Before we were unschoolers, we were homeschoolers. We were relaxed about it, pursuing a makeshift curriculum that touched on all the basic stuff while allowing us lots of room to wander off the trail. It felt loose and free, especially when compared to conventional schooling.
We remained caught up in the school-y things, though, in subjects and semesters and checklists of what your pre-schooler/kindergardener/first grader should know.
Well. I was caught up. My kid? Just caught.
In the state of Indiana, children have to start school by age seven. In practice, seven is quite late, of course; here as everywhere children as young as two are shuttled off to pre-pre-k to begin their formal instruction in how to stack blocks and sit in a circle and take orders from random adults.
We’d managed to skip that whole early-is-better thing, but as my kid’s seventh birthday drew closer, I began to think we might want a bit more rigor in our routine. Meaning: I brought home a few workbooks from Barnes & Noble.
Just something to keep us on track.
I still thought we needed to be “on track.”
By this time I’d read a bit of John Holt and knew something of unschooling. The philosophy appealed to me, but as a practical pursuit it was still somewhat woolly. I hadn’t yet encountered any unschoolers in my daily life, which is to say, I didn’t know what we were missing.
Meanwhile, my kid did a page or two out of each workbook. That was enough for them.
“It’s just the same thing over and over.”
In truth, I lacked confidence. Those workbooks represented the only formal instruction we were doing, provided the only tangible evidence that, yes, there was learning going on here. I felt pressure from invisible forces. I may have imagined that we were “tipping toward unschooling,” as I put it to people who asked, but I still trusted paper more than my own eyes.
My kid wasn’t having any of it.
Here’s the thing: it should have been obvious to me that learning was happening all the time. Our lives were interesting and fun, and our conversations were lively. We took walks and dug in the garden and went to the library and collected treasures and hung out with friends and watched movies and played computer games and board games and card games and baked banana bread and made art and read books. Our days were happy and satisfying.
Except for that hour or so every morning, when the workbooks came out and everything went pear-shaped.
It was messing with our serenity. There had to be a better way.
So I read more John Holt. I joined a few online forums, engaged with actual unschoolers. Things got less abstract, less woolly.
Six weeks after bringing them home, I quietly tossed the workbooks into the recycle bin. We were no longer tipping into unschooling. We were over the edge.