Thursday, May 2, 2013

will I homeschool my own children?

For anyone reading who doesn't know, I have been homeschooled since I was about 10. My mom removed me from school the summer between fourth and fifth grades, and we never went back. My family "unschooled" - which is a lifestyle where not only have we chosen to remove ourselves from public school, but we also do not try to mimic it at home. We did no lesson plans, no testing, no standardized anything. Instead, my parents spent a great deal of time and energy in providing a really interesting life, where we had time to follow our passions and knew that our parents respected what we were interested in.
My awesome mom, letting me practice my fine art technique

I speak at a lot of conferences, and am sometimes the only homeschooler, much less unschooler, in any group. I get asked a lot of the same questions pretty frequently. Recently, one of the first people I met in our first homeschooling park group, started a blog with her mom. They also get asked some of the same questions -- this blog is in response to those folks.

So! The question - will you homeschool your own children?
Like I said, I've been asked this question since I was about 10 years old. For many years, it was just a vehement "yes!" Since then, and now being married to a very real husband with a different background than mine (he was not homeschooled) instead of a hypothetical one who of course agrees with every decision I make, how I arrive at my answer has changed. I still say yes, but I have three conditions:

1. I will always have to do a better job than the alternative.
2. I will make decisions based on prioritized values that my husband and I determine, together.
3. It does no harm (to my family's happiness, to my relationship with my husband)

Painting on the most available canvas
1. I will always have to do a better job than the alternative: Putting a child in school is easy. There's even a chance that they will have a perfectly nice experience, and limited damage will be done. There are even alternative private schools, with a focus on the arts or lots of free time. If I choose to keep my children out of these, our life has to be better than it could be if they were there. I think it will be -- I think I can do a much better job than any school. I will be an expert in my children. That means more time spent with them, for them, and about them. It means more money spent. It means a huge amount of attentiveness and energy. It means going places, seeing things. It means that when my kids love horror movies, and I grew up disliking them, I will jump into their interests with both feet and watch with them, look up characters on IMDB, take them to movie premiers and exhibits of movie costumes and tell them about nanowrimo's screen play camp, and more. It means when they are absorbed in a video game, I will ask if I can learn how to play also. I will make characters, improve my hand-eye coordination, bring them plates of food so they don't have to stop, and take them to the store at 6am on the day their new game comes out. I will watch for when they are tired and cranky and do what I can to make the environment what they need. If I can't do these types of attentive and engaged things, I should put them in an environment that would be better.

2. I will make decisions based on values that my husband and I prioritize: There are going to be things I want my kids to learn, but I have to be able to think big-picture to make day-to-day decisions. For example, I already know that I really want my kids to play piano. But more than that, I want them to appreciate music. So if there is ever a situation where my desire to have them play piano might damage their appreciation of music, then I have to make the choice in favor of them appreciating music. My mom said that she made her decisions based on what made our eyes light up. I have some ideas as to what my guide would be, but have not had this particular conversation in enough depth with my husband to say definitively (I would imagine it will be a number of conversations, continued over the rest of our lives). And if we strongly disagree? That brings me to point #3...

3. It does no harm, specifically to my relationship with my husband or with my family. If there is a clash about homeschooling that is so strong as to do harm to any of these relationships, I choose the relationships. I think it is more important to have a happy marriage, working together and on the same team for our children, than it is to homeschool. Now, based on my experience and what I've seen happen, I think that unschooling does amazing things for all types of relationships. So I do not have much fear in this area. But it could happen - I've seen it happen. I've seen mothers cling so hard to the label "unschooler" that they alienate their partners. I've seen people want so desperately to Be Unschoolers that they forget other values while they hang on to the title. First things first, I suggest losing attachment to the name. If my husband doesn't like the idea of "unschooling" but does like the idea of supporting our children in their interests, respecting them, engaging with them, etc. then why do I need to call it anything? At this point, the principles of unschooling are a part of how I live my own life. I can't imagine the personality transplant that would have to occur for me to not treat my children this way, no matter what the extenuating circumstances.

So. Will I unschool my own children? Yes!

Were you homeschooled? Do you agree? Will you be homeschooling your own children? What other questions do you have for a grown unschooler? Ask in the comments!


  1. What a great answer. Everyone considering homeschooling should read this and understand it. Of course, it would help if people who were condoning homeschooling would read and understand it as well!

  2. What a beautiful answer, Roya! I have seen too many people put unschooling before their relationship with their partners and the consequences were pretty devastating... Thank you for this great post!

    1. I'm at a point right now where I have no children, but am so involved in unschooling discourse, that I'm really thinking so much about how unschooling ideas are impacting my relationship with my husband. He has definitely benefited - I am a much kinder wife because of unschooling. With some exceptions, I wonder how parents can really say they *get* unschooling if they are not also applying it to their romantic relationships.

    2. Yes! If a parent is sweet and loving and supportive as possible towards his or her child, but unkind and dismissive and unconnected to the other parent the whole family will suffer. You may think you are keeping your relationship issues separate from the kids, but they are seeing and hearing you, and learning from your example. The things I learned from being an unschooling mom absolutely helps me be a more loving and connected partner for my husband.

  3. It's great to hear your perspective, Roya. I very much relate to your comment on having a real husband, now, as opposed to a hypothetical partner when you are young - and how that changes the conversation.
    I also see some interesting alternative programs, more than were available to our parents when we were growing up as unschoolers. I am also very sensitive to the economic factors my husband and I would have to consider, our own career goals and pursuits, and how we would time manage with a stay-at-home parent.
    Ultimately, my husband and I haven't had kids yet, so for us in our partnership, education and parenting conversations remain hypothetical for now. I like that you have determined guiding principles to help you navigate.

    1. The economic factors are a biggie - and definitely my desire to unschool my kids went into the career I pursued. Being able to have a private practice and a flexible schedule and make enough working part time is a big part of why I went into Marriage and Family Therapy. It was something I think I can do, contribute financially to my family, pursue my own need to stay involved with work of some sort, and have a lot of time for my kids.

  4. What's your unschooled grown-up view on accomplishment? Do you feel pressure to do something awesome because of your unusual background, or is being happy your only goal?

    1. Being happy is definitely not my only goal -- I have a lot of requirements of myself to feel accomplished. I like these questions a lot, and I think it warrants a longer response.. but on the short list: I want to make money while being my own boss, I want a flexible schedule, I want a lot of art supplies, I want children, to spend time outdoors, to help other people unschool, to eat nutritiously and exercise daily, I want a house where people come to a lot.... To feel successful I have lists every day that I try to accomplish. I am fascinated by goal accomplishment -- so I have all these things...but they all contribute to my happiness, but it's not a nebulous and vague "happiness" that I am aiming for - there is productivity involved for sure.

      Okay this is a terribly disjointed response, and I apologize, but I definitely will think more about this and write up something more coherent.

  5. Wow, Roya, I am so impressed with you - who you are, your ideas, your work, and your wonderful writing! This is the first time I've seen your blog; guess my head's been in the sand somewhere. I'm very proud of you! Thank you for being our family's friend, and our love to you and your family. We still have Roya pottery! :-)

    1. Ann, so nice to hear from you!!! very glad to be your family's friend too :) I just started this blog, so don't worry, your head has not been very deep in the sand. ;)

  6. My kids are a little younger than you, Roya and are finishing up university in the next year or two. Our story is similar to yours (pulled the kids out of school and then (eventually) becoming unschoolers). My hubby was not really for any of it at first but after 11 years of it he is a Dyed in the Wool Unschooler and thinks all schools should be closed permanently. LOL!
    My point is we come at new things with our knowledge of the world up to that point. As the evidence of how successful our family life ended up being my hubby couldn't help but be 100% supportive.
    It is a process :-)

  7. Hi, my name is Raquel and I'm a the mother of threee homeschooled kids. 10, 7 and 3! They love it. I love it. And we do so many things together... I found out that they are more willing to do so many things since they left real school. As long as they are happy and I am happy too I will continue to homeschool them. it has been a great experience. You can find us here

  8. Hi Roya,

    you bring up some excellent points and have given this topic a lot more thought than I did before I had my kids! My own two boys are 15 and 11 years old now and we homeschool with a very liberal curriculum that we constantly adapt to their interests. Not unschooling but also very unstructured. They love it, I love it, most of the time.

    I just wanted to share that sometimes family life gets more complicated that you might imagine. Once you have kids, you can't help your feelings: the kids will come first. If there is a conflict between what is best for them and what is best for husband, you will gravitate toward the kids. We just have an instinct to put them first, hard as it is to imagine now. Homeschooling sometimes causes conflict due to budget restrictions (one works, the other stays home) and differing philosophies of education or child raising.

    You will find schools that you like, that have the things you would have appreciated when you were a kid. It took many many years before I realized that what I enjoy and LOVE to do, is NOT what my boys enjoy. They loathe arts performances. Loathe them. I have a hard time getting them to sit through a classical concert. It breaks my heart - how can they not FEEL the JOY? They love noise, mud, jumping their bikes the furthest, the highest and with the most amount of accompanying sound effects as possible. They love science and not earth science like me, no, physics that I can't wrap my brain around. I taught them to knit and sew and paint, all of which they patiently did for about 10 minutes at a time before heading out with "guns" or swords to conquer the world outside. As they grow older they are into snow sports. They XC ski, they compete (I was always non-competative), they sled, they drive snowmachines and all require skills where I can barely keep up. My ideals of what a little boy should be were tossed out the window with each passing year as they showed me what kind of boys they wanted to be.
    The point is that I don't think it is always possible to find the right fit. I don't think there is a school out there that would be ideal for these types of kinestetic and auditory learners that so completely constrast to my visual learning mode. I have had to struggle to stay patient and keep my attention span constantly jumping like theirs. We are opposites in so many ways. In return for all those years of doing math on hippety hop balls, reading while perched upside down on the couch (or under the kitchen table in a fort) or running screaming through the neighborhood with kids and dogs (to calm us all down no less) are kids who love what they do and they do it well. Including learning. But it had to be their way and it blew my mind in the process. So a school with a lot of outdoor time would have looked good but still I doubt it would have fit very well with the type of hands-on (and short duration) learning they preferred. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct and trust the outcome will be ok. We're still in the process but it looks pretty good for them! (Just to be reassured, I get many compliments on my kids' behavior. They are calm, compassionate and kind, worldly and genuinly friendly to kids of all ages. They are comfortable with adults and don't need to be the center of attention - they have the emotional intelligence which I so frequently see in homeschooled kids).

    My husband didn't always agree with the methods, we had fights. I was exhausted. That is homeschooling reality. We might not get the kids we imagine before we have them. I thought I was teaching them but in retrospect, it was I who was changed and grew. Way outside of my comfort zone no less! Enjoy the journey, it will take you places you would never have imagined.