Unschooling Portraits: Missy

Please introduce yourself.

Hi! We’re the Bell Family. We are a family of four: Michael, Missy, Jonah, and Maeryn.

Michael is a QA guy for the Department of Defense, layout editor at ArtsVine (our family business), and a songwriter and musician (Michael Bell’s music). Jonah is an eight-year-old Minecraft lover who also engages often with Legos, dragons, unicorns, ballet, drumming, archery, and more. Maeryn is a four-year-old artist in all kinds of media. Her work is often posted at What Maeryn Sees. She also enjoys dance, horses, faeries, movies, and the Laurie Berkner Band.

I’m Missy. I’m the creative and content editor at ArtsVine. I blog at Redefined Juliet, cook interesting vegetarian dishes, make art, act, direct, and run a few miles on occasion.

What does your typical day look like?

Our typical days are extremely laid-back. We try to take it easy most of the day, because our evenings are always packed with activities. We get up and chill out together: watch TV, play Minecraft, eat a little breakfast, drink some tea, and do other quiet activities.

Things tend to ramp up a bit after lunch and we usually play outside, go to the library, meet friends at the playground, or do crazy stuff around the house.

Evenings are “extracurricular” times for all of us – rehearsals, lessons, gigs, etc. We also spend a lot of our extra time working on “the bus” – which is a school bus we bought and are converting into an RV.

What does the term “unschool” mean to you?

Unschool means freedom. It means living your life the way you KNOW is best for your family. Living into your parenting instincts and listening for God, instead of living into the establishment’s paradigm for child raising, parenting, and education.

It means listening to your children and taking an active interest in who they are RIGHT NOW, and realizing that all of their interests, activities, questions, and creations are paving the way for who they will be in the future.

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 started with Jonah in daycare from the time he was eight weeks old. I was teaching in the public school system and Michael was actually teaching for a time as well. Our plan for him was to find a great private school. We were disenchanted with the public schools from teaching there, though both of us enjoyed the students and our jobs, we understood that the system was broken and wanted something better for our children.

Jonah did well at daycare, but when he started preschool at a local church, disaster ensued. We pulled him from the preschool after two months, and found a local Montessori School that seemed like a great fit – and it was, until he started first grade, where many arbitrary rules were put into place, and he began to rebel. He came home anxious and angry every day.

That summer, a friend lent me some books by John Holt, which I read voraciously and of course these led me down the unschooling path mentally, so when we talked about homeschooling as an alternative form of education for Jonah, unschooling was lingering in the back of my head as an option.

After pulling him from Montessori, we started unschooling around week three.

We now consider ourselves radical unschoolers or whole life unschoolers, whichever term you prefer.

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

Jonah’s interest in ballet came as a surprise. We are a pretty artsy family, but we have never pushed for any particular activity, just tried to open as many doors as possible for both kids. Most of Jonah’s interests are pretty typical for young boys, and ballet is not – but I think it’s because it’s discouraged by fearful parents and not really because boys aren’t interested in the art form.

Both kids are also very into fantasy: unicorns, faeries, dragons. Jonah’s interest in smithing and archery were both surprises to me.

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

The benefits are huge. I can’t even begin to describe how much more Jonah thrives as an unschooler. The freedom and options are endless. The only limitations are your imagination and your wallet.

What are some of the negatives?

I always wish that I could do more. I wish that we had the cash to go everywhere and do everything possible. I want to travel the world with my kids. I want to get them all the resources they could possibly need. But I see the positive even in this – it helps us all learn to manage money and learn the differences between needs and wants.

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

The best days are when the kids say they were the best. This past weekend Jonah went camping with Michael, and Maeryn and I had a girls’ weekend. We took a bubble bath together and rented movies and went out for burgers and ice cream and got a free balloon and face-painting at a local business and had a pillow fight in our PJs.

While we were walking out of the burger place, she took my hand and looked up at me and said, “Mama, this is the BEST day.” And it was. One of the very best.

The worst days are the ones when I’m tired or feeling inadequate or I’m just grouchy. They reflect that, even if I’m not aware of it at the time. The more calm and positive I can be, the better our days become.

Favorite definition of unschooling?

Being free. Living free. Embracing freedom. Understanding that Love and Freedom are not necessarily two different things.

Thank you, Missy, for sharing this unschooling portrait with us! 

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