Continuing with our series of posts in which we ask veteran unschoolers to share their experience and wisdom,we asked:
What were your fears about unschooling? How did you overcome them?
I decided on unschooling long before I had children, so I was pretty well convinced in my own mind and I don’t remember having trouble reconvincing myself. Probably my biggest fear was what other people would think, and having to defend my choices, because I do not do well in confrontational situations. The main way to overcome that fear is just time, I think; at some point the kids are old enough that no one questions your methods anymore, because the results are obvious. Though I did get pretty good at evasive answers that allowed me to quickly change the subject when talking with someone with whom I didn’t want to dive into the depths of educational philosophy. ~Carma P.
My worst fear was their future and ability to support themselves & others opinion of them. I quickly changed fear to fuel to give each of them the individual things they needed which looks different for all 6! UNschooling really was the ONLY way I saw that this could happen. Seeing each of their eyes light up for diff things always comfort my midnight wide awake panics!!!! UNschooling works! It just does
My fears were all about other people. I am a trained teacher and daughter of teachers. I grew up listening to the complaints about parents not doing this or that, poor parenting, lack of educational opportunities/interest in children’s education. It was expected that if I did homeschool of COURSE my kids would do well and be intelligent and I felt like I had to prove that all the time. I felt like I had to hide the struggles, the tears, the whining, the complaining, the temper tantrums (mom AND kids), I felt like I had to force obedience so when we were in public the kids would look good, so I would look good.
And my kids were REALLY GOOD in public. They did great outside the home. It was at home where I felt like a failure, where I wondered what I was doing wrong.
We unschooled from the beginning with occasional bouts of “sit down everyday and do” so usually it looked more like a relaxed homeschool environment with no curriculum, just whatever was needed. It was mostly interest based but there were still tears and complaining as we did more Charlotte Mason type copy work or whatever (mostly just oldest). So even though we were “kind of” unschooling I don’t count it as unschooling till we finally left all my baggage behind when my oldest was 8/9. God showed me that the younger two were learning naturally while I was trying to force the oldest (I spent all my energy trying to push, trying to help, asking her to read to me, pushing her to read, pushing her to do “educational stuff”.) Meanwhile the younger two learned naturally- learned their colors, shapes, letters, numbers, then a little bit of reading here, math there, science, history, all of it. It all happened organically and I never could figure out when or how, it was suddenly there and they could do it.
When I stopped pushing the tears stopped, the tantrums stopped, and my fears diminished. Eventually God pushed me past my fears about what others thought and moved us fully into radical unschooling and again I was amazed. I expected chaos and instead found peace. I expected tantrums and whining and there were none, instead it was polite discourse as we respectfully talked things out, worked things out.
So for us it was God, showing me grace repeatedly and helping me show grace to my kids.
***I should note: I didn’t hear about unschooling until well after we were doing it fully.
Originally I wondered if they would ever read and write but that came with time and exposure.
Then, I wondered if my children would ever keep a regular schedule in the real world. Would they ever be on time to anything? Then as they grew and developed interest and became internally directed I saw them do whatever it took to accomplish the things that were important to them…including 6 am arrival times, weeks and months of prep for projects that interested them. I began to realize that we had modeled this type of work ethic around things that were important to us and it was a natural transition for them.
When I doubted I would look to other families who had children launched into their own lives and trust that mine would grow into the exact people G-d designed them to be. And we prayed for direction and support for each of them along the way.
I started out unschooling, it just felt right, best and we had so much fun. When my daughter became school aged, I had off and on moments of fear that I or we, weren’t doing enough. Learning *had* to be harder than this right? I wondered if it would always work. Maybe there were just some things we would *have* to buckle down and “learn” traditionally. Each time this happened, I would freak out, buy some sort of curriculum and we’d get to it. My children were always game, for them, it was like playing school. Thankfully, I can only remember it happening 3 times. My children were very patient with me and helped me each time. it always astonished me too, every time I had a freak out session, I found that they’d already learned the concepts in real life situations. We were wasting time, and I was wasting money.
~ Patrice L.
I would probably say fear of judgment from others. We were living with my mother, an ex-teacher, who stated clearly that she was “against homeschooling” (let alone UNschooling!) Living with her during our early months of deschooling was very challenging, because I felt “on show”, and was certain she was wondering what on earth we were doing when the kids were spending hours playing on the Xbox! I felt like I had to prove to her that they were doing and learning cool things.
It was similar with my husband. He was quite skeptical about unschooling for a few years, and was also suffering chronic pain and a major depression, so it was really hard feeling like he was scrutinising what we were (and weren’t!) doing. I would feel very anxious if he asked me direct, heated questions about how they would “ever learn to read” or something like that. It was hard to be calm and not reactive.
I was often afraid of having someone turn up or phone up and find us “doing nothing”, or ask the kids what they’d done that day and have a child answer with something like, “Oh, nothing much, just played the Xbox mostly!”
I felt most relaxed after 3pm on weekdays, and on weekends, because then I didn’t feel like we “should be doing something educational”. Funnily enough, that was usually when our best moments of natural learning occurred! And we also had the most fun, because I was more relaxed.
My oldest three started out in a traditional school setting. We started homeschooling when my oldest finished second or third grade (it has been so many years ago I honestly can not remember). My oldest brought unschooling to my attention at age 15 after years of relaxed homeschooling. My first fear was regarding how we would be able to figure out graduation at such a late time in her education. So we did not start unschooling with the older ones. We did start shifting our focus though and by the time our youngest two were compulsory age we better understood unschooling principles. My only other uncertainty was if testing would be an issue over time. That concern was put by the wayside soon after as I watched my kids thrive and continue to learn naturally and happily without arbitrary and artificial expectations. The only thing to fear is fear itself. Let go of it, and trust that learning takes place and if we stop trying to control, even the most minute part of it, our kids, with our partnership will be well-rounded. Focus on relationship, not a scope and sequence.
I think my only real fear in the beginning was that someone might turn us in for what they saw as “educational’ neglect. Honestly I felt the most judged by fellow homeschoolers, especially those who were homeschooling for “religious” reasons and followed a strict school at home schedule. I even had a homeschool mom invite us to join her “co-op” to save my kids from me (she said this to another mom when I was in the same room). But the kids and I were having such a great time and following our passions and just living life that my fears fairly quickly began to fade and I met more unschoolers and saw their wonderful adult children who were still following their passions and were HAPPY adults and I knew that we were on the right path for our family.
My initial fears in regards to homeschooling in general were based on the fact that I knew that I would fail at teaching curriculum. I wanted my kids to explore and follow bunny trails, and I knew that we would be stressed trying to follow someone else’s plan for our family. So when I gave up the curricula idea it became evident to me that I would never fail at unschooling; I was made to do this. It didn’t take long for my feelings to change and while I was secure in what we were doing, I wondered how it would work while living in a state that requires fairly detailed reporting. I wasn’t willing to be untruthful on my reports so I knew that we needed to learn things that could be translated into the topics that our state requires. I don’t know if I would call myself fearful about it but it definitely made me doubtful about how long we could last at doing it. After 3 years of successful reporting that feeling has subsided. I not only have been able to report in a truthful and acceptable fashion but since I have to report I also keep track of what exactly is expected at different grade levels. I have found that they have organically covered 90% of the topics that would be expected of them at their registered grade levels, and then they’ve covered countless areas that are well beyond their grades. It’s very rare that I have to purposely expose them to something specific in order to meet our state’s requirements. I am no longer nervous about reporting, or about the mandatory testing that will start in the higher grades.
My biggest fear about homeschooling was telling our families, as we have teachers (kindergarten to college professors) and my husband’s grandparents helped found the local Christian schools. We were really going to buck the trend and it was a big step, especially for my husband, to say that we weren’t planning to send our children to the school the rest of his family founded and each one of them attended. It was threatening to them, as if we were/are insulting them by doing something different.
My biggest challenge (not necessarily fear) with unschooling is what to tell people. How to answer questions. I’m pretty bold with my opinions and have come to the point of rolling my eyes at a lot of the questions but I feel for my children. They don’t understand or deserve the judgement from other people in regard to the way we are raising them. My son is regularly asked (mostly by my husband’s family) what are you learning in school? Do you do this or that in school? How many hours of school do you do each day? What are you studying? etc etc. He is a highly sensitive boy and he picks up on their disapproval and judgement.
I don’t usually mind what strangers think because, truth be told, the are not key players in our lives so it’s fine if they don’t understand or agree. They don’t know us so their reaction/questions don’t count. We don’t see my in-laws a lot, largely due to differences in parenting and education philosophy. I pray a lot for my kids, that they will learn to be confident in who they are, regardless of the amount of (or rather the lack of)workbooks they are doing. We have a lot of conversations about how people don’t understand what we know about how to learn and that, as long as we listen to God’s call for our lives, their judgements don’t matter. I also train my oldest in how to respond to questions (mostly by him hearing me respond to people). I will run interference if I feel he is getting interrogated. Part of my role as his mom is to protect him from that. It will be an ongoing battle but my husband and I also have the confidence that we are doing what’s best for our kids and I hope that our kids will pick up on that confidence too.
I was also very fearful of what/how to tell people what we were doing, primarily very schooly family. Truthfully I still haven’t fully enlightened them. Not that I keep it a secret or lie I just haven’t felt the need to sit them down and dig into specifics with them. I suspect there may still be questions coming because I’ve been much freer with the word “unschooling” lately and sooner or later someone will probably put that together with sensationalist news coverage. But I’m not worried anymore.
I also worried that I wouldn’t “do” enough. Wouldn’t strew enough, wouldn’t expose them to enough, etc. That has absolutely not been a problem since I completed the paradigm shift into understanding that there aren’t “better” or “worse” resources for them to learn from. A day watching Buffy is as valuable as a day dissecting owl pellets. A day of Minecraft and Skyping friends affords as much as a day at the planetarium. So that eliminated that fear.
Back in the beginning, I was afraid of being judged the way two unschooling families we knew were judged. Completely overlooking the family who wasn’t judged and who look more like us. I realize now that it was life choices and not unschooling that made those two families stand out.
Later, after we’d been unschooling and before I found this group, it was judgement again. This time from people in our more traditional homeschool association who already found so much fault with our relaxed lifestyle. I think over the years the attitude has changed somewhat in that group as each younger family joins and homeschooling becomes mainstream. I don’t feel the atmosphere of pressure to raise perfect little Christians who all get a 36 on the ACT that was there ten years ago.
As far as education, I don’t think I’ve ever quite got over the fear that my kids will be limited somehow in the future because of our choices. I had that fear when we weren’t unschooling, too, though, and it’s not always there. It just comes and goes.
I have always had a passion for learning and education. I decided before or around the time my ds8 was born I would homeschool. I wanted to give my children a different type of learning experience that would include life experience, travel, and be interesting. I homeschooled my stepson for a year and half in high school. It was then I knew I would focus on reading and math fundamentals. Not having the fundamentals down really hurt my stepson at the high school level. I was also sure that because my ds loved to learn and ask questions, transitioning into school work would be easy. I forced reading in kindergarten just to get it out of the way. And I did school work for the first 7 months of 1st grade. My ds who loved to learn hated school. And my hour and a half of school work every day easily turned into 4 hours a day because of the battles…especially the HATING to write. When I first heard of unschooling, it sounded absurd to me…very foreign. But 7 months later, I knew something had to change in my homeschooling, so I began researching. I did a quiz in a book that helped me see relaxed homeschooling or unschooling was a best match to what I wanted for our homeschooling experience. This was probably what made the transition so easy. It solidified what I really wanted school to look like, something I had not really considered. I began the research. What my biggest fear probably was “would he learn enough?” Not by the world standards but learn enough to lead him to his future. The thing that helped me get past those fears is reading, researching, being patient and watching. With every research article I read, I get an even better understanding of how people learn and how people live peacefully (I was ready to do anything that would stop the constant fight about schoolwork!) I also had a paradigm shift or an Aha! moment where I realized that formal education was for the benefit of the society, and not necessarily for my kids. I want my kids’ education to be for THEIR benefit which will in turn lead to society’s benefit, not the other way around. Every time I read another person’s success, it gives me more confidence. And seeing that my son’s curiosity and imagination are still alive and well is all I really need to keep me motivated. As long as he continues to ask questions, I will know his desire to learn is present, and that is all he really needs to carry him into HIS future. My dd2 is still a bit young, but I will be well-practiced by then, so I have no concerns.
College readiness. That was my biggest stumbling block and fear before fully embracing unschooling. When I first started homeschooling, most of what I wanted my children to do and study had to do with them eventually going to college. And there was no question – they were going, because that’s what one does when she wants to be successful in job and life. Get that four-year degree. Long story short: I no longer believe a college degree to be the only way, the best way, for everyone. Once I let go of my hardcore stance on college, unschooling became much easier.
~ Monica B.
This book was helpful for me when I began to consider college and it’s obsolete necessity unless the desired profession requires like medicine, etc. Love his book & you tube videos……..”Hacking Your Education”.
I had been homeschooling for 12 yrs when I began u/s, I was afraid they would never choose to do the hard things like algebra etc. 3 yrs in & happy to report they are thriving, doing hard things & learning more than when I forced it!
I wasn’t sure what high school would be like. I didn’t realize how much they’d do for themselves. But to this day, my base fear is always not having all the time and energy four kids need. I chose us’ing because when I tried my husband’s suggestion of curriculum, it took even more time and energy. Since I grew up unschooled, for me, this is the easy way.
Heh. Well, eas*ier*. Ah, parenting. ~CathiLyn D.
My 14 year old is the reason we started homeschooling then unschooling. After fighting him day in day out to do school work, there came a point where his determination beat mine. That was the day I was mentally regrouping and watched him happily spend 3 hours making paper airplanes. He was focused, he stayed on task, but most importantly, I could clearly SEE learning happening. He was experimenting and observing and applying what he learned to try to improve the next one. The next day, I said,”What do you WANT to learn?” He quickly replied, “Chemistry, electronics, and cooking.” I realized when he could choose what he wanted to do, there would no longer be fights. We’ve been going like that for 6 years now
My fears have been mostly from ‘what ifs’
What if something happens to my husband, I have to work and homeschooling is no longer possible/an option? While unschooling is great for the long run, it can really cause problems if all of a sudden public or private schools are the only viable option.
I haven’t really overcome it so much as I’m continually having conversations with Jesus about it and planning. At the moment it isn’t a huge deal as my oldest is only in Kindergarten but each year the gap between him and his peers widens.
Normally I consider that a good thing, but it still worries me, esp since my husband isn’t in the safest job. And life on earth in general is pretty unsafe.
But all that aside, once I truly understood the concept and what it looked like I really don’t have any other fears. That most likely will change as my children get older, but I’ll face each fear with faith and prayer and problem solving skills ~CyndelJ.