It’s 2 weeks since our official de-registration and the start of our unschooling h.e journey (although this of course began many moons ago). Just 6 weeks ago, at the end of her last term at school), my eldest daughter (nearly 6) was an anxious, distressed, angry mess. Any interest she once had in reading and writing had shut down. Sleep was torture, her sensory issues controlled her and us, she had bitten her nails so much her fingers were raw, painful and with almost no nail left. Today, she sleeps! She enjoys being read chapters of a good book when she is tired (this is a great time for connection with her Dad and he is discovering a joy in reading too), snuggles down in her bed listening to Eva Cassidy and looks at the stars on her ceiling, then she sleeps all night and wakes up…happy! She isn’t so jumpy and isn’t having a meltdown whenever a bus or lorry pass us, she’s also gradually relaxing into wearing different clothes and fabrics. And, she has nails! There are still daily challenges but we are a work in unschooling progress, it feels good. I am now confident that the happier she is the more confident she will be and she will find joy and interest in reading and writing once again. The support I have received directly and indirectly from other unschooling families has been invaluable in getting us (me) to this point.
A year ago we bought guinea pigs, on Faith’s request. I was reluctant at first, worried about the responsibility and time they would take up, as we’ve never had pets before, but I opened myself up to a “yes”. Faith (then 11) spent two weeks enthusiastically researching all she could about piggies in books and on YouTube, how to look after them, diet, behaviour, how to build a cage… It made my job of just buying them so easy! They have brought us so much joy and fun, we laugh together every day with them, and all four guinea pigs get cuddles every day.
Faith was then inspired by the piggies and piggie owner YouTubers to start her own YouTube channel, something else I was initially reluctant to say yes to. It has since morphed into mainly a Minecraft channel, and she has in the past 10 months learnt absolutely tons from it, more or less completely by herself, from recording, editing and uploading to bells & whistles like subtitles and in-video links, from managing comments to oratory skills, from music copyright issues to privacy issues; and she has personalised it with her own nickname, logo and catchphrase.
She is continually thinking of new ideas, googling to problem solve or to find out how to do something new. It’s fantastic!
If it hadn’t been for unschooling, we would almost certainly have missed out on all this wonderful stuff.
I have seen many parents dismiss their children’s interests, describing how frustrating it is to sit through a boring children’s programne for the 10th time in a row or how irritating the voice is of their child’s favourite YouTuber. These parents are missing a wonderful opportunity to share joy and develop a deep, close relationship with their children.
My youngest two love the Minions and were aware there was a movie coming out at some point. It’s not a film I would choose to watch myself so I could have just not mentioned when it came out or I could have waited until they pleaded to go or taken them along grudgingly waiting for the movie to be over and then complained to other people how I had sat through a silly movie because I’d ‘had’ to take my children to it. I chose instead to suggest going to see it out of the blue one afternoon, I spent most of the film looking at the children and feeling joy at their joy, seeing their excitement and enjoying their giggles.
There have been many instances since where we have been able to share jokes from the film, talk about the parts we found funny, they have shared joyfully with me the things they loved about the film and who their favourite characters are. None of this would have been possible if I had chosen to belittle their love for the Minions, if I had decided that although I was prepared to ‘put up’ with allowing them to see it and do them a favour by taking them along I was going to let them know I was only doing it for them and that they should be grateful. Instead I chose joy and happiness, I chose to be open to sharing something they love and know that it is me who should feel gratitude that they are prepared to share their love and interests with me.
I shared this picture in July, when reading to my daughter. She brings armfuls of picture books to me some days. Octonauts is her favourite television show, and she has every Octonauts book ever made. On this occasion, she was just looking at a big picture of a pretend menu, showing “kelp cakes” and she started sounding out the names of the flavours. I didn’t know she knew how to do that at all!
My eleven year old, Jenna, is sitting on my bed chatting to me about some Minecraft fanfiction she is writing. She just used such phrases as “passive voice”, “present tense”, and “third person” correctly in context. She has never had a grammar lesson in her life.
In other news, she has seen six Shakespeare plays this year (it was her stated year’s goal, unprompted, to see as much Shakespeare as possible this year), raves randomly about Chaucer, and emails me poems. This kid didn’t read until she was almost nine, and has spent most of the last three months watching YouTube on her phone almost non-stop.
I have had periods of thinking that Jenna would be highly unlikely to choose to do anything in the next few years that outsiders would perceive as having educational value. She has always been interested in history, but otherwise I have spent a fair bit of time “translating” into educationalese for grandparents etc. Who could have predicted that all of that intensive YouTube and Netflix would turn out to have taken a little detour into reading and discussing A Level grade English Literature materials, via Minecraft role play fan groups and Buffy references?! (For the record, I’m genuinely as delighted in her love of Kawaiichan and quoting Giles [from Buffy] and photo manipulation as I am of the Chaucer and Shakespeare – but it’s certainly easier to point out the latter as evidence that Something Is Happening.)
Another additional comment: Yesterday, I mentioned that I have a huge hardback Complete Works of Shakespeare. She said, “Oh I know! I found it months ago! I have read most of it, well all of the sonnets and lots of the plays – but I sort of skim-read the histories… I’m not SO keen on those.”
My oldest is 17 now , she particularly loved my reading books to her and was interested in letters from a very early age. She repeated words I was reading , was reading reading short words around the age of 3 , and slowly developed from there. Reading and now writing remain her passions and she went through many books reading them in whole series. She loves writing stories and enjoys reading other people’s writings on Wattpad.
My middle daughter is 15 and also loved listening to books I read to her. She always listened silently while looking at words and pictures. By the age of around 10 , having learnt the alphabet before, she started trying to read words but found confusing as soon as trying to string them together in some way. Learning to back off, not worry , stop making suggestions was a whole challenge for me but left to herself she has learnt to read via games she enjoys, reading comments on various game related and music sites etc… From around the age of 13 she started asking me less and less to help her with words. Not being in school has certainly avoided any feelings of ” something is wrong”.
My youngest is 12 . He showed little interest in books and reading until around the age of 9 when he found some online games he really enjoyed including Minecraft. I use to sit with him as he asked me to read what was on the screen and gradually just took over the reading. His desire to communicate with others was his driving force. By the age of 11 he was reading fluently as he expanded his vocabulary through doing Google searches and reading online etc…
In the process of learning to read naturally, they have also naturally learnt spelling, punctuation and grammar.
All three learnt to read each in their own way and very different ways and I have always had a lot of books and magazines/ newspapers around and I enjoy reading.
I think seeing each one learn at their own pace, whether walking, talking, reading really highlighted for me the importance of being able to step back from our own pre conceived ideas of how things ” should ” be happening.
Another example of learning I am always amazed at is :” typing skills”.
Learning Typing has as far as I know always required attending a course whereas now we can see that skills can be picked up naturally as I see children of various ages type so naturally and with such ease.
My 6 year old says he can’t read, though I’ve been seeing signs of growing literacy since 3, starting with symbols on the remote control and pictorial signs at the park. Last night we went to Pizza Express and he enthusiastically drew on and did the dot-to-dots on his children’s menu. He’s been through a phase of avoiding/seeming uncomfortable with anything literacy related, around when his same-aged friends started school. It was really nice to see him enjoy this, with no feelings of inadequacy or fears of failure.