OUR JOURNEY TO UNSCHOOLING:
My oldest two boys initially went to school. We were living in a small christian community in rural NSW and the school they attended was based in the community. We knew all the teachers well and it was a pretty good environment for them. It would have been weird not to send them! However, I had a sense of frustration and disappointment, that the school didn’t explore any alternative educational methods or philosophies (I’d been previously interested in Montessori and Steiner). It seemed so crazy that they were running a small independent private school, and had the opportunity to do things really differently, but they persisted with traditional teaching styles and materials.
My oldest son seemed ok in that environment, although interestingly, when he first started school he was in the “top group” for maths, and within the first year he was in the bottom one! Something clearly wasn’t working!
My second oldest son was a sadder story. He changed from being a vibrant, vivacious, spirited child with lots of “spunk”, to a good boy who sat quietly, did his work, and complied with the system. His spirited bubbliness slowly faded away.
After a few years we moved back to the big smoke, and the boys went to a big city school. This didn’t go down so well!! We were only going to be living there for 12 months, and our 2nd son was begging to be homeschooled. He hated the big classroom and playground full of kids and felt totally overwhelmed and underimpressed by the whole experience! We decided, based on the fact that we’d be moving back to another rural location in 12 months time, that he would really benefit from a year at home with us, and mixing in the small home ed group of kids. Within a few weeks, our oldest son realised we were having more fun than he was at school, so he came home too! 12 months later we were still living in the big city so we just kept going with it. Two years after moving to the city, we moved again, but by this time it had become a lifestyle, and it really didn’t enter our minds to return the children to a school environment.
By this time, our youngest son was due to start school, so he simply didn’t go. Two years later, his little sister didn’t go either.
Neither of the youngest two have ever been to school. And I’m glad.
When I was a child, I dreamed of being a teacher. I also dreamed of being a mother.
When my children came home from school to do home schooling, I thought all my dreams had come true! I was going to be able to fulfil both of my dreams!
A week later, I realised my boys didn’t want me to be their teacher. They wanted me to be their Mum. A homeschooler I met had wisely advised me not to invest in any expensive home schooling curriculum, based on the fact that people often later find that it’s not a good fit for their family or a particular child, so fortunately I hadn’t wasted thousands of dollars! I was incredibly lucky that our country’s Home Education Association was running a course for new home educating parents, starting the very next week, so I jumped at that opportunity.
A couple of things happened. Firstly, I discovered that home educating families include their younger children in their life too. I had expected that I’d have to find childcare for my 2 children that weren’t of school age yet, but the mum whose house the course was being held at just laughed and said, “Oh no! You don’t need to do that! Bring them along with you; everyone else will!”
I also discovered that there is more than one way to live this home schooling life. I’ve heard it said that there are as many approaches to home education as there are families doing it, which is probably true. I had been drawn towards Montessori, Unit Studies, and Charlotte Mason approaches, but it was at this course that I first heard about the idea of ….. UNschooling! And suddenly I realised I’d discovered the very thing that made the most sense to me. I learned that schools are a fairly new invention, and curriculum is big business!! And doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with helping children learn. It does have a lot to do with trying to put information in. And I learned that learning is as natural as breathing, and that in much the same way children naturally learned to walk, talk, eat, use a toilet, play sociably etc, they could also learn to read, add up, and learn about the world around them.