There were some folks who doubted my ability to homeschool my children. In fact, last summer when Sean and I made the decision to keep Iain home from school this year, a person whom I really respect and admire called me and said, (without a hello)”what the hell are you thinking?! You really believe you’re qualified to teach your kid?” Last year I lacked the ability and the confidence to come back with a retort but now if faced with the same situation, I’m armed with all the ammunition I need to defend my right and my ability to homeschool. Family and friends never question whether someone is qualified to raise children. They just offer congratulations, buy you some baby clothes, and ooh and ahh over the first pics of your newborn. Looking back at my friends comments they were incredibly rude and insensitive. But after a year, I couldn’t be happier with the decision to keep Iain home from school.
When Iain finished up 1st grade, he could care less if ever read a book or not. His interest level in reading was -100. He had a blow up with his teacher that left him confused and insecure and I wasn’t sure what it was going to take to get him out of his funk. Now Iain loves to read and he does so at every opportunity. He has learned about multiplication without any prodding from me and it’s fascinating to see learning happen through real-life and not in a textbook.
We started out with school-at-home, and that worked for a while. Iain said that I made learning fun and we squeezed in an hour and a half of textbook work a day. After a while though, the textbook approach became drudgery and I began investigating other ways for us to homeschool. Enter Sandra Dodd, goddess of all that is Radical Unschooling.
Sandra Dodd is a true inspiration to me. She lives her life purely and raises her children the same way. After stumbling onto her website my eyes were opened to a completely new way to parent and homeschool and I must say that feelings of shame in how I previously treated my boys still echo in my soul. As much as I despised the way I was treated by my parents, many of the parenting techniques I used were the same. My parents are good people and they love me, but, just as I’m certain they felt when they began their parenting journey, I want to improve upon the ideals I learned as a child. After reading Sandra Dodd, Joyce Fetteroll, John Holt, Danielle Conger, Rue Kream, Jan Hunt, and so many others whom I consider pioneers, I knew that unschooling was the way to go. Since Iain took his required standardized test in February that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
Make no mistake, part of the decision to unschool was borne out of necessity. I was watching my infant niece 3 days a week while my sister went to work and it was increasingly difficult to school-at-home while she was here. The stress of trying to schedule school time to coincide with naps and Iain’s interest was excruciating to say the least. Unschooling was such a blessing. What surprised me was twofold – how much learning took place without school books and how much my relationship with my boys has changed for the better. Our lives suddenly became liberated. We were free from the bonds of conventional parenting and we were thriving. It hasn’t been easy, please don’t misunderstand me. It’s been the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life because it goes against everything I was ever taught a parent was supposed to be. Ryan, who would lie to you as soon as look at you, now feels safe in coming to me and telling me the truth about something that happened. We still have squabbles, and I forget to approach things calmly sometimes but we are forging a relationship that surpasses my wildest imaginings.
I love my boys and spending this last year with them has really shown me how wonderful they are. Now I just need to continue stepping back and stop trying to mold their character. I need to continue to let them grow into the people they are and not the people I think they should be. My only regrets don’t have to do with events this year but with my lack of preparation for the journey that is parenthood. I wish that I had read all this information when Iain was born but I didn’t. Now, it’s as though our family is newly born and we’re learning to be a family together. It’s an amazing time in our lives. If this is what the first year is like I can’t imagine how I will feel next year.