My Journey To Unschool

Let me tell you a story……

Once upon a time in a land far far away….ok, it was public school….there was a sweet little boy who loved to read at barely 7 years old. He would read with his mommy (me!) every day. He was doing well and making good progress. Soon approaching was the beginning of yet another school year. This is when we found out about a fire breathing dragon living in the school…. alt yeah, yeah, it was a crappy teacher (or so I thought; more on that later). We hoped that my sweet son would not fall victim to her but when they published the infamous class list there it was… black and white. He landed in her class. I was so discouraged because of the stories I had heard; she was strict, mean and gave lots of homework.

The school year started and after just a few weeks the teacher sent me an email. She said that my son was very behind in reading and writing. VERY behind?! No way! I was reading with him every day. Even during summer break! Writing too? Right, because at 7 years old, just 2 weeks into 2nd grade, the teacher gave an assignment to write a FIVE paragraph instructional essay. Of course, he’s going to have a hard time with that. He’d much rather be playing outside, watching cartoons or playing with Legos.

I asked this teacher what she suggested we do. She said she would be offering group tutoring for free for an hour after school 2 days per week. My son started the following week. Let me give you a breakdown of his schedule at this point. Weekdays he woke up at 6:30am and started school at 8:15am. He got home at about 4pm 3 days a week and 5 pm 2 days a week when he stayed after for tutoring. We played for 30 minutes then it was homework time. Most of the time this took an hour or more because he never wanted to do it. This homework period was full of frustration and tears from both of us. 2 nights a week he had karate which he loved. Then dinner, bath and bed by 8.

After a few weeks of tutoring I received another email. My son wasn’t improving. This teacher suggested that we keep the after school tutoring going AND start seeing another tutor outside of school. OK. I took her advice and found a tutor close by who could see him twice a week for $300 per month. That was a lot of money for our young family but I thought it was worth it for my son’s education. At that point he had after school tutoring twice a week and outside tutoring twice a week. His week was now full; full of school box education. His only time to have a chance to do something he enjoyed were his 2 nights of karate and weekends. We continued this for the next 3 months. I wasn’t seeing any improvement, though. I asked all the tutors and they said they would try some different techniques but they assured me it was working.

This year the school schedule changed and they had a whopping 3 weeks off for winter break. Ever since I was a kid, winter break had always been 2 weeks. I thought this was too long of a break right in the middle of school. Well, the break started and I saw my son start to have fun again. By this time, another parent at his karate studio had been talking to me about homeschooling and I was intrigued. I started looking into it more during break then we had a major ice storm and the city shut down for a week. The kids didn’t go back to school. This meant that they would have a full one month break. Once that happened I decided to bite the bullet and pull him out of public school.

My son had been forced to read things he didn’t care about. He’d been told he wasn’t doing well. He was told he was struggling. He was told he was behind. At SEVEN years old. For the next several months trying to get him to do any kind of reading or writing was impossible. I tried a fancy boxed curriculum. That was a major fail! So, I stopped trying. That’s right, I stopped telling him that he had to read and write. So he played video games. It was right about that time that Minecraft was getting big so he was playing that a lot.

He was about 8 and we had 3 more kids by then who were 5, 4 and 2 and I was pregnant with my 5th. I was reading a lot about all the different types of homeschooling. I was asking questions and just trying to take it all in. I wasn’t ready to commit to a certain type of homeschooling yet. In the meantime, I was seeing that my son was starting to get pretty good at his video games and guess what he was doing. He was reading! Not only was he reading but he was researching things that he needed to know for his video games which meant he was learning to type and spell. All unprompted. This was all him. I started to see that the less I pressed him to do things that I deemed important for his education the more he showed me he was capable of. In came unschooling.

Up until the age of 5 we were unschooling our other kids and I didn’t even realize it. They learned so much from everyday experiences and I didn’t have to do anything extra with them. We were just living life. It was also about this time that I realized that all adults are unschooling. It finally clicked for me. Unschooling works for little kids and adults, therefore, it should work for older kids too. As soon as I had this realization, that’s when I started to see all the magic happening and it was beautiful!

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