Unschooling Portraits: Jessica B

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Jessica. I have four children, one girl and three boys, ages 11, 8, 6, and 4. I’ve been married to my husband for 12 years, since I was a junior in high school. We spent eight years in the Air Force, travelin’ the world. In June 2012 we’re moving to western Canada for my husband to study Greek and Hebrew. I blog at Bohemian Bowmans.

What does your typical day look like?

Well, obviously, that depends on our season of life; these things change. Recently my husband has worked a part-time job that he doesn’t have to be at until mid-morning so we tend to sleep in a bit. My three sons get up first and make their own simple breakfast. They do a lot of imaginative play the first part of the day, lots of acting out scenes from their favorite video games, Lego building, etc. My daughter tends to sleep later because she stays up later than her brothers, writing fiction, playing howrse, and managing her two blogs, The Girl Named Jack and Howrsing Around. When she gets up she feeds all her animals and walks her dog. Then she spends a lot of time reading, checking her online games, and playing outside. The boys play a lot of video games and occasionally watch Netflix. They also usually play outside in the afternoons.

What does the term “unschool” mean to you?

It means letting children (and grown ups) become productive citizens by learning organically, as the need naturally arises in their life. And allowing children (and grown ups) to pursue what they’re passionate about in as unhindered a way as possible.

Have you always unschooled or did you, like many, gradually move from traditional homeschooling (or public school) towards unschooling? If so, where are you in the process and how did you get there?

No, our conversion story is pretty typical. We started out in public school. My oldest did a few years and my second oldest went to kindergarten. I decided to bring them home for two reasons: (1) It was causing them both some trauma, socially, and (2) I felt like they were away from me too much for me to be the positive influence I wanted to be in their life. I felt like they only saw me during the times of day when I was most stressed and grumpy and I wanted to have fun with them, to spend lots of time with them – not to fight about how quickly they needed to eat their cereal and tie their shoes before school.

When they first came home we started a sort of relaxed school-at-home model, but they resisted a lot, especially in grammar and math. I would lose my temper and they would cry, it really wasn’t all that I had hoped for. And that’s when that little nagging question, “Do they really NEED to learn this stuff?” appeared in the back of my mind. Someone I knew locally used the term “unschooling” to describe a homeschooling method that appealed to them and after that I researched it exhaustively and ultimately fell in love with it pretty quickly.

What interests do your kids have that you never would have guessed they would develop?

I never would have guessed that my daughter would become SO much more proficient at grammar and spelling AFTER we ditched all lessons on it. Or that she would be such a devoted writer (though I knew she was talented in that area).

I never would have guessed how my son would pick up reading so quickly AFTER we ditched all lessons of it. Or how my three-year-old would impress me with his reading and math skills.

What are some of the benefits of unschooling that you have seen?

My kids (the oldest two, who were traditionally schooled) are much less afraid of learning now. Math doesn’t send them to tears or a panic attack, and they pick it up quite naturally. Everyone gets along a lot more. I love that my boys are best friends and are able to spend so much time together.

What are some of the negatives?

Sigh. Some people just won’t understand. Particularly if they have a background in education. Friends and family won’t be afraid to disagree with your choices. If you live in a particularly conservative area, you’ll spend a fair amount of time worrying that one of those people who (without truly understanding the unschooling philosophy) are sure you’re doing your children a grave disservice will report you for some kind of educational neglect.

Tell us about your best day (or your worst).

Our worst days, which aren’t very often, are when everyone is fighting.  Not physically fighting, but just verbally, everyone squabbling all day. I don’t think it’s a product of unschooling though; everyone has those days. When it’s a full moon, or hormones are running high and it seems like no one can get along.

Our best days are the opposite. When everyone is best friends, when they play together peaceably, when they share well, when they ask you a random question out of the blue like “Why does the earth turn?” and you get to follow that rabbit trail with them.

Favorite definition of unschooling:

Probably what I said before: It means letting children (and grown ups) become productive citizens by learning organically, as the need naturally arises in their life. And allowing children (and grown ups) to pursue what they’re passionate about in as unhindered a way as possible.

Thank you, Jessica, for this unschooling portrait!

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