Recently, I wrote a guest post at Happiness is Here about following our instincts to unschool. This post delves a little deeper into how we came to our decision.
Unschooling. I had never heard of it before. Homeschooling, sure, mostly because of American movies, but not from personal experience. I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled. I wasn’t aware that homeschooling was even an option in Australia and from my understanding of it, ‘school at home’, it wasn’t something I would consider for our family.
I didn’t come across unschooling until I was pregnant with our second child, now Mr 3. Prior to learning about this incredible way of life, I felt lost when it came to our children’s education. Nothing seemed right. When I was pregnant with our daughter, now Miss 5, I had what is best described as an ‘aha moment’. I was driving home, flicking radio stations when I stumbled upon an interview. The story was captivating. I remember pulling over so I could jot down his name. I wanted to learn more about this man and his thoughts on education. His name was Sir Ken Robinson and I would later learn that the story is well known, at least in unschooling circles. He spoke of the life of Gillian Lynne, a successful ballerina and choreographer for Andrew Lloyd Webber. At just 8 years old she was taken to a psychologist because she was not doing well in school, she was disruptive and tested poorly. The doctor observed her for a while before telling Gillian’s mother there was nothing wrong with her, she’s a dancer, she needs to move to think.
That’s it, I thought. That’s why traditional schooling didn’t sit right with me. Every child is different. Why are children considered difficult or lacking if they don’t fit the mould? Why is there only one ‘acceptable’ way to be educated?
“Assumptions we have arrived at regarding education are just that: assumptions. They are stories born of a culture, and like all stories, we can choose to believe them or not. We can choose, even, to write our own stories.” Ben Hewitt
I knew then what I didn’t want for my kids. I didn’t want them to have to fit the mould. So I started to research what alternative schools existed in our city. We moved house when our daughter was 6 months old. Like most people, when house hunting, we had a long list of wants and needs. The top priority for me was we had to move close to the school they would go to. I didn’t want my kids growing up with an hour long commute to school. The problem was, we still had to choose a school. We fell in love with a beautiful property amongst the gumtrees. It was within 20 minutes drive of an independent school and a Montessori school. We had two options, at least.
After we settled into our forever home I realised it would not be long before we needed to get our daughter on the wait list. These schools are in high demand and missing out was not an option. So, I took my 8 month old daughter to the baby Montessori class. It was a beautiful space. I loved the child friendly nature, everything accessible at baby height. We had a nice morning. As we said goodbye the teacher said “I hope you enjoyed your first day at school”. That hit me hard. What was I doing? She had 12 years of schooling ahead of her. We didn’t go back.
I put the decision to the back of my mind. We went back to enjoying the parks and playdates with friends until we met some new friends who had decided to unschool. I was intrigued. In my pre-baby life I had been a researcher. When it comes to anything about the kids, I research, extensively. Habit. Passion. Whatever it was, I needed to know more and more and more. I found local Facebook groups and read snippets about how people started this life. Many had pulled their kids from school because of bullying or special needs. Here we were, considering unschooling from birth. Should we try school first?
And then I found them. The blogs. Real life stories of people living unschooling (or started with homeschooling) from birth. I was enthralled. I found Racheous, Happiness is Here and later Jitterberry. I am now lucky enough to call these amazing blogging Mama’s my friends, but back then they were enigmas. I was amazed with the lives they were living and the choices they had made. Going against the norm was not new to me but this was next level. How? How do you confidently choose this for your kids?
I wanted to trust myself so badly, but I was scared. I had finally accepted the Montessori school was not a good fit, but we still had another option. We went to an open day at the nearby independent school. I asked what it was like for kids to transfer in after homeschooling (I was too nervous to use the “U” word). She said “we have had a few and they transition okay but it’s a bit more difficult for unschoolers”. It’s like she read my mind. I was so worried that we would choose unschooling only to change our minds and then our kids would be worse off. Still not sure, we put our daughter on the waiting list just in case. Moments after I paid the fee I knew unschooling was what we really wanted I just needed the confidence to take the leap. Seemingly a waste, it was actually the best $100 I ever spent. It gave me clarity and served as my security blanket. If for some reason something changed at least she wouldn’t end up at a traditional school, she would have some freedoms afforded her.
I went back to my research, eager to find the confidence I needed to unschool. Through the bloggers I was introduced to Peter Gray and John Holt. Every word I read resonated with me. I watched Schooling the World and was mind blown. So much yes! I watched more of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks. I had endless conversations with my husband. I was trying to sell him this idea. Or at least that’s what I thought. I was actually trying to convince myself. My instinct said yes. But I was still so apprehensive. I had lots of doubts and worries I had to work through.
The turning point for me was letting go of the research and the safety of my home and getting out there. The real world. I had to actually meet people living this life to see that it was truly possible. So I did. I met some incredibly inspiring unschooling families. Some whose children are grown, some getting a University degree and none had ever set foot in a school. They humbly answered my many questions and squashed my many fears. So we did it. We took the leap and became an unschooling family and we haven’t looked back.