In a nutshell: sleep and trust and doubt.
I’m not sure whether to call it unschooling or worldschooling. Katie is more decisive. She thinks “unschooling” sounds a bit nothingy. She likes “worldschooling” whether you’re static or on the move because the world’s the world wherever you are. I’m not really bothered about the name.
We are 5 months in. This post is for people who are at the same early stage as us or just thinking about what alternative schooling might be like. Or for people who are interested in how it all works. I could have written a journal and hidden it away on a shelf. I haven’t because the support we’ve had from other alternative schoolers has been priceless, although perhaps our getting-to-grips-with-it-all cack-handed family isn’t the best of role models. It’s good to talk. Thank you.
My aim isn’t to go all arty-farty on those who know that alternative schooling is not the right thing for their family. Families are as unique as snowflakes, and people within a family too. Read on or don’t. But do beware of one thing if alternative schooling is something you are thinking about. Justifying your decision is something you will be asked to do a lot. It’s understandable. It’s different. You’ll be asked questions about things like socialising or lack of certification. After a couple of years of reading and questioning, I’m almost brave enough to turn it around. Is socialisation the way I want it to be in schools? Is the way we certify competence in schools the way I want it to be? There, I did it. Maybe for you it is. Good. You’re sorted.
It’s a funny old thing when your kid stops school. We gained a bit of confidence when we took them all out for a year to travel in a campervan – but that was different – they followed the same curriculum albeit from a moving van. Before that, the kids hopped out of the bus or the car in front of the school and they returned home at the end of the day, sometimes with homework, sometimes not. Check. Learning sorted.
Now it feels a bit like when you take your kids armbands off for the first time in the swimming pool. You can’t look away in case they disappear under the surface.
Katie would disappear off to the computer and I’d think, ‘oh, oh, gonna be a computer games day’. Could I really trust her with this learning thing or would she sink into an abyss of computer games? Then she’d come back later in the day and say something like, ‘Look! I can touch type at 30 words a minute, I’ve just done a course. I thought it would be a good idea to learn to type faster’. Kids even get that the tools of their generation they need to master are computers and apps.
It’s tricky not to be a hawk. Especially if you’re like me and need to feel in control of things. And it’s tricky not to say ‘Or how about you do this?’
Last week, she and another unschooling friend were giggling in her bedroom. ‘Oh, oh’, I thought again, ‘Are they really learning anything?’ An hour or two later and they came downstairs with an edited much-better-than-I-could-do video interview about their last few months of unschooling. Complete with bloopers. It was brilliant.
As you’ll have gathered, it’s all been a bit surreptitious until now. I think for two reasons. Katie is testing the concept of self-directed learning – how far can she go? And, secondly, until now she’s been more confident trying something out and succeeding before making it public. Lately, though, that’s changing. She talks over her plans and ideas in advance. Progress! As a parent there’s a bit of fumbling about in the dark and it’s difficult.
But it’s getting easier. Katie said two important things yesterday: ‘I’m getting to know what I want to learn’, and ‘You get 50 centimes if you take empty bottles of nail varnish back to the shop, it’s 20% back per bottle.” The latter because she’s convinced she can’t do ‘maths’.
More sleep has been the biggest change. Loads of it. It felt a bit wrong at the beginning to let Katie sleep till 9 or 10 in the morning. The payback has been immense. A smiley kid who’s had plenty sleep. You can’t just fix that in the evening with an ‘OK, off to bed, it’s 9 o’clock’ when a kid’s got an internal clock that’s wide awake. We’ve got scientific research to back that up these days. CIrcadian clocks shift forward by up to 3 hours in teenagers. We tell kids to get on with it because that’s the way it is. Frankly, it now feels a bit awkward, not wrong, to be giving back something as simple as the right to sleep when you’re tired.
The last 4 months have been about doubt and sleep and trust. The trusting to learn and the extra sleep are moving in the right direction. The trust thing is moving more slowly that I’d imagined, as is the corollary of that: Katie finding her feet in the vast expanse of things that could or should be learnt. But what’s the rush?
The hardest part has been the big dollops of doubt that creep in, often as a result of comments aimed your way.
My humble advice? Find people in the same boat, for real if you can – especially if you can find someone nearby. Or online, because that is a resource we have today we can be very thankful for. And – trust yourself and the decision your family have made. You know them best.
It’s good to remember that a different path isn’t a wrong path. We had Adam’s parents’ night last week. He’s in his final school year. His Principal Teacher asked which college/university he’d be going to (not whether, but which). He was a youngish guy – the cool maths teacher. Adam proudly began his tale of finding a year-long job in Thailand as a sports coach and student support starting in the summer.
‘And what would be the point of that?’ was the response.
It needed no answering. But I’m not quite there yet….