Google+ Authentic Parenting: Learning to Live: Our Journey to UnSchooling

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Learning to Live: Our Journey to UnSchooling

By Jessica Martin-Weber

When people would suggest homeschooling to me I would start to itch, head to toe.  After the itching would come the sweating and I would find it difficult to breath.  Homeschool?  Me?  I couldn’t think of a more terrible idea. Before having children I articulated in no uncertain terms that I was not homeschool mom material.  At. All.  Our children would go to public school, private school if the public schools weren’t good enough and that would be that. we participated in the annual back-to-school shopping and hoopla for several years.

Then came 2nd grade.  Two weeks into the year our 7 year old hated school and every day she came home with a tear streaked face.  Our energetic, beautiful, enthusiastic child who loved learning and reading along with insects and dance, was now a stressed out, angry, sullen little girl who didn’t want to participate in anything, cried over homework and had a tummy ache every morning before school. I had multiple meetings with her teacher and the school administration and one thing became clear: school was to get everyone ready for the testing that would begin in 3rd grade.  A child’s learning style was irrelevant.  Her natural curiosity was considered a distraction.  Grades were crucial.  The literature she wanted to read was replaced with required reading lists.  And the stacks of photocopied worksheets sent homework was not going to go away.  It was a deeply flawed system and I began to understand that the school system and I didn’t even want the same thing for my daughter.  My daughter’s former 1st grade teacher suggested we homeschool.

I began to itch.

Desperate, but not that desperate, we settled on a private Waldorf school nearly an hour a way that we felt was perfect for us. That only lasted a few months before we realized there were problems in the 2nd grade classroom and there were issues in other areas of the school as well.  The situation suddenly grew increasingly unhealthy and we felt we needed to withdraw our eldest daughter for her emotional well-being and to preserve her love of learning.  But withdraw her and put her where exactly?

I went to my friend, the 3rd grade teacher of the school.  This art teacher, homeschool veteran and the most creative teacher I had ever seen made a radical suggestion.  Take her home. Prickles started all over my skin, I knew I was about to start itching very badly.  This was the second teacher that had suggested this to me.  Take her home?  I can’t homeschool.  I don’t have any materials or any plans or any experience or any desire to do that!  She really blew my mind when she said then don’t, unschool.  The teacher explained that after recent school experiences our daughter probably needed to just relax and be, to rediscover the joy of learning, to figure out for herself what she needed to learn and to have the safety of her own home to do just that.  Try it, she said, just try it for a week or a month and then see.

So went home.  We didn’t have a plan other than to rest and recover.  At first she didn’t want to do much of anything I would consider schooling and I would get nervous.  Acting out of my own preconceived ideas of education and convinced I would get in trouble if we didn’t do something, I’d try once in a while to encourage workbooks or teach a lesson.  I was met with resistance each time.  My daughter’s idea of a perfect day was to hang out together.  Do the laundry, make muffins, plot out our garden, catch and observe bugs, raise butterflies, visit the zoo, go to the park, sweep the floor, go to the Fine Art Museum and more.  Following her lead we ended up in the library every week, writing stories and putting on plays, painting and labeling flowers, visiting Greece and Egypt in our imaginations making hieroglyph tablets and trying cultural foods and more.  We had numerous conversations that often started with “Mommy, why...” and since I often didn’t know the answer we’d go in search of it. I still didn’t know what I was doing but made it up as we went along.

Because I felt the need to have some kind of record of learning happening, my third grade teacher friend, who, by this point, had also pulled her second grade daughter from the school and quite teaching there to stay home with her daughter, helped me to see how my daughter’s education was now flowing naturally.  At the end of each day I wrote in my planner what we had learned for the day.  Oddly enough, it seemed to make sense and follow a progression, I could trust my daughter.  Her stressed melted away.  Now she was free to listen to herself and interact with the world around her.  She was not only learning, she was living!  With a big sigh of relief I had a paradigm shift and let go of my predetermined expectations for education.  By the end of 3 months our lives were over-flowing with beauty, joy, peace and learning.  Exactly what I had hoped for my children in their education.  And it was happening in our very own backyard. 

I don’t itch any more and I don’t stress, though I might if I actually had to go to a traditional school.  The following year none of us participated in the back-to-school mania that gripped so many of our friends.  Instead, we went on and lived.

Living in Houston, Texas, Jessica Martin-Weber writes about refusing to accept the status quo in life at Everyday Rebel and hosts a breastfeeding pub at The Leaky Boob.

This post is part of a post swap, you can find my post 'How I Became An Extended Breastfeeder' at The Leaky Boob. I hope you enjoyed her story. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. With Guest posts, I hope to get fresh views on the topics this blog covers. If you are interested in swapping posts or doing a guest post yourself, contact me.

Photo courtesy of Avolore on Flickr



  1. It's a relief to read this. I am a qualified teacher but I can't stand the idea of sending my baby to school. She's too little to plan for just yet, but unschooling is definitely a seed that's starting to grow for me. I just need to forget everything I've been taught about targets and levels!

  2. Tacey, even if your child is very small, there are some things you can do (or more clearly not do) towards unschooling.
    But you are right, if there is something to say about unschooling, it is that it can't be planned. Your family will adapt and change as the interests of your child change.

  3. Fortunately, my daughter was only halfway through preschool when I realized that school was not the right environment for her. And fortunately, some mothers from my attachment parenting group were already unschooling their older children and I could see what a wonderful lifestyle it was. And how naturally it complemented attachment parenting. We've been unschooling ever since and it truly has been (and still is) a wonderful journey!

  4. I so desperately wish I had had the courage to pull my kids out of public school earlier than I did. We've been homeschooling for a year and a half now and it's been the best change for our entire family. Good luck on your journey!

  5. Well written. I am teacher and there is no way I am sending my child to school. I want her to learn not to be dumb down. I am unschooling too.

  6. It's funny, it seems as though teachers have two attitudes to schooling: either they say they know the errors of the system so they will never send their children to school, or they say they're a part of the system so they have to send their children to school, even if they don't agree with it. But they all think it's a highly flawed system and there are probably millions of better ways to educate children

  7. Great post. I have been very interested in unschooling my child, ever since I began my interest in attachment/peaceful parenting when I was pregnant. My son still isn't a year old yet but I still feel strongly this is what I want to do.

    My husband does not feel the same way however. And this is where I get confused. He outwardly admits that the public school system is bad, but still feels like it is good for children. If I even try and talk to him about it, socialization is a main point for him. I have talked to him about other ways socialization can be achieved; he still has a fixed vision that home school children are awkward and strange.

  8. I am curious about unschooling and what you do regarding math, and required standardized testing. I am pondering unschooling, but will probably go somewhere between unschooling and homeschooling.

  9. Hi Sonya,
    ah the math question... actually math is not such an out of the world thing as one would think, children pick it up easily while cooking and organizing and doing all normal things of life. They pick up what they need when they need it.
    In Belgium, we don't have standardized testing, so that's not an issue for us. If you want to find out how to do it where you live, I suggest you join an unschooling group on yahoo, such as always unschooled.
    Here's what I wrote about doing a combo:
    and here's an article about math in real life:


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