Our first child was quite unique. He was a very early talker so we had the unique experience to know what our child was thinking before most people. Children know a lot more then we give them credit for. The amount of things they understand before they are a year old is amazing.
We figured by the time our son was three (Summer 2000) there was no way we could keep up with his rate of learning we had no choice but to enroll him into the best private Montessori school in town. To give you some little examples of his abilities, by twelve months he could hold a tune and sing a recognizable song; at his eighteen month well baby visit, he had a 300 word vocabulary in two different languages and spoke articulate complete sentences, and for what it’s worth he knew his ABC’s, colors and counting to eleven at least.
Well, we were wrong. We watched our very intelligent young man become a very timid child. He began to bite his nails; he stopped referring to his father as Papa because he was told that was wrong. He started changing and his love of learning was not the same. We thought that being in a Montessori environment with three to six year olds would let him continue at his own level, but instead it hindered his learning capabilities and he was only there from 9am to noon! Four months of that was more than enough. After that we let our little guy learn the way he wanted to learn, ON HIS OWN.
Because of the way he was, we became child-led homeschoolers, or shall I say more unschoolers. We never forced anything on him. If he didn’t like it we didn’t do it. We let his love of learning alone. We should have done that from the start. Thinking back we had always, until we put him in school. At eighteen month, we remember the doctor telling us with his vocabulary skills we could teach him to read quite easily by doing such and such. Well, we didn’t force the issue and when he decided he wanted to read, he was able to do it within a few months of working on it on his own. He was pre-school age when he did this.
We have applied the same principles of unschooling to our other children as well and they all have learned different things at different times. It is not about what they should be doing at what age. It’s more about “what do they want to do, what do they enjoy.” It is unnatural to stop learning something that you are interested in so you can learn something else. Why not learn all you want to learn about a subject, and then move to what you want to learn about next?
Some of our children enjoy “school work” at times, and not at other times. They are unlike our first, who always did everything by himself. The difference is our children will ask us to help them with it, instead of us telling them to do it. The only time we have to make them do something is for our state testing policy. They have to test every three years starting in the third grade. Our children do attend weekly Religious education classes, but for the most part they want to because it pleases us and they see us doing our part in our Church as well. They must feel like this is the way they contribute to our Parish Community. They are also involved in other aspects of our Church voluntarily. It helps to be a model of the behavior you want from your children.
You might be wondering how we teach a second language to our children without making them do anything. Well, basically it is as simple as, Amy speaks English all the time and Simon speaks French all the time. We have books, games, cd-roms, and workbooks in both languages at all levels. They can choose what they want to do. Our oldest speaks English to his mom and French to his Papa. He can read in both languages, but not as well in French because he doesn’t feel like he needs to. Maybe someday he will decide to and maybe someday the others will decide to speak French to their Papa just like their big brother does. Who knows, but it is up to them.
In our opinion, Unschooling is an extension of Attachment Parenting, which comes from Natural Living or following your instincts. As an attachment parent you give your child what he needs, when he needs it. That’s the natural way.
Amy: As a La Leche League Leader I see a lot of mothers who are looking for way that things should be done instead of following their own instincts. I try to ensure them that only they know what is best for their children, they just need to follow their instincts. It is my opinion, that in our society it is hard for parents, especially new parents, to follow their instincts because there are too many “experts” out there. Only the parents know what their children need. Sometimes parents get a feeling that something is wrong, but don’t know why. When the “experts” are questioned, the parents are told they have nothing to worry about. If this happens enough, the parents lose their instincts and the children suffer because the parents really do know what is best and they know when something just isn’t right. So stop listening to the “experts” because only you are the expert for your own child(ren)!
So in conclusion, our children learn at home because it is the natural thing to do. It fits into our natural lifestyle. It just makes sense to us.