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Happy Not Back To School
by Alison McKee, author of Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves, and From Homeschool to College and Work: How to Turn Homeschooled Experiences into College and Job Portfolios
Once again the "back to school" season is upon us. When my children were still living at home and we were active homeschoolers, this was an event that I was glad not to participate in. I didn't have to get involved with the lines at "back to school" sales or worry about whether or not our kids had the "right" clothing.
I didn't have to begin the process of winding down my kids' summer activities so they would be ready for an upcoming shift to a school focused life. I didn't have to worry about how I was going to face yet another year of chiding my children to do their homework, getting to bed early, or getting them up in time to catch the bus for school. In fact, I sort of looked forward to slowing down after very busy summers which had been punctuated by an onslaught of activity brought on by "summer vacation." Back to school seemed to me to be our family's call to slow down to a life pace that was more natural and was based on the ebb and flow of our children's interests.
Each "back to school" season that came our way also brought with it questions about what we were doing as homeschoolers. When our children were quite young, and we didn't have much experience as unschoolers, David and I had questions about whether or not we were doing the right thing and how far out on the unschooling limb we dared go. With each passing year the questions we asked seemed to answer themselves more readily.
Our children were growing into interesting individuals who displayed a natural curiosity about the world. Albeit their curiosity had almost nothing to do with the traditional school curriculum that David and I were so familiar with, but it was continuing to fire their interest in learning.
With a truly empty nest, and 22 years of homeschooling to look back on, I can say with certainty that unschooling was more right than I could have ever imagined. Unschooling saved us the headache of trying to figure out how to fit the institutional model of education into our family life. We weren't run ragged trying to find classes that would fulfill someone else's idea of what it was our children should be learning. Unschooling also saved us money because we never invested in curriculum that our children eventually got tired of working with.
Instead, when our children wanted to learn something we facilitated that learning by spending time at the library and, when necessary, finding mentors and volunteer opportunities. Unschooling prevented some parent/child conflicts because we didn't have to hassle the kids about having to get their "school work" done. Most importantly though, unschooling put our children in charge of their own learning at a very early age.
Christian's and Georgina's familiarity with having to take charge of learning has served them well as young adults. Currently Christian is the Problems Management Assistant for the Red Cross in Portland, OR. When I asked him how he, someone with a BA in Political Science, knows how to help lab technicians and others at the Red Cross solve their problems he says, "Mom, I learned everything I needed to know about handling this job when I was a teenager fly fishing and working at the radio station."
Christian spends his evenings playing his mandolin with his band Rustica or composing music and writing songs for the group. They have recorded a CD whichis being distributed nationally. Georgina is acting with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the largest and oldest Shakespeare repertory company in the US, and has been hired to act in their 10-month season in 2006 as well.
If I had truly known, when Christian and Georgina were six, seven and eight year's old, that their unschooling would serve them as well as it has in their adult lives, I could have embraced unschooling more wholeheartedly when they were young. Like most unschoolers though, I had to live with some doubts before my children's lives were long enough for me to see the entire spectrum of the success of unschooling. I wish there was a way for me to pass on to you, those who are new to unschooling, all that I have learned from watching the lives of my adult children unfold. There isn't, though.
All I can offer is this: if you dare to trust your children and their innate curiosity about the world, above and beyond the confines of someone else's notions of what all children must learn, you will be magnificently surprised. Our children and their natural curiosity took them far beyond the confines of David's and my "boxed in" notions of what was important for them to be doing.
So, in this back to school season, I encourage you to take time to really listen to your children before you embrace the false security that curriculum, lesson plans and grades offer. Are your children asking you for the latest curriculum packet or enrichment class about Fall or are they asking you to spend time with them as they examine leaves that fall, the frost that forms on their pumpkin or birds that are stopping at your bird feeder on their migratory journey south? If you find yourself saying "yes" to the latter, listen to the "yes" and follow it.
If you are afraid to follow it because you are afraid of not knowing the answers to all of your children's questions, take heart. The beauty of homeschooling is that you and your children have years to learn the answers together. No timeline limits your opportunities to learn, nor does a curriculum define the appropriateness of your children's questions.
Here's wishing you a wonderful "back to school" season, abundant with creativity and questions and time to explore them both.