Today was one of those days that I relish as an unschooler. It looked like this:
Got out of bed when we felt like it. Ate when we were hungry. Spent time together. Spent time apart. Laughed a little. Smiled a lot. Argued and discussed. Played. Friends stopped by for an unexpected visit. Worked in the yard. Watched a cool program. Snuggled on the couch. Knitted.
Sadly, not all of our days look like that. Some are filled with outings and activities that keep us away from home for most of the day. Some are filled with paperwork, computer work, phone calls, meetings, laundry and fighting children; grouchy moms, bank statements and messes no one wants to clean up. Sigh. But days like today remind me that my kids are learning far more than I realize every single day.
After breakfast, we started a game of Monopoly. I could tell it was going to be a long one, so I made an extra large cup of coffee and settled in. I hadn't played in several months, so I was surprised to see that Charley, my 7 year old, needed very little help in figuring his transactions. As a matter of fact, I had to bite my tongue several times when I felt the urge to hurry him up during his turn. Had I done so, I would have missed out on his newfound obsession with converting his bills. When he was cash poor, it was all about 1s and 5s. When he was rolling in the dough, the constant goal was trading in for 100s and 500s. Two months ago, he was bored out of his skull while waiting for his turn. Today, he was figuring mathematical calculations in his head for two and a half hours straight!
Years ago, when I was an elementary school teacher, the educational value of games was not lost on me. I stocked the shelves in my classroom full of fun stuff like Monopoly, Dominoes, Chess, Checkers, and Scrabble; all to be played after regular work was completed, of course. Deep down, I knew kids should be able to play as much as possible. But back then, I still was plagued by the old belief that somehow it was cheating if learning was too much fun. Fun learning needed to be balanced by dull, tedious learning; to build character, or to prepare students for standardized tests or college or whatever inevitable discomfort lay ahead.
After 7 years of unschooling and living with three children who have never been to school, I'm aware that the old belief that learning must be difficult, has nearly left my awareness. Every once in a while, however, it pokes it's head out to remind me that 7 years is nothing compared to the nearly 25 I spent as a student and teacher. Today, as Macy, my ten year old, was calculating the amount of change she should give me, she got frustrated and looked at me for help. The old teacher-me lapsed into that tell-tale, high-pitched voice and I found myself explaining the groups of tens and ones and how simple it would be to count backwards from.....
Macy rolled her eyes and pleaded, "Remember Mom? I don't have to know this unless I want to....remember? Just tell me how much change I'm supposed to give you and let's get on with it."
Oh. That's right. Thankfully, I shoved that old belief back under the surface and on with it, we went. On with our day. On with our learning and growing. Choosing to live life without school comes from my belief that kids should be in charge of their own learning. Just like they decided when to talk, crawl and walk, I trust that my children will intuitively know when they need to read, write and calculate. The large amounts of time that we spend together as a family allows for our relationships with one another to be our primary focus. We deliberate, negoatiate, compromise, bicker, and discuss every single day. I see my most important role to be more "experienced resource person", than wise teacher.
All this time we end up spending together also allows me to witness the miracle of their own self discovery. Numbers are pondered and sums figured, but chances are good, it happens in the produce isle at the grocery or peddling up hill on our bikes. This afternoon, on our bike ride home, Charley explained his theory about day and night and the 24 hour clock. The conclusions he draws amaze me on a regular basis and the ease with which he connects new pieces of information reinforces my decision to let these kids do life, and learning, in their own way.
In the beginning of our unschooling journey, I worried that there was no plan. After years of goal setting and curriculum planning with my students, it felt odd to essentially make it up as we went along. But I've come to realize that this is the beauty of an unschooling life. It can change at any time. A few months ago it was ballet and soccer. This week it's knitting and football. Our time and our energy is put into whatever it is that makes us feel alive and whole. I think this quote from Howard Thurman says it all:
"Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is those who have come alive."
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 12, Macy, 10 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 passionate and radical transportation activist and is starting a non-profit carsharing organization in her town. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at ashlandcarshare@gmailcom.