Unschooling: Month #2 The Unravelling

It’s been about a month and a half since I withdrew my eight year old daughter (now nine) from public school and it’s been a roller-coaster of emotions and expectations for both of us. I am so grateful to the homeschooling community for being supportive of my decision and directing me to informative blogs and sites such as Ask Pauline and Educated Adventures blog; Unschooling . The valuable resources and insight I gained helped our transition from her former school to home the best possible experience for both of us. Due to the anxiety and aggression my daughter now associated with learning, I came to the realization that she would need a period of time to unravel from the unrealistic expectations, anxiety and regimented schedule that we were both accustomed to while she attended public school. On her last day of traditional school, she brought home a backpack full of textbooks, folders, pamphlets, notebooks and binders which were almost a foot high. We both looked at them and sighed. She immediately felt that she should keep everything and that we had to finish the work she started until the folders, workbooks and notebooks were filled. When I reached to take the math book (the source of most of her anxiety) suggesting we burn it, she responded with a look of shock and a resounding “No Mommy, we can’t burn it!”. I laughed but she was serious. It was then that I realized the conditioning and fear that influenced her learning on a daily basis. After I pried the textbook from her hand, I sat her down and explained to her the things I learned from reading the blogs and speaking face to face with other homeschooled families; that the beauty of homeschooling was that we didn’t have to follow any one else’s methods of learning and could create our own. I told her it was okay if she didn’t like any of the workbooks and wanted to rip them apart because we were free from their curriculum and that she could now determine how she learned and documented what she knew. She started to loosen her grip and walked over to a folder and said ” I despise this C.E. folder, can I rip up the pages inside?” I smiled and said “absolutely!”. I watched as she ripped the worksheets into tiny pieces repeating how much she hated having to do them and that she was now free. My heart warmed and I knew at that moment I made the right decision and would do everything I could to keep from having to send her back into an environment that caused her to attach any level of resentment and detestation to learning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not adverse to public school if it’s working for your child. Both of my children as did I attended public school from kindergarten. My son was awarded a scholarship for private high school and is currently in his first year and I volunteered in the schools every week in addition to fundraising. This is all new to me and I’m learning that there is no right or wrong, only what’s best for your child. I’m far from a pro but I’ve leaned on my resources so that I could answer my daughter’s questions about the unschooling/homeschooling process. It’s new to both of us, and I’ve listed some of the questions I had that may help someone else making the decision:

Has it had its emotional heart wrenching moments? Yes. I have had my “what am I doing -I have to work and I don’t have time for this-what was I thinking!” moments where I doubted my ability to carry one more thing on my ‘to-do’ list. It would be at that precise moment that my daughter would walk up to me, hug me tightly and say “thank you Mom, I am free”.

Have we both been frustrated with the transition? Yes. I have been late to some appointments or have had to stop what I was working on intensely to help her find the website she needed to play math games, or to make her lunch. There were at least two weeks of adjusting, setting boundaries, readjusting and setting new boundaries. I realized well into my second week that for me this was not just a Mom homeschooling her daughter, but it had to be a partnership between parent and child. It was especially necessary for me as an entrepreneur and one parenting independently, that she understand there are times when I cannot be interrupted (unless her laptop or hair is on fire) and times when she has to be ready and prepared to leave at a certain time so that I am not late getting to a client. It helps that this is something that she wanted also, and not just my decision. I made it clear to her that homeschooling can not work if Mommy is unable to do her work. In return we agreed that Friday is our field trip day. Aside from a few phone calls and returned emails in the morning, she gets undivided Mom time on Fridays. Some days we end up just going into the city for lunch and walking around and some days it’s a museum or a meet up with the Homeschooling Group in Philadelphia. It’s quality time where we unplug and enjoy whatever journey we decided to take, and it’s my favorite time of the week!

Is it as easy as it appears? Heck no! But it’s much more manageable than I thought it would be. I would highly suggest you reach out to others and connect to a “tribe” of supportive parents, families and educators to help you stay afloat. I responded to a flyer about an African-American Homeschool group meet up in Philadelphia initiated by Maleka Diggs founder of the Eclectic Learning Network. The group meets every other week and even though it’s a 25 minute drive, it is well worth the trip for me to be in a room full of people who not only support your decision but provide resources and wisdom to help make the transition easier for you. I’ve found especially in the suburbs that un/homeschoolers are judged because the school districts are more privileged than those in urban areas and people assume that the only rational reason to remove your child from such a great school would be that your student has some type of disability, or you’re weird or snobby. Neither was the case. I’ve found that those assumptions have more to do with the mindset of the person making the judgement than the person making the best choice for their child.

 

How can learning happen if there’s no curriculum? I have to admit this was a huge adjustment for me as a new “unschooler”. I thought similar to my daughter that to just continue where her school left off with the curriculum would be the easiest method for me since spending money and time researching the right curriculum for her seemed insurmountable! I would hear myself saying “ok you need to stop that and get some reading in” or “we didn’t do any math this week, log into Kahn Academy” and she would look at me as if I had two heads and I would let it go. Yet still I felt like I was failing at being her educator until I attended the Homeschool Meet up group at the Joseph E. Coleman Free Library. I was able to express my feelings of inadequacy in a non judgmental space and left with the assurance that it would happen naturally because children are natural learners. I had heard those words before, but still thought I had to make it happen. As we left the library my avid reader noticed some books she wanted to buy from the library sale. It instantly occurred to me that this could be a teachable moment. We talked about the price of the books, and asked her to tell me how much she needed to buy all five books. We had the time to sit and break down the numbers into monetary value for her to get a solid understanding of the relationship between money and math. With a tiny bit of help, she figured it out. I then noticed one of the 5 books in her hand was not a part of the series and asked her to figure out how much we needed if we didn’t purchase that book. We walked out with not only the four books but with a lesson in money, addition and subtraction all without coercion, forethought or strain. It was at that moment I understood my role in this process; let go and just wait for the teachable moments to be presented. Two days later we attended a  Fresh Baked Theatre Company play at Widener University. When we left the performance she noticed there were eight flags in the courtyard. Janai turned to me and said “Mom, there are 50 stars on each flag, I bet I can figure out how many stars in total!” She was starting to see that learning can happen outside of a classroom and that math was everywhere. I smiled and watched as she counted the stars (see picture below).

Does she wish she was back at school? I have to say that for the first day she was sad about not seeing her friends every day and wondered if she would be just as happy at home, but that’s how long it lasted. One day. We are fortunate that for now we live across the street from her former school and she enjoys greeting her friends and getting hugs as they head to their bus or walk home from school. She is very sociable and her friends are special to her so we have lots of play-dates and have even hosted her Girl Scout troop at our home. The great thing about Pennsylvania is that although it’s tightly regulated, you are allowed to continue participation in any and all after school activities including sports and girl scout meetings when you homeschool. My daughter gets quality time with her friends now instead of just the 20 minutes they were allowed to chat and play freely at school.

Do I regret the decision to pull her out of school? Not in a million years. When you’re an independent parent and self-employed it takes a lot more planning and juggling, but it’s possible. The only thing I regret is not pulling her out much earlier in the year!

I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments below or feel free to contact me via email at africanamericanparenting@gmail.com. EnJOY the journey and make it a great day!

 

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Widener University, Chester PA

5 thoughts on “Unschooling: Month #2 The Unravelling

  1. I could not possibly be happier for you both!! And no matter how long you do it, you will still hit those moments of “Uh-oh… did I make a mistake with this?” 🙂

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  2. I am so proud of you two. Your journey is never over when learning at home. I love how the two of you are learning to not only adjust to this type of educational method but to each other on a daily basis. The best part of schooling at home is that people learn to relax and go with the flow. Just remember that you are doing fine and you can only do what you can do and no one can judge you for it. Can’t wait to see your progress in a year.

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    • Thank you Lauren! Our conversation gave me the encouragement I needed to take the first step, and I can’t thank you enough for the gentle nudge. There are days as you know when we drive each other crazy but I know she is a much happier child and it’s worth the late nights I play catchup with work. I may not be able to do it for a year, but I know I will do everything I can to keep her from having to walk back into that school. I am enjoying your trip by the way, thanks for sharing!

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  3. Excellent. I felt your process. You have a lot going on and a lot to overcome. The partnership with your daughter is beautiful. Homeschooling has come along way. I’ve never done it, but I know several that love it. Sounds like you’re a great mom doing what’s best for your daughter. This is an instance where school choice has been successful.

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