For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a little different. The lone daughter among sons. The middle child. The Los Angeles born and bread teen who loved Nas over Snoop Dogg. The dreamer.
Each of these slight quirks have culminated in the woman I am today: a homeschooling mama, freelance writer, my own boss, a professional #GOALdigger—not quite what my parents thought I’d be, but they seem cool with it nonetheless.
But being different and living an unconventional life sounds more awesome than it actually is.
Sure, there are perks to living life on your own term—lots of them—but cost of doing so is often very high. When you operate outside of the dominant system, those who are apart of the system can’t seem to understand why you’d want to jump ship. And when everything is on your shoulders, you’ve got to carry the load—no matter how heavy.
This year I began homeschooling my six-year-old son. It happened in a round about way, the idea sorta falling into my head. Did I ever set out to homeschool? Not at all. I loved dropping him off in the morning to chat with his friends about whatever elementary shenanigans he got into, and picking him up hours later after I’ve had time to do whatever I needed and wanted to do. But when it was time for him to leave his small private school (they only go up to the first grade), throwing him into the big bad world of overcrowded public school classrooms just didn’t feel right, no matter how high their test scores were.
So homeschooling it was.
I didn’t trust my abilities or patience to pull together a curriculum that would cover all of the things the state says he should learn in second grade, so I opted for an online public school that sent us books, a computer, and a plan: Do this, every single day, and turn in the results.
In the beginning, things were rough. I had to force him to the table to do his math lessons and after 20 minutes of threatening, tears, and amazing amounts of frustration, we made quick work of our studies for the day.
Was he learning? I wasn’t sure, but the work got done.
Last week, after a very interesting Twitter conversation with @Got2BOshun and @MalaikaMose, I began looking into the idea of “unschooling,” or letting your child’s curiosity to lead his learning. While the idea is extremely scary to some (myself included), it spoke to me. During the conversation I came to the realize that school—that place most of us went to every single day for at least 12 years of our lives—is artificially hard.
Learning things we love is not difficult, but learning them amid the distractions, and peer pressures, and rules of a classroom, and subpar teachers taking the curiosity and wonder out of learning, makes it seem like it’s a chore.
After feeling under pressure to get all of le kid’s homeschooling lessons done every day, despite the arguments, near-tantrums, and not knowing if he was just completing a worksheet or really absorbing the material, I decided to try an experiment. I allowed him to “unschool” himself last week to see if he’d spend all day watching TV (my biggest fear) or if he’d learn something valuable that would give me a clue that this might be for us.
The result? He learned about money and how to buy things at the store. He figured out how to decide what to buy based on how much money he had. He said that was fun. He learned about the states and continents. He watched a lot of TV, but most of it was documentaries on dinosaurs and marine life (his favs.). And we read books.
While I need to work with him to become a better reader, his vocabulary is pretty impressive for a six-year-old, his personality is….something else (he’s quite funny), and he loves, loves, loves being able to learn about the things he enjoys.
So now I’m at a crossroad. Do I stay the homeschooling course through the online program or do I really give this “unschooling” thing a chance?
One reason I’m hesitant to tumble head-first into unschooling is the fear that I’d be somehow doing him a disservice by not cracking the learning whip. But tons of unschoolers go on to college and beyond, so I’m not really worried about this (and he can always enroll back into school if need be).
But my biggest impediment into experimenting with my child’s learning is fear. Yup, fear…again.
If I unschool le kid, I most certainly will be the first in my family and among my friends to attempt to do so. I would hate for them to think that I was simply being a lazy parent and allowing my child to run the show, dooming him to a life of minimum wage jobs and illiteracy.
Yes, fear–the thing that paralyzes many of us and keeps us from reaching out and pursuing our goals—I’m afraid.
Parenting is about making choices that will shape your child’s life. And while it feels right to me to give unschooling a proper try, I’m scared of what happens if we both fail.
But as I’ve been writing about here many times before, we cannot let fear to rule our lives. We can’t always look over our shoulder thinking about what might happen if we make a wrong move or an unpopular choice.
So for the moment—at least for today—I’m going to be brave.
Wish us luck!
Do you homeschool or unschool your child? Got any tips? Please leave me a comment and share your thoughts and ideas with me.