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How We Became Unschoolers

By Kerry McDonald


When my husband and I first committed to homeschooling when my oldest was just two-years-old, I thought for sure that by the time she was five we would be following an age-appropriate, established curriculum – at least for certain subject areas – and would have time allocated each day for “teaching & learning.” In those early days, when I would talk to the homeschooling moms of older kids at homeschool park days or similar meet-ups, I thought those “unschooly” moms were a little “out there.” They were a bit too radical, I thought, just letting their kids do whatever they wanted, not requiring mastery in certain areas at certain times, not establishing expectations for academic performance. Radical.

And now here I am. Radical and out there. And loving every minute. (OK, almost every minute.)

It wasn't that I woke up one day and decided to become radical. It wasn't that I was trying to make a point or hop on a bandwagon. It was that I actually saw my children learning, of their own accord, following their own developing interests, without my tutelage. I watched as their natural, innate childhood curiosity guided them to discover and explore and widen their imaginations. I watched as my oldest learned how to read, not because I sat with her to review letters and sounds and “sight words,” but because she was surrounded by literacy and was ready to read. I watched as she grew increasingly interested in mathematical concepts, not from using a math curriculum or reviewing math problems, but because she was surrounded by numeracy and wanted to know more about how numbers and patterns could be applied. I watched as she became increasingly interested in learning the piano, in practicing and experimenting, not because I told her to practice or because her piano teacher asked her to, but because she was excited about making music. I saw her doing things, learning things, mastering things that I would never have thought to teach her; and that maybe if I had taught her, might not have resulted in so much originality and skill.

I realized, through the fascinating process of watching my children learn, to trust them: to trust a child's natural drive to know and create, to explore and synthesize. I realized that “unschooling” allows this natural learning to occur in many unanticipated and meaningful ways by allowing our children to show us the way, to reveal to us their passions, their gifts, and to constantly astound us with their capabilities when given the time and space to develop them naturally.

I learned that I am not my children's teacher. I am their follower.

Radical.

Kerry McDonald, M.Ed., lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and three young children. She blogs about city homeschooling, natural parenting, and urban homemaking at City Kids Homeschooling. (http://cityhomeschooling.blogspot.com)