When I first heard about unschooling, I thought it sounded ludicrous. How could you NOT send your children to school? How could they stay home and drive the learning process themselves? They don’t have the maturity for that, I thought to myself.
I was brought up in a somewhat strict culture when it comes to education. Schooling is greatly valued, considered a privilege and the ultimate goal and sign of achievement, particularly in certain fields such as medicine, science and engineering.
I personally loved going to school and so the thought of unschooling, to me, seemed like I would be denying my kids a wonderful opportunity in life.
But upon reflection, I realize that what I enjoyed most about school was the relationships and interactions I had with my friends as well as my own self-driven learning. The rigid structure of the school day did not particularly bother me since it was all I had ever known, however I realize that this type of learning structure does not appeal to everyone, nor does it necessarily bring out the best in every child.
My husband and I began to consider homeschooling when our children were about 5 and 2 years old. I was between careers and we entertained the idea of me staying home to homeschool the children. A few weeks at home day-in-day out with the children quickly brought me back to reality as I realized I did not have the patience I felt my kids needed from me. Still, as my son began school and I would drop him off into a sea of children every day, something did not quite sit right with me. Receiving report cards in kindergarten with actual percentages seemed inappropriate to me. Especially since my son was one of the youngest in the class and learning in a second language (French). The kindergarten class was composed of both 5 and close to 6 year olds each at vastly different levels of learning.
As I sat at parent-teacher meeting with me squished onto one of the children’s seats in their classroom, I asked the teacher what they based their grading on at this young age? Apparently, there is a rubric that they follow. As my son progressed from kindergarten to first and then second grade, he performed well in math but struggled with reading and writing in French. The teacher showed me his scrawly writing (which I was all too familiar with), which contained numerous spelling errors and a dearth of vocabulary. I knew my son’s teacher meant well and truly cared about each child’s progress but I also knew she had to contend with 20 children in her class each at different stages of learning, each with different interests and needs. She pointed to my son’s writing again, emphasizing the numerous blank pages where he should have written more text when compared to what some of the other kids in her class were writing.
This moment was an eye-opener for me. I ran to my car after the meeting, tears streaming down my eyes wondering if I had failed my son in some way. I tried to look for an explanation for this “failure”. We had read books to him since he was born. He loved and continues to love being read to and can sit with rapt attention for hours, listening to us read to him or to audio books. However, he has limited interest in actually reading the words himself. Coming from a very ambitious family, I felt inward shame that my son who was almost 8 years old, still stuttered while reading and continued to resist our efforts to practice reading.
I revisited the home-schooling idea in my head, feeling that my son needed something different than what the conventional school system could offer him. But I also knew that I enjoyed my career and did not feel that I would be a patient and suitable homeschooling mum. What else could I do? My research brought me to unschooling which as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I thought was a ludicrous idea initially. But the more I read about it and saw the benefits of this kind of learning, the more it resonated with me.
I am still very early in my journey to unschooling my kids and I realize that realistically (for personal and financial reasons), this is not something my husband and I are likely to undertake on a full time basis. However, I am experimenting with trying this approach whenever the kids are not in school (evenings, weekends, vacation etc.). For example, I am not going to sign them up for random classes unless they express a keen interest. I am not going to get worked up about the amount of screen-time. I AM going to be available to give them exposure to things I feel they may like and that they seem interested in. I am not going to steer them into something for reasons of prestige or to impress anyone. I want to be as authentic as possible in allowing my kids to discover what their passions are, and to support them in that.
This feels right to me…more than the report cards that I myself used to work so hard for to get all As (mostly to impress my mother who I love dearly). I honestly feel that if my kids are given opportunities to find their passion, they will develop self-driven motivation to work hard and achieve their goals. All I can do is support them and set a good example by putting in the effort myself!
What are your thoughts on homeschooling? Unschooling? Trying to homeschool/unschool while working? Please do share!