This is part two of this post about pulling out of public school mid-year, and how we found ourselves unschooling. Here you will find advice on how to unschool plus hindsight advice.
Deschooling Like Pros
So there we were… newly moved to a cabin on 40 acres in January. It was cold, snowy, and quiet. It felt strange to be surrounded by the sounds of silence and coyotes. Going from an early morning school commute in the city to sleeping in and running through white fields was a dream come true. We warmed up with tea and cocoa. We were quickly learning to unschool.
Adjusting to homeschool life was quite easy since our new town hadn’t aged in 50 years. It was so quaint and calm. It helped that there was a ski resort ten minutes away and we happen to be ski and snowboard bums. Yes, the days quickly passed in snow flurries and evenings by the crackling fireplace. I didn’t know it at the time, or even what the word meant, but we were deschooling like a dream.
Unschool Pressure: Curriculum or Cattails?
Now, this was all fine for a while, but about the time the snow started to melt, a dilemma arose. The official lesson-planning teacher in me started questioning the laid-back, “let’s just play” Mama in me. I was putting pressure on myself to be schooling “better.” To be doing more formal lessons. To be keeping up with what the school was surely doing. To at least get the kids out of their base layers once in a while.
That struggle went on the entire time we lived in the cabin. We had no packaged curriculum. But I learned to let go of those expectations and just embrace life. Most days my children read for fun, built bike jumps in the yard, balanced on logs, and played with cattails and clay. Occasionally the teacher in me would win and we’d do planned lessons. Most days were spent moseying down to the creek to see where the deer had slept the previous night or to make splashes with stones. The scenery at our property was gorgeous. It was easy to wander outside all day.
Looking back, our two years spent unschooling outside each day were just incredible, idyllic even. I wish I hadn’t stressed about curriculum, keeping up, and lessons from books. In hindsight, we learned so much about our local environment by simply exploring, questioning, and immersing ourselves in the land.
Advice to Unschool Parents
My advice to those who love unschooling but struggle with similar pressure and guilt to “do more” is just to remember that your children are really, truly learning each day. Regardless of what they are spending their time doing, they are soaking up information about their interests and what pertains to them as individuals. There are plenty of “How to Unschool” guides out there, but I encourage you to simply follow your child’s lead. What do they want to do most days? What makes them smile and laugh? By paying attention to their happiness throughout the day, you can find out what their natural strengths and interests may be.
For instance, my daughter was a voracious reader. She’d spend hours each day cuddled up with a book. And years later, without formal reading or language arts instruction, she consistently tests in the 90th percentile or higher for English Language Arts tests.
My son was always on the go. That curious little three year old has turned into an intrepid explorer and observer. These are skills that do not appear on standardized tests, but they are valuable and I attribute them to our many days spent learning outside. Remember that not all learning can be shown in a workbook. When you unschool, you are allowing your child’s character to flourish in it’s own time.
These young years of childhood, we can’t get them back. Time hurries by as our children grow and change before our eyes. I wish I had stopped worrying about doing school “right” and instead realized that my children were learning and thriving each day. Ultimately, whether or not we cracked open official curriculum, the time we spent together unschooling was precious. With unschooling, you let your child be your teacher and you become their guide. You listen and love. You watch their soul grow and help them find their passions. And for us, we happened to have a nice, two-year-long nature study.