Home Education Magazine
May-June/97 - Articles
Peaceful Unschooling - Charlotte C. Monte
I am fortunate. My attempt at "schooling" my six-year-old son, Michael, was short-lived. Lasted three days. For three days I tried to make this bright, active youngster "practice" his letters, "do" his math. As if, within those particular "learning" activities, I could point to something (or point to myself) and say, "See! We're learning!" After all, the school year had begun!
I had decided to take the summer off. I'm well aware that learning happens all the time. I just wasn't going to keep track of it on a daily basis.
I picked September 9th to start school up "officially" for this year. What I told myself that meant was that I would simply start again to use my self-developed record-keeping system and keep track of our activities, accomplishments and field trips throughout the school year. I even have a place for myself to put a sticker as reward to myself for weeks completed.
I'm not a homeschooling novice. We began Kindergarten last year with Michael, and "pre-K" with Maria, 4. I've researched and read enough about homeschooling in general and unschooling in particular that, theoretically, I should have avoided this entire unnecessary, messy episode altogether. The difference, I told myself, was that Kindergarten was completely unschooling, but starting first grade (egad!), meant that we really ought to get more serious. More structured. More "schoolish."
What a disaster. There were tears. Yelling. I am ashamed to admit that in those two days, my throat hurt from the elevated decibel level. I was so frustrated that I even told Michael to practice his letters during the time the babysitter was at our house, so that I wouldn't have to deal with him-and the necessary but hated "learning activity" would be accomplished by the time I got home! (How despicable!) I returned home to a page of disjointed, angry "z's" that almost made me want to cry. And Michael almost was crying. But being who he is, that became anger, resentment and sassiness.
I simply couldn't go on. I felt like picking up the phone and calling the local school district to throw him in the nearest school, public or not! I had to save myself. I went to the best place I knew.
Thanks to the loving, sympathetic members of my homeschooling support group, I was saved. Tuesday afternoon found me making a beeline to the several people whom I knew would afford me an attitude adjustment. They quickly set me straight.
"How old is he?" they asked incredulously.
"Six," I sheepishly admitted. And by the time I had finished one conversation, I realized how misguided and ridiculous my attempts at forced learning were.
"Go back to whatever it is you were doing in Kindergarten," was the sage advice.
Imagine my reaction to a fellow homeschooling mom who arrived at the park shortly after my own unkinking, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. She had just had a fight with her daughter over spelling. "I don't know if I should retire from homeschooling . . . or just motherhood!" Thankfully, I was now in a position to offer encouragement and support. After all, I had seen the light! But it made me wonder, sadly, how many of us go through this battle? Battling our children. Making them do "learning." Doing damage. We must ourselves have been so brainwashed by our own schooling that it is the blessed few who can once and forever turn off the urge to "do school" on their kids. And how many more never even try homeschooling for fear of all of the above or of the unknown?
Yes, I definitely have an opinion that unschooling, or child-led learning, or whatever similar term parents choose, is best for children. And I'm sure that for every person you ask, you'll get a different definition of what unschooling means, and it may look vastly different from house to house, and even child to child. What I really think unschooling boils down to, in whatever form, is this: A peace, a harmony and a love of learning that does not get squelched over time.
I told Michael that I would not make him do letters anymore. You should have seen the look in his eyes. Pure joy. Pure relief. The child had been delivered from his (briefly) lunatic mother. (He was so relieved that later that evening he made a point to tell my mother on a long-distance phone call: "Mama says she's not going to make me do letters anymore!" I wonder if Mom fully realized the importance of those words.)
And what we accomplished in the days following that thankful Tuesday afternoon I could not have even begun to foretell. I was amazed. We worked on an Usborne book of dot-to-dots. Michael saw what the different numbers looked like, ("Oh, that's 32!") and got a perfect sense of number sequencing by following the convenient number line at the bottom of each page. He used vibrant colors to make creatures to add to our livingroom rainforest exhibit. He asked how to spell "frog," then wrote it himself instead of copying from my written word. He played Peppermouse on the computer. He looked through a stack of National Geographics. We even did a Saxon math lesson. And I kept track of it all in my record book, because I enjoy it. I picked a silly pumpkin face sticker to reward myself on Friday.
We still work on household chores, which we call responsibilities. And we have occasional rudeness and sassiness which needs to be dealt with. But we capture plentiful, bountiful learning moments, read together, play excessively and have much quieter voices.
And our throats and our hearts don't hurt anymore. © 1997 Charlotte C. Monte
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