WRITTEN BY MARISA TOMMASINI POPPELMANN
What do you do when your child, once an avid reader and curious learner, starts hating books and becomes disinterested in learning? This inspiring family has chosen to ‘unschool’ their children! What exactly is it and how are they going about it? See their story and connect with their inspiring blog that documents their journey through this transition…
We undertook the decision to either ‘home school’ or ‘unschool’ our two boys after spending almost two months in Australia. We had been chatting about changing various aspects of our lives prior to our trip and it soon became apparent that home schooling was one of the changes that needed to be made – and quickly.
Challenging Our Traditional Perspective…
We are products of a fairly normal upbringing. Both my husband and I grew up believing that you go to school, then College or University, and finally you get a job, preferably something that pays well. So, for us, this was a big decision! It went against all that we’ve always ‘understood’ to be true.
Our eldest son only spent seven months in the school system, but that was enough to notice him loosing interest in learning. Ironic isn’t it?
He’s sent to school to learn, but instead he looses interest in learning! It may have been because he had only just turned four when he started reception and the UK school system was already putting pressure on him to meet certain goals – or it may have been that he just did not find anything inspiring.
Witnessing his decline was difficult for us, which made a potentially difficult decision much easier. And now, seeing his positive response to our new approach to education, we know we’re doing the right thing!
‘Home Schooling’ Versus ‘Unschooling’
If you ‘home school’ your children, it means you follow a prescribed curriculum set by the state. If you ‘unschool’ your children, you allow your children to self-direct their own learning. We considered both approaches and have opted for the less well-known approach of ‘unschooling.’
This means that we won’t follow a prescribed curriculum. Instead, our children will be educated in a self-directed manner. Essentially, this means that they will educate themselves; we are there to help guide them and provide any resources they need. They now have all of the hours in the day to develop and learn enthusiastically at their own pace, as their own natural interests, talents, and desires dictate.
What Our Days Look Like
Our days are currently filled with various activities. We do an activity almost every day and meet up with various home schooling groups (and old school friends) throughout the week.
When it comes to activities, I generally think of an activity or two and ask the boys which one they would like to do. Or I put something out for them and tell them the activity is on the table for when they’re interested in doing it. Sometimes the activity in linked in with what they have previously expressed an interest in, and other times it’s spontaneous and designed to expand their horizons.
We tend to go with the flow and we’re learning as we go; I don’t profess to be an expert on this topic. But so far I’m loving it! We all are! We’re all much happier and get to spend precious time enjoying life and enjoying learning together. I do a lot of baking and cooking with our boys, and they help their father make our fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies or juices in the mornings. All of these experiences are good learning activities for our young boys.
Inspiration from the Unschooling Experts
We did a lot of reading on both ‘home schooling’ and ‘unschooling’ before embarking on this change – and we still actually do! We have been inspired by reading many travelling family blogs as well as books and articles by John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and a few other notable authors on the subject.
I love this quote by John Holt:
‘It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.’
Personally, I was finally inspired to give it all a go when I started following a truly inspirational travelling family’s blog: Raising Miro on the Road of Life. Lainie, a single mother, and her son Miro have travelled extensively over the past four years and she’s been ‘unschooling’ her son this entire time. The blog details their learning adventures and beyond!
Miro is an articulate and intelligent young man. He seems so confident in himself, his abilities, and his maturity; he’s a wonderful testament to the impact of unschooling on a child. He’s not your typical 14 year old! I attribute Miro’s maturity not only to his mother’s efforts, but also to him being allowed to just be; to travel and explore his own interests, as well as to volunteer – which is an important activity that few 14 year olds have the privilege of doing.
Miro recently wrote an article about being unschooled (see his articles) and has had a few interviews about his experiences. Why would I not want a similarly inspiring and impactful life for my own sons?
The Impact So Far…
We have only been officially unschooling our boys since the middle of May 2013 (two months now) and our children are still quite young, so it’s relatively easy at this stage. But I can honestly say that our eldest son seems truly happy now! Our youngest knows no different and is always happy to do whatever his brother is doing, or keep himself amused.
I have repeatedly asked our eldest son if he would prefer to return to school and he has says repeatedly and emphatically: NO! As a parent, it’s often hard to know if you’re doing the right thing. In this instance, I feel we’ve found success. For now at least…
We are attending an Unschooling Conference on the weekend of 13-14th July (2013) just West of London where Sandra Dodd, a well-known unschooling advocate, will be speaking. We’ll also be attending a Home Schoolers Camping Week where we’ll hopefully hear more inspiring stories and meet families with similar goals and ideals.
For anyone thinking about undertaking the route of home education, either through home schooling or unschooling, I think the best advice I can offer is this:
‘Consider seriously what it is that you want for your children and for your family. Talk to your children and let them make the choice, for it is ultimately their life….’
Some children thrive in the school system and for them it may be the best place to advance their learning. For us, at this stage, unschooling is the option we’re choosing – and, so far, we’re very pleased with our decision!
- Written by: Marisa Tommasini Poppelmann
- Compiled, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Marisa’s blog: Poppelmann Family Adventures
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Marisa Tommasini Poppelmann