“Where do you go to school? What grade are you in?” they ask my little man.
“I don’t GO to school. I UNschool.”

You can imagine the looks he gets. To our son, the style of schooling, or the option of traditional brick and mortar versus homeschooling and all the iterations therein, are as conversation-worthy as discussing the style of one’s underwear.

We have options. What we were wearing at one point in our lives might not be what we choose to wear now. On the other hand, many of us grew up wearing one style, only to find that there’s something new and improved out there; something that embraces our birth shape; enhances our natural assets; provides a layer of protection between our special bits and the rest of our armor.

We don’t question other people’s choices. We just accept that people have come to these decisions after trial and error. Some folks stick to what was presented to them the day they moved out of diapers, while others have ventured away from conventional and found their version of underwear mecca.

And so it was with our little man. We set off on the tighty whities of educational paths. My husband and I followed the most traveled and most familiar path to us as former school-goers and now parents. We have both met society’s expectation of us, so certainly there was no need to question this decision – or so we thought.

Our spirited little human, on the other hand, is quite the visionary. Convention was never going to be his path. Surely I set him up for a life of questioning, of options. The choices were many right out of the gate – cloth diapers, all-in-ones, wool, disposables, commando… Hell, his precious bits knew more textile variety than Dolce and Gabbana.

Articulate, chatty, and extremely inquisitive, our son made it clear that he wanted to be an active participant in his education. When you’re four or five, however, you don’t get a say. An authority presents information deemed important and relevant. Some kids are more than happy to open their wee birdie mouths wide and take it all in. Others all but purse their lips. Reading, autography, and testing, supersede playtime and emotional development.

Two months into kindergarten were 60 days too many for our little sparrow. He did not take a liking to sitting, nor to being silenced at every question. He had many questions. He still does and I want him to ask every single one.

My homeschool experiment

Like so many who are new to homeschooling, I found the options overwhelming – online schooling, boxed curriculum, unit studies, classical schooling, eclectic homeschooling, radical unschooling and the list goes on. I was nervous that I would deprive my child of opportunities to learn, so I researched online schooling programs, i.e. public school online. I wanted guardrails. I didn’t know if I could DO this on my own. I finally landed on something that felt safe and secure and traditionally untraditional. I waited several weeks for all of our educational materials to arrive.

When the big brown boxes hit our doorstep, I dug into them like I’d just discovered King Tut’s tomb. I had sweet visions of orderly teaching sessions; an engaged, angelic, little boy eager to learn. We’re reading “One Fish, Two Fish,” sprinting through workbook pages, making volcanos like nobody’s business. Week one – a success. I’ve totally got this. The novelty keeps the dream alive for a few months, weeks if I’m being honest.

Stubborn and steadfast, I dragged my poor child to the “classroom” table where we both painstakingly moved through “lessons.” This was miserable, for both of us. I finished up the homeschool year and I cursed it. I was no longer relieved that I didn’t have to drop my son off at school. I was stressed and anxious at a complete loss as to how I should move forward. I hated that this was what we needed to do. And yes, NEEDED to do. I am persistent. I will not give up. I will find a better way.

Year two

I researched curriculum and attempted to figure out how my son learns. But I still didn’t feel confident about my ability to teach. I signed up for an online charter school, where I could select the curriculum and have it paid for. I figured I needed some accountability to ensure that we both stayed on track and if I didn’t have this all dialed in, at least I’d be learning on my tax-paying dollars. Check-ins and weekly updates would surely be a key to our success. 

The DVD art classes that I was so excited to watch and do were of little interest to my son. Every kid does art in school and likes it, right? We went from five subjects down to two (math and reading), down to, “Houston, we have a problem.”

I kept the online-school-at-home dream on life support for a few more months and then the Universe stepped in as she does. Employment opportunities brought our family to a new state and I had to gracefully bow out of our on online charter school. Thank you Universe. Hugs and kisses to you.

I loaded our school books and art supplies back into big brown boxes and never unpacked them.

Unschooling was the answer

This is how unschooling seduced me. I stepped away from the classroom, curriculum, and everything I had been led to believe was the way children learn. I looked at my son and realized that he has been learning since birth. He knows how to question and explore the world and I know how to follow his lead and expose him to new information. I look at his interests, his passions, and I nurture them. I am a resource librarian and I chart these unfamiliar waters with him.

We embrace curiosity; we learn where to find information and we grow ever more excited by the choices that we have every day. No longer is it time to “do math.” No one subject lives in isolation anyway. It depends on the context that surrounds it. Fortunately, the world provides plenty of context. Learning happens; teaching is secondary.

I trust that we are all born learners. Unschooling is the path we are on today. The kitchen table, no longer home to workbooks and lessons of the week, is once again cluttered with the stuff of childhood and, if I’m lucky, take-out Thai food once in a while.