Less is More: An Unschooling Journey

I was raised in a very schooly family. My mom was a high school history and English teacher. My older sister worked her way from elementary teacher to elementary principal in a huge school district. My other sister is a school board member. You could say public education is in my blood. Being the black sheep of the family didn’t fully release me from the hold of public education although it did give me a healthy skepticism.

My husband attended a tiny rural school. He insists that he flourished in that environment. But he, too, has a healthy skepticism of public education in general.

From the time our first daughter was born we talked about education options for our children. Homeschooling was always on the board although I approached it with much fear and trepidation. I felt ill-equipped to educate my children and had an ever-growing list of things I suspected I might fail at. The first few years of her life, though, as we moved from one mid-sized city to the next, homeschooling seemed our best option. Neither of us much trusted those larger school districts where our children would get lost in a shuffle of paperwork. We knew that in such schools teachers had children for one year only and had very little investment in the child’s long-term success.

Then, shortly before our oldest hit school age we had a major life shift. We moved back to my husband’s home town. He changed careers and I struggled to fit into rural life. Being so close to the place my husband had gone to school seemed like a God-send. It seems less so now, in light of everything that’s happened, but maybe it was. The school part of school was easy for my girls. They were A students and every once in a while the school would do some IQ testing and other stuff in anticipation of a “gifted education” program that never materialized. They are gifted in many senses of the word including academically. I’m only now coming to realize that this is the very least of their gifts, not the greatest.

Child with award
One of many academic awards.

The part of school that wasn’t so easy was the social stuff. They were bullied from the beginning and it only got worse over the years. In my younger daughter’s last year of school she was so fearful of social interaction with peers that she stopped talking and when thrust into social situations would isolate herself to a secluded corner if anyone tried to speak to her. She was deeply depressed. It had been coming for years and I had been toying for several years with the idea of homeschooling.

“Prove it can work,” my husband said when I brought it up a couple of years earlier. And so, over the summers instead of rest I would drag my girls through curriculum after curriculum that we failed at. We failed at keeping to a schedule and we failed at regular reporting – and how can you homeschool without those things, right?

I talked to so many people about how to homeschool and in the spring of that final year I came across a lone voice in the wilderness. She said a word I had heard before but never given much thought to: unschooling. No schedules, no curriculum, just doing what works and being respectful of one another. I wasn’t convinced but I was curious. I knew by now that I was no good at the dining room classroom way of doing things. Maybe this would be different.

“Try it,” she coaxed. “Just watch them this summer. See what they’re learning in what they do naturally.” I did exactly that and my younger girl never went back to school. My husband, the born skeptic, still wasn’t convinced but he was willing to give it a shot for the girl’s sake. She was clearly “walking wounded” and we had to do something different. But until we had tested this thoroughly the older girl would return to school and do the normal school thing.

That lasted six weeks. Once the scales had dropped from our eyes we couldn’t close them anymore and pretend that school was anything normal. It was nonsensical. It was harmful to our daughter. It was harmful to our family. If that was normal we wanted to be weird. So we took her out of public school and haven’t looked back.

Every once in a while the hubs still has an unschool panic attack and we end up spending a day or two doing schooly stuff. The girls take it in stride and play along good-naturedly until he stops freaking out. They’re getting farther and farther between for now, though. So mostly we just live together in love and respect, all learning our own things in our own time.

Kids playing Rock Band
Now this is living!

What we’ve discovered is that in many respects we’ve been unschoolers all along. We were just adding unnecessary stuff to the rich environment we’ve always worked hard to provide. We’ve learned to let go of the public school. We’ve learned to let go of the mental checklists of “what they need to know.” We’re learning to let go even of the “what are they learning” radar. They’re good kids. They’re smart, they’re curious, and they’re capable of learning.

Beyond that, we’re learning to trust in God to reveal to them what He has planned for each of our girls and to equip them for that. We just strive to provide a stable, enriching, and loving home for that to happen in and to love and guide each girl as needed. Less is more for us now because “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things and at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)

~ Mari

Comment Below to Enter the Giveaway Drawing!

Today we’re giving away a copy of the ebook “How I Learned” written by one of our very own CU dad’s. It’s an autobiography of an autodidact, a personal story of one boy’s meandering path through the American educational system.

To enter the drawing, simply leave a comment with your email address and tell us how you learned. 🙂

Winner will be drawn in one week on Tuesday, April 17th.

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