In 2005 I created An Unschooling Life, a blog detailing our unschooling experience after adopting our three children. Over time, An Unschooling Life became a hub for unschooling support and advice. The blog has been featured in print and digital media and was home to the popular Unschooling Carnival. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog where they will be housed under the An Unschooling Life section. This post was published on March 23, 2009 and the original message board thread was from 2001.
When I first began unschooling my kids (and myself), I found a lot of food for thought at the message boards at unschooling.com (the message boards are no longer there). I saved several topics that were useful to me and have shared them here from time to time. I recently found one while cleaning out some old folders and thought some of you may find this helpful. It was originally posted in 2001. Be warned-it’s long.
Is unschooling a good idea?
Mary: Hi my name is Mary, and I really want to unschool my daughter, age 4 instead of sending her to preschool next year. She currently goes 3 mornings a week. She always seemed to like it but is now begging me not to send her. She just sits on the floor of the classroom, refusing to participate. She won’t talk, just sits there and looks incredibly sad. This is a child who is so exuberant, happy, creative, etc outside of school, and used to be in school. She creates pages and pages of artwork a day at home, with paints, chalk, markers, etc. She makes collages and structures out of recycled stuff at home. At school, she won’t do art! How can this be?
My daughter is always so sociable, now she won’t play with the other kids at school. I do not want to crush her spirit or her individuality. Please help me. Yesterday I stayed in her classroom with her, the teachers were happy to have me, but the director of the school was against it. She didn’t throw me out but told me I needed to leave cold turkey, and it “is her job” to be here. What??? Anyway, I did mention pulling her out next year, and the looks I got, made me feel so rotten. I was told how important the learning, the interaction with peers, the transitions from one thing to the next, and how all this is invaluable, and you can’t duplicate it at home.
My instinct says to leave now. I guess I just feel like an overprotective mother. I guess I am afraid. Please help me, and so sorry to ramble, I am just upset. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Trust your instincts
Queenk: You were given instinct for a reason, so don’t dismiss it. If she’s not happy there’s a reason. Trust your child and yourself, and you’ll come to the right decision for your family.
April: Trust your instincts. Listen to your daughter. You see that your daughter is miserable. She says she doesn’t want to go anymore. Take her out of preschool now. She probably doesn’t do art at school because they tell her HOW to do it the correct way, and WHAT she should do and WHEN. At home, she is free to do art in any which way she chooses.
Of course, the preschool people would tell you it’s a mistake to take her out, they’re losing money! This is their life! They don’t want anybody to think their jobs are unnecessary. I would definitely be wary of anyone that tells you-you’re not welcome to stay in the class with your child.
Steph: Mary, you have instincts where your daughter is concerned, for a reason.
It has always amazed me, that the first things that a person is taught in a child-development class, apart from the physical requirements of caring for children, are separation-anxiety, intrinsic learning, and trust. And yet it seems to me that childcare places all over the country, are encouraging their parents and teachers to believe in “cold turkey.”
It just doesn’t agree with any of the research which they are so quick to fall back on when it suits them. And maybe I’m cynical, but it is a business. It is hard not to take it personally when someone no longer wants your services, and I think that happens all the time.
It happened last year when we took my 5yo out of the preschool that she had loved the year before. The *feel* of the teacher and the direction of the class was just too harsh.
Believe me, they weren’t *supportive* of our decision to have her at home. But what mattered to us, is that we’d been through not trusting ourselves with our oldest daughter, and ran into all sorts of complications that could have been avoided had we just trusted our instincts-which-are-there-for-a-reason, and what we saw in her. Like you describe your daughter, our oldest loves projects and crafts at home, and yet at school was inundated with ditto work and disapproving looks.
It had rows of children sitting at school desks. She had colored it correctly, but when she came home, she took it out and made the children into mermaids, adding tails and prettying up their outfits. In 3 homeschooling years, she hasn’t slowed down from her projects or plans or creativity. She doesn’t hate structure or dislike anything, really. She adapts difficult situations to herself, rather than visa-versa. I think that unschooling has validated that….validated her own instincts which might be more intact than even mine. There are still tugs (sometimes pulls) of doubt any time big changes are in the works. I don’t know if that ever changes. Four is a wonderful age to learn to find and follow one’s own rhythm. What a gift that would be to her.
April: I wanted to add, that it seems to me that society tries from the moment we are pregnant to get rid of our natural instincts. There are people telling us what to do from the beginning, and doctors that tell us we better listen to them, they’ve been to school they know best. Teachers know best. Friends and family members know best. From the very beginning, we are told which professionals to trust, and throw our own instincts out the window. I learned that doctors don’t always know best when I gave birth to my first daughter. Yet I still didn’t completely trust my instincts.
I quit nursing both girls early because the doc said they weren’t eating enough. I saw the negative effects of too many trips to the doc for antibiotics when my girls were sick, but I STILL thought that surely doctors would only do the right thing. It wasn’t until I saw my daughters in a weekly playgroup, stop doing spontaneous arts and crafts because they were waiting for instructions that I finally said to heck with what everybody tells me! This isn’t right. From now on I will try to let my instincts as their mother tell me what is right, and stop looking to other people all of the time.
Steph: I quit nursing my oldest too early because a hurricane stressed me out. Had I stuck with it, it would have been calming and healing for the two of us. Instead, I switched to formula and dealt with gas pains and crying fits that coincidentally were not an issue with the two children I breastfed afterward.
-=- She always seemed to like it, but is now begging me not to send her.-=-
Don’t ever make her go again, no more than you would leave her with a scary babysitter, or put her on a city bus with scary-looking people alone. Each hour of stress will have to be undone. Cut your losses. Keep her home now. If you paid for this school, let the money go without another thought. If you could pay to undo what’s done, it would be worth it, but you can’t. Get her some new art supplies (GOOD ones, not cheap stuff) and put on some happy music and make her favorite snacks and live happily together!
Zenmomma: Mary, congratulations for listening to your daughter! Many parents are so used to listening to the experts, that they disregard the statements of a 4-year-old. She is so lucky to have you.
***I really want to unschool my daughter, age 4 instead of sending her to preschool next year. She currently goes 3 mornings a week. She always seemed to like it, but is now begging me not to send her.***
My experience has been that all of us, including kids, go through stages in our lives. Maybe your daughter enjoyed what the preschool had to offer at the beginning. Now that she’s gotten her fill, or had her curiosity satisfied, she no longer needs or wants it. When my now 7-year-old dd was 4, she begged to go to “real school”. And I mean begged. Daily, and with passion, reason and full explanations. So, I found her a tiny, private kindergarten (6 kids) and had her go there. She enjoyed it while she went. At the end of the year, though, she had had enough. She asked to come back home with her brother. She got what she needed and moved on.
I’m really not saying anything different than the others who have posted. Trust your instincts. I’m just adding that I don’t think you have to worry over having sent her in the first place. It seems like she got what she needed, and now she needs to know that she can trust you to let her stop and move onto the next stage.
Laurie: I was going through the same agony not long ago with my two sons, who are 6 and 8. I followed my instinct and took them out of school (even though all the voices in my head were telling me that I was overreacting). I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it’s been and how full my heart is having them home. The other day my youngest said, “I’m glad we homeschool because now I don’t get hurt every day” (he was being victimized by a bully…at SIX!). What your daughter is experiencing is just as bad as bullies…her spirit is being broken. Listen to your heart, not the disapproving people at the preschool. You are the person who knows what’s best for you and for your little girl.
Donna: Take her out now. Do not hesitate. I hesitated and trusted the school system with my son and he has been paying the price. It is very hard to live with yourself when you make mistakes with your children.
Steph: Zenmomma, what a wonderful sense of peace you have. Suitable for your screen name. Thanks for sharing what you did, because it addresses my current wrestling in such a restful way.
Mary: You guys are absolutely wonderful! I am so touched by all of your responses. You are right, I’m going to take her out tomorrow. I guess I just needed a boost of courage, and I got one. I only signed her up for preschool bc I thought it would be fun for her, not to punish her, and that is what it has turned into. I never wanted her to be there if she didn’t want to. Zenmomma, I think you are right. She probably wanted to try out preschool bc everyone around her (friends and family) talked about how “when your a big girl you get to go to school” when she finally was old enough it was exciting to her. She has never been in daycare or anything, so all the kids, etc, probably interested her at first.
As ZenMomma said, she has gotten her fill and has moved on. It is no longer that interesting. And April, you are right, at home she goes to her art supplies and just creates what she wants when she wants. At school, she comes home with a painted picture of a strawberry bc it is strawberry season, and that’s the unit they were on. Maybe she didn’t want to paint a strawberry! Maybe she wanted to paint a pumpkin, but they probably didn’t have any orange paint “available”. Sandra, you are so right, I wouldn’t leave her with anyone she didn’t want to be left with, so why does the world say you’re supposed to do this when it comes to school? I guess I have had my head in the sand, just going with the status quo. I thought preschool would be fun, and now that it’s not, I need to listen to her and say no, you don’t have to go back. I feel much better now. And art supplies are our forte here, we can’t stop creating!!
Thanks so much, everyone. I am looking forward to all the fun we will have together. I am so glad this site exists. I don’t know what I would do without it.
Laura: Well, when I first starting reading this, I was going to offer advice, but now, getting to the bottom of the posts, instead, I’ll offer congratulations! Your daughter sounds like my son did years ago. He enjoyed preschool for a few months, then begged to stay home. In fact, (rather pitifully to think back on) when I said that one of the reasons for preschool was so that I would have time to myself, he offered to just stay in his room for a few hours :(. I took him out of preschool at that point!
He loved drawing and painting at home, but after months of preschool, he did less and less on his own. He was never a coloring book kind of kid, though. All his drawings had to be his own – he wasn’t interested in just coloring someone else’s drawings. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of what they did in preschool – coloring pictures and following someone else’s directions.
He’s been drawing his own pictures and making things out of clay for almost a decade now. He’s 13, and unschooling was *definitely* the way to go for him.
Carol: I’m too late to offer advice – it’s all been said already! So I’ll just say – welcome back to the world of sharing and enjoying life with your child
Steph: ***In fact, (rather pitifully to think back on) when I said that one of the reasons for preschool was so that I would have time to myself, he offered to just stay in his room for a few hours :(. I took him out of preschool at that point!***
This just breaks my heart!!! What a sweetie. So glad for your decision. 🙂
zenmomma: **What a wonderful sense of peace you have. Suitable for your screen name. 🙂 **
Thank you. I’ll keep that as my soul nourishing thought for the day. I also want to share a little off topic observation I had recently.
When I first picked my screen name as “zenmomma”, I don’t think I was very peaceful or zenlike. In fact I know I wasn’t. I was in the middle of several life-changing situations and was stressed to the limit. I think I picked that name because it was what I wished I could be. Not consciously, though. In fact, at the time I thought to myself, “What a lie. If people only knew.”
Well, low and behold! Just like they tell us not to label a kid bossy (or whatever), because she’ll live up to that label, I have found myself identifying very strongly with the zenmomma label I gave myself. It’s now a year and a half later and I no longer feel like my screen name is a lie. I have a real sense of peace and joy about life now. And I feel like I can handle the curves that life throws me with a certain sense of well-being. It is, what it is. What will be, will be. I think that’s why it gives me such a nice feeling to hear the positive way most kids are described on these boards. Just a thought. I’ll go back on topic now.
**Thanks for sharing what you did, because it addresses my current wrestling in such a restful way.
What are you wrestling with, Steph? Is someone asking to go to school? Or asking to come home?
Steph: Oh, my incredibly free-spirited almost 9yo likes the idea of school again. The thing is, she has her eye on being around certain friends who may or may not even attend that school next year. We have been house-hunting and might move also. There is just nothing certain, and I dislike scrambling so. I concern myself with having “worked” to adjust my own goals and plans to our unschooling lifestyle, and now having to adjust again, and if so probably unadjust when she experiences that teachers are not “flexible” like mom.
She loves being home, and doesn’t want school to be closed to her either…and not for academic reasons at all. She wants friends that she can see often, and unfortunately because the support group has been scattered so far around our area, she hasn’t had that.
Her friends are school kids, who she doesn’t see enough because they have homework to do, etc. She is in activities, but the difference in schedule and others throughout the week, is affecting her. She just wants to hang out with people. We’ve talked a little about how kids in school don’t “hang out” much either, but this is her theory and she wants to follow it through. She makes plans and calls kids to invite them over, but usually has to wait weeks. We’ve also been very busy…too busy..for months.
Personally, I think that moving from a townhouse to a neighborhood house will fix most of this. We’d have more capacity and a front yard. So we’re working hard for that, and if we move to a certain area, I’ve read the support group info, and it feels more comfortable.
But then I think that most things in life can be changed drastically just by rearranging them. LOL A philosophy going back generations.
Just so much up in the air. Your post though…It truly gave me a sense of “::::::Breathe::::::::Stephanie, no matter what, it is going to be fine.” And we will be. Inside I know that, but it takes reminding to remember it moment by moment. And that is what zen teaches, yes?
Being a joyful parent
Anne O: ***it seems to me that society tries from the moment we are pregnant to get rid of our natural instincts.***
I wanted to share something along these lines. I had the final meeting last night with the library board about my grant proposal to start children’s programs. I worked so hard on that grant and when you read it, you can read my very heart and soul in it. The board needed to sign the final approval last night. I was a bit nervous because the board consists of people who are very academic-oriented. People for whom I don’t have a lot of respect, nor much in common. People who make decisions about a library in which they spend little time.
Anyway, they were speechless after reading my grant application. It was like they never even THOUGHT anyone could care about children in the way I had conveyed on my application. After they signed the approval, I volunteered to work the desk while the librarian finished up the meeting. Jacob was with me, helping me and working on the computer next to my desk. I felt one board member’s eyes on us the whole time we were working.
Later, she came up to me and told me she couldn’t believe how I treated my child. She said it was clear that we were good friends and that I truly enjoyed him and enjoyed being with him. She said she never even thought of feeling that way toward her children…that she listened to all the negative things people said about children and applied those to her own mothering. She was guilty of saying that she couldn’t wait to get rid of the kids after a school vacation. She was guilty of signing them up for activities just to not have to be around them. She was guilty of belittling them and stifling their spirit. And she told me all of this because she never even CONSIDERED that you could be a nice, joyful mother…which she concluded I was from reading my grant application and watching me with Jacob (she is an acquaintance, also, and we often run into her while out and about in the community…me grocery shopping with my kids and them weighing the produce and figuring out how much it is going to cost…her alone, while her kids are in school).
Anyway…my point is…it saddens me that people have lost the basic faith in themselves to question what they are doing, how they are living, how they are raising their children, even when it just doesn’t feel right to them. They continue the path of *what society says I should do* instead of just saying “NO MORE” and letting the natural state of joy and happiness enter their lives by listening to their hearts.
This has been a beautiful, inspirational thread, and I honor you, Mary, for putting your concerns out there to see what the Universe would send back to you…you have blessed us all (and especially your own child).
Steph: ***Anyway…my point is…it saddens me that people have lost the basic faith in themselves to question what they are doing, how they are living, how they are raising their children, even when it just doesn’t feel right to them.***
Just when I thought that the discussion had reached a peak. Anne, this news is fantastic, and the above is so completely the point!!
Steph: ***I thought preschool would be fun, and now that it’s not, I need to listen to her and say no, you don’t have to go back. I feel much better now. And art supplies are our forte here, we can’t stop creating!!***
How quickly you knew. Congratulations to you and your daughter, Mary. Think of what your decision says to her, about how she has a voice in her life and how her presence is welcomed at home by her mom. It’s a big deal.
Anne O: ***Congratulations!!***
Well, the grant isn’t actually awarded yet…the board just signed the required form…but thanks, as I envision and Trust it will be awarded…!
zenmomma: **Just so much up in the air. Your post though..It truly gave me a sense of “::::::Breathe::::::::Stephanie, no matter what, it is going to be fine.” **
And, no matter what, the way it is, is the way it is. My dh and I were discussing this very topic this morning. His brother called him yesterday and is (again) very unhappy with his life. Hard to understand for us, since he is healthy, with a roof over his head, with a loving woman at his side, able to eat, play, dream, live……To us, all the other stuff is just details. Take ’em as they come and make what you can of ’em. Or should I say learn what you can from them. That’s my newest take on adversity. “What am I supposed to learn from this?” Not a new idea, but new for me.
zenmomma: Anne, Once again your post has left me with a smile (thinking of you and your wonderful children), and something to ponder during the day (wondering why all children can’t be so honored).
Mary: well we had a beautiful day here. When I told Molly we didn’t have to go to school this morning, she was so excited. She said, “I never want to go again!” My response was “that’s great, then we won’t”. I could tell she was surprised, but she quickly accepted it and asked if we could make some blue play-do. Of course, I said yes and even showed her how oil and water don’t mix while we were making it. No, I wasn’t pushing learning, just making observations, and we had a great time. We even made brownies, and now she’s outside playing in the sandbox.
I am totally into this life already. It is a very happy, peaceful way to live. I thank you guys for leading me gently to my own realization of it.
Anne, I loved reading about the bond you have with your son. It sounds wonderful, full of respect and love. I often wonder why I am the only one at the grocery letting my child weigh foods, find items on the shelf, etc. The world is in such a hurry, isn’t it? It’s nice to read about everyone’s family.
zenmomma: Mary, I’m so happy for you both. It *is* a wonderful, happy, peaceful way to live. Welcome. And as Anne would say….Namaste. (I just love that, Anne!)
April: Well, low and behold! Just like they tell us not to label a kid bossy (or whatever) because she’ll live up to that label, I have found myself identifying very strongly with the zenmomma label I gave myself
That is wonderful Mary (zenmomma), and I totally agree with you. We tend to live up to how we label ourselves, so it would be nice to label everybody as kind, patient, loving, and perfect just the way they are! Mary, I’m so glad for you!! Doesn’t it feel freeing to know that this is the direction that you’re taking and it’s OKAY!!?
Ren: Oh I wish I had found this thread earlier. I am trying so hard to transform myself from a Mom whose first instinct is to yell into a “zenmomma” (insert smile here) I just love how you labeled yourself…and IT WORKED! I am going to see myself as a calm, loving, joyful person and FAKE it if I have to until my brain gets it. I was proud of myself today because when one of the kids was doing something irritating I was able to inject some humor…it felt sooooo good. Anne, you are an inspiration! Nuff said.