I’m often asked to explain unschooling. Before I explain, I gauge the person’s intent and that determines how much I’ll explain. I can tell if someone is asking so they can attempt to go on blast in which case, they’ll find out I have quite a bit of arsenal of my own. So, with my more schooly friends and/or family in mind, also, just for the sake of keeping records, I’ve decided to include a few of the moments we’ve had that I can only attribute to our unschooling lifestyle.
When Jaiela was just past one year old, she showed me that babies really do pay close attention and learn things before they are able to speak. I used to read to her a lot. I didn’t necessarily have in my mind that I was “teaching” her per se, I was simply enjoying her. I love reading and I wanted to share that with her so we’d often times come home from the library with 30 books and tapes and we’d read and watch every single one! I often miss those early days, living in Daytona. I have such fond memories from that time in our lives. We had such a great relationship with the librarians there that I was allowed to check out reference books because they knew I’d be back.
Back to one year old Jaiela… She was just starting to really talk and one day as I bathed her she said, “Mommy, look!” (while pointing at the knobs in the tub) “H, C!” She was pointing out the letters as she recognized them on the hot and cold knobs! I (foolishly) got freaked out and left her in the bathroom momentarily, lol! After that, we devoured every alphabet and number book we could find and by the time she was 2, she knew them all. Because my husband and I were in college, we put her in daycare when we were in class at the same time. This daycare was a teaching daycare. At first, they moved her up to the 3 year old classes because at 2 she was fully potty trained and the bathroom was close to the 3 year olds class but very soon after, they moved her to the 4 year old class because she already knew the material they taught the 3 year olds. Her teacher told me how shocked she was when she realized Jaiela not only knew her birthday, but she could identify all the alphabet as well. She said Jaiela kept telling her that her birthday was May 25th all day and she eventually sent her assistant to look it up. She assumed the 2 year old was just yapping. Then as she began a lesson on the alphabet and asked the children if they could guess what letter she pointed to, Jaiela was the one who answered and it turned into her randomly pointing to letters with Jaiela answering each one. So here I had a 2 year old in a class with 4 year olds. It was a disaster, lol! She did well with the material but being “the baby” made everything very weird.
At 3 years old, Jenai and I sat on my bed watching tv. A Huntington commercial came on. I wasn’t aware that my 3 year old was completely engrossed in their talk of tutoring your child in math or reading and improving their grades by one letter in the end. As the commercial ended, Jenai declared, “Mommy, you need to call them!” I looked at her horrified and replied, “Why?” She looked at me equally horrified and said, “I can’t read!” Of course I burst out laughing, reminding her that she was 3 and it was ok that she couldn’t read. I was wrong. She was horrified. It was not acceptable that she couldn’t read so I asked her if she wanted to learn to read. Of course she said yes and after about one hour of explaining how letters form words and going through each of the alphabet and the sounds each makes, the girl was reading and hasn’t stopped since. Surprisingly, I don’t remember Jaiela really reading until she was about 6 or 7. It could be that she read to herself more, whereas, Jenai reads aloud quite often as she loves to read to others. Jaiela wasn’t like Jenai at all. In fact I thought Jaiela didn’t care for reading but again, I was wrong, very, very wrong! Like me, these girls are book fanatics. Even my 3 year old loves to “read”. I am enjoying watching her and wonder when she’ll decide she needs to read (for real).
The same year Jenai began reading (at 3), she blew us away with math. My children have no set bedtime and I’m often heard telling them, “No more reading, no more math! Let’s go to bed!” This night was no different. Around midnight 3 year old Jenai plops on my bed with a book asking me to read it with her. I said no and that we’d read it tomorrow. She begged and opened the book and asked, “What does this mean- 2 plus one?” I told her that wasn’t even a reading book. It was an old math workbook of Jaiela’s. She insisted that she needed to know right then what “plus” meant. I didn’t even know she knew that + sign meant plus.
I proceeded to explain addition (to her delight) and then asked her if she could perhaps tell me what one plus one equaled. She quickly replied 2. I went on with 2 + 1 and 3+ 1 and she rattled off the answers as if she’d taken a class. My husband was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and he overheard us and peeked his head in and said, “3 + 4”, Jenai smiled shyly and replied, “It seems like 7.” The next day, we bought her an abacus, lol!
Their non- academic triumphs mean as much to me if not more and quite honestly, I’m at the point where I find any and everything to be of importance thus educational.
Jaiela asked me if she could take my camera to dance for several weeks and I agreed. When she was done, she’d produced a video with the pictures she’d taken. Her video included music and many different features that I wouldn’t have thought to assign her to complete.
I’m amazed by their tenacity. They aren’t afraid of a challenge. Most times, they welcome a challenge. Jaiela is in Jr company at her dance school and she was invited to take a few classes with the seniors. Her friends declined such an invitation because they are not on the same level as the seniors. Jaiela, however, was excited to be invited and went and had a ball. She wasn’t at all daunted by the girls who could lift their legs up to their faces and kiss their calves if they so desired. She loved it!
I was equally amazed when at 4 Jaiela could do more chin lifts than anyone in her gymnastics class. I was floored when she rode a 2 wheeler like a pro only 20 minutes after my neighbor took her training wheels off.
I’m thrilled when Jenai makes eggs for everyone or when she takes it upon herself to bathe Jasmine after she’s had an accident.
So, to all those horrified by the “child led-ishness” of unschooling, those who cringe and ask, “How do you know they know all they should know at this point?!”, I say, I don’t care about the timetable someone else wants to impose on them. I know, they are on the right track and they learn what they should, when they should and more importantly, they retain it because it means something to them. I’m happy in my role as facilitator knowing I couldn’t begin to plan all that has happened so far. I love watching things unfold knowing (from experience) that if I get too involved, I’ll just mess things up.
Unschooling is the way to go for us!