Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why Unschool rather than Homeschool

I fully intended for this post to come soon after the last two, but it's the last week of school, which means we're extremely busy.  And since we all know this is probably the end of school for a very long time we're all living it to the absolute fullest.  Anyway, I want to showcase our ideas for why unschooling will be the best fit for us.  Of course we haven't officially started yet and we're not living this fully, yet.  So, I fully expect all sorts of things to change, but again this is all how we see it as it happens.

Let me tell you first...  I was an excellent student in early elementary school.  I remember the very first time I cheated on a test.  I was in second grade and it was a spelling test.  It was the word "who" and I COULD NOT remember how to make that word with the sounds.  I fully recall knowing there was an "h" and sounding out "ho" and knowing that wasn't possible, so I sounded out "hoo" which sounded right but my eyes didn't recognize it.  Finally I decided to slide out my word list from my desk and take a peek.  I kept my impeccable spelling test record after that moment, but as we can see 20 or so years later I still live that moment.  A feeling of desperation as I wanted so badly to get it right and keep my great score card.  Fast forward a year or so and my parents start this process of separating and divorcing so I start acting out and lose focus of my pride in school work.  My parents don't teach me anything rationally about what's going on with my family, they make me go to school and yell at me when I'm getting in trouble, but display none other than the very disrespect I'm playing out in my daily activities.  I'm scared, I'm confused, I'm pissed, and I'm sad.  Mom leaves us, Dad moves us to IL (from the sticks in OK) and I find myself being rejected by my assigned locker partner within a matter of a couple of days.  Parents still aren't teaching me anything about what's going on.  So, I decide that since no one likes me at home or at my new school then I'm just going to be smart.  Period.  I fully engage in school and blast through with my intellect.  Dad gets a new girlfriend, puberty starts to creep up on me, and still no one is teaching me about any of this and how I fit into it.  I say screw it all, find my niche of friends and start drinking with my few buddies, Beau, Marty, Ben, and that other kid that for some reason I'm forgetting his name.  The point: I found my crew.  I was ugly so there was none of this boy/girl crush stuff going on and I always came with something to drink and wasn't afraid to do whatever I needed to impress my friends.  This is when I perfected my off-color humor and never-ending wild side.  I stopped caring about school since even a few of my teachers had become as mean as my classmates (ahem, Mrs. Spivey I sure hope you've matured since then) and sailed my way through the rest of middle school and high school with passing grades only.  I had a few classes that I enjoyed which caused my report cards to resemble this: DD+CDA.  If I didn't like it, I didn't give a rat's ass and if I did well, I was invested in it.

My point: life is the most important lesson we can learn and the sooner we can learn about it and grasp some of the ideas behind it's working the better off we'll all be AND we learn what we're interested in.  Some people are just trained to be interested in being generally scholarly.  Those are your straight A folks.  That's their interest-getting straight As, so they master it, they're invested in it.  Most of us, however, set aside our minds and hearts for things that are important to us in the moment.  I spent all those years trying to learn to "fit in" and the only people who gave me a chance were those who were equally out casted. And we made a hell of a team.  We were all there for each other, we all had a great time, we never betrayed each other, and we never criticized one another.  That's what I wanted because that's what I was lacking and is a basic human need.  I wasn't getting it at home, so I found it.  It's all learning; all of it.  After I got that down, I was able to then find my interests in a handful of things.  Whichever of those things applied to my education found themselves as my priority during my days.

Home schooling, while vastly different from compulsory education is still a forced curriculum.  I'm absolutely certain that by being forced to "learn" something you have no interest in you never really learn it.  These become the very things we memorize and forget about.  And, frankly maybe a time would come when we'd find ourselves interested in them, but because they already left a sour taste in our mouths we're not going to voluntarily revisit them again.  There are some basics that we feel should be stressed, reading, writing, and proper English.  Everything else, however, "eh"...  So to bring Zane home then get him on a rudimentary curriculum would be, in relation to our goal, nonsense.

We want to explore Zane.  We want him to really enjoy learning what he learns and become invested in his own knowledge.  So, we're starting out with something that we're viewing as kind of a marriage between home schooling and unschooling.  No forced curriculum=unschooling.  Guaranteed and very slightly scheduled learning situations laid out for him=home schooling.  We know Zane pretty darn well.  We know that if his days are completely free and unscheduled he will be overwhelmed and probably get very uneasy.  He thrives on knowing what to expect to some degree.  We also know me.  If I don't have a "plan" of some sort I will sit around doing absolutely nothing.  I've coined myself a lazy perfectionist.  I REALLY enjoy doing nothing.  I also really enjoy doing things exceptionally well.  So, if I don't have something to focus on, I will do nothing.  If I do have something to focus on, I'm going to take it all the way and never look back.  Unless of course something comes along and gives me the opportunity to do nothing.  HA!  So, for our family we can't do either choice but instead have to work on marrying the two.  That's good.  We're REALLY good at finding, and working toward, balance.

What we already have planned out:

  • Library every Tuesday morning.  We go there already because it's toddler time and I take Stori to go listen to stories, songs, rhymes, and play with other toddlers.  I already ask Zane what types of books he wants that week and I get them, but beginning next week he'll come with us and be able to pick them out himself.  He can take the time to mosey through the aisles if he wants, do some learning games on the computers if that's his desire, chit chat with the bunnies should he feel like it, or even come play with/instruct the toddlers.  He'll have one writing or videography assignment each week based on what he picks.  This is very flexible depending on the books he chooses also.  If he chooses story books he'll do the paper or video as a semi book report.  If he picks something nonfiction then he'll sum up what he learned either throughout the whole book or a particular section of it that really interested him.

  • Zoo once per week, probably Friday afternoons.  Before we go he needs to choose an animal, a group of animals, a plant or group of plants that he wants to learn about.  We'll go, we'll learn everything we can about the subject matter, ask the zookeepers, read the plaques, observe them, etc.  We won't mosey around all day getting bored of the zoo, but really get into the one reason we came.  He'll have a writing or videography assignment on what he learned.  If he's inspired to do so, he can/will also draw a picture of it, paint it, play it out with his legos, or however he sees fit to make his learning of it also a creative interpretation.  If that plays out during his writing or video-great!  If not, a gentle suggestion by me will come and if he's truly not feeling it he won't have to do it.  You can't force inspiration or creativity, after all.

  • Grocery shopping with Mama.  He's already quite good at this, but will begin to come every time and we'll begin to categorize things as we place them in the basket.  He can choose HOW he wants to categorize them-packaging, food type, color, size, likes, dislikes, etc.  Also when checkout time comes he gets to pay since we use the cash system for things like groceries.  Not only is this all about math (categorizing, pattern making, money counting) but it's also about building his self confidence in interacting with adults and appreciating how hard everyone works from the cashier to the butcher, to the Mom.  Likewise, it's a life skill all too many people don't get taught.  Label reading, meal planning (which he already participates in), budget making, etc.

  • Zane-directed inquiries.  This is one of those things that makes me feel so sure that we're doing what's right.  Zane is a question asking kinda' guy.  Not the regular "why why why" thing that most everyone does, but he really has a general thirst for knowledge.  Last weekend he asked us how volcanoes are made.  So we looked it up and learned about it.  He's always doing this sort of thing and we usually oblige and find out.  But, now as part of our job there should be no question left unanswered for any reason whatsoever.  I'm certain there will be no lack of things Zane chooses to learn about and that will comprise the bulk of his studies.  We'll one-up most of what we already do and after learning about how the volcano is made we'll go make one in the front yard or with baking soda and vinegar or look up some education video online and watch it happen.

The gist of it all is that we follow his lead in what he wants to learn.  Kids aren't imbeciles.  I love saying that, because I believe it and I think they're treated like they are way too often.  Kids want to learn things and know things and fortunately we have a relationship with him that fosters that learning.  I think the best lesson given throughout this whole thing though has nothing to do with anything I've already said, but is the lesson that family, time, and love matters.  More than anything else.  We'll be able to slow down, become more organic in our lifestyle (sleep later in winter and wake earlier in summer, for example), find ourselves closer to what our bodies want to be that we are able to more clearly understand one another, appreciate what each other experiences, and give within our circle more fully as we'll be more emotionally and spiritually fed.  Our minds and hearts want to be connected and I think the more they are the more fundamental our knowledge becomes.


  1. Love this Shannon!! LOVE! It is making sad though, only because our future unschooling is in question... :( But, I think I just need to trust that we can provide ALL of this even if it means E is school next year..

  2. True that, Lisa! That's exactly why it made sense to us, we've been unschooling Zane all along and even Stori for that matter. She's not interested in ABCs, she's interested in learning love and walking and climbing, LOL! Zane's interested in boogers, ants, and snakes.