I loved “doing school” as a child. I loved reading books. I spent hours making up my own work to do. I did not love “going to school” all that much. I was a talkative child, a fidgety child, a disruptive child. I had pent up anger and frustration. I lashed out. I wet myself. I tested into Gifted and Talented. Duke University TIP said I was very intelligent.
Yet, as I got older, I scored lower on standardized tests. I ended up in a remedial 8th grade English class at one of the junior high schools I went to; we moved shortly thereafter and I was placed in a gifted English class. I learned Greek and Latin. I learned American Sign Language. I read everything I could lay eyes on. I learned to hate math as the curriculum switched from complex equations to what it took to pass the state mandated exams.
I learned how to skip classes. I learned how to zone out and lose focus. I learned how to BS my way through assignments or not do them at all. Grades didn’t matter. I let myself give up academically in the public school arena. I got a Grade A education from books and the internet. I dropped out of high school after trying multiple charter school and public school options. I went to job corps and got a high school diploma and a start at college.
Babies, books, an ex husband, drama, failures and successes, struggles and triumphs…the years went by and I was the proud recipient of an AA, a BA, and an MA. I fumbled, stumbled, and stuttered my way through most of it. I knew how to learn but not how to balance my personal life and my education–I saw them as two opposing forces in my life.
After the completion of my MA, I became a college English professor (pretty nifty for someone once placed in remediation based solely on standardized testing scores for a test I didn’t take seriously). I taught three semesters at one university, then life got in the way again for a bit. Now I’m back in the saddle, so to speak, and halfway through a semester at a different university.
Now I’m trying to educate college students who don’t know how to learn because they were taught what to learn their whole lives. It’s super frustrating, and makes me doubt my career choices at times.
I was miseducated. I do not blame my parents. They didn’t know a better way, and only anecdotally knew of what home schooling or jumping ahead a few grades could do to a child, only isolated cases which were the exception to the rule. They could not have known what bullying, teaching to the test, being forced into a the box society says children should fit into, etc. would do to their creative, emotionally charged child. They worked hard to keep the bills paid and kids fed; they also had their vices, as do we all.
I was sure I could do it differently with my own children. I did a ton of research before my first daughter was born. I was determined…to a point. I allowed myself to be swayed by the opinions and thoughts of her father and others. I spanked. I yelled. I grounded. I cursed. I became angry and overwhelmed when, to my chagrin, my daughter turned out to be a mini me. Then her sister came along, followed by her brother. More of me taking all kinds of ad(ded)vice(s).
When my ex husband was arrested and my world turned upside down again, I started looking to Heavenly Father for guidance. I started also looking for better ways to do things. I took parenting classes through the state. I read more books. I did online research. I tried suggestions from the counseling programs, such as at-home behavior charts and rule lists.
Something was still missing from our world. I still resorted to the old ways (or reverted to them) when things didn’t work out. I still regressed to my childhood at times. I tried to get on medication myself; I tried putting my kids on it. I tried counseling sessions for all of us. We found a steady church with family centric values. More life got in the way for a while.
This summer, I realized what part of the problem was. I made the decision to home school. I decided to spend more time with my family. I quit my second job. I decided that we could live cheaply and be a family, and I could learn to be a better mom. I did more research, learned more tips and tricks. I stumbled upon a concept I hadn’t heard of before: whole life unschooling (WLU).
I’m still very new at all of this, and I’m sure I’m making mistakes by the dozens, but the basic concept is to think of my children as fellow human beings with valid thoughts and feelings, to give them the freedom to choose what they want to do in life and to learn about, and to communicate with them effectively so that we all come away from the discussion feeling listened to and heard. There is a period of what they call deschooling where the parent and child let go for a while to retrain their brains to stop thinking that the public school model and the authoritarian parenting model are the only models. This can take varying lengths of time depending on the family. We may still be in this stage. But I’m already seeing benefits.
I am following the home schooling laws in the state in which I currently reside; my children are exposed to and learning about mathematics, science, history, good citizenship, reading, spelling, etc. but all at once, all the time, in whatever manner works best for them, without forcing.
My eldest loves mathematics, but she also loves movies, so I just ordered her a new DVD that teaches multiplication as a rock song. She’s actually super excited about that. Last night we watched several short clips from the 2015 and 2016 Stossel in the Classroom free DVDs. That was social studies, good citizenship, economics, etc. We have tons of science DVDs from Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I’m learning that to help her learn I have to let her choose things which make her happy. She’s still reading. She’s still writing. She’s still drawing. She’s still learning. It’s not about forcing her to adhere to a boxed curriculum.
My middle child loves to copy words off of canned goods for her writing, reading, and spelling practice. She also loves to do artwork. She just turned 5 on Oct 11, so she wouldn’t even be in public kindergarten this year, but at home she can be a kindergartener and learn at her pace.
My baby is 2. In February he will be 3. He is talking up a storm.
With all three of them, though I make mistakes, I am working on making this a whole life thing. Unschooling (or natural learning) is simply child-led learning, but WLU takes it beyond the educating realm. Remember when I said earlier that I thought my personal life and my school life were separate entities? In WLU one can see that they are not, just as one can see that life can’t be divided into subjects.
Just yesterday, after a long day of appointments, including a counseling session which left me wishing counseling was NOT in our lives, I successfully discussed with my tantruming 5yo what was upsetting her, what solutions were and were not viable, and what I would like to have happen. I listened to her; she listened to me. She was able to calm down. She buckled herself into her car seat. We had a peaceful ride back home. That evening, one of the Stossel clips provided an opportunity to discuss the situation that had occurred earlier in the day, as well as giving us a fun experiment to try.
I know I’m not a perfect mom. I don’t think anyone is. I do know that I love my children, that I’m striving to find a better way to do things. I want my little humans to grow into decent big humans. I want to end the cycle of violence, rage, frustration, and self-deprecation. I want my children to turn to healthy coping mechanisms.
I’m sorry this post was so long. While I do welcome feedback, I want civil feedback.