Unschooling Portraits: Aadel

Please introduce yourself.

Hellllooooo! (Mrs. Doubtfire voice).

I have been married to my high school sweetheart, Jay, for close to 12 years. He entered the military right after graduation and so the only life we have known is military life.

We have three kids – each born 5 years apart. Our oldest, Raven (11), is artistic and loves animals. Denna (7), loves fashion and singing. Gaius (2), is our sweet, active boy. Right now his favorite thing to talk about are his “diggahs” – which are construction vehicles.

We love to read together, play RPGs, learn about the unique natural surroundings in every place we live, and play on the computer. I enjoy writing, crocheting, sewing, and volunteering for our local church and homeschool group. Organic gardening is also a task that I enjoy – although some years it yields more than others.

Currently, we reside in Kansas among the Flint Hills and Konza prairie. We have lived in five different states throughout our journey – so we view each day as a new adventure.

What does your typical day look like?

We have no typical day. We usually have seasons of life where we are going out to activities all the time and other times when we stay home and play on the computer for days.

In our current season of life, we usually wake up around 8am when baby brother gets up. The kids usually entertain themselves and each other most mornings while I work on my writing. They play computer games, pretend to be horses, watch cartoons, or make tents in the front room with blankets and chairs. Depending on if daddy is home or away, we might have a more stable schedule or a very chaotic one.

Early afternoons are usually quiet time – while brother naps. The girls get more computer time or they read and do crafts. Sometimes they go outside and play or ride scooters. In the evenings we might play board games or read together. The girls love to draw and write while I read to them. We just finished up Beowulf last week.

On Fridays we attend our local homeschool group art classes. We also do field trips with them on occasion.

What does the term “unschool” mean to you?

The word unschooling to me means a deviation from normal schooling. It is not the negative opposite – but rather an absence of what people think of as regimented, formal learning.

The way I see it, school is the artificial substitution of a natural process. That is not necessarily bad, but it is not ideal either.

When you want to teach someone about farming, you can introduce it artificially, through books about farming, examples, talking about the task, etc. Or, you can teach farming by having someone come and farm with you.  The latter is the ideal way to learn.

The same goes for other areas of life. Math can be taught artificially, or it can be taught through real life examples – where kids are placed into a position where they need to learn math in order to achieve a goal or get what they want. I mean, how was math invented and developed in the first place? It was through a need – through a desire to make sense of the world. It was not concocted for the sole purpose of sanitary study.

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?

We transitioned from homeschooling to unschooling. I knew I could teach Raven to read, since my mother had taught me at the age of four using some educational toys and letter magnets. We started out on a one-year trial and realized quickly that homeschooling fit our family dynamic.

During second and third grade with Raven, I tried a very formal “school-at-home” method. We had desks and a chalkboard – it was really silly. I mean, looking back on it I realize I was trying to make our learning “official” – to ease some of my anxieties and prove that we were not quacks.

But “school-at-home” backfired horribly for me. Jay was gone on his first deployment and I was an emotional wreck. Raven was not a “good” student; she struggled with retaining any of the stuff we were drilling. She constantly doodled and fiddled. And she cried. We both cried tears of frustration. She thought she was letting me down – and I knew I was letting her down.

I went in search of another way. I looked at websites and browsed forums. Eventually I came across the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. It sounded much more relaxed and child-centered. Rather than tests and grades, the method focused on good literature and depth of understanding. I felt very positive about trying this in our home.

Yep- we lived in that

About the same time I started changing things up, we were facing an 1,800-mile move in an RV. I could only take limited books and materials, and we knew we might be living in it for a while until we found a home. So I decided to bring only a few good books and let our trip be the kids’ education. It was a blast!

To this day, we still consider ourselves “Charlotte Mason unschoolers” because we still enjoy studying nature and doing notebooks and lapbooks. Only now it is by choice, not by mom’s command. We did CM homeschooling until last year, when I was burned out from planning everything. I think I had an unschooling mindset since our move, but I had to slowly let go of some of my preconceptions about unschooling – what it was and wasn’t, if it worked in the long run, and whether it was “biblical.”

The two things that were instrumental in me finally jumping into unschooling with both feet were the Christian Unschooling group on Facebook, and my sister who unschools her boys.

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

Raven is an amazing artist. She loves horses and mythical creatures and one thing that struck me about her interests is that she likes to focus on just one thing at a time.

She will decide at times that she needs to perfect the way she draws a horse’s hoof or a griffin’s claw. So, she checks out anatomy books from the adult section of the library and reads how the muscles and bones fit together and will study and practice for days and weeks on end.

Both of the girls love history. They liked the Hundred Years War stories we read so much that we ended up spending almost an entire year studying all the aspects of that period of time. It culminated in a family trip to the local Renaissance Festival.

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

I see a lot of the same benefits with unschooling as I saw with Charlotte Mason. I can listen and watch my children for clues about their maturity and interests. It has been amazing watching the girls dive into projects that involve lots of work they would never do if I were pushing it through schoolwork.

Another huge benefit is that we have the flexibility to work around Jay’s schedule and make time for each other. I don’t have to be tied down to a curriculum or a school year – we truly can just learn as life happens. And that is exactly what we have experienced.

What are some of the negatives?

You worry, a lot. As a parent I want to make sure that my kids are going to have all they need to live life to the fullest. It is easy when you have a checklist of books and worksheets you can mark down.

I think unschooling is the hardest method of learning. You have to be there, connecting with your kids and finding them resources all the time. You have to be observant. You have to set the example. You have to suggest and guide and walk with them through the journey.

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

My best days are when my kids come to me to talk about very personal things going on in their lives because they trust me, when they discover something new, or when they improve a skill they have been working on.

Our worst days are when we just can’t seem to cooperate and everyone needs to pray and think about how to treat one another. They are the worst because sometimes I need to learn hard lessons about myself and my own attitude.

Favorite definition of unschooling:

God-led, family learning.

Thank you to Aadel for this Unschooling Portrait!

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