I did not set out to be an unschooling mom. Honestly, I did not know the meaning of the term until very recently. I am a product of the conventional educational system, and I wholeheartedly believed in it. There was no reason for me not to.
Growing up, I had some of the best, most dedicated teachers helping me shape my life and become who I am today. I have fond memories of the classrooms, playgrounds, school events, friends, and everything else that are quintessential of the traditional schooling model.
So, when our son was old enough (barely 3), I did exactly what I was conditioned to do. I enrolled him into a "play group" at a school which was to be his second home till K12. And I happily went about my way, daydreaming of "me-time" projects for the afternoon hours.
But during the next year, as our family of three keeled under the pressure of art projects, activity sheets, assessments, PTMs, and results, we started questioning this crazy need of our society to shove little ones onto the path of formal education at such a young age.
Six months ago, we came to the reluctant conclusion that this unhealthy pressure could not go on for long. And just like that, we did the unthinkable and pulled our son out of the formal education system.
Being the stay-at-home parent, the onus then fell on me to "educate" our son and help him grow up to be a productive member of the society. I took my role very seriously. I focused on my job of being his teacher with all earnestness. I made a list of all the "skills" that he needed to master by the end of preschool, then kindergarten.
It did not take me long to realize that I had just succeeded in replacing his classroom education model with a one-on-one tutoring model, nothing more. And it was not helping.
Eventually, I stopped with all the "teaching" and left my son alone to discover and learn with curiosity as his only guiding force. And just like that, from a reluctant homeschooling mom, I transitioned to an even more reluctant unschooling mom.
It was not easy for me (it still isn't), and it did not come naturally. But as I watch our son carve out his own unique learning path from his environment, I must confess that maybe, perhaps maybe, we should let our children be a little more and make our children "learn" a little less.
I am still a newbie at this. So, honestly, I'm just fumbling through this whole unconventional educational system at best, but here are some of the lessons I have learned so far:
Children, especially the younger lot, don't need you to teach them as much as they need you to point them in the right direction. And once you've done that, you should simply back off and let their hearts and minds make the connection for real learning to happen.
Children learn because it's fun to know new things about the world they're living in. Not because someone is going to question them later on. The moment you make the learning about their grades – for younger kids, it's when we compare them to other children – the fun-o-meter suffers a complete breakdown and learning becomes a chore.
In the beginning of our homeschooling/unschooling journey, I stressed out plenty about the curriculum to follow, the books to read, the worksheets to complete and what not. Turns out, children do not need focused resources for learning to happen. They learn to read from cereal boxes and movie subtitles, they practice writing on their toys (and sometimes on the walls), and they learn science and mathematics from observing nature at work.
Some children fit snugly into a given school grade, but they are the lucky few. Most others are somewhere in between two grades. A few are spread across three or more. To this day, I fumble when someone asks me which grade our son studies in because, honestly, I don't have a clue. With respect to some skills, he is a kindergartener. For others, he is in Grade 1. Then there are some skills that I cannot map to any grade just yet.
One of the biggest criticisms about the whole homeschooling model is the lack of peer-to-peer interactions during the day for the homeschooled child. And it is true to some extent. But what I have learned is that being social and outgoing is about the nature of the child and not about his schooling. Our son loves being friendly (even to strangers!), but he also equally enjoys being all by himself at home, learning at his own sweet pace.
I would love to say that unschooling is the best type of education there is, but it wouldn't be true. At the end of the day, optimum education is about using the best approach customized exclusively for the child in question. Whether it's a conventional classroom or the laid back, unstructured, unschooling home environment, your guiding force should be the glint of excitement in your child's eyes – or the lack thereof.