I like to tell people that I was unschooled because there wasn’t really much “school” in what I did every day. My parents pulled us all out of public school in 1999 and quickly became unblushing homeschool advocates. The original motive for bringing us home was to give us an opportunity to see my dad more often. His schedule at the ER was crazy, and when he was at home, we were held under the spell of the ominous beeper, ready to whisk our Daddy away at any hour. However, once we started homeschooling, the benefits multiplied before our very eyes.
My mom says that she gave us about six weeks to just play and adjust to being home without having to “keep up” or “catch up” or wake up too early! After several weeks of this, she says she saw a very sudden, evident change in us. We were more relaxed, happy and creative. I don’t think homeschooling is for absolutely every family, but it was a huge blessing for mine. Even after these initial weeks, we were adamant not to “bring school home” and kept our life very flexible. There was a lot of reading and exploring, minimal academic requirements and no grading.
But everyone always wants to know, what did y’all really do? The answer to that is both simple and difficult to grasp. Every day was different. There are pros and cons to having that much inconsistency in your week! There were days when my little sister and I would sit down at the dining table and do a timed math quiz. There were days when we would spend hours working in gardens or flowerbeds. There were days we would be too busy writing and directing movies to think about school. There were days when we would all split off with our own books and lie around reading or sketching. There were days when we would hardly come in from playing in the cow trails or swimming in the pool. There were days we would spend twelve hours in the Suburban (and no, we didn’t have a TV or video games!) There were days we would spend the day at the ER, passing out stickers and watching Daddy work. There were days we had lessons in properly scrubbing a bathtub and there were many, many days when we would rush into the living room and plop down on furniture and floor to listen to Mommy read aloud. (And can I tell you something? We didn’t even care if the book she read was on our “reading level”.)
But we learned, every moment of every day! That’s the way God designed us. If you set the table, children will eat. As William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. We were taught early on that learning was our job, not the job of any teacher or curriculum, and my desire to learn has yet to dwindle.
Now, I don’t want to say we were unsupervised, but…we were unsupervised! My parents were (and are!) very attentive, protective and careful parents, but they gave us enough freedom to have our own adventures and learn our own lessons. There is a big difference between being alone and being left alone. My parents were good about leaving us alone (to do what we wanted to do) without losing control of the situation or, of course, actually losing a child.
We had no roll call, pledge, or chalkboard duty. We had no grades or tests (thanks to the State of Texas) and I was never, in my memory, required to write a thing. And yet I write! And yet she counts and he spells and we all did more than survive. We experienced, we traveled, we explored, we learned.
Since you’re dying to know, I’ll go ahead and tell you. We didn’t all learn alike and not every subject came naturally. I hated math with a passion and there were lots of books and games purchased to cure me of this hatred. There were lots of hours put in by parents, siblings and even extended family to try to help me grasp basic concepts. I still have to work on this. It’s not my nature to see a tree and know how tall it is or see a shelf and know how much weight it could hold. Rather, I see birds and books and forget the measurements all together.
My siblings had similar (though less dramatic) difficulties in a variety of subjects. We were sometimes required to focus on one thing or practice another. We were given assignments from time to time. We were made to correct sloppy work. We started a lot of things we never finished, but we finished things I never knew we could do.
I think it is safe to say that my parents have learned just as much as we have through this unschooling journey. They’ve made philosophical and tactical changes throughout the years. When we adopted four children from Haiti in 2007, we were faced with many new challenges and, again, our philosophy and tactics went through the refining fire. This year, my four youngest siblings are involved in Classical Conversations. It is a big change, but our lifestyle has remained mostly unshaken. I can’t yet speak for the results of classical method, but I can say that the kids are having a great time and they’re learning. And what more could you ask for?