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Why I Chose Unschooling

It all started when I first had my sweet, precious little bundle of joy. Three weeks prior to his birth I was a teacher in a state primary school. I enjoyed my job and thought that I'd return after my baby's birth, at some point. Once Lewi entered the world, however, my thoughts drastically changed. I couldn't imagine handing my precious little bundle over to anyone else. Surely no one could love him as I did?

From very early on I thought about Lewi's education. As time went on I realized that I couldn't just hand him over to any old school at the age of five.

By the time he was three, I started seriously thinking about where on earth I could send him to school. I looked into all of the local state schools and realized that I no longer had the same view of the education system that I'd had only a few years before. At this time I was also doing a little bit of private tutoring (which I'd been doing for years as a teacher). I felt the need to stop as I didn't really feel I could reach the kids I was trying to help. They improved in terms of the system's demands upon them but they weren't developing the love of learning and passion for knowledge that my three-year-old boy had. What was wrong? I wasn't sure at the time. I now know.

I looked into Montessori and its approach to learning. I found elements of this that appealed to me. I pursued this option. I visited the school. I went to its open days. I met the teachers. I questioned them all. Something didn't feel right there, for me.

My search for the best school for Lewi continued. I started looking into homeschooling as an option. It felt good to me in many ways but it was a relatively new concept. As a teacher I felt homeschooling to be a strange choice for parents to make (I take that all back now!) Due to the negative feedback I got whenever I mentioned my thoughts about possibly homeschooling Lewi, and also the amount of unanswered questions I had about the whole concept of not going to school, I put the idea aside and continued on my search for the right school.

By the time Lewi had turned four I was agonizing over whether or not to send him to preschool. In my heart it felt wrong but all his friends were enrolling and he said he wanted to go. After many conversations with the staff at the local preschool, and due to my thoughts that he'd probably be going to school the following year anyway, I reluctantly sent him along. He loved it. He had lots of fun and developed a lovely bond with his teacher.

At about the same time I began looking into the Waldorf Steiner philosophy for learning. I went to open days. I talked to teachers, I spoke to parents of children already at the school. I spoke to friends who were going to send their children there. I surfed the net looking for information. Although there were elements of the approach that I really liked, it was still a system of learning. It was a school situation with lots of children, where everyone had to do similar things at similar times every day - 6 hours a day, five days a week.

During my research into the Steiner approach, I began looking again into homeschooling as an option. It was then that I fell upon unschooling and natural learning. I became intrigued by the philosophy that children learn best when they are given the freedom to choose their own learning for themselves. I learned more about the nature of learning in a few short months than I ever did as a student in the school system and later on as a university student.

Giving children the opportunities to self-direct their own learning and self-regulate their lives was a new concept to me. But looking at Lewi's life and realizing that he was learning all he needed to learn right then and there, regardless of a school system, felt empowering and wonderful. This is what I felt was missing in those years of my teaching career. No wonder students needed so many incentives and rewards to keep them going. They were learning, but they were learning what I wanted them to learn (or the Department of Education wanted them to learn). They weren't learning what was important to them. They weren't given the freedom of choice (very rarely). They weren't able to dream and devise and hope and discuss their own paths. Their paths were chosen and that was that. The more I looked into natural learning the more I loved it. This was what I'd been searching for. Lewi had been natural learning all of his little life. It felt right.

Looking at the results of natural learning in Lewi's first four years of life, I could see a passionate little boy who had an all-consuming thirst for knowledge and learning. He was a lover of books. A lover of nature. A fanatic about anything he was interested in at the time. He was motivated and self-directed and loved to play. There was nothing, the unschooling approach explained, in need of change. Nothing needed implementing. Nothing needed to happen to Lewi at the age of five for him to suddenly switch on to learning - he was already there, doing it, living life to the fullest.

I had finally reached the place that I needed to get to make the best decision for Lewi's education. So, after five days of preschool, I pulled him out. Much to my family and friends' surprise and some disapproval, I had made the absolute best, heart decision I'd ever made. It felt right. It felt normal. It felt peaceful for Lewi to just stay at home and not enter a system to be institutionalized, to stay at home and keep doing what we'd always done.

That year I read and read and read. I grabbed at anything to do with unschooling and natural learning. I joined discussion groups left right and center. I printed out reams and reams of fantastic articles on all sorts of related topics. I bought lots of good books form great authors on this approach to learning. I found John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I learned about how children learn. I learned about how they fail. I learned the most I've ever learned about learning and the education system in that single year. I felt armed and ready.

By the time Lewi turned five, I knew I'd have some explaining to do. The questions poured in at me from all angles: Why would you choose to homeschool? Won't he get bored? What about socialization? What about you, how will you get a break? How is he going to function normally? How will he make friends? How will he fit into society? Tell me you're not going to do this for the high school years? What about university - aren't you depriving him?

At the time I had some answers - now I think I have most of them. It was a daunting time. I felt a real lack of support. So I decided to make a concerted effort to find some like-minded people. I knew that both Lewi and I would need this type of support and social outlet in our lives. I rang around searching for anyone in our local area who homeschooled. To my relief I found some. On making the initial contacts and attempting to get some get-togethers happening, however, it felt as though regular contact was not going to be possible. I started to feel despondent and concerned that we wouldn't have the support I'd really hoped for.

One day, last year, this all changed for the better. On arriving home from an outing, there was a message on my answering machine. It was a local family trying to make contact with as many homeschoolers as possible. They wanted to homeschool and asked if we would all like to get together and meet to discuss homeschooling. We all turned out to be natural learners! Who would've thought? This was the beginning of a wonderful, wonderful group. We now meet once a month and have great raves about learning and our children. We also meet with other homeschoolers once a month and have fun outings together.

Life for us is great. No hurried mornings trying to get to school on time, no "I don't want to go to school" comments, no "I don't want to do homework", no bullying, very little peer pressure, no tired and cranky child at the end of the day (well, not most days at least). Our days are spent enjoying life. Lewi is free to choose whatever it is he'd like to do. There are no schedules to follow. No deadlines to meet. No changing of topics when he's right in the middle of something fun or important to him. No pushing him to do something he's finding too hard or boring. No having to stop when a bell rings. No having to ask to go to the toilet. No waiting to eat even when you're starving. No lining up. No hands up to talk. No staying in late. No detentions for talking in class (actually, talking is encouraged!). Lots of time to play and dream; laugh and run; swim and ride; read and listen; and talk, talk, talk. He gets to experience real life with real people. He's learning to interact with the world safely and confidently and with room to grow and change in a natural way.

He's learned to read and he's developing his writing. He loves most things to do with numbers. He's telling the time. He loves to draw, and paint and make things. He loves to construct and build. He's passionate about the natural world and the sciences. He's enthused about the history relevant to his interests. He's confident on the computer and can surf the net. He loves riding his bike and swimming and exploring. He likes to kick a ball around and have a game of cricket. He loves playing with his friends and having fun. He loves to be outside and explore nature. He loves delving into his imagination and making up fantastical stories, characters and worlds. He's doing all this freely and in a self-directed way. His learning is his own.

And, when it all boils down to it, he's just a normal child doing normal things. He loves his life and he loves learning. He's happy and content. He loves this way of life. What more could anyone want for him?

The further I travel down this unschooling journey the more I see the need for freedom and uninterrupted learning time. I am working hard at trying to establish this even more for Lewi as I deschool myself and fight the education system that is so deeply entrenched within my veins. The more I read and learn and reflect, the more I relax and deschool, the better facilitator and parent I am for my child.

So, why have I chosen to not send Lewi to school? There is no need. He has it all right at his fingertips whenever and whatever he chooses. Now I'd like to ask the question: Why send any child to school?

Kim lives with her husband Mark and son Lewis in New South Wales, Australia, where they follow a natural learning approach.
Reprinted with permission of the author.