Saturday, October 3, 2009

How I came to be an unschooler

I've been thinking, and unless I'm much mistaken, I've never actually told the story of how I came to be an an unschooler... I simply popped up with a blog at age 17 saying "hey, I'm unschooled!". :-P So this is the story of how I came to be an unschooler! Some of it is taken from what my parents have said, since I was pretty young when some of this went down, but I'll do my best to tell it accurately!

Before I was born, neither of my parents had ever even considered homeschooling. It just never entered their minds. But my mom was, and still is, a hippie, so she did plan to breastfeed. Because of that, she joined the Le Leche Leauge when I was born (or possibly before I was born... I don't know how those things works! :-P). Now, my mom had plenty of gentle discipline, unconditional parenting, type books, I was never let to cry, lived in a sling for ages, and all those other attachment parenting practices (she never used that term, though I don't know why she didn't... She must have seen it used in all those books she read!) so she was the type who liked to keep her kids close, and be involved in their life.

At the Le Leche Lauge, she was exposed to an idea she'd never been exposed to before: homeschooling. And she liked it! Being the type of parent she was, she didn't like the idea of sending her precious little girl off to spend her days with strangers. ;-) So she started reading and researching, and decided that she really did want to homeschool! My dad, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic. He's the most traditional minded of my immediate family, and he thought school was best, so my mom agreed that they would at least try it out. So off I went to half-day kindergarten at age five! I didn't really mind it. Neither did I love it. I had fun sometimes, but I was always happy to head home afterwards, as well (and I find it surprising that I actually remember that!). However, partway through the year, we started getting strange phone calls. Obscene phone calls, actually, and when they were traced (yeah, my parents actually had the police trace them) it was discovered that it was a kid in grade 2 making them. Sad, eh? So that about convinced my dad, and halfway through my first, and only, year of school, I was pulled out.

Our homeschooling started out in a way that many unschoolers will be familiar with: school-at-home! Well, sort of. Since this is my mom we're talking about, we never had a schedule of any sort. But she did buy a reading program (Sing, Spell, Read & Write! *Shudders*), and sort of tried to get me to do it regularly. Through that, I learned how to sound out words and stuff, though I didn't really read, per-say, and we never ended up finishing the program.

For years our "schooling" is a bit of a blur, I'm afraid. I was pretty young! I know that we had various school books and programs and stuff, but the only thing I can ever remember my mom actually trying to force was math. We did lots of fun science experiments, as well as watching Nova and Nature and similar shows avidly (I say we, because my sister reached school age with no one ever suggesting she go to school, so we just continued to learn together!). My mom always read aloud to us, poetry, stories, the newspaper, and I started actually reading at age 8 or 9 when she was reading Harry Potter too slowly for my taste! We never did book reports, though I'd enthusiastically tell my mom about whatever book I was reading. None of us considered that "schooling". We considered it life! I memorized poetry, and wrote both poetry and stories before I could even read (I'd narrate them to mom ;-)). My sister ad I would play spelling games for fun, and we relished our regular trips to the library, where we'd get whatever books we wanted (Emi would always max out her card, ending up with huge piles of books that my mom and I would then end up carrying, since she was too little!). Throughout this time period, my mom would tell everyone that we were doing "child-led" homeschooling.

Throughout that time, the only thing that she ever attempted (I say attempted because she'd often fail) to force was math. I was somewhere around 10 or 11 when I started completely refusing to do math workbooks, and, well, I guess that's when we moved over to full fledged unschooling!

We didn't really know it, though, and I always felt, because my mom always felt, since she was surrounded only by public schoolers and homeschoolers, that we "should be doing schoolwork!". We didn't, but I guess unschooling wasn't fully embraced in our house until a mere couple of years ago. When we fully, truly, embraced and accepted that what we were doing was *right*, it felt so much better! I started reading and thinking and talking about it, and was just like wow, this really is a wonderful thing we're doing! I think that made my mom very happy. She'd *known* what we were doing felt right, but there had always been that fear, that "what if", until I said gee mom, I like what we've been doing! :-P

And the rest is history.

Oh, and I invite my mom to make any corrections to my story if she so wishes. :-P



  1. Nice new autumn layout!

    About attachment parenting, what does it mean to "not let to cry"? Is it contrary to what lots of parents do, to ignore a kid's cries? So what do attachment parents actually do when a kid cries, after not getting what they want? Does that even exist in your case? I've heard that with devoted parents, kids hardly feel it's the end of the world when unwanted results come.

    I just want to know because it's good to help rather than hurt a kid.

    And you watch "Nature" and "Nova"! I didn't know that the US's Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) shows were imported to Canada. Your CBC airs it?

  2. Thanks!

    Many, many parents leave their babies to cry themselves to sleep, and that' what I was referring to. Attachment parenting involves not doing that! And I was referring just to babies, not older kids (with older kids, there is no "that's the one way that attachment parenting parents do that"!) I guess I just didn't phrase it well... Does it make sense now, or am I still not putting it well?

    *Laughs* We do get channels other than CBC you know... It's not like the US has multiple channels, then you cross the border and there's only one! My family personally gets CBC, CTV, PBS, FOX, and several other channels, and that's just with our antennae on the roof!

  3. We have similar beginnings!

    Isn't unschooling wonderful? :D

  4. I found your blog through Top Hat.

    You and your family sound really cool.

    As I understand it, Dr. Sears was the first to use the term attachment parenting. That was probably after you were a few years old. He was simply giving a word to describe what came natural and intuitive to many parents-- to respond to the needs of their babies.

  5. Since Idzie invited me, I will make some corrections to how things worked when Idzie was younger, and to how I felt.

    For starters, I used to tell the other moms at the homeschool meetings that I we used child led learning in our house. This always involved much explaining, and I don't think any of them really understood what I meant, because they still asked what books I used!

    The only program we ever used was the reading one, and neither girl ever completed it! We had many reference books in the house, including some science and math text books, but with the exception of the math books, they only came out when the kids asked about a specific subject so I could give them an answer without having to wait for a visit to the library or doing extensive research online.

    I did try to teach the girls math, because it was the one subject I wasn't sure they would learn on their own since I didn't feel confident in math! When they would get frustrated and say they had enough, we would stop and often not try again for days, until I finally realized that teaching math wasn't going to work and and stopped trying. I probably should have realized sooner, that if they could learn other things they could learn math, but I always had a math block!

    I never felt that we should be doing school work. I was the one telling parents not to worry about reading, writing, etc. because their kids would learn when they were ready! I just worried because I'm a mom and was afraid that my kids might one day say that I should have done things differently, after all a homeschooling mom I know had a daughter tell her that the mom should have pushed math more!

    It wasn't until after I joined Yahoo Groups that I discovered the online unschooling community and my confidence in my choice soared. I "heard" about teen unschoolers who were following their passions and felt sure that I had made the right choice.

  6. Thanks for the clarification. I don't know many parents who leave their babies crying, but it's horrible how many do. Maybe the ones I know do it without me knowing.

    Haha and our northern neighbors live in igloos! Just kidding. You've heard that one? It's ridiculous.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. I know there are many channels up there, but I assumed since our public broadcasting channels aired those shows then so should Canada's. What I didn't know was how easy or hard it is to get American local channels (FOX, CBS, PBS, ABC). Like with cartoons. Some of our cartoons from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network get aired on the Canadian equivalent (Teletoon). Nick and CN: either Canadians don't have it or need some sort of satellite access (not sure).

  7. Wonderful Post! Thank you for sharing Idzie!

    Was there any "strewing" in your house?

  8. @Stella: Awesome! And yes, it is. :-)

    @Permission to Mother: I've never heard of Top Hat, though I'm curious what is is now since apparently my blog can be found through it! :-P

    Thanks! :-)

    Ah, I see the term used all over the place now, but I didn't realize how recent it was... Yes, if it was only coined after I was a few years old, that would explain why she never used the term!

    @Mom: I love you Mom. :-) ♥ Thanks for adding your memories of how things went down!

    @Netzi: It scares me how common the leave babies cry thing seems to be! I'm glad that the people you know seem to be better informed. :-)

    No apologies necessary! I wasn't insulted, just teasing you. :-P Yeah, with Satellite, Canadians get everything that Americans can get! With our antennae, and because we're close to the border, we get all the American local channels (FOX, CBS, multiple PBS channels, ABC...), as well as the local Canadian channels (obviously) like CBC and CTV, but yeah, we'd need satellite or cable for the other American channels. :-)

  9. @Charli: Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. :-) And oh yes, there was most definitely MUCH strewing!

  10. Thanks for the great post! I love the entire story. I admire you all so much for doing this and sticking with it all these years. With 2 young kids, I need all the stories I can get!!

  11. Hi Idzie
    Great post.

    As a hippie parent I related to lots of what you and your mum said. The child-led approach preceeded *my* awareness of unschooling (or natural learning as it is called in Australia).

    MY daughter is 8 and son just 7, she has read for years which I took credit for, my son does the sounds .... but I realised its just their readiness. Not really anything to do with me. So I get more confidence to unschool. We still have a maths workbook ;)) but its totally voluntary.

    I love your blog and what you have to say.

  12. Regarding 'letting' children, especially infants cry themselves to sleep, Neuroscience has shown that what happens to the child who is let to cry to sleep is that they infant feels stressed out, and that floods the developing brain with cortisol which damages the developing neural pathways ....

    Another thing that happens is that the child stops 'calling' (crying) out of exhaustion and in time a deep resignation sets in.... as the child gives up the attempt to call out, losing all hope of an answer.

    Both of these are really difficult to overcome in later life, as the neural pathways are 'hardened', and thus not easily changed by thought alone... (as in talk talk psychotherapy)

    Alice Millers book "The Roots of Violence in Child rearing" was one of the first works in Psychology to show how the societal situation drives much unconscious behaviour, and that often it is the presence of an 'enlightened witness' who can accept the forgotten child's experiences as valid without seeking to avoid the responsibility that the societal influences have in generating psychological distress...

    Here's a link on the neuro chemistry of the developing brain...

  13. @corneilius: Thanks for the links! I'm aware it's a horrible, damaging thing to do to a baby, and find it incredibly sad how common a practice it still is, despite all the research against it.

  14. oops that one's about reward centers...

    This one's about crying!

  15. Hi Idzie

    Great Blog you have here! Found it Yesterday an love reading in it! I`m a parent myself and when our first child was born, we had no idea where our way would lead us. Now, it seems most natural to me not sending them to school.

    But still, surrounded by our society there are always growing some doubts about what we are doing. It`s just so wonderful reading blogs like yours, it feels stronger like we are on the path! Thanks

  16. Greetings Idzie, your writings are beautiful! Your stories, inspirational! And, I'm truly thankful to have come across your blog! I'm a mother of 2 beautiful children, 6 and 3 years old. I can relate, as soon as I became pregnant, I became an "attachment" mother! Breastfeeding, bed sharing, slinger! It felt so right! And I knew I always wanted to raise my children freely! The past couple weeks I have found myself doubting, as to whether I have what it takes to "educate, home school" my daughter... oh the pressures from society and in-laws (your daughter SHOULD be in school, she NEEDS to socialize, etc.) I realize though, that I am not responsible for teaching my children EVERYTHING, they are always learning from all experience, and growing with the seasons, inspired with amazing imaginations. I just need to trust, and have fun enjoying every moment! Thank you for sharing your stories, knowledge and wisdom. It's wonderful to feel your PASSION for life and this path that you are on! You are beautiful!

    Thanks again, Shannon : )

  17. Hello itsie, I am writing to you from Italy. My daughter is 16 and just hates this school-system in Italy, but maybe it's not much better elsewhere(even if I believe it would be Paradise in other countries compared to what is happening here!!!!!!!!!!!!)In Italian schools there is not a trace of creativity and the chance to develop your ouwn ideas, lessons are frontal and evrything has to be learnt by heart. The machine is totally repressiv and you have to get used to absolute boredom!!!!!!!!!I think, I am like your mother....greetings to her, she must be wonderful!

  18. I noticed that that last comment was made almost exactly a year ago ;) I just found your blog and I want to thank you for writing your story. I've been homeschooling for several years now and am slowly moving into unschooling method, and I think the FREEDOM we get from doing it is absolutely wonderful. My daughter really enjoys it. My teenage son is not quite sure, so I'm not sure what he will decide to do once he starts high school next year. Thanks again for writing your story of how you became unschooled. I hope we can meet up on Facebook and chat! My profile page name is "HealthStar"