When Unschooling Becomes a Lifestyle

The other day the antique appraiser I help out, remembering how in the past I have needed to work less in order to spend time teaching the kids, asked when I needed to change my schedule and be less available. It caught me off guard because I have gotten so used to our lifestyle of learning.

It took me a moment to come up with an answer that would avoid getting into this whole unschooling business but also satisfy her. I said that the kids had, for the most part, taken over their own learning and listed quickly off all the projects they have done in the last few months, being careful to point out the expected learning that has occurred in this unexpected way. She was satisfied and moved on to the project at hand while I got to be completely honest without going into a detailed explanation.

The funny thing is that it caused me to realize how comfortable it has become, so comfortable that I don’t even think about “school”  anymore. For a former public school teacher and child of public school teachers this is shocking. My brain has forgotten “schooly” things and is focused on life and relationships. I no longer think of what the kids are doing in educational terms unless someone asks (though I have also learned to quickly sum up the most recent educational things going on). It is funny how quickly it occurred and how easy it is to see all the play for what it is: God-given life training.

As I write my oldest is composing a song and has figured out how to record it on our spare keyboard. She recently figured out a numbering system to write music notes, using the electric typewriter she bought with her own money at a yard sale, to see her through until she has taught herself how to read music.

My middle child was last seen reading a factual book about Russia and my son was building an articulated robot out of Construx and cardboard. This morning we spent an hour playing together on the newly floored living room – me showing them ballet from my childhood and them trying to hold each position then sliding around the room in breakdance-type action (which they learned from Youtube) in their footy pajamas.

Yesterday during an impromptu trip to IKEA my son and I talked about God and being thankful for ALL things; months, days, and the calendar; multiplication; telling jokes; and reading Bible names. Earlier in the day Rachel and I watched my favorite fight scenes from several old Kung Fu flicks which prompted discussion of the culture surrounding those movies. She has also been watching Jane Austen movies (her favorite being the five-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice).

Esther showed up at one point with her favorite insect guide explaining to me her theory of why bee colonies are disappearing (she was reading about a kind of mite that kills honey bees.) Rachel spent an hour reading Crafty Crow and Skip to  my Lou looking at and trying out various craft ideas, including making leaf people outside which turned into a game of tag. The kids used the laminate flooring boxes to make robot costumes and sandwich board card costumes like those in Alice in Wonderland.

Who knows what they will be into tomorrow? Though I can predict to some extent because I know my kids and what each of their interests are. Likely my middle child will draw some more pictures to add to the hanging art gallery she has developed on her ceiling over her bed (she gives “tours” and has it set up in rooms). My oldest will probably add to the doll house she has created from a small wall shelf she bought at a yard sale – the furniture is made of drawings on paper and bits of this and that from around the house. My son will come down and help measure the linear footage of trim we need for the downstairs (the girls will probably help – they love measuring and adding it all up.)

The thing is, this is WHO they are and who God created them to be. Because they have plenty of materials on hand and the freedom to do and make they will run with it. They are allowed to watch as much tv and play as many video games as they like – which they do but it is not nearly as much as one might expect – they watch, in general, much less than they would if I limited the time spent. Because they have freedom and materials on hand, they have TONS of movies and lots of video games, plenty of arts and crafts materials and the freedom to use scrap paper and other random bits of stuff they have much more interesting things to do than sit and watch DVD’s.

We are also blessed because we live in an old house where it is not the end of the world if someone draws on the floor or forgets to use tape and glues their awesome drawing of a boy with a kite on a rope or hot air balloon to the wall. Sometimes things get messy (okay, usually – five people at home all day means no house beautiful), sometimes too much is enough, and sometimes they fight, but in general it is a peaceful life overflowing with learning and activity, and we all are learning daily.

~ Heather
Originally posted October 9th, 2008.

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