September 29, 2007

It's All About Me

One thing I've learned these past few weeks is that if my actions made a difference before, now that I'm unschooling (and this is probably true of traditional homeschooling as well) they REALLY make a difference. Part of the reason for this is that J and I are together more, but the main reason, I think, is that I'm setting the pace for our days. If I feel like hanging out and doing nothing, that's likely what we'll end up doing. If I'm feeling energetic we might do two field trips in one day. If I'm really interested in a subject, my enthusiasm can carry J along.

So the more interested I am in the world around me, the more successful our "unschool" will be. I love this! I feel like I've been given permission to really dive into all the subjects that have fascinated me over the years. I know this was probably true before we started homeschooling, but all of a sudden it's so clear to me that when I educate myself, I'm educating my family.

September 28, 2007

All Volcanoes All The Time

This is a photo of our Mt Veusvius model - phase one. This project (we're building a model of Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii, then making Vesuvius erupt) is keeping me sane these days. When I start to worry about the whole deschooling process I comfort myself with the knowledge that J is learning so much about geology and Ancient Rome (with a bit of geography thrown in). We're both having a lot of fun with it.

These are some of the homeschool volcano resources we've discovered:

The DVD that sparked J's interest in volcanoes (Mount Vesuvius, in particular) was the first disc of Secrets of Archaeology.

Roman City is a DVD companion to the book City (listed below) by David Macaulay. J refused to watch the DVD (he didn't even give it a chance!), but I really liked it.

Books About Volcanoes:
Usborne Understanding Geography: Earthquakes and Volcanoes by Fiona Watt

Volcano by DK Publishing

Mount Vesuvius: Europe's Mighty Volcano of Smoke and Ash by Kathy Furgang

Fun Books about Ancient Rome:
Roman Soldier's Handbook: Everything a Beginning Soldier Needs to Know by Lesley Sims

The Roman Record by Paul Dowswell

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction by David Macaulay

Web Sites:
Legends of the Volcano

A List of Resources from A to Z Home's Cool

Ancient Pompeii

This is a really cool experiment.

Volcano-Related Field Trips In California:
Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California has examples of every type of volcano.
The Getty Villa in Malibu, Callifornia has an exhibit called "The Herculeneum Women and the Origins of Archaeology." Herculeneum was buried in the same 79 A.D. blast that covered Pompeii.

Here's a photo of J at the Getty Villa today. The villa is a recreation of the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house built on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. Many of the statues throughout the gardens are replicas of those found in Pompeii and Herculeneum.

September 27, 2007

Good Advice

I'm going to start a collection of good advice for beginning unschoolers. Since I'm a beginner myself most of it will come from other people via comments on this site, conversations I've had, or books I've read. I do have one piece of advice to offer, though, so I'll start with that. It's the one and only thing I know for sure.

From me:
Don't assume that what works for one family will work for your own.

This is an excerpt from a comment on my blog by OrganicSister:
Let me tell you two things that I wish I knew from the get-go:
1st, the whole 1-month-per-yr-of-school thing is a crock! [She's referring to the deschooling process here.] Throw it out the window. My son went to school for two and a half years but it took me AND him about 8 months to deschool. Yours might be less or it might be more but it will rest mostly on your shoulders, so be prepared. ;-)
2nd, there is unschooling and there is radical unschooling. Unschooling gives freedom in education over to the child while radical unschooling applies the principle to their whole life. You can unschool without RUing but it tends to lead to RUing eventually. Just take it one day at a time and reevaluate every so often if you're both happy or need changes.

From the woman who runs the ISP we've just joined:
Unschooling doesn't mean unparenting. You're still the parent!

An excerpt from a comment on my blog by Tracy:
First, he's learning something from all of it. [She's referring to his daily activities.] In time you'll learn to embrace just "living it" and won't feel the need to pick apart all that is educational from every moment. Second, a good just diving right into your own projects and interests. Next time check out stuff from the library for yourself. If he's interested, that's great! But don't think in terms of trying to sneak in educational stuff for his benefit.

More from Tracy:
One thing you might find helpful... my son is a computer nut, too. I find that whenever I start worrying about how much time he is spending (and yes, it occasionally happens even when you've been doing this for years) I just go to him and ask him to show me what he's doing. He loves to show me the games he is playing. He loves to make me play (I'm horrible!) and tell me, step by step, how to get things done...It's an interesting process. And honestly, my time is pretty limited because I tend to have a short fuse for some of these games...It's enough to keep my mind boggled by all the stuff he has picked up and to be awed by his direction-giving skills (he's 6). And it quells my anxiety when it rises. But mostly, it's a way to spend time with him doing something that gives him pleasure.

An excerpt from a comment by Tammy:
Keeping true to your family and to yourselves is more important than any label. You recognize relationships come first, and part of that is to be a parent. That's what kids expect of us. Yet you don't take your role for granted and you let your kids be their own people. Finding that balance - that's the key. And like you said, it's going to look different for every family.

From "The Relaxed Home School" page 52, by Mary Hood, Ph.D.
As long as you provide a variety of materials and experiences, and children are free to make their own choices, they will automatically select those items that will work best for them. When parents have accepted the value of allowing children to learn on their own in this manner, they sometimes go overboard and purposefully avoid instigating learning experiences themselves. There's never any harm in offering to help a youngster read a story, or asking them if they'd like to play a particular phonics game! The harm comes from forcing these activities when the children aren't interested. Often when this happens it's because the children are not yet ready for a particular experience. If you try something and it doesn't seem to be working, you can always back down and try something a little different later. That's one of the benefits of home schooling.

(By the way, Mary Hood will be speaking in the Los Angeles area on Novemver 2nd and 3rd. Click here for more information.)

I'll keep adding to this post as the advice rolls in or as I read and learn more. Let's hope it fills up fast!

September 26, 2007

Rule One

This whole unschooling thing is bringing me face to face with some of the less pleasant sides of my personality. Today I saw the control freak side of myself rear its ugly head. It took some serious self-control to keep the beast down but cool and calm won out in the end. Here's how it happened:

J suggested going to the downtown library today. "Great!" I thought, "He's really starting to take the reins!" But what section do you suppose he wanted to visit first? The video section. I was okay, though. The control freak side of me was still hibernating. We browsed the anime. J chose a couple DVDs, then, at my suggestion, we looked through the drawing books. I chose one on 3-D animation, because we spent a better part of this past Sunday in the 3-D animation studio at Zeum in San Francisco. J wasn't too inspired but he didn't say no, so I added it to the pile.

Next, we went to the fiction section. I looked up "Johnny Tremain" because I had decided J needed to read more classics. J had other ideas. He was not so keen on this book and said he wouldn't read it, nor would he listen to me read it. The beast began to stir. Instead of insisting we read the book, though, I took a few deep breaths and added it to my pile. "We'll see," I said, imagining J tied to a chair, trying not to listen, while I read "Johnny Tremain" outloud. I think it's pretty safe to say this is not a picture of unschooling harmony.

The big mistake here was my reason for wanting J to read more classics in the first place. I had just finished reading Mary Hood's "The Relaxed Home School" in which Hood states that when her children have read a few too many uninspiring books, she suggests they look to the classics for their next selection. She never says her children happily accept this suggestion each and every time, but I can read between the lines. I know very well that other people's children do exactly as they're told. Mary Hood tells her children to read "Johnny Tremain" and they frolic to the book shelf, finishing page one before she has taken her next breath.

Even if this is the case (and, honestly, I doubt it), I now understand what a huge mistake it is to take what works for one family and assume it will work for my own. That, right there, is my first rule of unschooling. Here, I'll put it in caps for you:


I've only been at this for three weeks and I can already offer my first piece of helpful advice. I'm learning. Yippee!

The postscript to this scenario is a happy one--much more in line with that image of unschooling harmony than the "Johnny Tremain" scene. Back at the library, with no prompting from me, J started looking up books about volcanoes and Mt. Vesuvius, then chose a couple to take home. After checking out our books and DVDs we went across the street to a cafe where we ate cookies and read about volcanoes and plate tectonics. When we got home we started our Mt. Vesuvius model. It was fun, educational, and completely initiated by my son.

So, even though I felt J was being extremely uncooperative and I imagined myself tying him to a chair for his bedtime story, I managed to hold my tongue and follow his lead. Much to my surprise he walked straight into the picture of unschooling harmony. Thankfully, I had the good sense to follow.

September 25, 2007

Sweet Relief

Unschooling does not mean unparenting. What a relief! Some of you might be thinking, "Duh!" But seriously, when you read some of what is written about unschooling it does sound a little like unparenting. You can't deny it. I was getting kind of flummoxed by the whole thing, to tell you the truth, but our weekend away in San Francisco, a stern talking to from a good friend, and a conversation with the woman from the ISP (finally!) have jarred me back to my senses. Here is what I've figured out:

1.) There is a way to let your child lead the way without giving up the reins. (Figuring out how to do that is what this blog is all about.)

2.) I have to trust my instincts. My instincts told me to pursue unschooling and I listened. They told me my son was spending too much time on the computer and I plugged my ears. I had read a lot about deschooling and letting the child make his own choices so I ignored my feelings but, the truth is, that amount of computer use just rubs me the wrong way. I did put my child into a Waldorf school for five years after all! I'm not saying the computer wasn't fun for a couple weeks. It was new and J was well aware that the unlimited playtime wouldn't last, but I was feeling so weird about putting restrictions on him. I was worried that all the great results I've read about with unschooling wouldn't happen for us if I was too heavy-handed with the restrictions. I'm over that now though. I'm reclaiming my right to make rules.

3.) Family meetings help. We had a family meeting last night, after we got back from our fabulous weekend in San Francisco. We each had a chance to talk about what we hoped would come of our homeschooling adventure, my husband voiced some of his concerns, J listened and agreed that he could do math every other day as long as he doesn't have too many worksheet problems to do. I talked about going back to our old rules regarding the computer and television. J talked about what he wants to learn (he's sticking with manga drawing and echolocation). I think we all felt our opinions were heard and respected.

So, I'm recognizing that there are as many ways to unschool as there are unschooling families and I think I'm catching a glimpse of what unschooling will look like for us. It's still kind of hazy, but now that I'm thinking more in terms of what will work for us instead of what we're "supposed" to be doing, I think the fog has begun to lift.

September 21, 2007

San Francisco Here We Come

I managed to relax and let J do his thing today. The days are so much more pleasant when I do this. I'm learning.

J did spend lots of time on the computer, but he also watched television, helped with some things around the house, put together a cabinet I bought for his room, and played with his marble coaster. I did quietly mention to him that if he's not interested in practicing for his lessons (drawing, chess, Japanese, and trombone--all at his own request) perhaps we should cut some out. We're spending over $400 a month! But he said he wants to keep doing them all. So I'm just going to back off and see if he starts to practice on his own.

Right now he's over at a friends house while I pack for the weekend. The three of us are flying to San Francisco for a computer-free, three day weekend. I'll be back in touch on Tuesday!

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. And.....we're back! Here are some photos from our trip:

The Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown.

J (in the green hat) is watching a guy carve his name in Chinese characters onto a stamp.

More to come.....

September 20, 2007

The Computer (AKA A Thorn In My Side)

I'm going about this all wrong. That's what I was thinking when I reminded J about his idea to practice trombone and Japanese just before lunch. I suppose I would have felt completely different if he'd said "Okay," turned off the computer, and started practicing. That's not what happened. He was in the middle of a game and he didn't want to stop. I gently reminded him once more, then let it drop.

After lunch (he didn't even turn it off to eat!) we went to Park Day. While J played, I read some more of The Unschooling Handbook. The book just confirmed my misgivings! This is the line that really got me. Author, Mary Griffith, is referring to the parents' decision to let their child quit taking lessons of one kind or another:

"It is important to listen carefully to your child, to help her evaluate the alternatives, and make sure she doesn't base her decision on others' wishes for her instead of her own best interests. Fortunately, because of their experience with choosing and evaluating their own learning activities, unschoolers usually find themselves well prepared to make such potentially life-changing decisions."

It's not that J wants to quit his lessons. He loves them. It's just that I'm freaking out about computer use, so he's not really getting any experience with "choosing and evaluating [his] own learning activities." I'm evaluating them for him and I'm not liking them--one of them, anyway.

So, I told myself to relax and it actually helped. We ended up having a terrific evening and the computer played a very minor roll, just a walk-on, really, in our activities. And I let J choose everything. Mostly. Okay, I may have (ever so subtly) suggested alternative activities whenever he neared the computer, but I only ever suggested anything once. Shock of all shocks, one of the suggestions happened to include putting something away and he thanked me for reminding him!

So the day had a happy ending, but this swinging pendulum is starting to wear me down. I need to mellow out. And I need to join that ISP. The woman wasn't there last week at chess--only her husband--and I really wanted to talk to her, so I put off joining until next week. I need for her to tell me everything will be okay!

I've had a couple nice comments on this blog over the past few days, though, and they've definitely helped. So, if any of you seasoned unschoolers have any words of wisdom, or if you'd like to do the online equivalent of grabbing me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye, and shouting "Mellow Out! It'll be okay!" Please feel free to do so. Actually, I take back the shouting part. A whisper might be better. I'm feeling kind of fragile.

Let's Make A Deal (Or, Creating A Schedule)

I think yesterday's post pretty much covered What I Learned from week one, so I won't add to it. Instead I'll tell you about my agreement with J. This morning, on day nine of deschooling, J and I talked about how we've been spending our time. We both agreed (mainly becasue I suggested it) that we seem to lose time when we spend the day in front of our laptops. In J's words, "time just doesn't exist" when we're at the computer. So, we made a list of things J might want to get done during the week (I did make a few suggestions) and J created a schedule for fitting them in.

Here's what he came up with:

Free time at the computer will occur in the morning, before lunch.

When I start to make lunch, J will turn off the computer and spend five minutes practicing Trombone, then five minutes reviewing Japanese. After lunch he'll do the same.

Afternoons are for fun activities. At the moment they include:

- Building a model of Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, then making Mt. Vesuvius erupt.
- Playing with a marble roller coaster made from foam tubing. We saw this at NextFest--J loves it. Click here for instructions on how to make a marble coaster of your own.
- Creating a fountain with soda and pixie sticks or mentos.
- Building a fort in our backyard.
- Making a worm bin for vermicomposting. (This is actually my project, but J said he'd help.)

When I start dinner J will stop what he's doing and practice drawing. He's taking a weekly drawing lesson because he wants to learn how to draw manga.

After dinner we'll have free time for playing games (he's teaching me to play chess), reading, or watching DVDs together. (No computer!)

So, that's the agreement. We both signed the bottom to make it more official and I posted it in the kitchen.

We'll see how it goes. Technically, I don't think we're supposed to create schedules when we're deschooling, but my husband is clearly unhappy with the amount of time J has been spending on the computer, and I'm not exactly comfortable with it either. Going to the computer or watching television becomes a habit in the blink of an eye and I don't want J spending his time playing computer games just because it's the first thing that comes to mind. He has so many other interest, it seems like it should be okay for me to help him find ways to fit them into his daily life.

Will this schedule put a knot in our deschooling process? Will J even follow it? I guess I'll find out.

September 19, 2007

Thoughts on Deschooling - Week One

We are off to Disneyland today for the Unofficial Not-Back-To-School Day. So I'm just going to leave some abbreviated Thoughts On Week One. I'll add to it later on tonight if I have any brain cells left.

1.) We followed our bliss all week and it was fun, fun fun!

2.) Even though I was having fun I could still hear the niggling voice in the back of my head (it sounded suspiciously like my husband) saying "What did he learn today?"

3.) I think J told his trombone teacher he does nothing but play video games all day, so I'm thinking of having a talk with him about honesty vs. withholding information and how most people might view my leniency as neglect. I'm expecting a visit from social services any day now.

4.) I learned how to skate around the dreaded "What did you do today?" question. The trick is to focus on a subject you may have discussed, however briefly, and give the questioner, in minute detail, every bit of knowledge you have on the subject. I figured this out when my grandma asked me what we had done for school. (I can't bring myself to tell her about unschooling because I don't want her to have a heart attack.) I told her we discussed Einstein's "cosmological constant," then told her everything I knew about it. She stopped asking questions.

5.) Since I've been looking for things that might interest J, my eyes have been opened to a whole world of fascinating subjects which I'd ignored for most of my life. All of a sudden science actually looks fun!

September 18, 2007

Deschooling - Week One

J started up the computer as soon as he got out of bed. I had agreed to buy him one game off the internet so we downloaded Fizzball. He played it all day.

There were brief moments when I surreptitiosly tried to interest him in something educational. When I'd told him we would be studying what interested him for the year (he was all for the idea, by the way, unlike my husband) he said there were two things he wanted to learn. 1.) How to draw manga and 2.) How to echolocate. Yes, as in dolphins, bats and clicking noises. All I can say is he's really into the "Gregor the Overlander" books by Suzanne Collins. Anyway, I sensed a learning opportunity (Hooray!) and ran with it. I went to the Los Angeles Public Library web site and put a few books on bats and echolocation on hold.

"Guess what?" I told J, "I found some books on bats and echolocation at the library. Pretty cool, huh?"

He rolled his eyes. "Mom, I don't care about bats. I just want to echolocate. Like Gregor."

Shot down from the get go. But I did not give up on my first attempt to teach him something he wanted to know. It did occur to me that "teaching" may not be what I should be doing as an unschooler. But teaching is really just sharing information, right? I figured I was safe. So, even though I was sure humans could not echolocate I decided to humor my son. I googled "humans" and "echolocate" and it turned out I was wrong. I found several stories (with video!) about a blind boy named Ben Underwood who uses clicking sounds to get around just like a sighted person. So J took some time off from Fizzball to watch some videos about Mr. Underwood. We tried a few experiments to see if we might possess a smidge of Underwood's talent. The results weren't especially promising but the experiments were a blast.

From 4:00 to 6:00 J had his first chess class. The teacher is a chess master. (He can recite, move by move, famous chess matches!) There were some really nice kids, many of them close to J's age, so I was glad for that. J seemed to like it even though he was the easiest kid to beat by far. Hopefully that will change, otherwise I'm afraid he'll get tired of chess pretty quickly.

I almost forgot to mention, it was at the chess class that I decided to join the ISP (the class was held in their building). While I was there the female half of the couple that runs the place recommended "The Unschooling Handbook" by Mary Griffith and "Discover Your Child's Learning Style" by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle. So I bought them both. She also praised me for figuring out in just three days what takes many people three years to learn. That felt good. Of course, she's already an unschooler so she's biased. But I'll take praise where I can get it.

More computer time. If we looked up anything remotely educational I have no recollection of it. Mostly he sat at his laptop playing Fizzball while I sat across the table on my own laptop reading about unschooling.

At 3:00 J had his first private trombone lesson (he played last year at the Waldorf school) and loved his teacher. I hope this means he'll want to practice.

J went to his best friends house for the evening while I went to a book store to see Diana Gabaldon (author of the "Outlander" series).

More computer time, of course. But J also set up an elaborate village, made of blocks, on his bedroom floor.
This was the playing board for a game his best friend made up called D & D. It's not the Dungeons and Dragons you're thinking of, though the boys have given it the same name. J decided to create his own version of the game, so we spent a few hours on his bedroom floor playing D & D which, much to my joy, included rolling dice and using addition and subtraction. Hooray! He was practicing math and having fun at the same time! We were unschooling! I was especially thrilled to learn that in order to kill the tiger living on the outskirts of the village, we would need to roll not double, or triple, but quadruple sixes. We could figure out the probability of rolling quadruple sixes! That's math! And it would be fun! If only I knew how to figure probability.

That afternoon J had a Japanese lesson. I'd found a tutor on Craigslist and had made arrangements for him to have a weekly lesson when I was planning for "school at home." He'd already had five years of Japanese at school and since he's interested in manga (he wants to learn to read the original Japanese text) I'm still counting this as unschooling. Besides, barring an extended stay in Japan, this is the only way he's going to learn it. I wanted him to learn Spanish too (he'd also had five years of Spanish at school) but I'm giving up on that for now--unless, of course, I can arrange for an extended stay in Mexico.

We went to see "Becoming Jane" with a friend of mine after Japanese. Lest you think J is so amiable that he willingly attends "girl movies" you should know--I bribed him.

After the movie we discovered a comic/anime store where we rented four anime DVDs. So that night we both watched Dragon Drive and S-cry-ed.

Computer and anime DVDs in the morning. Homeschool book club at the park during the afternoon. We also talked about the Big Bang and Einstein's "cosomoloical constant" which Einstein regarded as the biggest blunder of his career. I was reading an article about it in a magazine and learned that Einstein announced this mistake at the Mt. Wilson Observatory which happens to be fairly close to our house. As I was researching a visit to Mt. Wilson I learned that our own Griffith Park Observatory was having a Public Star Party (a monthly gathering when the public can look through their 12" telescope) the following day. So I bought tickets.

That night J tagged along to my writer's critique group and watched the last anime DVD while I met with my fellow scribes.

We went to the Wired NextFest at the LA Convention Center. I had to drag J away from the computer to get there but he ended up loving it. J frequently says he wants to be an inventor and this place was an inventor's paradise. As an added bonus we ran into a group of kids from our homeschool group.

That night J went to his best friend's house while WG and I went out for dinner to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. I talked about unschooling and he listened patiently. He didn't say yes. But, he didn't say no.

Computer, which annoyed WG. Then we went to the observatory and saw the moon and Jupiter (plus four of its moons) through the telescope. I thought it was really cool. J seemed to have a good time but later said it was boring.

I declared Sunday a screen-free day. I know it goes against the rules of deschooling to impose restrictions and all that, but I figure we all have to live with ourselves and I just don't feel good about all that computer use. I imagined we'd do lots of fun things at home together, but then J got invited to go back to NextFest with his friend. So J left, WG went to work, and I had a pleasant (much needed) afternoon alone. It was heavenly.

Coming Soon...
My thoughts on week one.

What Happened Next (part 2)

I left off yesterday with number four on the list of What Happened Next. My poor husband ended up sounding a bit curmudgeonly (or entirely sane, depending on your attitude toward learning), so I'll go back and try to explain where he was coming from.

  1. I told my husband about my plan to unschool our son and he said (though he later denied it) "Well, I just don't want him having fun all the time." Even though my husband (I'll call him WG) tried to deny this comment, he really is concerned that J will spend his days having fun and end up not learning anything. Anyone that's been through thirteen years of school knows that "fun" is not a regular part of the curriculum, so I understand his concern. However, even though unschooling is probably best practiced when both parents are of the same mind, I'm forging ahead with my plan. I have asked WG to trust me and he has, sort of, agreed. He didn't actually come right out and say he agreed, but he didn't say he didn't trust me so I'm taking that as a yes. I'm also thinking I might ask him to refrain from asking "What did you do today?" It's way too much pressure.

  2. I decided to join an Independent Study Program (ISP) with leanings toward unschooling. At first, I thought I wouldn't join because it costs a couple hundred dollars a year and I'm quite capable of doing my own paperwork and taking care of the legalities of homeschooling, which are the main sevices they provide. Now that I'm unschooling, though, I really think I'll need their other service--helpful advice. The couple that runs this program unschooled their two children. Both of their kids went to college, are leading happy, presumably fullfilling, lives and neither of them was killed at sixteen as result of their parents decision to unschool. Phew!

  3. My grandmother bought J his own laptop. This put my commitment to "deschooling" to the test at once. Naturally, all he wanted to do was play on his new computer. This was about as far as you can get from what usually goes on in our house. Let me put this into perspective for you. J spent the last five years at a Waldorf school. Waldorf schools advocate a strict ban on technology for all children. Our family never adhered too stricly to this idea (I hate being told what to do) but we did limit J's time in front of the computer and television to two hours on the weekends. He has never before been free to choose how much time he spent on the world wide web or gaping at the "idiot box." For the first week, since the computer was new and since I'd heard about "deschooling," I decided to give him the freedom to use it at will. I'll tell you how that went later when I get to our first week of "deschooling." For now, I'll just say he's no fool. J took full advantage of my change of heart. He was one happy boy.

September 17, 2007

What Happened Next

Once I'd made the decision to unschool a few things happened:

  1. I started scouring the internet for information on unschooling and discovered the notion of "deschooling." From what I can tell, this is a period of extended summer vacation when your child does whatever his heart desires, and ends up having rediscovered his innate desire to learn. This process is said to take up to one month for every year your child has been in school--that would be five months for mine. Yikes!

  2. I started losing sleep. From about 3:00-5:00 a.m. I lay awake, bombarded by images of the horrible consequences my decision would bring upon my son. Many of these images included him confined to a remedial math class somewhere in the depths of the Los Angeles Unified School District. There was another one where he was in his mid-thirties, working at a menial job that required coveralls and Lava soap. The worst one, though, had my son getting killed at the age of 16. I can't remember how he died but it was definitely because I had decided to unschool him. After a couple nights of laying in bed with these wildly irrational thoughts, I got out of bed instead and started reading unschooling blogs on the internet, which is where I discovered the "Unschooling Basics" Yahoo! Group.

  3. I joined the "Unschooling Basics" Yahoo! Group and learned that unschooling is not just a method of educating, it's a parenting style. As far as I can tell it advocates giving children a huge amount of freedom to make their own choices about how they spend their time. This includes letting them watch as much television as they like, and not requiring them to contribute to household chores. Since I'm not really keen on either of these ideas, though I might Possibly (with a capital P) give them a try, I'm guessing that our own form of unschooling will be uniquely suited to our family. I have no idea what it will look like, but with a good dose of trial and error we'll figure it out.

  4. I told my husband about my plan to unschool J and he said (though he later denied it) "Well, I just don't want him having fun all the time."

Coming Soon...
I'll elaborate on my husband's crabby comment, give you numbers five and six of "What Happened Next," then delve into our first week of deschooling.

Me? An Unschooler?

I never imagined I would be unschooling my son. Sure, I'd heard of unschooling. And from what I'd heard it was not right for our family for two reasons. Firstly, I thought it was a scam. I just didn't believe all those people who said their children were studying geometry (or any of the "ologies") for the fun of it. I guess that tells you something about my relationship with math and science. It just sounded too good to be true. Secondly, unschooling would require that I hand control of my son's education over to, well, my son. I wouldn't be able to plan lessons, or even plan our weekly schedule in advance because I wouldn't know what J would be interested in until the moment he discovered his interest. I love planning. I love scheduling. I love list-making, and I love crossing things off my list. Unschooling would require that I let go of all these things and more. I would have to trust. And I'd be putting all that trust in an eleven-year-old boy who thinks butt jokes are the height of hilarity.

So, I found myself at the edge of a cliff. Behind me, on solid ground, was traditional homeschooling. Among the landscape that made up this method were math worksheets, book reports, and english lessons. There were also arguments, tears and frustration. In front of me, deep within the chasm just beyond my big toe, lay the world of unschooling. It was vast and dark and downright terrifying. But my instincts told me to jump.

School At Home

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy. -Robert Burns

In other words: Even the most carefully prepared plans can go wrong.

Here is a log of our first three days of homeschooling:

September 5, 2007, A Fine Start

Today was our first day of school. I had to interview someone for my newspaper column at 9 a.m. so J stayed home and watched a DVD on Pompeii. When I got home we did Saxon Math, Writing Strands, ate lunch, went to the library to get some books on Ancient Rome (had to drag J away from the Manga section), stopped by Monkeyhouse Toys so J could show off his munny and wooden sword to Myra, the fabulous store owner, then went to the California Science Center. At the Science Center we explored the properties of fog, earthquake-safe building, and how fear manifests itself in the human body. Back at home we ate dinner and watched some beatboxing on YouTube. We both agreed it had been a "cool" first day of school.

September 6, 2007, The Unravelling Begins

Today was a bit of a struggle. We started with math (big mistake). The lesson was simple, a review of addition and subtraction, but J was completely unfocused and took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to complete his work. I'm not sure how to handle this situation. I could give him a certain amount of time to complete it with my help and then leave him on his own to do the rest. How will that work? Leave him alone in his room to do it? Have him complete the work later in the day as "homework?" That seems pretty lame but maybe I'll try it. That will be Plan A. I won't start the day with math, though. It puts both of us in a foul mood right from the beginning.

In spite of the math debacle we managed to enjoy the rest of our day. We watched the Pompeii video again. This time J (reluctantly) took notes. Then we had lunch and went to our first Park Day. J had a good time, made some new friends and had a few Yu-Gi-Oh duels. Day two was definitely not as good as day one.

September 7, 2007, We All Fall Down

The plan didn't work. I had decided against Plan A. What's the point of homeschooling if you still have homework? Instead I thought we'd take the math to a cafe. So, we headed down the hill to our corner cafe, math book and pencils in hand. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. I was oh, so determined to make this outing enjoyable and end the day with a feeling of accomplishment. I bought J a piece of his favorite coffee cake. I got some tea for myself. We sat at a table on the patio, opened the math book, and took out his worksheet. Within fifteen minutes J was crying. As the tears rolled down his face he scowled at me and said "You said this was going to be fun. This. Isn't. Fun."

For some reason (maybe I was tired and stressed out, maybe I had put too much importance on the success of this one outing, maybe--more likely-- it's because there were people looking at us and I was embarrassed) I got really angry. I didn't erupt, though, I stewed. Quietly, I gathered up our books and said, "Let's go home." J trailed behind me as I stormed up the hill to our house. When we got home he went to his room and I went to mine. We didn't speak for almost three hours. During those hours I researched public middle schools on the internet. I called my sister and complained. I cried. Then I googled "unschooling."