I always knew I wanted to have primary responsibility for my children's' education. If I have learned nothing else in my life, I have learned that in the end, even though you might try to hand responsibility off to those who are in culturally acceptable positions of authority (doctors, lawyers, teachers), ultimately, it's all down to you anyway, so you might as well roll your sleeves up and get to work, doing the very best you can.
Like everyone else, I think, I started looking at the options. At homeschooling, at unschooling, and at all the variations on those themes. It's really quite overwhelming, and it's a good thing I started early, before "educating" my kids really had to start happening. I subscribed to the lists, I read the books and the webpages and the pamphlets and the blogs and the wikis and the books and the books and the books...
I got encouraged and horrified and inspired and overwhelmed and motivated and intimidated by turns.
Eventually, the wheel spun, and I ended up on "inspired". Lucky me! Following my children's' lead, I took some time off of the heavy research, to let the ideas percolate, bounce around in my backbrain, and sort themselves out. And here is what I realized, for me, for us, for our family. The very hardest, but most critical, thing that has to happen to make unschooling successful, is not something your children have to do. It's something you have to do. You have to learn to trust.
This is one of those chicken-and-egg things, where the parent new to the concept throws their hands into the air with the circularity of it all. But step back, take a breather, and as they say in yoga, sit with the discomfort a while.
Like any first time mom, I panicked when I thought my baby wasn't going to learn to roll over. And sure enough... he did. I worried that he wouldn't learn to walk. He did. I fretted over most of the major baby milestones. And despite my worrying, he managed each and every one just fine. The human being is internally, intrinsically motivated, to hold our heads up, to walk, and to question.
Honestly, now. Think about the "Why?" phase. Every kid goes through it. What clearer signal is there that the burning desire to question everything and learn everything is hardwired into their growing minds?
The challenge for me is to keep it going. I think that the reason school makes it stop is that it isn't interested in answering a child's "why?", but is interested in making the child absorb answers to questions they have neither asked nor cared about the answer to. That moment, that living-in-the-gap, is where the unschooling parent lives.
"Well, it's like this..."
And right there, in that instant, I get to evaluate the depth of the interest, the level of my response, the possibilities for the connections we could make from that one question. It's brilliant and exciting and challenging. I know if I've overshot the mark, because they space out and turn away before I've rolled to a close. I know I've undershot when the response is another, similarly-worded "why?" And I know I've hit the target of inspiration when I look up and it's been hours of web surfing, book reading, food-making, and whatever else led in connection of fascination from that initial question.
They trust me to not insult them. I trust them to keep asking, and to stay engaged. I trust that they are fascinated. They trust that I won't tell them that what I think is more interesting, more valid, or more important, than what they think. I trust that they will become confident enough that, in their lives, when they encounter things they need to know, they will go find the information and assimilate it. I don't for a moment think that unschoolling will cover "all the bases" that traditional curricula covers. But I absolutely trust that my children will enter their independent lives with every single tool they need to question, to analyze, to research, and to evaluate.
And that is the best of all possible outcomes.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom.