Inside: Relaxed homeschoolers can naturally gravitate toward unschooling. But how do you know whether unschooling is the right path for you? One homeschool mom, and former public school teacher, shares how she unexpectedly transitioned to unschooling and now can’t imagine homeschooling any other way.
This is a guest post from Katrina at Rule This Roost.
Maybe you’re considering homeschooling. Or maybe you are already neck-deep in homeschooling and you’re tired of trying to juggle all the things.
At this point, you might be wondering if there is another way to get your kids to learn.
I get it. I totally get it!
Homeschooling was NEVER a dream of mine. In fact, homeschooling was the furthest thing from my mind when I got pregnant with my first baby.
I was a public school teacher and an instructional coach and had every intention of climbing the career ladder, even as a new mom. It was simple– I would work through the first five years of my daughter’s life and then she would come to school with me.
Ten days after I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I gave birth to my daughter. How quickly my career and life plans changed after I laid eyes on her.
The Unexpected Homeschool Mom
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Being a teacher was a goal I had from the time I was a little kid. I didn’t care if I had a room full of stuffed animals, or my parents and sisters pretending to be the students, I ALWAYS wanted to play “school”.
I was a natural-born teacher, there was no way around it.
After a somewhat complicated route to my dream career (college major confusion, anyone?), I was in the classroom for several years, and then became an instructional coach. I helped teachers in their classrooms, created curriculum for kindergarten through 5th grade, tracked student progress and conducted teacher training sessions.
Little did I know that I would have an extreme paradigm shift just a few years later.
Eventually, I went on to get my Master’s Degree, so I could become a school administrator. My well-laid plans suddenly changed when I stared at my daughter for the first time. It quickly became apparent that working wasn’t going to be the best fit for our little family, and so I haphazardly started my journey as a stay-at-home-mom.
Thoughts of school for my daughter weren’t far from my mind, even when she was a toddler. I gave it a lot of thought and research, and public school simply wasn’t where I wanted her. I knew there had to be a better opportunity for our family.
I looked at private Christian schools, homeschool co-ops, and Reggio Emilia schools, but they were either too expensive, or too seemingly mundane. My top school choice (if I had to choose one) closed down, so I took it as a sign.
The choice was made… we would begin our journey into homeschooling.
The ex-public school teacher/instructional coach/principal wanna-be was going to be a homeschool mom.
Our Unexpected Transition to Unschooling
My research obsession didn’t stop after I made the decision homeschool. Nope.
My research hours got longer and went more in depth.
I wanted to find the absolute best type of homeschooling possible and I wouldn’t stop reading and researching until I felt confident with my decision.
Hello, Pinterest and podcasts GALORE!
After years of being up to my elbows in curriculum, I knew that I didn’t want to use a cookie-cutter style of teaching. I didn’t want a boxed curriculum that didn’t cover the unique interests of my daughter.
So, I spent several hours creating my own style of curriculum that I thought would be perfect for us to start homeschooling.
If there is one thing I know how to do, it’s how to create curriculum. My plan looked absolutely beautiful… on paper.
There was just one problem.
The plan? It was my plan.
Sure, it was based off of my daughter’s interests, but “the plan” made a lot of assumptions about her pace of learning and how and where she would spend her time digging deeper into certain topics.
You’ve probably already guess how that went.
My curriculum plan was a failure.
Not to mention that with a rambunctious toddler in tow, having a scheduled, day-by-day plan just.didn’t.work. No matter how good my intentions were, I ended up feeling stressed because we weren’t following “the plan”.
Maybe that sounds familiar to you, too!
I convinced myself that it was okay.
I knew that I didn’t want my daughter to be sitting at a desk all day long, doing busy work, while there was an entire world outside to be explored and discovered.
That’s when my perspective on learning really made a shift.
I looked again at the Reggio Emilia style of schooling, and I fell in love with the premise behind it. Maybe this can work for our family, I thought.
I love the idea of children being self-directed learners, and my interest was really piqued when I read about the provocations (similar to strewing in unschooling) that intend to spark an interest in kids.
While Reggio Emilia is very similar to our current type of homeschooling, I knew that Reggio was aimed at the preschool years and ideally, should be done within the community of a classroom.
I didn’t quite have our style nailed down yet.
I was growing frustrated. I was determined to find our perfect style of homeschooling, if such a thing exists.
I took what I knew and liked about Reggio Emilia, and we combined it with our own style. My kids were child-led learners and I was their supporter, resource provider and the person responsible for instilling a love for learning in them.
Later, I would find out that we were doing something that the “public-school-teacher-me” would have been horrified to discover.
We were, gasp, UNSCHOOLING.
Our Unschooling Lifestyle
Our homeschooling style falls under the label of “unschooling”. I used to be really hesitant to use that label. It often comes with a huge stigma.
Even I used to think that unschooling was just for “weird” people. Now I am one of them!
Our days are filled with discovery and my kids have the freedom to learn about whatever they are interested in. It is so beautiful to witness.
The most common misconception about unschooling is that it is chaotic and unorganized. You might imagine kids running wild with little to no guidance or supervision.
Honestly, I didn’t even want to be associated with the unschooling label because it seemed so taboo and crazy to me. However, the key to being successful in unschooling is planning and being intentional, and of course good parenting.
As an unschooling mom, I have to keep up with my kids’ interests so that I can find ways to support them. I keep track of their interests with reverse planner sheets.
I make sure that we are going on outings and having experiences that instill a love for learning in my kids. After all, that is my main goal.
If my daughter wants to learn more about dinosaurs, I research the topic myself, bring her to the library to check out books, order a set of play dinosaurs we can identify and play with, and find a place that we can visit that has dinosaur tracks.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
She might even explore deeper into the time periods that dinosaurs lived, and build a diorama that included plants and animals from each time period. In unschooling, the potential is absolutely endless for explorations and true learning.
Unschooling is more of a lifestyle than anything. It’s a way to connect on a deeper level with your kids and show them that learning doesn’t have to take place within the walls of a certain building, or within the pages of a certain book.
My daughter is currently following a tutorial on Youtube on how to build a bird trap. Will she ever catch one? Maybe, maybe not, but she is engineering a magnificent structure out of cardboard and dowels and I couldn’t be more proud.
She is learning in her own form and it is amazing!
I am in constant conversation with my kids about how things work, why things are made a certain way and what interests us.
We form hypotheses and test things out. We make messes. We make memories.
We take life slowly. We breathe in the air around us.
We notice a caterpillar eating a tiny plant, and we get excited about it.
We (all of us!) are passionate about learning.
Do I still parent my kids? Yes! Do I still guide my kids and make suggestions to them? Absolutely!
Unschooling does not equal unparenting.
You are still the leader in your household.
Unschooling is a lifestyle that gives academic freedom and fuels a love for learning in your kids, not necessarily a parenting philosophy (though radical unschoolers might disagree).
Unschooling with Confidence
I used to think that unschooling was weird. I could not imagine “letting” kids be in charge of their own learning. How could they possibly learn what they need to know?
Now I know that the learning process is so much more than a teacher-directed lesson that end in kids regurgitating information.
How could I have missed this vital piece as an educator?
I’m so grateful I crumpled up “the plan” and didn’t look back.
Were my years in the classroom a complete waste? No. They gave me the knowledge I needed to understand that I want something different for my kids.
No matter how taboo it seems to some people, or how uncomfortable it is when people ask my kids “What did you learn today?”, we unabashedly unschool.
Unschooling is a part of who we are.
It will give my kids a foundation that no curriculum could ever give.
It will teach them to love learning and will show them how to pursue their passions.
We fell into unschooling, and we have fallen in love with unschooling.
Could unschooling work for your family? Maybe you’re interested in getting started with unschooling or maybe you need a little extra support to feel more confident in your current unschooling journey. If you’re nodding your head, check out my course Unschooling With Confidence, where I demystify unschooling and break it down into easy, actionable steps so you can be successful!