When my son Charley was a little over 3 1/2, he woke up one day and told his dad it was time for the training wheels to come off. Minutes later, Charley was riding his 2 wheeler down the street. All by himself. No one taught him. No one told him it was time. He decided he was ready, and he did it, just like that. All by himself.
Even though none of my three children have ever been to school, I feel like Charley (the youngest) is my one, true, unschooled-from-birth child. When his sisters were little, I hadn't figured out this whole unschooling thing yet. I was still "teacher-turned-mom-extraordinaire." It was Janey, my oldest, who humbled me and taught me how to unschool when she was five and not thrilled about my new plan to be her Kindergarten teacher.
I have this theory that because Charley was born into a household fully committed to unschooling, he's had it a bit easier than the rest of us. Yeah, I know. There's birth order, and gender, and all that as well, but I'm sticking to my theory. He just knows he can do stuff. He's got self confidence in spades.
A few weeks ago, we went skiing. Charley had been dying to learn to snowboard. We are all skiers, and renting a snowboard and trying to teach him how to do something I have never done didn't sound like much fun. Charley begged and pleaded. I put him off and suggested we try that another day. Charley had other plans. At lunch, he bargained with a friend, and ended up trading gear. It only took him 15 minutes of dragging the board up the gentle slope outside the lodge and sailing down, with only a handful of spills, to get the hang of it. "I'm ready for the bunny hill, Mom," he declared. Sure enough, he was. As we stood in line to get on the chair lift, I chuckled to myself. Here he was, once again, proving to the world that he could do it, all by himself. As we rode up the chair lift, I asked him, "Charley, how did you know you could do that?"
"I dunno, Mom. I just decide I'm gonna do something, and then I do it."
The other day, it was time for us to leave for art class. As I hitched the tag-a-long onto the back of my bicycle for Charley, he groaned. "I'm tired of that baby-ish tag-a-long, Mom. I'm ready to ride my own bike." I glanced over my shoulder and watched him back his bicycle out of the rack. "Are you sure, Charley? It's several miles, and you know we've got that hill at the end," I explained. He glared at me.
"I know, Mom. I'm ready." And ready he was. He decided he could do it, and he did.
I'm always amazed by his self-confidence, but really, it makes sense. This is a child who has always been given the opportunity to choose. He's never had it any other way. His experience in life has always been that you find what you love, and you decide to do it, for no other reason except that it brings you pleasure. That's the thing about these always unschooled kids. They're not motivated by much outside themselves. Great for them. Frustrating at times for the rest of us.
One of my biggest challenges as an unschooling mom, is remembering to let go of my ideas of the way life should look. All of my kids, and Charley, in particular, remind me daily that my way is only one of many. Charley deciding he's done with riding on the back of my bicycle is exciting. He's growing up. But honestly, it's also a bit of a hassle. It takes us longer to get places now. More patience is required from me as I coax him up hills and home from a long day of errands and classes. But when I get irritable or frustrated with his newfound independence, I have to remind myself of why we're doing this in the first place. It's all about independence. It's all about self-reliance and trying new things. It's not all about being on time, and it certainly isn't all about me. Phew.
This unschooling life that we've chosen is full of challenges and gifts. It's not that it's any easier or more difficult than a more traditional way of raising kids, it's just that it stretches me to remember why we're all here: to grow, to love, to trust, and to find joy.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 7) 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.