Our Unschooling Journey: What We’re Learning

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.” ~Charlotte Mason

It’s the early morning hours and the sun has not even peeked out from over the horizon, yet my boys have already bound downstairs and are deeply engaged in their day. Thanks to my supportive husband, I am usually stealing a few precious moments of sleep after stumbling to and fro from my daughter’s room, nursing all night long. (I just don’t make sleeping babies.) By the time I make it downstairs, the house is already drowning in a whirlwind of projects. One glance around the room and I can get a sense of where the day may be headed.

As self-directed learners or unschoolers or natural learners (call it what you will), I let my kids guide us in the direction of how we will spend our time and what we will learn. These days, one might say there is a mini Renaissance happening in our house as art and all things creative plays a large role in their learning. Art, music, architecture, engineering, story writing and reading is what motivates my boys. Sewing their own stuffed animals, self-taught piano playing and reading music, numerous machines & robots designed and constructed or journal writings about adventures had: every single day my boys are consuming art supplies, carrying a beat on their drum, raiding the recycle bin, and turning my dining room table into a makerspace. I love it.

Big Brother and Little One are fearless in what they can create. One aspect of their creative process that I love is that they rarely get discouraged and give up. If an invention or sculpture has not turned out the way they had envisioned, without skipping a beat, they will just try again. I love seeing that confidence and determination in them. They take charge. I do my best to have as many supplies available to them at all times so that they can execute what they’ve cooked up in their heads. When they’re in need of new supplies, they will make their list and let me know and it is off to the art store we go. How I wish Michaels had a frequent shopper card.

Through much of their creative process, I am delighted to see how other life and learning skills seamlessly come into play. For instance, when Big Brother decided to sew a stuffed animal and I saw him applying and even learning on the spot math skills as he measured his materials, estimated distance between his stitches and worked on his reading as he studied the directions. Or when he designed his homemade board game and there he was writing directions, planning out the rules, even creating a logo for the back of the playing cards that accompanied the game. Then there was that time that he and his brother decided to open a restaurant in their play kitchen and he created a menu complete with the name of their restaurant! After returning home from a day spent in downtown Boston, he sits down to write about his favorite memories from the day so that he won’t forget them. These are the authentic, magical unschooling moments that I love the most.

Yet, even with all that magic, after spending years in the elementary classroom, one piece of this unschooling process that I continue to work hard to embrace is letting go of the shoulds that were enforced under the school system’s curriculum, especially those surrounding literacy. A child should be reading at a certain level at a certain age. Their writing should look a certain way at this age. Every veteran homeschooling parent I have ever spoken to that also chose a path of self-directed learning has echoed the same chorus of: when they are ready, it will happen. Everyone blossoms in his or her own time. Rushing and pushing is a recipe for disaster. I have faith in the process and am allowing Big Brother to move at the pace that feels right to him. As I quickly discovered when trying to directly teach him to read, he shuts down when it is forced and is only interested when it comes from a place of his own genuine interest. I took a deep breath and made the decision to just stop trying to teach him to read. (Gasp!)

In the meantime, I have been practicing the art of strewing with his reading. Along with a group of other homeschoolers, I purchased a license to Learning A-Z which provides thousands of leveled books available to download and print. What I love about these leveled readers is that they go beyond the Bob Books or other early readers in that the books range from fiction to nonfiction, with content that is really engaging and interesting. Way beyond Matt and Sam sat. They also provide clear text to image connection for more challenging words. And so, ever so casually, I began leaving these books around the house. Scattered amongst the many, many books that for now are too hard for him to read on his own, he is able to stumble upon a book he can read! The more and more he gravitates to these books, the more I see his confidence boosting. He even proudly reads them to us or his siblings or his friends who come over to visit. That glimmer of confidence is what I’ve been waiting to see in him. One afternoon, I saw him reading an Elephant and Piggie Book to his brother and the beaming smile on his face after closing the book was priceless. (Side note, I think the entire Elephant & Piggie series are just brilliant for early readers because not only are the stories fun, but they have endless opportunity for them to practice intonation in their reading!)

A quiet moment to read
This school year is off to an inspiring start. It is so exciting to see the direction my boys are steering our unschooling ship! My little Renaissance men are finding their way, one glue stick at a time.


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