The Unschooling Secret

By Lisa Molson

Another rainy winter morning. I drag myself out of bed and peel my boy from the covers. We look at each other over breakfast, tired eyes. Neither of us want to be here. He has a tummy ache…again. Can that be normal? I walk my tiny four-year-old in and watch him sit dutifully in his spot, ready for another day of blind obedience. I think the most concerning thing is that he’s happy to do it. The next six hours I’m watching the clock so I don’t miss that 3pm deadline to collect a wired, tired shadow before running the treadmill to bedtime. This is my life. This is his life for the next twelve years.

The school run, one of the many things my boy and I will not miss. “Mummy, it’s tiring to be perfect all day. Why are there gates keeping me in, am I trapped?” No matter how lovely his teacher, the system that binds her makes me shudder. So we stumble into home education and I oddly find myself trying to trick, bribe and even shame him into phonics, re-creating the classroom, panicking that he’ll “fall behind”. His sad little face gratefully stops me in my tracks and while I plan my next move, I leave him to play…and something mesmerizing begins. I hear counting songs, made-up rhymes, letters spotted in clouds and branches. Three months in and drawing and creating have taken him over. A third of his day is devoted to producing ever more detailed images and props, savouring the process.

And it dawns on me, why wouldn’t we live this one short life that way, spending as much of the day as possible doing what makes us all happy?

And it dawns on me, why wouldn’t we live this one short life that way, spending as much of the day as possible doing what makes us all happy? Would they learn? Is it enough? So we amble through parks, rivers, beaches and forests, delighting in the heady mix of peace and intrigue that nature and wildlife ignite in our souls. We feel alive! Noticing, questioning, wondering…there is so much going on, more than we can ever discover in a lifetime. The basics of science are gently covered and a deep connection with the natural world sweetly nestled in their hearts. They will take care of this planet.

We potter at home and in the garden as much as we like, their self-motivation growing ever stronger, fuelled by an innate fascination about how the world works alongside the freedom to explore it as they wish. I’d describe them as happily busy a lot of the time. Maths and language just come up in everyday life. I had no idea how often things like fractions, multiplication and measurements are used; we’ve touched on them all with no plan to, just through cooking, handling money, telling time…He is learning to read just by us reading to him and supporting his inquisitiveness, slowly and joyfully according to the timetable written into his genes. Maybe sooner is not better.

Gifted with all this one-to-one time I notice that we can run with all those questions they ask. We don’t need to coerce them to learn or plan. Because it’s their idea, they’re fully engaged and it’s not forgotten. We fly wildly through the vast spectrum of knowledge at a pace and in a way that is meaningful only to how their unique minds work. It forces me to question, can there be a better director of their learning than themselves to unlock their unknown potential?

They throw a ball and a feather in the air. “Why do they fall to the ground instead of going to the sky? Why does the ball fall fast and the feather slowly?” And so they discover gravity. They aren’t told about Isaac Newton, they get to be Isaac Newton and feel that same thrill. I feel like I can see neurons connecting, forming pathways that will serve them for a lifetime. The minds of an investigator, problem solver, innovator.

Without testing and fear of failure their imaginations run wild and they believe they can.

Without testing and fear of failure their imaginations run wild and they believe they can. The furthest a curiosity has taken us is the Greenwich Observatory to chat with astronomers about black holes. It’s as much an adventure for us as it is for them. And I’m not ashamed to say I’m learning as much as them. Despite being a straight-A school student, how do I know so little? Their exuberance has woken me up. When did I fall asleep?

See next page for more…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *