Monday, September 7, 2015

Our Unschooling Journey

My partner and I decided to homeschool when our oldest daughter was only a year old, she is 6 now.  After speaking to homeschooling parents and looking at different ways to do this we decided to unschool.   

What Is Unschooling?
Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Wikipedia
              This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term "unschooling" has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn't use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. By John Holt, author, educator, proponent of unschooling.

This has been a journey filled with many emotions ranging from anxiety and fear, to love and trust.  As a brown low income family living in Boyle Heights there has been very little support since this road is taken more often by higher income, white, and Christian families.  Despite all obstacles, this has been a beautiful struggle where we are learning to surrender and allow learning to be natural taking place all day, everyday.
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My partner and I decided to head the unschooling route because we do not think we learned too much in a classroom setting.  Both of us are LAUSD graduates with a variety of learning disabilities and anxieties that were undetected and often provoked in grade school.  Learning, we believed was something we did on our own because we wanted to do it and it was difficult for us to learn what was present in the classroom.  Also sitting still to learn we believe  is unnatural and difficult to do for a long time for anyone at any age.

We do not blame teachers.  Both of us had a few teachers that were very creative and allowed learning to happen.  Unfortunately teachers are limited in their capacity to encourage learning with low pay, overcrowded classrooms, bells ringing to conclude learning, standardize testing, budget cuts, and many more barriers.  I blame the system that has institutionalized and homogenized learning which leaves many children behind.

That said unschooling is also tough.  From many family members, friends, co-workers, and even strangers we have received a lot of unrequested opinions such as:
“Children cannot learn from parents.”
“They will never learn to socialize.”
or my favorite
“Are you stupid? They need school to learn.”
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Parents are the child’s first teachers, they model everything we do. When healthy emotional relationships are modeled, children recreate those dynamics too.  So we try our best to show them our learning process so they model us. It can be simple things such as: reading, listening to socially conscious talk radio, hiking, television shows, cultural celebrations, museums, facilitating workshops, cooking, listening, etc.  We also seek intergenerational spaces for learning such as community gatherings, ceremony, workshops, or classes.  We look for free or affordable classes offered in our community.  Luckily we also have many awesome friends and family members that offer to take care of our children while assisting in teaching them something they know.  Finally we also incorporate common classroom items such as: puzzles, games, workbooks, and arts & crafts.  

Are they learning?  Yes, they are.  They know how to do many things and are very independent.  My oldest child prepares simple meals that do not require heat such as yogurt with fruit, sandwiches, shakes, etc.  Both our children have learned about anatomy, nature, childbirth, animals, political movements and much more.  They love to perform dance, music, and poetry.  Most importantly they have a lot of love and empathy for their fellow living beings and nature in general.  They also advocate for the liberation of humans and animals from prisons and zoos.  My oldest has already began to establish her own business called “ Vulva Power”.  The money she earns is used to purchase learning tools of her choice.
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How will they learn to socialize?  My daughters like most children are shy at first but are able to socialize well.  Since they are not isolated to their peer group in a school setting they socialize fairly easily with people of all ages.  They socialize in intergenerational spaces and they learn socialization by modeling from their caretakers, family and friends.

Do they need school to learn?  No, they do not “need” school to learn and we are not stupid.  We have just made a choice that may be different than most and it was by no means an easy choice to make.  We have had to make many sacrifices while navigating and juggling employment and childcare responsibilities.  Despite our struggles we feel this has been the best choice for our family.  We try our best to respect other families and their choices, so if you do not support our choice please at the very least respect it.
Unschooling has been quite a lovely journey, which is ideally done by following a child’s lead, providing learning tools to guide them and trusting learning will happen in a natural structure.  Coming from a structured way of learning in our school system, the unschooling concept often gives me moments of anxiety and fear.  
Fears such as:
“What if they never learn to read?”
“We need to step it up and teach.”
“We need a curriculum”
These fears are valid after all our oldest is already 6 and does not know how to read, she can barely spell her name.  These are just short moments of fear because of the support we do have.  We have a few adult friends that were unschooled, they learned to read and much more.  Also my sister, who attended public schools, learned to read until she was almost 9 years old.  My sister also has worked in a variety of school settings and had studied Child Development.   She is my main encouragement to homeschool.  
She tells me things such as:
“Keep doing what you are doing, the girls are doing great.”

“I think schools give too much homework, not enough play and rob children of true childhood”

“Children learn most by playing, critical thinking, and using their imagination.  Unfortunately these are often not supported in schools children of color attend ”
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So we will continue to unschool for the moment maybe we will change our mind and choose a different route later on but right now it is working well for us.  My partner and I with our daughters continue to learn all day, everyday.  Unschooling has been the ultimate concept in learning to let go, surrender, and trust the process. We love unschooling our children it is freeing because it is helping us heal our self confidence and ability to truly understand things that we were unable to learn in the many schools we attended.  

As Albert Einstein once stated “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”  
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