Some people really don’t seem to understand what unschooling is all about. I once went on television with my family and was filmed in my home and our lives were discussed and quite frankly ridiculed by many, including a Dr of Education who felt that unschooling was putting a child at a disadvantage and that their interests would become too narrow if we just allowed them to dictate what is was they wanted to learn about. He felt there was a real need for a national curriculum to give a child a broad and valid education. I disagreed with him. I think the way we live our lives is valid and that my children get a very broad education. What is unschooling like for us? Every day is different but today it went something like this and to be quite honest I don’t even like to be called an “unschooler” – we just live our lives and learn along the way:-
My daughter Poppy woke early and had got herself some breakfast. It was a beautiful morning so we decided to take her dog for a walk and Poppy would ride alongside on her bike. Her Daddy slept on so she wrote him a little note to leave on the breakfast bar to let him know where we had gone and off we went to watch the sun rise and take in the waking morning together. On our walk we met so many lovely people that Poppy somehow managed to strike up a conversation with. She has such a knack for doing that! She has no problems with social skills, communication and relating to people of all ages. It is actually a joy to see her in deep discussion with someone maybe six times her age with no inhibitions, just passing the day as she would with anyone whether old or young. Talking about her dog, their dog, the beautiful sunrise that we witnessed or whatever else captures her thoughts.
This morning was interesting as on the path as we walked along (well she cycled and I kind of ran/walked!) there was a top to tail procession of hairy caterpillars crossing in front of us. Where they had come from we did not know and where they were going we didn't know either, but they caused a real and captivating interest to us and others who happened to stumble upon them this morning. They became another thing of interest to Poppy that we would have to find out more about later. We continued on our way stopping to take photos of the majestic sky and marveling at its colours and the cloud formations. On we went, chattering all the way until we came to our favourite cafe where we stopped for a drink. Whilst I was inside ordering our drinks, Poppy waited at a public bench with Lily and her bike. I could see her through the window chatting away to a fisherman both animated and enjoying each other’s company. When I joined her we sat for a while watching the ocean enjoying our drinks and taking in the start of this day as the swallows swooped in front of us with their wing tips just skimming the ocean before sweeping with speed back up into the sky again.
Now for our homeward journey we set each other goals on how fast we could get from point to point. Lessons learned about time and distance and all with purpose and meaning to Poppy. When we got to a park Poppy had a play, swinging from monkey bar to monkey bar, soaring high into the tree tops on the swing, before joining me laying down on a bench to gaze through the branches at the clouds above and describe to each other what we saw in them. There were bears, dragons and dogs all moving with speed and elegance in the deep blue sky. Shimmers of sun flecked our faces as we sunk into the day happy and content. The last leg home involved more chats with fellow dog walkers, watching silver fish leap from the water and scurrying crabs across the rocks as the heat from the sun increased with the hands of our watches stretching to 8 o'clock.
When we got home Poppy and I juiced some oranges and shared it between ourselves in tall glasses with lots of ice. We noticed that we were low on fruit so Poppy wrote out a shopping list of things that we would need to buy and then she fed the dogs and guinea pigs before heading off downstairs to play some music. Poppy is very musical and it is a big part of her life and I love that she can play her music whenever she likes and for however long she likes. I love the sound of music that fills our house - beautiful melodies drifting up the stairs whilst she plays her piano - it really lifts your spirits. She calls me down to listen to what she has composed. I sit in awe of her creativity, self-belief and confidence of which I was so lacking at her age. I watch her little face deep in concentration and at one with the music as she played. She asked me if I would like her to teach me what she has been playing and I smile knowing that my 8 year old will do that for me and do it well and that I will learn something new with her guidance. She may not have a graduate diploma in teaching because she doesn’t need one. She just knows stuff and so she shows me and I learn from her passion and interest and it works for us in the same way as if maybe I know something she doesn’t and I share it with her if she wants me to. We spent a couple of happy hours messing around making music together before our stomachs growled for food. We didn't need a bell to tell us when to eat. We just listened to our internal body clock and off we went making lunch together as a team. Poppy deciding how much pasta we would need for us both, filling the kettle to boil the water and setting it upon the stove. We ate our lunch together in happy company with always something to chat about. Today it was Spain and how she would like to visit there. She has been learning Spanish and she was testing out her little phrases on me and seeing how far she could count.
As I washed up afterwards Poppy listened to Brainpop on her iPad learning so many interesting things that launched discussions on Greek Gods, Homer and poetry. I was amazed at how much she knew from listening to an audio story in the past of Troy and the Greek Legends. She has dyslexia and does not read these books in the traditional way but ear reads them and it sticks for her. That is how she learns best. Her strength is in her auditory ability and her memory. Being at home she can learn in the way that suits her best, unlike at school where she wouldn't have access to all these wonderful stories in an audio format. From her listening about poetry she decided she wanted to write a poem herself so off she went and wrote one. I didn't need to teach her how. She just did it. She asked about rhyme and this led into more discussion and reading of other poems that rhymed. We talked about the descriptive words in her poem and how they were known as adjectives. We looked at the form poems can take and the different kind of poetry and she was alight with it all and engaged and wanted to write more. I scribed for her and she then typed it out all by herself. She wants to continue with it and illustrate it with a view to writing more and putting them together in a book. All of these are her ideas and not from any set curriculum or schedule that I have imposed. It is just interest led learning coming from her and therefore it has meaning for Poppy and in doing so is more likely to stick in her memory. On top of the bulk of our day I heard her playing Nessy on the computer which is a reading program for children with dyslexia, I heard her playing the steel drums on an iPad app, I heard her playing with her dog, I saw her doing some knitting and to end her day we went off to the pool where she played with a bunch of other kids and afterwards full with a day of rich and wonderful experiences she fell asleep still talking about her poem to me and what she wanted to do with it tomorrow.
Does this unschooling way (if that is what you like to call it) sound like she is not learning? Does it sound like she is neglected or that I am not involved in her learning? Does it sound as though she has narrow interests? Not in my eyes and I would be surprised if others thought so. This is real living and learning and it works and we are happy with our life choices and for those who doubt it then I have to think that they are the ones who have not truly lived it and nor do they really understand what this way of living and learning is all about. We all of us cannot help learning just by being alive and this was just a typical day in our lives amongst many loving, living and learning together and I wouldn’t change a thing ❤️