Overcoming Anxieties About Unschooling
© Beverley Paine, Nov 2004
Although we unschooled for years I was forever uneasy in my mind. Getting those definitions sorted out helped me. I prefer the term 'learning naturally' and believe that we learn in each and every minute - it's like breathing. Sometimes what we learn isn't what we thought we'd learn from a particular moment in time, but we're learning all the time.
Unschooling is an okay definition and serves a useful purpose but some people believe it's akin to permissive parenting and I don't think it's that at all. Homeschooling is too vague - it can mean school at home, correspondence education or whatever. I've done a little of everything with my children in a conscious way, including part time enrolment at school. The most successful approach to date is allowing them to learn naturally. It's way more efficient than any other method and seems to be able to encompass all methods of 'learning'.
For example, Thomas, my youngest, is currently studying electronics by distance education but he's learning how to make movies by mucking about with cameras and his computer. He uses whatever learning tools/resources are best suited to his need and interest. We helped him develop this skill over time, mostly by example, but also by actively encouraging him to think about his needs and wants and who he is as a person.
Being a homeschooling mum is an anxious business because we're going against societal 'norms'. It's hard to be different and stay up beat about it all the time. I keenly felt the social isolation from homeschooling in the early years - suddenly I couldn't visit my friends because their kids were at school and they didn't want to be surrounded by other people's kids... I think the social isolation hit me harder than my kids. Then I had to deal with the insecurities that came with finding homeschooling families that 'did it better' than us! It took years to shut up the inner critic - the one that whispered in my ear every day that I wasn't good enough, that I would naturally fail my children, that other people could do it because they were smarter, university educated, better mothers, had more money, had gifted children, and so on. Meanwhile people began to come to ME for homeschooling advice!
The only thing I could do was offer what my heart felt to be true to the inner child in me. Think about this: what do YOU need to feel okay right NOW? Forget about your child, forget about the critics, forget about the future even. Unless we look after our own emotional well being we can't totally available to help others, and sometimes we need to be, especially as mothers.
Sometimes I would ask my children to work from text books because it calmed me down. I told them that there was a good chance they'd learn something useful from doing the exercises required of them in the books, and that there was a good chance they wouldn't. But what WOULD happen is that my momentary paranoia ("my children aren't learning anything! I'm not a good homeschooling mum!") would disappear as I watched my children work. More often than not they'd breeze through the pages... somehow, without practising writing they'd be spelling words they hadn't been able to six months before, or understood maths concepts without having learned them...
Life is a fantastic teacher and children are programmed to learn! And learn they do, very efficiently, without our interference. A couple of weeks of structured activities, which I meticulously recorded so that I could prove to myself that my children were capable learners the next time I lapsed into a bout of depression or gave into insecurities. The kids knew that they were doing bookwork to help me, not to learn anything in particular. This made it easy for all us - the motivation was REAL, even if the activity itself wasn't...
My children grew up confident that they could learn anything they wanted to at any time in their lives and that self-motivation is the key. As young adults my children are now learning that knowing oneself is the key to self-motivation. A lot of the things they think they want aren't happening - and they are discovering that it's because other people expect them to want those things, or they thought that other people wanted them to. As they discover more about whom they are as individuals they are finding that achieving what they really want is very easy. When you are doing what you love life comes easy. I found that untangling myself from the expectations of others, both in my mind and in theirs, one of the hardest things to do in my life. And it took 45 years.
I watch my 17 year old and see that he's almost conquered that goal already... thanks to learning naturally! He is our only child not tainted by school experience and who has had the least amount of homeschooling.
Thomas refused to do anything that didn't make sense to him. Often I would need to explain why we do things the way we do, why it might be useful for him to consider doing things. He'd consider them and then, more often than not, say they still didn't make sense and continue to refuse to do them. I had to change my ideas and ways to find solutions that made sense in every which way, not just for him or me, but for most people and situations. One of my surprising discoveries is that life is actually very simple - the simplest solution is often the most effective.
If a child doesn't want to draw right now, then teaching him how to draw shadows right now doesn't make sense. When he wants to know how to draw shadows he will find the right tools, and one of them may be to access a tutor (book or person) that will show him. Or he might use observation and experimentation. Schools fail to reach their lofty goals for ALL students because 99% of what they ask children to do is contrived. That makes it pretty meaningless to most children. Some children don't have access to a range of tools when they want to learn - that's a sad fact related to how little we value children in our society.
Having made the decision to educate our children outside of schools we're in a position to offer our children whatever tools for learning they need, WHEN they need them, not before!
We wrote our own curriculum and educational program based on where our children were at, what we wanted for them, and what they needed. I read the national and state curriculum guidelines but most of it wasn't relevant to one child learning outside of a classroom. And most of it was unrealistic - particularly in the classroom setting. There is no accountability within the school system - when the curriculum fails to deliver what it promises for all children, the children and their families are blamed, not the curriculum.
Beverley Paine is a mother of three young adults and a prolific writer of homeschooling articles. More articles and essays can be found in her books, available from the Always Learning Books online bookstore.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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