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Nov 14

Q & A – Deciding to Unschool, and My Hopes For My Children

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I’ve really been enjoying answering questions this week!  If you have questions, feel free to send them either here or on my FB page.   Just let me know if you’d rather I’d answer you privately (and please be patient… sometimes there just aren’t enough hours :))

Without further ado:

 

What lead you to unschool your kids? I know you’ve written a bit about Spencer’s beginnings as a child with certain needs that influenced your decision but I’d like to hear more!

 

This is always the hardest question for me to answer.  Not because I don’t know the answer, but because there are just so very MANY reasons that it’s difficult to know where to begin!

I first read about unschooling when my oldest Spencer (16 at the time of this writing) was still an infant.   I’d gotten some homeschooling books from the library, and there happened to be a John Holt book or two in the stack.  I don’t know what had sparked the interest in the first place, because up until I’d had a child of my own, I was one of those people who 1) Didn’t really understand homeschooling, and 2) thought that anyone who would choose it had to be either a religious zealot or a weird, crazy hippy.

But for whatever reason, I looked into it… and I just never looked back.   I found unschooling in that very first stack of books I read, and it Just. Made. Sense.  It clicked with something deep inside of me, and there was simply no way to ignore it.

I did fine in school… I got good grades, I was on the honor roll, I took advanced classes… but I spent a huge portion of it bored, wishing I were outside, or curled up in a chair reading a book, or writing a story, or painting a picture.  I wanted something different for my own kids.  So I chose differently for them.  I also chose it for me, so that they could have the experience that I didn’t get to have.  And I chose it for my husband, who spent his whole school career being told he needed to go into business and accounting, simply because he was good at math… which led to a great job, but also led to the realization that he’d gone into something that wasn’t entirely of his own choosing, as well as an admission that he’d wished he’d taken a different path, that he’d be happier if he was working outdoors, or with his hands in some way.  I chose it for all the people (and there are so many of us!) who are “out of the box” learners, the square pegs that don’t fit in the round holes, the ones who might do terribly in school…. or the ones who might do fine, but who’d be able to do so much more if they were in a more conducive environment.

I chose it because I believe John Holt when he says, “True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner”

I chose it because for me, it seemed to be the most kind, respectful, individualized way for my children to learn what THEY need to learn… according to their personal paths, their interests, and their desires.  I chose it because I think that we all learn best when we are the ones who are able to decide how, when, why, what, and from whom or from what we learn.

And yes, I chose it because when Spencer was three, and receiving speech therapy services from the local public school, we got a very real taste of “the system”, and what it would mean for our family and for our sweet, intelligent, unique little boy who was already being told that he needed to be in a special school in order to be “fixed.”   We opted out, and to this day (nearly 14 years later) we happily and peacefully and gratefully stand by that decision.

 

Do you have any advice for those in small communities who are trying to get involved in a homeschool or unschooling group? I’ve been searching for over a year in my little town and it’s been like pulling teeth to try to find something. Only found one homeschooling group so far… still have yet to meet ONE single other unschooler in this town!

 

I am not a big group person.  I only somewhat recently came to terms with that, I think because there can be a real pressure to believe that groups are good and/or necessary if you’re going to homeschool.  The socialization!  The connection with others!  The community! But I don’t particularly enjoy big group activities, and 3 of my 4 kids share my sentiments.  And that’s okay.

Having said that … with the exception of a couple of dead-in-the-water park days with new groups with whom I just did not fit in, I do have to give credit where credit is due.  I’ve met some good friends through homeschool groups.  Even through the Christian group that sent me away with a bad taste in mouth after I was told I needed to read my Bible more carefully.

My suggestion would just be to keep trying, and don’t underestimate the power of your online community either! I’m at the point now that nearly all my friends, with the exception of a few that remained from childhood, are people I met through online connections.  I lived in Phoenix for a good five years before I really met any local unschoolers who I truly connected with (and even now, that number is very very small).  I’ve met with quite a few groups that weren’t a good fit.  But when the timing was right, the right people showed up in my life.  :)  I’m very thankful for my local friends, for sure, but I’m equally as thankful for my not-as-local online tribe … the ones who were there through our move, through all the years before we really knew anybody, and through all those days when I just need to be at home.

And finally, it’s good to remember that having a close, connected, peaceful, joy-filled nuclear family is more important to unschooling than joining a group any day.

 

I was thinking about a couple of your recent posts, and thought about the line “Children live up to our expectations.” I’m wondering, what expectations do you have for your children?

 

I really love this question.  What’s interesting is that I read it wrong the first couple of times I read it.  I read it more as, “What are your hopes for your children?”  But then I realized that my hopes and my expectations for my children are one and the same.    These are also some more of the reasons that I unschool.  Not that a non-unschooling family couldn’t foster the same things, not at all.  It’s just that I find unschooling particularly conducive to my goals/hopes/expectations for my children.

I expect that my children will be able, eager and confident life-long learners.

I expect that my children will be true to their own sense of self.

I expect that my children will be kind, loving, and respectful of others.

I expect that my children will choose lives for themselves that make them happy.

I expect that my children will live lives of great value, both to themselves and to others.

Thinking of my kids and my expectations always makes me think of the Emerson quote on success.  This… this is what I want for my kids (and for myself!):

 

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

 


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  • Shannon Wasie

    Jen-
    I loved reading this today, especially since I just ordered my very first John Holt book (along with some L.R. Knost Gentle Parenting resources)!

    I love learning from you. I don’t even remember how I found your blog…followed some chain of parenting/attachment/family focused blogs, I think, but I’m so glad I did! I have a 1 year old, and I struggled through the first 9 or so months, just going on my gut toward “gentle” and attachment-type decisions, and then suddenly, I stumbled upon this whole, beautiful, empowering community of gentle parents and unschoolers, and I felt the often-described “click” like this is it! And I’m not alone! Now I’m speaking for myself, and doing more discovering and sharing on my own blog at http://www.loveisnotareward.com

    SO awesome. :)
    Thank you for sharing so transparently, and for being so completely authentic. It’s brave and lovely.
    Grateful for you, and all these other parents so willing to share their lives here.

    • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

      Hi Shannon, thank you! And enjoy your new books. :) When I was a new unschooler, I just read and read and read….

      • Shannon Wasie

        I know, good thing reading is fun bc it’s starting to devour my life too! ;)

  • Kathleen

    That is a good answer :-) But I meant the question in a more immediate sense, what do you expect of them, their behaviour, these days, not in the future?

    • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

      Those are all things I expect of them in the immediate sense too. :) To be loving and kind and respectful, to be happy, to be eager and confident learners… all of it.

      • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

        As for their behavior specifically, yes, I think kind and respectful covers it, but I don’t expect them to be anything other than.. human? If that makes sense?

        • Kathleen

          Yes it does :-)
          And I realized I didn’t phrase the question clearly.
          Thanks!

  • Cara Sedor Slonaker

    Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are awesome!!!! Thank you for sharing!!!! xo

  • Antoinette

    Yesss!!! Thank you! Great post!