The Accidental Unschooler.
The story of an accidental unschooler
After reading this article, sharing several families’ stories of how they entered into the world of unschooling, I was inspired to write my own story. Secretly I envy families who discovered this means of education early on in their child’s life. But in the same breath I give thanks to our personal journey.
I began our journey in this life together practicing attachment parenting. Miro was continuously with me for the first 3 months of his life. What that looked like for us was wearing him in sling, and only putting him down for 10 minutes at a time, if even that. I read the Dr. Sears books, and even had a beautiful Sikh woman stay with us for the first week of Miro’s life, teaching me the principles of being an attached parent.
But then, I went back to work, and I just surrendered to the cultural idea of how life was supposed to look, me working, my son being cared for by strangers, and stretches of time we could spend together only happened on weekends.
We loved our time together.
And we laughed a lot.
And during the week, I was so depressed.
But what could I do?
Luckily things shifted in my professional life, and I was able to start my own business, thinking that would allow me more time with Miro. But it didn’t. And our travels are a result of an accumulation of many things lining up for us, which I have talked about in great detail on this site before.
What amazes me as I look back is my unquestioning attitude about education. I just accepted, surrendered to the notion that schools were necessary, that my son NEEDED an education and that the Los Angeles School District was more qualified than I to teach him. I had managed to provide him with alternate learning from kindergarden to second grade as he attended and loved Montessori school, but still the idea of home ‘education’ was never an option for us. I had to run the business, after all, and I wasn’t qualified to teach.
So third and fourth grade happened in the Los Angeles School District and our experience was not positive, to say the least. But we tried to make it a comfortable fit, through exercising our personalities though their system, by reading books that were relevant to our lives like ‘Heather has 2 Mommies’ (as Miro has 2 Grandma’s), which got me banned from the parent book reading mornings. We ‘opted out’ of the pledge of allegiance, as we were exercising our right to disagree with the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Miro was the only Jewish kid in an all Latino school and we tried to share some of our traditions with his classmates. But overall, it was not a flexible system not to mention the academics were way behind the things Miro had already learned in Montessori. He was bored, out of place, and both of our experience within the public school system was not very positive.
But as things changed in our life, and our final decision to travel happened, I had to look at the idea of Miro’s education. For us, it felt easy to take off one year and travel. I felt good that that would a sufficient ‘learning’ experience for him and he’d get way more out of it then 5th grade. And Miro was so excited not to be subjected to another year in the public school system.
At that point, I had no idea something called ‘unschooling’ or ‘natural learning’ existed. As we began to travel, I saw he was learning and everything was fun. He read, he leaned Spanish ‘sólo escuchando’ and the decision to continue was easy. After we both decided to extend our year trip into an indefinite travel lifestyle, I started learning more and more about unschooling and develop my own ideals. And if you follow us on twitter or facebook, you will notice I read voraciously on the subject and share other people’s articles often. I had to understand what my role was, how natural learning worked and how we could support each other. And I have adapted a new paradigm in terms of how I approach my son’s learning.
And so we are accidental unschoolers.
And I take my role as an unschooling parent seriously.
What about socialization?
I don’t worry about Miro fitting in, because he already does. He’s more well adjusted than most children we’ve met on our travels, and most we’ve known back in the States. Do I say that because he’s my child? Maybe. But I see him socially comfortable playing with small children, kids his age, older kids, having hour long conversations with adults about politics and world events, many times he knows more than the adults he talking to. Plus he has a high comfort level in chatting with seniors who are not his family. In other words, I don’t see any social problems with his unschooling experience at all.
What about college?
As for work and college, along with this lifestyle he knows he’s responsible for his life. He knows he has the permission to be lazy when he wants. He also knows he is fully in control of his choices. He knows he can go to college and he’ll have to spear head getting what he needs in order to test in. He knows he has that choice and is not a path to do anything society has laid for him, only what he sees his path is for himself. I don’t worry. He’s level -headed, sensitive, kind and smart. And has permission to make his own path and make his own mistakes.
What about math?
I’m not teaching math to my son. I’m not insisting he learns it in any formal way. I’m not going to go into that here, but if you are interested, I wrote an entire article answering that question here.
I recently gave this piece of advice to another traveling family who asked for help:
“I know you worry about doing the right thing for your child, but go into a partnership with him and start giving him a say on how he sees his ‘education’ going. It’ll surprise you and he’ll get accustomed to being empowered about his life. They change drastically when this happens. And your relationship transforms to that as a parent, yes- but a partner, supporter and facilitator of their present and future. I only wish I had discovered this earlier in Miro’s life. Do what works for you, but you will do both of you a favor if you can relax, trust the process, laugh and play together.”