Unschooling Portraits: Jenn

unschooling portraits

Please introduce yourself.

Mile High Howdies! I’ve always found it difficult to sum up 47 years of life in a few paragraphs, but here goes. I’m Jenn, married to a mechanical engineer and commander in the Navy Reserve (same guy here, I’m not a bigamist!) who never ceases to make me laugh. I married him because he was the first grown-up I dated and he was the only guy I didn’t get bored with after a week! He continues to surprise me after 21 years. We live in our dream house in Northern Colorado with our 15-year-old soprano pop-culture queen and our 13-year-old engineer-in-training, also known as The Burp-o-matic, Beeper, Burrito Boy (don’t ask!).

We’ve been homeschooling since the birth of our kids. We began when my parents, both public school teachers, threatened to take my children away if we did NOT homeschool! Now there’s an endorsement!

I’m a second-generation Colorado native (third generation if you count my grandparents who came here from Russia when they were 2). I’m an all-or-nothing perfectionist who is passionate about the printed word, scrapbooking, organizing, Star Trek, and the Navy. I’m the original introvert and have a screen addiction that I battle daily! I’m a learning junkie, having attended five colleges/universities with 11 majors (yes, I did eventually graduate with a B.A. in Communication). And homeschooling has provided an avenue for me to continue learning without tuition charges! What a revelation!

What does your typical day look like?

We start out NOT getting up. I’ve never been a morning person so my aversion to the idea of getting two kids fed, dressed, and on a bus to school while looking like I have it all together myself before eight in the morning was my first motivation to homeschool.

I do get up before the kids, though, to have time to do my own stuff in uninterruptable quiet. When the kids get up (which happens naturally; alarms are banned in our house) we have breakfast, do chores, and the kids start in with the stuff they want to accomplish for the day. Sometimes that’s activities like field trips, meeting with family or friends, or classes they’re involved in like guitar or archery. The rest of the day before dinner is taken up by school-type work like history, science, or math. We use curriculum for some stuff but only as a guideline. Before the year starts, we go over what we’d like to pursue and how we’re going to pursue it. This way, the kids know the expectations but they have the freedom to go about it the way that’s best for them. For example, my son is a “check-the-box” person so he made is own schedule sheet. My daughter takes a more relaxed approach; she’ll work at something or on multiple things at once and then take a break. To a casual observer, it would look like she’s getting distracted but it’s just her way of absorbing information and getting things done.

When my hubby comes home from work, we have dinner, then twice a week is movie night, or we’ll do things with the kids like scouts or games or watch a TV series on Netflix.

Quiet time comes at 11:00, which is when hubby and I are in bed. The kids are allowed to read ‘til they go to sleep ( how can I tell them “no” when they beg to read?).

There is structure to our day but the space to pursue what we want when we want is wide open. And that’s the way we like it. Uh huh uh huh.

Exploring the lava fields on the Big Island of Hawaii
Exploring the lava fields on the Big Island of Hawaii

What does the term ‘unschool’ mean to you?

In the words of William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We pursue our interests the way we were created to.

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 fall under the category of “The Many.” I come from a long line of educators so it was inevitable that I would start out bringing school home. I didn’t do the whole desk thing; all my own learning happened/s on the floor, a bed, or any other soft, comfy place. But I did have our day divided into subjects and I would give birth to small kittens if we didn’t finish a workbook or lesson.

I morphed into a curriculum junkie, but after trying a method for awhile, I’d end up in Stressed Mode again. Finally one year, I remembered the owner of a homeschool supply company telling me, “Even if you did nothing, your child would still be better off being with you than being in school.” Now I don’t want to knock families who utilize institutional schools, but this little gem sparked my curiosity. So I gave up. All the workbooks, all the curricula, all the schedules and lesson plans and scopes and sequences. Lo and behold, my kids continued to learn. When test time came (which I despise but it’s required by our state), they were above their grade levels in everything.

I began reading all things unschooling and, after chucking all the method books, we haven’t looked back.

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

I don’t know if my kids are predictable or if I just know them that well, but they really haven’t developed any interests that surprised me. The biggest surprise occurred in myself and how I view education now.

What are some of the benefits of unschooling that you’ve seen?

1. Relationship, relationship, relationship – that we have with God and that we have with each other.
2. Freedom to pursue what, where, when, how, and why we want to learn.
3. Being able to learn alongside my kids. I’ve been introduced to things I never would have thought about if it weren’t for their interests.

Making mom nervous at the Grand Canyon
Making mom nervous at the Grand Canyon

What are some of the negatives?

  1. Trying to explain this philosophy to others.
  2. Breaking away from the traditional school model. It was very difficult to change my expectations, indeed, my very definition of education and embrace a more natural approach to learning, even though I was seeing the benefits daily. I still fight the urge to revert back to that tradition, but those instances are becoming fewer and farther between.
  3. Trying to fit state requirements around how we do things. But it gets easier the more my mindset changes.

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

Hm. My best day is when I can get dressed before noon, exercise, and have my dishes done after all three meals. Oh you mean regarding homeschooling? Well, I guess my answer applies to that, too. Our days are all “best days” because I don’t have expectations with schoolwork anymore. We’re just living life, and I wouldn’t change this way of living for all the krautburgers in Germany! (my all-time favorite food.)

Favorite definition of unschooling:

I have three:

  1. Christian perspective – Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
  2. Secular perspective – John Taylor Gatto, “Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”
  3. Beagle perspective – Eat, Sleep, R-E-L-A-X!
Beagle unschooling!
Beagle unschooling!

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

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