Unschooling: Why it works for us

When I had my first child, I was working full-time in San Francisco and had no intention of homeschooling and had never heard of the term unschooling, though we all do this naturally with our pre-schoolers and toddlers. Fast forward five years later. That first child was in Kindergarten. He was making friends, he enjoyed school, but something just didn’t feel right.

Unschooling Requires a Democratic Approach

He had a wonderful teacher, full of fun ideas and such a gentle spirit. However, the school itself felt more like a dictatorship than a democracy. Each morning, we would gather round to hear the principal talk and recite the pledge of allegiance. It was never a conversation. I never heard an educator ask a child what they thought. Instead, there was a lot of “repeat after me”. I was not a fan of this approach. This is when I started picking up books on homeschooling. It felt intimidating. I would have to completely change my lifestyle, quit my job and move somewhere less expensive. What if we did all of this and it ended up being a terrible fit for us? It was a big decision, but I also had my 3-year-old to think about. He would be starting school in just a couple years.

unschooling and Roadschooling as we transition from public school to child led learning

We Let Our Pre-Schoolers Take The Lead, Why Not Our Older Kids Too?

It’s funny to think that when we choose a pre-school, we have so many options. Montessori, play-based, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and on and on. We choose based on our child’s learning style. We try different philosophies to see which one sparks interest in learning. We need to find an environment in which they thrive. Then, once they hit five, do they all start learning exactly the same? We enroll them in a one-size fits all public school program. It just didn’t make sense to me. I, like all moms, think my kids are special, brilliant little people. If they say something random to a person at the grocery store and said person ignores them, I find it unbelievable! Did you hear what this tiny, wonderful person said to you?

I want them to thrive. I want them to find their niche. I want them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers. I couldn’t see how they could find those things in themselves during the 8 hours a day they would spend in public school.

But this last part solidified it for me.

Why I Decided to Homeschool/Unschool

I had a parent teacher conference with his wonderful kindergarten teacher. She told me that my son was excelling. He was doing so well! Except in one area: transitions. You see, when he was working on something he would get really into it and then when it was time to transition to another task, he wouldn’t want to stop what he was doing! Now, she said that this was going to be a real issue when he went into first grade.

One of our first homeschool programs on space

Imagine that. You give a child a writing project and he loves it! He just wants to keep writing and writing. The only problem is you have to stop now. We are moving onto math stations, so sorry! You need to put all of that away. What was important 20 minutes ago is no longer important. What is more, what you think is important right now and what you want to work on isn’t important. What the teacher says you need to work on is what is important. The teacher is the boss. She knows what is best for you. Just follow her directions and don’t ask questions okay?

This did not feel right. How is that for negative feedback? My son was excelling. He was enjoying his work so much that he did not want to stop writing. At the end of the year he presented a book called “The History of How Things Change” and it was brilliant. I will keep it forever. I can’t remember any of the little art projects or math worksheets he brought home, but I will always, always remember that book that he worked so hard on and was so proud of. I wanted more of that, for him and for me.

Why Unschooling Is Right For Us

That made my decision: we were going to homeschool and we were going to let the student take the lead. We were going to do something called unschooling and it was going to bring us joy. And we did it! And it does!

unschooling with invitation to play opportunities

And that big move and all those changes? We celebrated them by roadschooling for four months along the West Coast and through the Southwest, where unschooling was a natural fit as we were learning so much from the world all around us.

Unschool and roadschool through Joshua tree

Jump In, Try It – See How It Goes!

I write this blog to inspire others who may be having that same inkling to unschool and break away from the norm, to try more of a child-lead approach to learning. Or others who are homeschooling, but following a more structured schedule that just isn’t working out for their children and doesn’t bring them joy. If you want to switch things up, you can! Take the leap, try it out one summer, try it out for two weeks. See how it goes. If you’re interested in the flow of our day, check out A Day in the Life and if you’re still not sure how to move forward with homeschooling, I’ve written this step-by-step transition guide for you!

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