Our Unschool Story
We switched to homeschooling for the second time in 2015 and have been going strong since then.
We made the first pass at homeschooling with a public charter school in Las Vegas called Odyssey Charter School in 2012 when our son was in second grade. They had what I believed to be an innovative program for the time. The students worked through tasks on the computer each week, then on a particular time and day each week, the teacher came to the student’s house and spent an hour seeing the portfolio of work for the week and having a conversation. There was lots of flexibility in how to get the topics covered. There were choices. The kids received high-quality one-on-one time with a teacher, and there wasn’t any grading or testing pressure, at least not for a second-grader. Probably in higher grade levels, that was a different story, now that I think about it, but I don’t know for sure.
Soon after, we moved to Virginia for my husband’s career. We enrolled both kids in public school when we settled there as our daughter was kindergarten age by that point. They both went to public school for several years, but I didn’t like what I saw much at all. There was hardly any free play for the kids, but there was lots of rule-following required for hours on end. I knew I wouldn’t want to do it anyway, and I was a great student as a young one, super cooperative and hard-working, but I lived for sports, phys ed, and games.
One day in the fall of his sixth-grade year, our son was in before school with a couple of other kids to get caught up on a math test that they didn’t finish in class. That morning the math teacher/football coach slammed his flat hand on a desk loudly to shock my son into more alertness and responsiveness. Later, my son told me about it, saying he didn’t understand why the teacher “freaked out.” He felt surprised but not scared necessarily. Mostly he said he was confused. I told him the teacher was probably trying to motivate him. I had a feeling I understood why the teacher did it. Our son never looked like he was listening, but he was always right when asked to answer, so you couldn’t embarrass him or otherwise prove he wasn’t listening. He wouldn’t volunteer answers or compete to answer or try to show off, and he didn’t care to cooperate to please a teacher (which was always my primary strategy). It was frustrating, no doubt, but that didn’t excuse the teacher’s behavior to me. He and his dad weren’t too concerned about it. They didn’t like it but figured it was just how things go sometimes.
Because the incident with the math teacher was the last straw for me, and because I had been researching other options for a while, I asked them if they’d like to try homeschooling again. I told my son we would try a different way of homeschooling this time because he was concerned since he didn’t like it much last time. I told him and his dad what I researched about interest-based learning, aka unschooling, and how I thought it was cutting-edge because we could customize the kid’s education by following his interests. He would learn deeply, not just to pass a test, and every topic would be connected and make more sense on a practical level. My son was hesitant because he had some friends he didn’t want to miss, but after sleeping on it, he decided to finish the last two days of that school week then not come back on Monday. That would give him time to be sure and to get his friends’ phone numbers so he could keep in touch. We all decided to give homeschooling another shot but with a different approach than last time.
Our daughter was in second grade at that time. She WOULD compete to give the correct answers, and she VOLUNTEERED to help. Still, she cried after school sometimes. Often it was because the teacher didn’t call on her. She was crying and mad the last time it happened since she was the ONLY ONE who raised her hand to help. The teacher still picked someone who didn’t even want to do the job, then proceeded to nag until the kid finished the job. Our daughter was perplexed. She said she was being left out on purpose. I explained the teacher probably wanted to make sure all the jobs get spread around, so everyone got a chance to do something to help, but she couldn’t appreciate that. She said the teacher should call out directly who was to do it instead of asking for volunteers. Our daughter had a great point. I couldn’t agree more.
During the two days our son was using to finish the week, we realized that we wanted to make the same offer of homeschooling to our daughter. She was doing very well in school, just flowing through it most days: gifted and talented, lots of friends, and she enjoyed all the schooly things. We figured she wouldn’t even consider it. As hubs and I talked, I realized I would have one in school and one doing homeschool to manage daily, and that would be a pain. I also knew, though, that if that was what was best for each kid, I would gladly do it because I knew, being the oldest of three girls, that it made sense that each kid might need something different to thrive.
The funny thing is, even with our daughter’s sometimes frustration with the classroom setting and not getting to do as much as she wanted to, I was shocked at how quickly she enthusiastically said yes to homeschooling. No doubts, no hesitation, she was on board. I began to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have offered it to her when she answered so quickly in the affirmative, but then I felt a punch in the gut at that thought because the intuitive response hit me…just because she managed to do well in school didn’t mean it was the best thing for her.
I realized then that it seemed pretty likely the setting was doing more damage to her than our son. I knew that because she responded as I did to school (only she is much more intelligent, I was just someone with delusions of grandeur who was willing to work), and it took me approximately twenty years after finishing school to learn who I was instead of who I thought someone else wanted me to be. My desire for her was at that very moment (and still is today) that she knows precisely who she is ASAFP.
So from there, it was November 2015, we set off in a different direction for our kids’ education. We were excited about it, and all these years later, I can tell you, the journey has been priceless and enlightening. We are still in the midst of it, but we are starting to see the light.