Having undertaken fairly rigorous mainstream education (which I enjoyed most of the time) it was a surprise to many of my friends and family when I started homeschooling one of my children about 5 years ago. He had already struggled through many years of school and hated almost every minute of it. It was our local, friendly primary school and, from what I could see, they were doing everything right...but it didn’t suit him. Here was a child who struggled both academically and socially. Who spent his school days so wound up and on edge that he would melt down and cry when he got home. Sunday evenings were the worst when he knew he had another whole week to face ahead of him. The whole family was so much happier when we finally made the decision to remove him from the environment that was distressing him on a daily basis.
We started out, then, as I imagine most new homeschoolers do - we replicated school at home. The relief for him to not have to face the rigours of school was evident straight away and work that he would have previously sat and stared at at school now became achievable with one on one help. It still wasn’t easy for him, but much more attainable. Knowing my son as I did I knew that pushing him would only cause greater resistance, so we took each task slowly and got what we could out of it. We maintained this for a few months, working through workbooks, attempting maths problems and reading everyday, but we also spent a lot more time cooking and doing art work and things that he enjoyed.
I’m not sure what triggered it, I like to think it was a natural progression but I suspect things started to change when my husband and I started a new business and suddenly I didn’t have as much time as I used to have to sit and work through problems with him. We somehow morphed into what I now know as unschooling. It was then that the true magic of self directed learning started to happen. And it really was magic! We watched as our son truly blossomed and took control of what he wanted to do and learn. He took over our kitchen and turned it into a cafe. He had price lists and different ways to order and he set it up every morning and cleaned it up every night. He took advantage of the regular passing traffic that would come through our house each day (at the time we were looking after my nephews daily so there was always aunts and uncles passing through who would buy a cup of coffee and whatever sweet treat he had cooked up that day), and sometimes the cafe would get an order from me to cook dinner for the family that night.
And then, just as suddenly as it came about, the cafe stopped. And then computers and IT became his world! He found a mentor on YouTube. Someone who gave very clear, precise instructions in a very methodical way. He watched every video this particular person made and he followed along and taught himself how to design websites. Right at the time when our business needed tech/website support, we suddenly, happily had just the person we needed!
He is now almost 16 and has been homeschooled/unschooled since he was 10. He will never return to formal/institutionalised education. He will, however, continue to educate himself in things he needs/wants to know. To say we couldn’t run our business without him would be an overstatement, but, we would certainly have to outsource a lot more tasks if we didn’t have such a capable young man so readily accessible to us.
Unschooling for the win!