Sunday, January 3, 2010


What is Unschooling:

Unschooling is a type of homeschooling but without the curriculum and formal teaching schedule. It's very radical but I think it will work for our family. I'll explain why below. So what is Unschooling? It's completely child-led, parent-guided, and focused on what the child is interested in. It's all day, everyday, life-long learning adventures in the community, at home, and outside in nature. It involves running around outside, exploring nature, observing bugs, cooking meals, playing computer games, taking interesting classes in the community, jumping on trampolines, spending entire days at the beach, and learning as we live and explore. The philosophy is based on the fact that children are naturally curious about the world and want to learn. And that by following their interests and their lead, we, as a family, will learn far more than in school where it's forced and unnatural.

It's different from traditional homeschooling because there's no curriculum, no worksheets, no scheduled "school" time, and no tests. It's life. It's making the most of every moment, every interest, every curiosity, and learning more about the world together as a family. We've done some of this type of teaching and noticed Mateo responds really really well to it. Here's why.

***We're using the unschooling method of educating our children, not parenting. Most unschoolers extend this style into their parenting allowing their child to go to bed when they want and eat when and what they want as well. They believe children know what's best for themselves and parents don't. This is where I draw the line. Mateo needs to go to bed at a reasonable time if nothing more than for my sanity :)

Why we're doing it:

Basically, it comes down to the fact that I think I can teach my kids better than an over-worked, under-paid teacher of 20 other students can. I'm not anti-school and I probably wouldn't do this if I had any other child than I do. Actually, I've never been a fan of homeschooling. My experience of homeschooling has always been religious fanatics that are scared their children will be infiltrated by demons in the public school system. Their children are socially stunted because they've only ever been around other people like them, while the real world isn't like that, and kids need to know how to socialize with lots of types of people. So it's almost laughable that I would ever even consider homeschooling. Actually, even saying the word makes me throw up a little in my mouth. So I never in a million years thought I would actually homeschool my kids. But, since having Mateo in our lives, every single aspect of parenting, kids, and life has been challenged and redefined. So it really should be no surprise to me that my educational choices would be unconventional too. It goes right along with the rest of my parenting!

The idea started when I began thinking about future-Mateo. Future Mateo in school. School as an institution, public, private, good town, bad town, is about sitting relatively still for hours at a time at a desk with at least 15 other kids in the classroom listening to the teacher or doing worksheets. I just can not foresee Mateo being able to learn that way. I was barely able to learn that way and I don't have nearly as many learning problems as Mateo does. I know we're still a couple years off. And I don't know how kindergarten works nowadays, but I do know my son. A year and a half ago I knew there was something "off" in his brain chemistry. And I was right. Now I know that he will not succeed in a traditional school setting. He may survive, he may get by, but will he learn? Or will he slip through the cracks? Or maybe he'll be so disruptive he won't be able to stay in regular school. And there's no way I'll agree to send him to a therapeutic school. I've worked in two of them and I know there's a time and a place for this type of setting, but not for my kid! And I'll just leave it at that.

So, knowing Mateo as I do, and knowing that he's spent his whole time with us developing at HIS own pace, not able to be force-fed knowledge or skills at any time, has helped solidify my decision. Walking, talking, potty training (still waiting for that one!) has all been in his own timing. Actually, when we've tried to teach him something against his will, or pushed a skill when he wasn't ready, he bucked the system and resisted more! And his timeline does not match up with most kids in the school system. And you know what? I'm finally okay with that. If I pull him out of school, it doesn't really matter if he knows his colors right now or not. Maybe one day we'll pick up a prism at the science store and he'll be interested enough to learn about colors. Maybe not. Maybe he doesn't really care about colors for the next two years. Doesn't matter. He'll learn them eventually, and it won't be forced so it will probably happen faster and he'll retain the information longer. At least that's the theory.

How it will work:

Well, I suppose we'll find that out as we go. Even though preschool is really all about playing, it's not super-structured like grade school, and he seems to have fun, I'm going to start when we move in April. Mostly because we need a trial time and doing it during preschool seems pretty low-risk. In our new house, we'll have a big room devoted just for playing and learning. I'm already plotting out what I want the room to be like, and what materials I want to have available. I think what we'll do is provide the materials for learning and exploring and encourage him when he's ready to do it. And we'll learn and grow together being keyed-in to his interests. For instance; trains. He is really into trains right now (what 3 year old little boy isn't?) So, here are all the things we can do having to do with trains. We can visit a train, read about trains, play with trains, take apart a toy electric train, ride a train, visit the train museum, walk along train tracks, pretend to be a conductor, write a story about trains, build a model train, study a map of where trains travel, and watch movies about trains. We'll be learning about schedules and time, about ticket pricing and money, about types of trains, how trains run, mechanics, engineering, geography, computer skills, and practicing reading and writing. If he's tired of trains before we finish, no big deal, we can learn the same skills in a variety of ways.

Now don't worry. I'm not going into this blindly. I've looked up the statistics on success rate of homeschoolers and unschoolers in college and work life, and for the most part they are either similar to public schooled kids or more successful. I still have to work part-time, so some of our learning will happen on the weekends, which will be awesome because Dave can be involved and teach him things that I can't. Mateo has learned how to screw and unscrew, hammer a nail, and he already knows the difference between a screw, a bolt, a nut, and a bit. We didn't even teach him that! So he doesn't know his colors, BUT he knows how change the batteries in all his toys.

I truly believe unschooling will work for our family. I can adapt to Mateo's needs at the time; whether he needs a sensory break, calming time reading a book, an mid-day nap, or some physical activity outside. I can give him what school can't. I think. We'll find out and I'll keep you posted as I go. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free as always!

Mateo screwing the bottom for our lazy-susan into our cabinet


Kim said...

Sounds really interesting. I'd love to try something like that but I think I would do it in addition to school. But that is because the structured school environment has actually been really good for Meechi. Like you said, you go with what works for your child. All kids do learn differently.

I can't wait to hear how unschooling goes for Mateo.

Molly said...

This really sounds good for him. That was what I loved best about the special needs summer camp at which I worked. We had time to meet kids individual needs. If my kid with aspergers was having a total knock down, drag out, meltdown I was expected to deal with that! not shuttle him off to some art or sport activity. or I could pull my sensory kid out of art class when I saw him starting to lose it and tae a sensory break. We had the freedom to meet their needs, which is sort of what this sounds like. can't wait to see how it goes.

Meg said...

Sounds great. We homeschooled for a while and it worked well - and we may go back to it at some point. We did it for 1.5 years and when I put my son back into public school he was actually ahead of some of his peers. And he's learning disabled. Structured school is very hard for many kids. My son struggles with it now and we are very aware that we may have to pull him at some point and go back to homeschooling so he can get the flexibility and breaks in the day he needs.

Sunny said...

Love it. Love it. Love it. In my previous life (before becoming a SAHM) I was a public school teacher. We plan on homeschooling or unschooling our children as well. People have a hard time understanding how I can be so pro-homeschool after being committed to public school, but having public school experience is probably my biggest reason for wanting to homeschool! :)

Joe @ IrrationalDad said...

Isn't there some sort of law about schooling? Will Mateo have to take some sort of state or federal test to ensure that the government believes Mateo is where they think he should be? Or do you just do your own thing without interference from the education system? Either way, I hope it works out. Nobody knows your son better than you, and with the therapy he's in, you'll have professional guidance on some of the things Mateo needs to work on .

Good luck.

Nikki said...

Really interesting!

By the way, let me know if you are still interested in the blog makeover and if you have any questions!

Thad and Ann said...

I swore I would never Homeschool. I was HS'ed from 2nd-12th. I liked it but before we had kids I thought it would be great if they could experience the things I didn't. Then Jabari came home, we tried Preschool & he LOATHED it. We have chosen the best path for him & us, even though the path goes against what society teaches. I have a hodge podge curriculum, it's what he likes & is the best fit for us. The greatest thing about HS'ing is you get to pick what works for your kid & family. We are also joined a HS Co-op, it's a great way to have the kids get out & have friends. Good Luck!

Are These Kids All Yours? said...

YEAH!!! I 100 percent AGREE!!!! We do that in our home, but we do have some "curriculum" but we are not scheduled, and we do a lot of the unschooling type method - :) LOVE IT!!!!

Adopting1Soon said...

This sounds like a great idea. Please continue to post about how it's going, I'm really interested. If I had a partner to support me, I might actually like to do this with my daughter too. But as it stands, I have to work so she has to be schooled by others.