Friday, March 22, 2013

Deschooling - the Good, the Bad, and the Shocking

I’m almost at a loss as to where to begin.  You would think I could begin with Monday, except the days have blurred together and I’m not really sure what happened when.  This must be what a dryer ball feels like after a cycle; which way is up or better yet out?  Early warning though…it’s been a BIG week and this is a long post.  I’ll wait while you get your coffee (or vodka) and settle in…

I think it’s fair to say that we entered week three with me a little ‘tense’.  I’d ridden the deschooling, ‘it’s all good, whatever’, wagon for two solid weeks and while I knew, in my head, that I should not expect to see any ‘results’ after such a short period of time, I was becoming…ah, a little edgy.  It seemed to me that two things were happening simultaneously.  Each day, Punky was doing less and less, showing less and less interest in anything other than watching Netflix (reruns of old Disney shows, no less) and playing the occasional game of Minecraft or Roblox.  All the books she had picked out at the library sat on the table, gathering dust.  All the art supplies that she had dived into with such vigor the first week had been put away and not looked at again.  Her interest in anything remotely, not educational…not even ‘learny looking’, just anything remotely ACTIVE was zilch, zero, nada.  She basically did nothing until it was time to head out to either voice class, tap class, or rehearsals.

My eye was twitching, I’ll admit it. The math curriculum that we were to be ‘testing’ – that she had asked to do – lay untouched.  The packages were beginning to roll in of the things I’d ordered that were hands-on learning that she had been excited to order and she barely glanced at them.  To make matters worse (the other thing that was happening at the same time), Punky had pulled out her ‘pre-teen mouth’, slapped it on and was giving it a good spin around the block.  Every time I asked her something that apparently she didn’t like (and I’m not talking about asking her “Do you want to do Math?”), she snipped and quipped at me with all the pre-teen attitude she could muster.  I worked very hard at remaining calm.  I kept telling myself, she’s testing you.  This is just a test….if this were a real emergency further instructions (Divine intervention, perhaps?) would be given.

I was smart enough, or intuitive enough, or just lucky enough to have figured out that she was testing me.  She was seeing how serious I was about this new ‘you’ll take responsibility for your own learning, I’m merely a coach or mentor’ methodology for our homeschooling.  She was working me to see if there was a catch to it all or if I’d break.  As bad luck, or stupidity, would have it….I did break.  It wasn’t just ONE thing it was a combination of things, most of which was her smart mouth responses to me, eye rolling, and general disrespect.  Let’s just suffice it to say that what happened next will never be considered one of my more finer mothering moments and I lost out on any chance I might have even remotely had for being nominated for anything to do with mother of the year, no matter how much I apologized later for my ranting and ravings.

Oh, right…that was Monday.  Sigh.  

Which brings me to Tuesday.  

While sipping my coffee on Tuesday morning and doing that facebook thing, I was struck with an idea.  Punky now had her own email account!  I hopped onto my email and did two things.  First, I forwarded to her a couple of different emails that I receive that our from publications/websites that she likes or uses.  Why did I need to be the one to page through this stuff to see what might be interesting to her when she could do it for herself now that she had her own email account!  Next, I sent her a personal email inviting her to lunch after her voice lesson where we could talk more about our current issues.  I’m not sure if it was the novelty of it all, or if I landed on a brilliant parenting tactic, but Punky responded very positively to both emails.  

At lunch, I shared with her my frustrations at her growing attitude with me and how she wasn’t going to earn freedoms and my respect if she didn’t work on controlling her attitude and treating me with respect.  I talked with her about her decreased interest in doing anything productive or even active during the day.  I explained to her what my goals were for her and her learning journey were.  Examples include, know yourself, know how to learn, follow your dreams, master the English language both in written and spoken form, master every day math, develop critical thinking skills, etc...  I asked her what goals did she want for herself?  She parroted back to me mostly what I had said my goals for her were. 


I told her I wanted her goals to be HERS, not mine.  She looked me in the eye and said, “I just want to perform.  That’s the only goal I have for myself.  I don’t like reading, I understand that I need to learn to write and speak well and do math, but beyond that I don’t really have any other interests.”

I sat there feeling like a balloon with a slow leak.  Then she said, “I think that maybe….well, maybe I want to……never mind.”  I looked at her.  I know my daughter…..maybe not always as well as I think I do, but still.  I starred at her.  Finally I said, “Do you want to tell me that you want to go back to public school but you’re afraid to tell me?”  Quietly she said, “Yes.”  I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.  Neither of us said anything for a while.  My mind was racing.  It was time to regroup.  Finally I said, “Ok.  Can you tell me why you want to do that?”  Punky said, “I could go to school with my best friend and get to do all the stuff kids to in middle school.  I could be in the shows at school and everything.  Besides, I think I do better when it’s other people expecting me to do something, people other than you that is.” 

I was stunned.

After I flashed on the scene from Big Bang Theory where Leonard’s mother explains to Penny that people who choose to be performers suffer from an external locus of identity (valuing themselves only as others value them) that usually results from unmet needs in childhood (OUCH!); 

I explained to her how middle school worked and how unlikely it would be that she and BFF would actually be together during the day despite being at the same school.  I explained to her that middle school was ‘rough’ and that it might change her – intimidate her into being someone that she didn’t want to be.  She told me she could handle it.  I told her that was fine then, she could go back to public school.  I explained to her that there would be two ground rules  for returning to public school. First, she would have to spend the time between now and August working to get caught up in math, because she isn’t ready yet for 6th grade math.  Second, there would be no more community theatre.  (The theatre is 40 minutes away from us and therefore it would be impossible to be in a show and be in public school).  What I didn’t tell her, but knew in my heart, was that if attending public middle school started to change her into one of ‘those’ kids…I’d yank her back out faster than she could whistle a show tune.

She just nodded at me with a very unhappy look on her face.  She was quiet in the car, as we listened to Harry Potter, on the way home.  Once we arrived home she asked if we could take the disc inside and continue listening.  Then she asked if we could listen to it in the school room while building with Legos together.  She’d been wanting to do that for the last two weeks with me and we hadn’t yet.  And that’s what we did.  For two hours we listened to Harry Potter and built Legos.  When we were done she said, “I think it’s time I do some math, where’s that new curriculum you wanted me to try?”  I handed it to her and she sat down and did the first lesson, asking for a little help here and there.  After that she went and got her library book and read for a while.  Then it was time for tap dance class.  We didn’t say another word about schooling the rest of that day.

Wednesday dawned and with it a child who had seemingly decided to remain homeschooled.  She did another math lesson and declared, “I think I like this new curriculum!”  I told her about an opportunity to take a free online science class about aerodynamics of flight and she agreed it sounded interesting.  She spent the afternoon in that online class building three types of paper airplanes and doing the other experiments that involved straws, funnels, ping pong balls and paper.  She finished her library book.  We listened to more Harry Potter (finishing the first book and starting the second) and we went to rehearsals.

Two important things happened to me yesterday.  First, I came across an article (a blurb really) written by someone attached to John Holt.  What I took most from what I read was this:  “…if John Holt were alive today, I think he would be saddened by the efforts of some people who try to turn his term ‘unschooling’ into some sort of a system, into a set of rules that must be followed. John trusted parents to learn from their experience with their children. He didn’t say, ‘If you’re going to call it unschooling, you’re going to have to do it my way.’ He wanted them to figure out what was right for them, for their whole family.”

Second, I picked up a book at the library called ‘unschooling a lifestyle of learning’ by Sara McGrath.  My ‘a-ha’ moment came early, on page 13 to be exact.  “Unschooling parents trust that their children will seek out these skills when they need them.  However, unschooling parents don’t necessarily wait for their children to specifically request information or guidance regarding a particular skill.  A parent might offer help or new information at any time…New unschooling parents sometimes hesitate to initiate conversations or activities which resemble teaching.  However, unschooling philosophy fully supports any interaction with interested and receptive children.  Outwardly, this may look like a lecture or a homework assignment, but the unschooling activity will lack any coercive or mandatory element.  As long as our children agree to participate, we can share with them all that we know and help them find the answers.”

It may seem like nothing to you, but this was my biggest AHA! moment yet on this journey of deschooling/unschooling.  I had been squashing the natural, authentic, real parts of myself and my approach to living while waiting around for Punky to get bored and ask me to do something she specifically decided on her own!  Why had I done that, you may wonder?  Well, that was the way I’d understood it needed to be from all the books, blogs, and facebook pages I’d been reading on unschooling.  I’m not saying that’s not a right way to do it or that it doesn’t work for some families.  It’s just not what is going to work for us.  I need to DO, SEE, ENGAGE, LEARN and I’m going to offer as many opportunities, ideas, activities, and adventures as I can to Punky instead of…..waiting.

Maybe *I* just had it all wrong.  Please, if you are a veteran unschooler, there’s no need to inundate me with posts about how wrong my thinking was, how I just didn’t “get” it, or anything else discouraging or negative.  Thank you.  But the important part is that I now have it right.  The kind of right that feels right for me and for Punky!  I don’t want her learning to take place in a coercive environment and I totally get how learning only really happens when the learner is interested and engaged and ready!  But, it is my job….it will be my joy really… to fill her days and her mind with all sort of nifty ideas and opportunities for us to do, try, learn, and enjoy!  In fact as I type this I’m thinking “What a knucklehead I was….I *didn’t* get it before!”  But, at least now, I do.

So I’ll be diving into all the saved files I’m accumulated for the last 3 ½ years of cool, awesome, projects, learning opportunities, activities, experiments, and more that we never seem to find the time to get around to doing.  I’m going back to my Pinterest Boards and looking for all the neat ideas I pinned that we’ve never done.  I’m going to print out the Fuel the Fire newsletters from the last year and half as a reference for all the awesome, creative, out-of-the-box stuff that Julie Gilbert shares each month with subscribers!  I’m going to sit down with Punky and show her all the cool, awesome websites I’ve bookmarked containing great games, interactives, and more she can explore on her own!  I can finally say with total honesty, I am looking forward to tomorrow!  I’m not abandoning the deschooling/unschooling method at all!  I am however, going to structure it so it suits our family best!  I don’t care what label I end up with either!

And so ends week 3…..

Wow, this is the longest post I’ve ever written!  
Hope you stayed with me until the end!

~Mari B.


  1. I wanted to acknowledge that I stopped in and read this, but I'm going to send you a FB message as well. LOL! :) I'm glad you've finally found what works, and I wish you well with it!

  2. As a semi-new semi-unschool / relaxed / "whatever" homeschooler (have 1 kid in first-ish "grade"), I'm glad I can read about these types of things before I ever get there! :)

  3. So what do you plan on doing if she continues to ask to go to public school? It's a big fear of mine especially since my dd will be middle school age next fall. I'm pretty sure middle school will destroy a kid like her, so do I put my foot down and do the "mom knows best" thing? And will she end up in therapy one day complaining that her over protective mother wouldn't let her go to school? I'm not sure my insurance will cover all that.

    1. I don't think she will after we really get into the flow of our unschooled/relaxed approach. She has always said she wants to attend public school for High School and I am fine with that - for the most part. If she's not ready for the challenges (social and academic) of public high school then we've failed as a family.) She wants to participate in drama and competitions, etc for high school and work on a scholarship to a drama school - so if that's the best course of action for her and it's what she chooses then I give her my blessing.

      However, I will not allow her to return to public school until the 8th grade. That's the earliest she's going back to PS. I can justify it because she will turn 14 two months after school were to start in the 8th grade and it's a good training ground for high school the following year....both academic and social (making friends she'll known in HS and so forth).

      So, she may not like it (although I don't suspect that will be the case), but she'll go back to PS no sooner than then.

  4. I'm not going to give advice, as this just part of the process. But I do love the photo accompaniments.

    1. Part of the process *is* good advice!

      Glad the photos were appreciated! ;-)

  5. My middle daughter, now 29, is thinking back on her unschooled childhood. She is wondering what she might do with her own possible future child. (Gulp! Talking with her about what she wants to do as a parent, the same or different from my choices, feels like a real moment of truth.) If you would like to check out her grown-unschooler perspective, you can find her at The No-School Kids: A Homeschool Retrospective.

    1. Cathy

      Thank you for sharing your daughter's blog with me. I've subscribed! I'm excited to read all she has to share!

      Mari B.


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