I answer unschooling questions for the Texas Unschoolers’ group each month in their newsletter, TexUns News. I’m including them here at my blog. If you have any questions you’d like me to address, ask away!
Q: If I unschool the kids, what will we do about gaps? The curriculum makes sure I don’t miss anything. ~Mom of 3
A.The truth is, Mom of 3, everyone has gaps in their learning. There’s no way your curriculum – or any curriculum – can be sure to touch on every piece of knowledge out there. And then, when you add in your child’s attention to the material, and how it might fade if the resources are boring or not what he’s interested in – you will have paid a lot for curriculum that doesn’t do what you were hoping: Avoid gaps.
BUT! There’s good news! There’s no finish line, or graduation date – learning is an ongoing process for life. And, honestly, that little phone in your child’s pocket (or it will be in his pocket when he’s older) will answer any question he might have, tiny fact he might have missed, or fill any gap he notices along the way.
Q: I don’t really understand what deschooling is. I heard there’s some formula for when it should be completed.
A. Deschooling is the term we use when people (children or parents) are trying to get past the school version of learning and open to the idea that learning is actually much bigger than that. The problem is, we create stories around these thoughts and sometimes we even have emotional hurdles to overcome. If you had a less than stellar school experience, it might be easier to walk away from schoolish ways of learning, socializing, connecting. Still, we’re a small portion of society, and things like back to school sales, football games, prom season may trigger some wistfulness that you or your child harbors. Also, your child may think they have to do worksheets to demonstrate learning, or that authoritarian top-down teaching methods are required to learn. It can even be a little scary at first to know that you are in charge of your own learning. But the benefits are SO worth it!
How quickly you move through the deschooling process will be so unique to your child, yourself and your family. You may even revisit ideas that were buried but surface later when your child enters a new developmental phase. That’s ok, you’re human! And schools have often been big parts of our lives before unschooling. Give yourself and your child some time get acquainted with this new way of approaching learning and shucking the shackles of the school’s version of education!
Q: What do I do about friends or relatives who quiz my kids about their learning? It’s so annoying and I’m dreading those encounters! ~ Nervous Nadine
A. Oh, N2, we don’t live in an unschooling bubble, do we? Our kiddos have to get out there in the community and brush up with people who have no idea what we’re trying to do. And while that’s a good thing, in general, it can be tough when you’re new to unschooling or feeling like you’re on some shaky ground. A couple of quick suggestions is to give them some factoids they can rattle back at their quizzer:
“Do you know the capitol of Angola, or San Salvador, or Malaysia?”
(Here’s a wikipedia cheat sheet, so he can pick which countries they’d like to know)
Or how about a math question?
What’s 2358 x 137? or the square root of 196?
(here’s a square root calculator, so she can pick her own!)
The point being that the child can give some demonstration of knowledge and then happily skip away.
Another option is to talk to those people yourself. You could even tell your child, “Mom said if the quizzing starts, you should probably take it up with her.” No reason your child should have to go head-to-head with an adult with an agenda.
And if you’re still a little uneasy yourself with the confrontation, change the subject. Talk about their child’s success or something they’re doing. People love to talk about themselves.
Q: I know my kids are young, but what about teens and college? How do they pass the SAT/ACT if they are unschooled? Just looking down the road….
A. Lots of parents worry that choosing the Unschooling route will close doors for their kids. It’s actually the opposite.
As for passing the SAT/ACT, mine didn’t have to. They took community college classes as a teen and then transferred to a university as a sophomore. Transfer students don’t have to take the SAT/ACT. For those kids that want to bypass the community college, they simply pull out those study guides and figure it out. Most of those guides show you how to do the questions. There are also prep classes your teens could take if that’s REALLY what they want.
Most unschooled teens I know went the community college route first. Community colleges have their own placement tests. And sometimes kids end up taking developmental classes, depending on how they scored. As my unschooled daughter said, “Even a couple of developmental classes beats 12 years in a classroom!”
Q: How do unschoolers make sure they hit all the subjects?
A. In two words: they don’t. Subjects are artificially divided for school, but that’s not how they show up in real life. When you’re immersed in your life, a variety of subjects intertwine and connect. One thing invariably leads to another. With no plans to test or “monitor classroom progress,” the need for compartmentalizing subject material becomes unnecessary. Unschooling parents can fuel interests, toss in suggestions, see where something leads.
For instance, say your child enjoys building with lego. What else does he like to build? Where do you find those materials? Has he been to the local children’s museum where he can build on a larger scale? Has he seen cool videos on YouTube? Is he interested in lego robotics? What if when he’s looking up lego robotics, he discovers a Mindstorm app, or downloads some software? Or maybe it leads him to info about the Mars Rover robot and he started exploring more about the solar system… or it dropped him into the Smithonian.com exposing him to exhibits about post-World War II, or dog breeds, or creating your own time capsule. Maybe lego leads him to explore a trip to Legoland in San Diego, or Denmark, England, Germany, Florida or Malaysia. What would be fun things to do if you went there?
Yes, it is incredibly tangential, but that’s what unrestrained curiosity looks like! Would you call that Science, Reading, Spelling, Math, Computer Science, Geography, Physics, History? But why do that? Any particular interest can lead to thousands of other topics. When children aren’t studying for a test or distracted by which subject they’re studying, the sky’s the limit on their learning!
**But don’t be overzealous in your desire to connect everything. Your goal is to have your child see you as Resource Person or Creative Idea Finder. You don’t want them to avoid you because you want to turn everything into “teachable moments.” Sometimes, a lego is just a lego. You have to know your kid well enough to know when to offer and when to hold back… and not get your feelings hurt if they have no interest in your fabulous idea. 😉
Q: I have been homeschooling for about 10 years now, my dd is 16 and 1/2 and my ds is 12. I wonder if it is too late to consider unschooling? My children are both right-brain learners and my ds struggles with the “left brain” materials available to us. I could write several paragraphs about boredom and frustration, but I am sure you have heard it all! Is it too late for us? Can you point me in the right direction? Signed, Desperate in Katy!
A: Oh Desperate! It’s never too late! It’s time for a heart-to-heart conversation with your kids though. Talk to them about this new unschooling approach, how you’re going to focus on fueling THEIR interests, as opposed to forcing them to listen to others who supposedly know what’s best for them. It’s their lives! And learning is natural. Our job is to get all the arbitrary stuff out of their way. You may have to do some deschooling about what’s arbitrary. Grades, tests, grade levels, “prepping for college,” teacher-driven materials – all those can be things of the past!
Ask them how they’d like to spend their time? What are their interests? Think of yourself as the Best Tour Guide in Katy! Then go about becoming that! What’s nearby that might intrigue them? What’s going on in your community that might be interesting? Do they have some hobbies they’d like to pursue? What adventures could you go on together? Instead of getting them ready for life, dive into it with them now!
If you have specific questions, check out the Facebook page: Unschooling Mom2Mom. Veteran unschooling moms are there, ready to help you make the shift!
Q: Hello I am a mother of two girls 5 and 6. They are currently in public school but I am so dissatisfied with public education. I don’t believe children should be given standardized tests, as if all children are the same. What are a few things I needed to know before withdrawing my girls from school?
A: I really don’t think you need to do any prep at all before you withdraw your girls from school. They were happily learning at home just a couple of years ago, and now they’ll be able to go back to where you all left off.
Sometimes it helps to understand our Texas law as it pertains to homeschoolers. After the Leeper Decision in the 1980’s, homeschooling falls into the category of “private schools.” Public schools have no jurisdiction over private schools. The “Texas Homeschooling Law” requires:
- The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
- The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
- The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.
There are no reporting agencies and no testing requirements for homeschoolers. The state of Texas does not regulate homeschoolers once they have been removed from the public school system.
School schedules don’t matter in your unschooling/homeschooling world. So waiting for a particular school break to withdraw them is completely unnecessary!
Let the adventure begin NOW!
Q: So today is one of those days where I worry about not teaching my child about normal subjects. I still have this mental picture she should be sitting at a desk with papers and learning about stuff in a book … help me !!!
It’s so common for us to fall back on the way we learned as children – I’m assuming you went to school like so many of us. We were really conditioned to believe that “Real Learning” has to be boring, at desks, and divided neatly into subjects. Unschooling principles are the opposite of that. Learning is fun! It happens all the time, everyday. Life never presents itself the way it does in schools – there are no worksheets, or tidy subjects coming at us one at a time. Better to involve your daughter in real life, where learning is real – and very exciting! You might be interested in reading The Curriculum Crutch.
See you next month with more Questions and Answers!