My journey as a homeschooler began the spring before my oldest daughter Janey, now 11, was to begin Kindergarten. I had taught elementary school for nine years before she was born and while she was a toddler, and I couldn’t wait to be the world’s most helpful and competent Room Mother. We lived rurally, and our local school was very small, with three classrooms. All my neighbors raved about the K-2 teacher. She had been there for 25 years and was sooooo wonderful. I anxiously anticipated the Kindergarten visiting day when I could meet the teacher and see what this sweet, country schoolhouse was really like. When the day finally came, I lined up outside the door with the other prospective parents and filed into the classroom. We observed the class in session and within seconds I was absolutely horrified. I looked around at the other parents for validation. Were they seeing what I was seeing? Bored, restless children. Five and six year olds sitting at desks doing worksheets and pages of math problems. No blocks, no dramatic play area, no music, or singing, or easels for painting? The other parents continued to smile as the children were gathered on the carpet for circle time. I only lasted a few more minutes. I excused myself and went home shaking my head. There had to be another way.
It didn’t take long for me to decide that school was not the answer for our family. I was a teacher, after all. A good one, too. We could certainly do “school at home.” I spent that summer researching and planning and bought my first curriculum. I was all set to be the world’s best teacher for my daughter. After our first week, I knew something had to change. Janey wasn’t as excited about my little classroom at the kitchen table as I was. She had her own ideas about how she wanted to spend her days (as she had been happily doing for the first 5 years of her life). If I said it was time for us to bake bread in the shape of the letter A, she wanted hers to look like a tree. If I suggested (insisted) we go on a walk to find things in nature in the shape of the letter C, she protested and said she’d rather paint. It was maddening. We argued and bickered and struggled our way through that Fall, and I found myself using the curriculum less and asking Janey what she wanted to do more. Little did I know, Janey was teaching me to unschool.
Somewhere along the way, I found out about our statewide homeschooling organization (HSC) and made plans to attend their annual conference. I figured it would be a good way for me, as a teacher, to network with other homeschoolers and find out how other people did it. I also hoped that these folks could help me figure out how to get my daughter to like what I was working so hard to teach her at home. I sat down for the first keynote speaker and my whole world turned upside down. Most of the sessions I attended were on the topic of unschooling. I discovered that what my daughter was trying to teach me all along actually had a name. It was like coming home. I looked deep inside myself and discovered that even on my best teaching days (at home or in the classroom) I was fighting something I couldn’t name. All the planning and preparing flew out the window when a child came up with something really meaningful on their own. It all made so much sense to me when I listened to people like Sandra Dodd and Jan Hunt and Mary Griffith share their experiences as former teachers and current unschoolers. I armed myself with notes and tapes and books and traveled home, ready to follow my children’s lead. And in the six years since, I’ve never looked back.
My children are now 11, 9, and 6, and our life is pretty great. We live in a community where homeschooling is a popular choice. We have access to a variety of interesting and fun classes through the YMCA, the Recreation Department, as well as our local school district. We love to do puzzles, play games, read, cook, and ride our bikes. I am able to work from home on the computer and I tutor other homeschoolers a few hours a week as well. I am also starting a homeschool consulting business, helping families determine their learning style and setting goals.
People often comment that homeschooling my children must be easier because I was a teacher. I actually don’t think that is true. In the beginning, it was certainly a hindrance. It took a while for me to shed my teacher ego and follow my children’s lead. I do see an advantage now, however. After having spent years in the classroom watching scores of children and how they learn, I have a great deal of confidence that my children are thriving. I don’t need to refer to a book to find out if my children are “where they should be”. I do believe however, that every parent, regardless of their experience with other children, has the ability to intuitively know whether or not their children are thriving. It doesn’t take a degree in Education to know that your kids are happy, healthy, curious, and active. Mine are. What more could I ever ask for?
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 6) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a Homeschooling Consultant, offering support and guidance to families looking to clarify their vision as a family of learners. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at homeschoolconsultant@gmailcom.