe anyone is ever really “there” – in that perfect space with no conflict and no mistakes. We’re always learning and growing. But now we just do it so differently. And that’s the difference in our lives.

9 Replies to “Unschooling’s 2nd Anniversary”

  1. That is the most awesome photograph! It deserves framing.

    Also, your post is excellent. It makes me want to do a similar post, reflecting on our unschooling ups and downs. I understand completely when you say your’re getting more comfortable over time. This past Thanksgiving my uncle and dad were really quizzing me on the home/unschooling thing, and my uncle went so far as to start quizzing my son too. Just to see what he knows. Well, he got an earful from DS11 who can tell anyone all about medieval weapons and customs these days! I, on the other hand, managed to stay very calm, answer the questions as needed, and not add anything more than necessary. I am patting myself on the back on that one, big time. A year ago or more, I would’ve been very upset at being questioned!

  2. Hey there, I’ve been reading your blog for a month or so and I really enjoy your writing and your insights :).

    My kids are still little (my oldest is 4 1/2) but at this point I’m planning on unschooling. Your comment about your son’s perfectionism made me want to ask you about his history .. my 4 year old is showing signs of being a perfectionist .. constantly saying he doesn’t know how to do things, and refusing to try, even when I tell him he can do it any way he wants to, NOT taking corrections well, even when he asks for them (no, you’re wrong mama, I know more stuff than you) .. you get the picture. Anyway, tell me he’ll grow out of it. Has it been a gradual change with your son? How do I support him and encourage him to try new things without pushing?

    Anyway, your love for your family really shines through in your writing, thanks!

  3. Sarah- Thanks for reading and commenting!

    LOL Your son’s comment on how you’re wrong and he’s right is EXACTLY what my son would say at about the same age! He’d even ask a question then tell us our answer was wrong and what he thought the right answer was. I think at one point we asked him why he even bothered asking us if he knew we were always wrong. But I’m sure that didn’t help – it was all his way of asserting his independence and individuality. I eventually learned to roll with it or say something about how we have a difference of opinion (not a bad thing to have!), although hindsight is 20/20 and I always wish I knew then what I know now.

    But YES your son will grow out of it. It was mostly gradual for Zeb I think. With some leaps here or there. I usually try not to offer correction unless he’s seeking it, but I’ll offer things as my own opinion or “something I heard that he might find interesting”, etc. I try to stay away from “absolutes” in any case. If I’m talking about one thing I believe, I always include a description of what someone else thinks on the same matter. Absolutes aren’t good for a perfectionist, at least not my perfectionist! He already tends to think in black or white, right or wrong, with no in between. Plus offering opinions instead of absolutes tends to help his critical thinking , as well as understanding for other people. When he gets down on himself (usually while drawing or painting) I try to sympathize with how he’s feeling, cuz telling him he’s wrong doesn’t change the way he feels. I’ll tell him how my art rarely turns out the way I want it to so I try not to focus on what I create but the fun I have while doing it. Usually *when* he’s feeling down, those suggestions don’t help and I just stick to sympathizing until I can bring it up another time. But if he starts to really bash himself or say he’s dumb or something, I draw the line. I’ve told him that I wouldn’t allow anyone else to talk that way about him, so I won’t let him do it either.

    I can’t tell you what you should do, but I’ll tell you what I wish I knew when Zeb was 4. I wish I knew that my every frustration further cemented his feelings of inadequacy and his need for perfection. I wish I cuddled him more when he was feeling crumby, instead of trying to talk him out of it which also just made him feel he was “wrong again”. And I wish I had recognized the perfectionist streak way back then and had never put him into school, which really brought out his worst feelings about himself.

    Good luck, and if nothing else works just keep repeating “This too shall pass, this too shall pass.”

  4. Your post made me cry, lol. So maybe I’m a little premenstrual, but seriously, that was really helpful. I’m notorious for trying to talk him out of his feelings of inadequacy and getting frustrated. I try to remain neutral and not antagonize him, but either way, it’s not helping. Your advice is spot on, thank you so much. Now the challenge of actually following through, ha. Well, it’s all a journey, right?

  5. Oh definitely a journey. It’s was really hard to fight my habits and make them fit his needs. It took one step at a time, and lots of “resets” – as in “I’m not being the mom I want to be right now. Let’s start over in this conversation.” And as far as I’ve come, I have a long way to go. But it gets easier and easier. Oh! Have you read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn? Seriously great book; totally changed my perspective. I should probably read it again in fact.

  6. Okay, I’ll get to that post one of these days…haven’t posted much this week. Busy cleaning and seeing herb clients and trying to read some books.

    One good book I’m reading, found at the library, is _Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey_ by Gregory and Martine Millman, pub. 2008 so very new. They’re not exactly total unschoolers, but relaxed in their homeschooling and it’s a nice, not too conservative or religous, not too liberal, happy medium kind of book. Preaching to the choir in my case, but they also give a lot of food for thought and good stories about their journey.

    BTW, my kids are both quite perfectionistic, too. Very much inherited. The more I can relax (about myself and them both), the more they do though. I’m starting to see them doing things that they wouldn’t have dared to do when in school or when I would ask for it. They still don’t finish a lot of projects, but that’s okay too.

  7. Yay! That is awesome. We are finding these things along the way too – I love watching and learning and seeing how amazing and brilliant kids are.

    To two years…

  8. Hello There,
    I came across your page from MVM….
    I homeschooled my 3 kiddos in 1987, what a blast!
    At that time I had or “they” told me that I had to form a private school to be legal, so I did. Whatever……..
    Anyway, the benefits to my kidlets and to myself were enormous.
    My kidlets finally talked me into letting them go to “real” school because they were bored with me and what I was teaching them was too easy, but most importantly they wanted to be able to make more friends and play.
    When I took them to the local public school to enroll them, they had to be tested as they knew that I had homeschooled them.
    The staff were amazed and wanted to know my method and said that I should get formal training to become a teacher…..what???? Uh……what???
    Anyway, they wanted to put my lidlets in the GATE program for advanced learners and I politely declined as the kidlets loved to learn and I didn’t want school to be horrible for them in that way….
    They learned that children in groups are mean, they learned that adults in control are mean, they learned every cuss word in any asian dialect (they went to an Asian magnent school) and other derogitory remarks, they learned how to lie, hurt, cheat…….and their learning learning took a HUGE nosedive…..
    I regret not taking them out of public school then as it only got worse and throughout jr. high and high school was just unbearable, I was hoping that I could just die from the stress of it all, but no such luck…
    They are now 28,27,26….all of them are still alive, the oldest with 4 grand kidlets, the other two abhor the thought of kiddos of their own….
    So, mommas, keep up the good work, it may seem like you’re not good enough to be doing this, just remember always that you, each and everyone of you are the BEST women for the job and for all of the right reasons.
    Take Care, Good Luck, God Bless and keep it green,

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