Thus far in my husband’s and my parenting journey, every August when everyone jumped in to their back-to-school frenzy, we completely ignored it all. Back-to-school clothes shopping, school supplies, curriculum purchases, changing schedules, early bedtimes, and all the rest of it just passed us by. Being unschoolers, who believe that the world is an inherently fascinating place for us to freely explore, we mostly eschewed curriculum, school-like schedules and lesson plans and simply lived our lives, and tried to make that life interesting and supportive of our children’s interests and curiosities.
This August, however, I found myself taking my daughters shopping for school clothes and being in the most crowded Target school supply aisle with most every other parent because in early September, my daughters started going to school — a real brick and mortar school. And oh it has been an adjustment for us all.
Last year, I just found myself needing a change. It seemed that I always had these great intentions of everything we would explore and do, but I so often found myself too busy with other things to do them. And despite the fact that some people think “unschooling” means “uneducating” it’s not. Unschooling parents put a lot of time and effort into exposing their children to a variety of experiences and topics and helping their children follow the rabbit holes of their interests. As my family grew and some outside commitments grew as well, unschooling was getting harder for me, so last Spring I decided to look into the school we ultimately chose as I thought it could be a good fit for our family.
The school itself is a public school but it is not a traditional type of school. The school values family time and so does not expect homework to be done in the evening. Also, it is a hybrid between homeschooling and school, as the kids have three home days a week where they are expected to do their online learning and school projects at home, and two days a week where they are at school from about 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. So we still get to sleep in on mornings! The school also does not have traditional grades and report cards. The school is big into developing growth mindset and they say that wherever a child begins is fine, they just want the child to improve, so I love that when we get this school’s version of report cards we will see where our child started and how far they’ve come, rather than seeing that they get an A in this and a C in that. For myself, I remember that when I was in school, math took so much effort for me, and I would work my tail off and get a C. English, however, was easy and I knew that I could whip out an essay the period before it was due and get an A, so why try my best, when my minimal effort would get an A anyway? So I love that whether a child has a natural affinity or talent in a particular area or not, wherever they start, they can get better.
Originally, I was exploring the school as an option for my two youngest daughters, and figured my oldest daughter would continue to stay home. Being older, she simply requires less time on my part to help her explore her passions. Also, being on the Autism spectrum and having some anxiety in social situations, I thought she would fare better continuing to homeschool, but as I told her sisters about the school, my oldest piped up that she maybe wanted to go. “If you want to go, you can go,” I replied. So she did.
Now, we are a semester in and doing school has definitely been an adjustment for all of us. This school is a definite fit for one of my daughters. Ironically the one of the three who didn’t want to go to school loves it (and she is the whole reason I explored school to begin with). The other two? Right now they are saying they want to be homeschooled next year. For my first-grader, it’s a lot of computer work. While she’s happy to do projects and one-on-one lessons with me, she has a hard time sitting and staying focused on all her computer lessons. For my 13-year-old, who has always been unschooled, I think just the concept of being given assignment after assignment that she must do with not much opportunity so far for her to explore her own interests freely is a shock to her system. The idea of dividing the world into “subjects”, having to listen to a lecture, do an assignment, take a quiz, then on to the next topic is foreign to her. She’s actually begun studying (on her own) educational models and has decided that the best education should be primarily self-driven; allow time for the information to really be processed, absorbed, and applied — rather than moving through material at bullet speed then to the next thing. Of course, as an unschooling parent, I’m glad that she now approves of the method of education that we have picked for her all these years.
Nevertheless, I’m glad we also chose this school for this year. One of my hopes was that my girls would make friends, and that is something that school helps with, I think. Although we got out of the house and did stuff with other homeschoolers, my introverted kids never found anyone that they just clicked with. At school they have. Also, I think it’s been great for them to get a taste of school to see what it’s like for themselves and see what they like and what they don’t like. For my middle daughter, I hadn’t really seen her be self-motivated to explore lots of things at home, but at school with the positive peer-pressure of all the other kids doing the same thing, a great teacher who can motivate her, (and the simple fact that for her strong-willed temperament it’s not her mom telling her to do these things) she is more self-motivated and is enjoying school.
Anyway, despite the ups and downs of this first semester of schooling, the biggest thing I’ve experienced is that everything is a trade-off. There are benefits and drawbacks to unschooling. There are benefits and drawbacks to sending kids to school, and I’m sure there are benefits and drawbacks to every possible way of educating a child. I think schools in this country typically choose breadth, wanting kids to learn about so many possible things as quickly as possible and they try to cram in so many topics. With unschooling, we’ve typically chosen depth, wanting our children to explore deeply the things they are most passionate about. As parents, I know we agonize about how each child is doing and we ask ourselves if we are doing the best thing for them, and on and on. My takeaway is this. Nothing is perfect. Families aren’t perfect, you the homeschooling mom aren’t perfect and you never will be, and schools definitely aren’t perfect. Also, each child is so different that what works for one might not work for another.
So I guess the lesson I’ve learned this first semester is one I think I already knew, but needed to learn again – that nothing is perfect and it will all be okay in the end. So choose a path, then be at peace. Agonizing homeschooling/unschooling or regular schooling moms, just do your best. Pick what you think is the best option for your family in your circumstances right now and trust. Whatever form of education we choose, there will be gaps (because it’s impossible to learn all there is to learn in this world) but do what you can and it will be enough. Place the rest in God’s hands, and let go.
God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with him. Then you will be able to rest in him-really rest-and start the next day as a new life. – Edith Stein