Even before I was even pregnant with my first, Medina, I found out that a family member homeschooled and started asking questions at a party. “So what curriculum do you use and how do you plan your days?” her response was “We unschool, so we mostly just follow his lead” I was confused. UN-school? Never heard of it. Sounds stupid. As open minded as I was (sarcasm, folks) the conversation didn’t last very long. I didn’t think much of it afterwards since the thought of homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar at the time and she lived out of state so I didn’t see them often.
Fast forward a few years and life lessons later, Medina was turning 5 and I was going to have to sign her up for kindergarten but…It didn’t feel right. She didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to send her. It wasn’t just because I didn’t want to let go. It really didn’t feel like the right thing to do and I didn’t know why. We had moved to a neighborhood with a great elementary school. I took the time, toured the school and even liked it. But it still didn’t feel right. They had to have key cards to get into the school building then also for every room inside, including the gym. When I went, there were teachers standing in front of the locked cafeteria where I assume the kids were eating. The school was clean, quiet, and well decorated. The teachers had smiles on their faces but…something still didn’t feel right. So began my research. I stayed up late into the night reading google results for “should I homeschool my kids?”. Then, In the weeks that followed, homeschoolers suddenly seemed to be everywhere! A friend of mine decided to pull her son out of public school to homeschool and, completely by chance, I met a homeschooling family in my neighborhood…who then introduced me to their amazing homeschooling friends. Amidst all of that, It became clear to me that it was worth giving a shot. I thought Medina was still young and, if it didn’t work out, I could always send her to public school the following year.
My husband, Sameer, is always super supportive of my many endeavors. He will sometimes need a moment for it to sink in and to be able to adjust but he didn’t even need that this time. He asked me if I had thought about the commitment it would need from me and how that would effect our day to day lives- which I had- so he was fully on board with the idea. Then we put a movie on….and I couldn’t tell you which one because I didn’t watch a single moment of it. Instead, I spent the entire time researching curriculums and supplemental programs.
We began homeschooling the following Monday!
This is the thing, though, I had made a rigid schedule for all of us. There was little room for error. It worked ok at first but life happens, and it happened HARD when baby Lana started keeping me up all night and wanting to be attached to me all day. The house suffered, schooling suffered (so I thought at the time), our meals suffered, and – most of all- my sanity suffered. I felt like I was failing everybody and everything.
I had a meltdown…or two…or more…..until I realized that I just had to restructure our days. I started with what was important to me and what I wanted to accomplish with home based schooling:
- Help them develop a true love for learning
- A well rounded curriculum including life skills
- Encourage a love and appreciation for nature and all living things
- Nurture independent thought, creativity, and self awareness/confidence
- Encourage natural curiosity, open mindedness, kindness, and acceptance
- Travel. Placing value in people and experiences over things
- Autonomy. Guiding them into keeping control of their bodies, thoughts, and experiences
Once I had these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I went back and narrowed down the “homeschooling styles” that might suit me. Turns out it’s Unschooling! I just didn’t understand what it was before. You hear “child-led learning” and you think ” unstructured play”. When that’s not the case at all! I mean, play is included but here is what a real life unschooling unit looks like-
Medina on Sunday: “Who was Martin Luther King?”
Monday: Go to the library and get all the books we can find on MLK. Read about MLK. Print out a lesson on what it means to be a good citizen and draw pictures of what being a good citizen looks like. Color a picture of MLK and write his name.
Tuesday: Watch a movie on MLK’s life while painting a picture of a bus and talk about what a boycott means and why they are important. The kids cook their own meals on Tuesdays, fold their own clothes.
Wednesday: map out all of the locations for MLK’s major protests and speeches and discuss each one. Visit MLK’s birth home. While we are out, we discuss what his significance is and how the world would be different without him. At the home, they are encouraged to talk to the adults in charge and ask questions and explore independently (within reason).
Thursday: Read aloud together. Color pictures and put together presentation board.
Friday: Rehearse presentation on MLK to teach the family. (Presentation is then rehearsed daily until they feel ready to present to a small group)
They work on their math, reading, and science books every day on their own time. They have access to my phone or computer for educational games and videos for an hour a day and they have full access to all their art supplies. They are always enrolled in 1-3 classes/sports outside of the home with other children. We go outside every day. They help with chores around the house every day. They help me budget and understand, at a reasonable level, what it means for money to be earned and spent. We live life together everyday and I make sure to make the time to explain everything as we go.
THAT is unschooling. It wasn’t easy to get here and when people ask me about what to expect when transitioning to homeschool I like to tell them that it takes a full year to really figure out, through trial and error, what will work best for their family…and things continue to evolve over time. For some people the first year is a complete wash. But there is plenty…PLENTY of time to catch up when you’re working on your own time so it’s nothing to worry about.
If you’re wondering about what happened with my homeschooling family member, I saw her again last year and we had the BEST time talking about unschooling and I was able to get some pretty awesome ideas from her and an uplifting sense of comfort meeting her kind, intelligent little ones.
Funny part is, not only was this not an option for me 4 years ago, I thought it was ridiculous. Things change. People change. Opportunities change. we just have to open up our hearts and Seize them.