One family's quest to learn together
“In a practical context, it (Deschooling) refers to the mental process a person goes through after being removed from a formal schooling environment, when the “school mindset” is eroded over time. Deschooling may refer to the time period it takes for children removed from school to adjust to learning in an unstructured environment.
Families who have taken their children out of school to homeschool often find their children (and often the parents too) need a period of adjustment – learning to live without the reinforcement of grading and regimented learning. It is typically used to describe children who have been removed from school for the purpose of self-directed homeschooling, but technically applies any person leaving school, either by dropping out or graduating.” wikipedia.org
Our children have been Homeschooled since January. It was always our intention that eventually our children would be Unschooled; that they would move away from the government set curriculums and benchmarks of school, toward self-directed learning. 9 months in from when we began our journey, here is an update of how our family’s plans are unfolding.
In the beginning, I will admit, it was difficult for me to “let go” and stop being a teacher. The only experience that I have had as an educator has been in a classroom with 30 same aged students and I think that this left me ill-equipped for home educating my own children. For a start, my own kids knew that they could say ‘No’. They knew that they could whine and complain their way out of boring schoolwork with their Mum. Whereas children at school are so institutionalised that they are considered a behavioural problem if they even consider refusing to do their school work. In reality, I needed Deschooling as much as the kids.
When we were still living in Adelaide, (waiting for our house to sell) the children and I fell into an easy routine of rising, breakfast and a couple of hours doing Maths and English. Our week also included regular exercise, trips to the library, and local excursions. Simon was still working the 9-5, and the kids and I just kind of found a way of filling our days. In those early days, I was very much still directing most of the children’s learning and on the odd occasion Oscar had a melt-down. I discovered that the best thing for him was to try and include outdoor activities in our routine, or just back off and let him play with Lego all day if that’s what he wanted to do.
After 6 months, when our house finally sold, we hit the road and traveled to the Bega Valley in NSW, Australia. We came to house-sit in an environment so completely different from our suburban lifestyle, that it would have been impossible for some change not to occur in us all. After a few days settling in, the kids and I slipped back into our old routine of ‘school work’ in the morning, only this time using activity books instead of an Internet program, because our connection is so bad here. With Dad now on hand to help out as well, each morning our family filled a couple of hours with some bookwork before going on a walk together.
I can’t even recall when it happened. I guess a month or so in, but at some stage our routine just began to slip away. Our days became filled with exploring the local area, taking long walks, sitting out in the sunshine, talking and laughing together. We’ve been tree-planting at an environmental-redevelopment site, explored rock-pools at the beach, visited cheese factories, explored caves and have seen more wildlife than ever before in our lives.
And the magic is, that even though we are not out touring every day, when at home at the house-sit the kids are busy. They are making boats to float on the creek that runs through the property, testing propellers made with rubber bands with their dad. They have also been playing with syringes, tubing and water, learning about water and air pressure. (After we were given a syringe for administering medicine, it naturally turned into a play thing which led to a learning opportunity.) They have seen so many native Australian animals around the house and surrounding bushland, that they were inspired to learn more about them and their habits. They have both learnt how to start a fire for heat and cooking, witnessed the night sky full of stars, and faced fears of both the dark and fire as a result.
Some things are the same, just with subtle changes emerging. The children still play with electronic games, listen to music and watch movies, but they are also reading books and asking maths questions and problems. They both enjoy drawing, and every day Oscar will create something from recycled boxes or building blocks. Travel has definitely helped Simon and I to have more time to interact with our children. We can have conversations about the world around them, and satisfy their curiosities in a way that we just couldn’t manage when we were both working full time.
I won’t say that I’m 100% confident in Unschooling our children, but I’m probably about 85% of the way there. Sure, I still have days when I worry that they are not covering what their classmates would have covered this year; but then they show me that they are ready to learn something completely self-directed and above our expectations, so it all seems to come out in the wash. I often think that we really should get those activity books out and do some Maths or English, but then our days disappear in a delightfully healthy, curious, outdoor way that just seems so much more natural.
School here in Australia has just broken up for term break. The students will return in a couple of weeks for the final term of the year. So, how do we feel nearing the end of our family’s first year without formal education? Will we be rushing to sign them up at the local school in January? No. We don’t think so. In November our family is moving to Ireland for around 6 months, where we will continue our travels. One of us will need to get some paid work there so that we can afford to live and travel in such an expensive country, but Simon and I both agree that we would like to continue Unschooling the children, so it will be a priority that one of us is with them full time. Unless the kids specifically request to return to school, we’d like to see how far we can immerse our family in Unschooling, because so far, our experience has been simply beautiful.