Talk about a loaded question, unschooling is a topic I just started bringing up with my parents, sure haven't brought it up with a whole lot of other people. After all, we're relatively new to homeschooling itself, our kids have been in school until a year ago. Breanna and Josh both were in school for five years, Josh starting at the normal five yo age, and Breanna at three due to federal law mandating that schools provide resources for disabled children ages three to 21. Emily joined them for preK and kindergarten, and Rachel a year later for preK. 18 months ago I was completely finished with dealing with the schools special ed services. There was no way they were going to provide the resources they were supposed to without a huge fight. I finally realized that it was not worth it. The fight was out of me, I was worn out, and I was doing so much at home there was no point in fighting the schools anymore. I was ready to pull them at Christmas break, but dh asked me to wait til the end of the school year, so that the kids had a very final closure with them.
So in May, school was out, and we transitioned right into a school-at-home environment. We were all comfortable with that, and in fact, Josh and Bre both had great summer school opportunities that I finally (after four years of fighting!) had gotten in place. Josh's turned out to be great, actually finishing up some things that I thought were important. Breanna's placement was the worst school program I had ever seen. She was supposed to spend the first month in a regular program getting social skills in place, and working on some academics, but then the second month was with the autism program at another school. When I visited that program, the kids that I have known for years through therapy and classes had regressed so much that it was truly frightening. I was told to my face that summer school was a 'babysitting' program and that parents had no place in the classroom. When ongoing questions revealed that the teacher had not even read Bre's IEP and had no idea what she was supposed to do with her, I refused to send her.
Anyway, we started off with school-at-home, like I mentioned, but still very eclectic and very child-led. Following the kids' interests, we checked out dozens of library books each week, did crafts and experiments centered around those, the kid had math books, and I had goals from the public school system in each grade that I figured I would refer to for my own comfort. Imagine my surprise when by October, with very little direction, my children had achieved their goals for the year. Good timing too, since about that time I was put on bedrest for a problematic pregnancy. The end of October and much of November was spent with me in bed, the kids around me with TV trays full of crayons, playdough, puzzles, crafts...with the TV going full time and me reading nonstop.
It was during this time period when I realized that I did not have to do anything to 'teach' my kids. They were learning so much on their own! The girls were constantly coming up to me and telling me "Did you know..?" Josh started reading the types of books he'd never been comfortable with (any type of fiction, really!) and was comparing them to factoids that he knew from previous reading. Most importantly to me, they were so proud of what they were doing on their own. After our baby was born, dh was home with the kids, and really got to see how relaxed we were, and how well that was going. He's a natural facilitator, great at letting kids figure things out, helping when they need it, providing lots of opportunity. He lets you know things without ever lecturing...totally something I'm working on!
After he went back to work, the kids and I were left at home, trying to figure out the new dynamic. It's always a little tough to add a new person to a household, especially when that person is pretty much helpless and needs constant care. I dropped a lot of things I had held too closely, clean house, laundry always done, manicured lawn (okay, that last one you can laugh at, you would if you knew me....we never have had grass!) Letting those things go allowed me to spend much more time being with my kids, and for the first time it allowed to me examine MY passions. WOW! What a life!
At this point we're all still learning. I'm still learning to be a nicer mom. I'm working on my own issues, all my past hurts and disappointments. The kids are watching me closely...they are seeing how choices you make affect you a long time in the future, but they also see how we can make choices now to get to a better place. They are learning to find and follow their own passions, and I'm learning to trust that perfect experience. They've learned that they can call me on the carpet when I'm getting mean about things. And I'm so proud because I know that they will be the kind of people who won't get tossed around, pushed around, ignored. Not only are they learning all kinds of stuff about the world, they're learning all about themselves too!
Super update as of 8/08: At this point, we've gone all the way to radical unschooling. But more importantly I've learned that it doesn't mean that *I* have no rights either. So we've spent a great deal of the past year learning to balance the needs of everyone in the family. It includes chilling out after the morning larks have fallen asleep instead of maintaining their normal daytime screams. It means the larks are a little more quieter in the morning when they wake up much earlier than our nightowls. The kids don't LIKE dishes or laundry or weeding any more than they did before, but with me being more compassionate about it, and them being willing to see how important it is to some people (not just me, Emily lost several plants in the garden when Rachel stopped weeding HER bed) they are tremendously helpful and enjoy doing these things. I feel so blessed, I can't imagine choosing any other life than the one I have, surrounded by kids, stuff and even a new pet. I'll blog that later ;-)