so how goes the unschooling?

i haven’t typed much on the subject of our unschooling or “free range learning”. I haven’t done much in the way of typing in general because my kids will no longer let me have a life. can I write an entire blog post from start to finish? can I finish a single thought? well, it’s 6:30 in the morning and I hear miles fussing to be picked up in the other room, I can tell you that much. he must’ve smelled my absence in the bed. the distinctive odor of a headless pillow, of a cold sheet. gives it away every time. i’ll now continue typing this, literally, single-handedly, as miles is now occupying my lap and one arm. please forgive any typos.

for those that don’t know, unschooling is a subset of homeschooling in which most if not all of the elements of classical schooling are omitted. that looks like: no lessons, no desk work, no delineated “subject” matter, no workbooks or grading system, and, around here, very little schedule. radical, right?

a friend recently politely asked how the homeschooling is going. “it’s going….nothing”, I think I said. “I mean, we’re doing nothing. I don’t have much to say. we’re just living life” (and a glamorous one at that (yeah right)). what does unschooling a five year old look like? from what I can tell, it looks like nearly constant free play and a wrecked house.

(just an update on miles situation: I told him he should go back to sleep. he declined politely and is now at my feet playing with a hot pad, up for the day).

greg and I are reading a book about an unschooling family living off the grid in Vermont, “Homegrown”, by Ben Hewitt. it’s a good book. i recommend. cool guy/family. he has a blog too if you’re interested in popping over. anyways, in the book, he describes how he and his wife came to the decision to unschool their two sons and he goes into some details about what their life looks like. his kids are a bit older, maybe 9 and 12? something like that. the book is pretty neat, kind of inspirational, but, in a word? a little glossy. meaning he seems to gloss over a lot of what life at home with young kids is like, brushing away the nitty gritty details with simplistic and clichéd phrases like, “things don’t always run smoothly”, stuff like that.

“run smoothly”?? the fuck? “run smoothly”? (that’s not a direct quote. I’m actually quoting the sentiments, not the exact wording. I dunno how all this copyright/slander junk actually works. way to drop the ball, high school and college literature classes…see there? CLASSIC school-raised mentality. always blaming someone else, right? never taking full responsibility for my life. dog ate my homework and stuff like that, am I right? tangent alert! where the hell was I??)

I had a hard day the other day with the kids. (NOW who’s glossing?) I mean, it was ugly. yelling, screaming, hitting, pinching, kicking, just utter turmoil. at one point, I took them outside and BOTH of them spent a good 20-30 minutes just all-out screaming. why were they screaming? the best part: ruth was screaming because she wanted to go back inside. joel was screaming because he wanted to stay outside. it eventually degraded into fisticuffs with both of them rolling on the front walkway pummeling each other. I stood nearby basking in the beautiful sun and warm temps that my kids were all but oblivious to without a clue as to what to do. I contemplated stepping in and busting up the fight, but figured it would just extinguish itself sooner rather than later and perhaps they would be more chill after getting out some aggression. no such luck.

I sat down across from greg at the end of the day and felt my heart full of despair and frustration. “that guy’s a liar,” I spat out, “unschooling doesn’t look like my kids spending hours whittling their own bows and arrows! it looks like my kids whining in my face all damn day!” (for reference, his older son apparently taught himself how to make bows out of tree branches, which he describes in the book). greg absorbed the shock of my words and felt, as I often feel, like we must be doing something wrong or missing some critical element that others know the secret to. one of the hardest things about unschooling is the self-doubt. when days are hard (understatement alert), when your kids spend their days following you around moping while their peers are apparently whittling tools and learning to build cabins on their own. at these times, it’s easy to feel doubtful.

when I read things like the stuff Ben Hewitt writes, I feel like I’m doing, or at least attempting to do, the “right” thing. when I think back to my own experiences in school, I feel like I’m making the right choice for myself and my kids. I really do believe in what I am doing, at least in theory.

that doesn’t stop me from threatening ruth with kindergarten at least once every couple weeks, and meaning it. and that certainly doesn’t make living at home 24/7 with three young kids easy (especially not with miles starting to get around, not crawl yet, but scoot and reach, and clamor for the kids’ toys, about which they are none too pleased. and especially not with joel entering a new and intense phase of particularity about everything from his clothing to his food to how you play with him. and GOD FORBID you get so much as a drop of water on him or touch him with wet hands, because boyfriend will FLIP OUT. and especially not with the fact that, though she’ll be SIX in may, ruth still desires nearly constant feedback and interaction from her adult caregiver, a.k.a., ME and I don’t think I’ve met a more intense or moody person in my entire life). not that I don’t love them to bits. I DO. and not that I would choose to spend my time otherwise. clearly, if I wanted to, I would.

I have to believe that things will get better as the kids get older. like, say when we no longer have to plan for joel’s nap, when the kids eat more than a few bites at a time and sit down to 3 solid meals a day instead of just nearly constantly asking for a snack, when they can all do things like use the toilet and get dressed on their own, when they have the dexterity to DO things like whittle sticks, when their attention spans are more than 5-10 minutes tops, when doing things as simple and basic as going up and down the stairs no longer pose serious health risks. when they speak in common terms instead of their native tongue: whine-ease. things will get easier. and some things, some unforeseen things, will get harder, i’m sure. what these things are, I don’t know. that’s the definition of unforeseen.

in the meantime, we have a busy day of life ahead of us. lots of books to read, things to cook, gymnastics to do in the basement, and doll houses to construct in the play room. I’m gonna do my best to make it a good day. don’t worry, i’ve coffeed up. enjoy your day, whatever it brings. more on unschooling adventures later.


Author: Terry

Welcome! I am a Waldorf and unschooling-inspired homeschooling parent of three, ages 2, 5, and 8 living in the metro Lansing area writing from the front lines of parenthood. Join me as I try to navigate homeschooling and bask in the craziness of life with young ones. Feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by!

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