So how did I go from being a teacher to unschooling our kids?
When we had a “normal” life back in Denmark, and I (Daddy) was working as a school teacher, I often had the feeling of failing the children in my class. Not because I was a bad teacher (I honestly don’t think I was), but because of the whole idea about putting 30 youngsters in a tiny room, telling them what to learn and what to be interested in just didn’t work.
A few rare times I experienced a few of the students getting into what we teachers liked to call “The Flow”, where they forgot everything around them and just lost themselves in the subject. These were amazing moments, but very rare – and then, after 45 minutes, I would have to put an end to their investigations, because the next class would be about something totally different, so they would have to put their sudden interest in “The history of Greenland” on hold until next week, and focus on their upcoming Math class.
It was a sad system – and I was part of it 🙁
When our oldest daughter, Isabella, reached the age where kids start to attend school, we just couldn’t send her away to an institution that I knew would slowly but surely suck all her lust for learning and amazing creativity out of her :-(.
So, I quit my job as a teacher, and together with my wife informed the local authorities about our decision to home-school her. Simultaneously we decided to open an online store, that would eventually end up making our current life possible (read more about our life as digital nomads here)
In retrospect, this was the day when we turned off the autopilot, and took command over our lives.
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What is unschooling?
We didn’t start out unschooling our kids (we didn’t even know the term). We decided to home-school our kids with books and everything. basically creating a class room in our living room.
In Denmark, where we used to live, the right to home-school is a constitutional right.
But – it is definitely NOT a normal thing to do. Only about 1 out of every 1800 children are home-schooled, and we quickly discovered, that most people would frown upon our decision and outright call us bad parents, even though they didn’t know us?
This, obviously, didn’t stop us, and we quickly joined a network with other homeschooling families in Denmark, with whom we would meet on a weekly basis, so that our children could play with other children and socialize/interact with them.
The Facebook “homeschooling/worldschooling/unschooling” groups have been invaluable throughout this process, and saved us from feeling as weird outcasts. So if you consider homeschooling your children, looking for homeschooling groups on Facebook should be your first step. There you will find answers to virtually any question that pops up, and the support and wealth of knowledge on the subject is truly amazing.
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Homeschooling didn’t work for us..
With my teachers-background, and our eagerness to please the local authorities, fearing their judgement after their yearly visit, we made lesson plans, filled with subjects – goals for each month etc.
We discarded these plans after two days.
They just didn’t work. So, we started to take a more loose approach, and studied for 2-3 hours every morning, doing 2-3 pages in each book.
Another problem arose: We went through a year of classes in 4 months!
So, should we just go on to the next year? Should we repeat everything again? None of these solutions seemed right. With this speed, our girls would soon encounter problems and subjects way above their age. Another solution had to be found.
Unschooling – The natural way of learning
After our initial failure, we were inspired by a book by John Holt: “How Children Learn”. The essence of the book, and the “unschooling” theory in general, is that children learn when they are interested in learning. They learn when learning is of immediate benefit to them. This is the case when they learn to eat, learn to walk, learn to speak etc. And the same will be the case with math, history, reading etc. They will see the “learning of a new skill” as an entry ticked to a new part of their exciting life that they wish to enter. Call it “Interest motivated learning” if you don’t like the word “unschooling“.
We quickly discovered that it was us, the parents, that needed “unschooling“. We had to forget the way we had been taught in school, and do our best not to pass these methods onto our kids.
Now, living on the road, our “undschooling” has turned into “worldschooling” – Much like going on a full time field trip around the world 🙂
When we visit a volcano in Indonesia, it will most likely spark an interest in geology, volcanic activities, how some islands grew out of the water, which animals live there, how long they are dormant, why a lava stone has holes in it.. etc. If they meet a new German or Spanish speaking friend, it will spark an interest in learning other languages and so on. Life is best learned through living :-).
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But what about the social aspect of unschooling?
This is the number one question that ALL homeschoolers/unschoolers/worldschoolers are met with, when telling others that their children don’t attend school.
To homeschoolers/unschoolers/worldschoolers, this question is at the same time both strange and filled with prejudice, so a lot of us tend to go into defensive mode when trying to explain the choice we made on behalf of our children. We have all spend a lot of time thinking about what is best for our children, and many of us have spend a lot of time reading about the subject and finally made an active choice based on these thoughts and findings. Most people just send their kids to school, without thinking about what social consequences their choice has for their children. So why are we automatically marked as bad parents, and our kids as kids with poor social skills? Just something to think about 🙂
Funny enough, one of the reasons why a lot of people choose homeschooling today, is because of the bad social influence their kids meet in most public schools. Values like empathy, respect for other people and the ability to embrace other cultures are rarely found in ordinary school systems. Not because the teachers don’t want to pass these values on to their students, but simply because they lack the time and resources to do so. More often than not, the jungle law rules the school yard.
Together with the “If you’re not a star – you’re a failure” message, taught by most modern TV shows, the predominant social values among students aren’t kindness and respect for others, but more likely the “Me First – me first” attitude 🙁
All the homeschooled/worldschooled/unschooled kids we have met (including our own) connect easily with other children and don’t care about race, sex or age, as long as their new friend likes to play and treats them as equals.
To us those are valuable social skills, that we wouldn’t trade for any social skills acquired in any school yard.
..and what about the authorities?
Yes, that was something we had to think about too. Coming from a traditional school system, where tests seemed to be the only way to judge whether or not a child was evolving as “planned”, I used my school background/language to explain our thoughts, making it clear, that we did not consider tests to be part of our way of learning, and that if our kids didn’t show the necessary interest in an important subject, it would be our responsibility as parents to take our kids to an environment where it would make sense for our kids to invest time in diving into the subject and require a new skill set.
This has of course never been necessary, but as the school authorities normally have the best interest of the child in mind, they need to feel assured that we will do a good job. So being friendly and having thought through the scenarios on forehand, helps a lot.
Off the grid?
When we informed the danish authorities about our decision to leave the country and travel full-time, they wished us a nice trip and, since we were no longer registered under any school jurisdiction in Denmark, apparently lost all interest in our children.
When/if we some day decide to take up residence in another country, or return to Denmark, our new address will again place us under a local school authority, which will then do their best to make sure that we do our parenting job as expected. But until then, we are off the grid, and carry the full responsibility for our children. Just like it should be.
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