Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unschooling and Schooling

Camille is still very happy with her choice to go to school this year.  She has a kind teacher and a small class.  And since it is her choice, she takes full responsibility for it.  To be honest, I don't care about her grades, or her homework, or her attendance record.  I don't enforce a bedtime, a limit on media use at home, or have regulations on food intake.  I do encourage respect, kindness, and joy, and if these things are difficult to find in the moment, I try to find a way to smooth the path back to them.

At one point Camille was getting very grumpy and easily aggravated every morning during her first recess.  She told me that she felt like lashing out at her friends, and we problem-solved together.  It turns out she wasn't eating the breakfast that school provides because she mostly avoids gluten (again, her choice) and most of the food was gluten-y and unappealing to her.  Her teacher now has a cupboard where she can keep gluten-free cereal and other snacks for breakfast or snacktime, and she doesn't have that problem any more.

The reason that I am writing about this is that having approached her life and learning from an unschooling perspective has had a huge (and positive) effect on how we approach her schooling.  As a parent, I don't feel like I have to have an adversarial relationship with her.  I can be her safe place to come home to.  I can make her healthy lunches, and help with her homework if asked, but I don't feel like I have to be the one to push the school agenda.  As the learner, Camille is there because she enjoys the social interaction and the activities. Academically, school is not at all challenging for her, and she does get bored or frustrated occasionally, but she wants to be there, and that carries her joyfully (most of the time) through the less appealing aspects of it.

She never wants to take a day off just because, even though she knows she can.  She finishes her homework on time every day, and goes to bed at 8:00 every night, because she doesn't want to be sleepy at school.  Her teacher says she's a joy to have in class, and her grades are good, (except gym :).  But what I actually care about is that she is happy, she is enjoying her school experience, and she is doing it on her terms.  And interestingly enough, I think that I have unschooling to thank for that.

By the way, unschooling is sometimes wrongly seen as just letting a child figure everything out on their own, but in actuality, I have seen that the parents of unschoolers (when it works well) are even more involved in their children's learning, but they are more of a support network than a "teacher".  For example, a week of unschooling math for Camille might have looked like helping bake a cake, measuring wood for Papa's construction project, figuring out scores on a computer game, playing dice and board games, doing a 1400 number dot-to-dot, and figuring out the best way to spend $5.00 at a thrift store.  These things are not done 'to teach math', but the learning is there nonetheless, or maybe all-the-more.  Learning happens best when there is actual interest in the subject matter :)

I do miss Camille when she's gone such long hours every day, but she told me tonight in the car that I'm "pretty much her best friend", which of course melted my heart.  She has a lot of friends, both in school and out, and even a sweet little 8 year-old home-schooled boyfriend that sewed her a Robin Hood-style hat :) I love to see her so very happy.

So far, Sylvia is still content to be home-schooled/unschooled, and Ayla is far away from those choices, but I know that we will continue to follow the path of happiness and see where that leads us.


  1. Beautiful, Nikole. I so loved this. I needed this today. I am so grateful you wrote it :)

    I am so glad for Camille—how she is finding a path to joy through her choices and your support of them. This story, your words, make me smile from the inside out!

  2. What a lovely take on schooling! How nice that you can adequately support Camille in her choices and that you feel a lot of that comes from unschooling. I'm sure she would be a joy to teach!!

  3. School isn't the same for a child who has a choice of whether to be there or not. An empowered person making choices is acting, being and doing for purposes of her own. Powerlessness and a feeling of being trapped don't bring out the best in people.

  4. I have wondered how schooling was going for all of you. The way you are handling it is so beautiful! What an amazing mom you are...

  5. As i struggle with school choices I very much enjoyed this post. We would like to home school. We decided to send Sierra to school this first year for kindergarten while we settle things with selling off everything to hit the road in the spring where schooling will be less of a choice on the road. Sierra really wanted to go to school too and is coping much better then we thought she would thankfully. I look forward to homeschooling/unschooling down the road as I gain confidence that we won't be holding her back to do so from reading so many wonderful blogs like yours :)

    My Aayla will most likely not get the choice as we will be on the road when she is scheduled to start...but I am sure someday she will want to go, as will Sierra again someday...and I hope to be able to take it as amazingly as you do!

  6. This is such a beautiful post. I think it takes such wisdom on your part to see how unschooling really can be part of a schooling life - as you say, if that's the choice your child makes. I also love how you say you're not adversarial with your kids, by choice. So many people think that is a natural, necessary part of parenting. All the best!

  7. Thank you for posting this as we are figuring out if our son is going to go to school.


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