A Slice of Brie

Brie's Journal

Are We Unschooling Yet?

Written By: Mrs. Hanni - Sep• 19•13

Nearly a year ago, Sam first announced that it was no fun looking at books all by herself because she didn’t know the words.  And so it started…  Reading lessons.  Structured reading lessons.  The teaching was phenomenal–the learning like a daily scheduled root canal.  I taught Sam the single consonant phonograms and one vowel (at the end), “a”.  By the time we arrived at what ended up being our last lesson (dressed in a school uniform to boot), Sam fairly easily read half a dozen words:  fart, at, cat, hat…  The fact that she read the words suggests the learning did occur, but accomplished in painful, drawn out sessions which started with a prayer, “Lord, help me teach preschool”, and usually involved an argument along the way.  I resigned to teach her again once she was older.  It should be noted that the entire time, Sam cajoled, “I want to learn to read all by myself!”  All by herself is big with Sam.  I’m sure “I can do it myself” is big with all three year olds, I do contest however that Sam takes it to the next level.  On her first day of French school at age two, she asked, “Can I go in all by myself?”  She skipped in.  Each day when I walked into her classroom four hours later, I was consistently greeted with a grimace, why are you back already? her scowl chided me.  Sam only runs to the door to see me when I come home from running an errand or some other briefly extended absence.  If Kelly Clarkson was singing about a three year old, Samantha is Miss Independent.

Since our daily uniformed reading lessons, I have found unschooling.  The first time I heard about it, Sam was two and it came across as too radical for my ears to hear its essence.  I was sitting in an unschooling discussion at the HSC conference in Sacramento when I heard, “Maybe your child won’t go to college…” casually flow through a presenter’s lips.  WHAT?!  Maybe my child won’t go to college?  What the hell is wrong with these people? I silently asked myself.  I was too hungry and disgusted to stay and ask probing questions.  I left that conference room and didn’t think twice about unschooling until two years later, again back at the HSC conference in Sacramento, 2013.  I had heard snippets of chatter about unschooling and had read a few paragraphs about the philosophy; its essence hadn’t resonated with me until I had Sam’s reading lessons under my belt, coupled with two more years of parenting.  Without conscious awareness, I was attracted to all of the unschooling talks.  Perhaps the speakers and discussion titles sounded more interesting than the other available options during the same hour:  Laura Flynn Endres’, “The Kids are Fine, You’re the Problem” and “This Beautiful Backwards Life” particularly beckoned me.  As it turned out, Laura Flynn Endres was a fabulous speaker and this talk was the first of five unschooling panels I eagerly attended.  I took copious notes.  I listened with my ears, my eyes and my gut.  I purchased two books by Pam Laricchia.  As I listened and absorbed more information, unschooling was beginning to transform from radical to exceedingly natural.  It resonated with my truest self.

Now, let’s move on to today.  I’ve taken Pam Laricchia’s advice and have slowly started to say yes more often.  I have been much more open to Samantha spending extended time on the ipad.  I have consciously tried to encourage Sam to negotiate her own small, daily choices.  I’ve let go a little more and followed her three year old lead.  I am starting to consider her perspective and act in response (when I’m not too hungry, too sleep deprived or impatient).  I have possible unschooling instances to record-two of which happened tonight.

A week ago, I purchased uppercase and lowercase stencils.  I didn’t announce the purchase, I just tucked them inside Sam’s box of papers, figuring she would discover them and use them or not.  Tonight, I was making dinner and Sam was sitting at her table nearby.  She discovered the stencils and immediately wanted to make letters using them.  I grabbed light colored construction paper (yellow) and twisted the stencil so it was facing the right direction.  Sam excitedly reached for a yellow pen and declared it aloud!  Yellow yellow.  Sidebar:  I’m thinking, yellow won’t show up, but kept my mouth shut.  As it turned out, it was an orange yellow and worked marvelously.  Each time Sam made a letter she yelled out, “See!?”  And I walked around to her and peaked at what letter she had made.  She was thrilled!  She made uppercase and lowercase letters, and enthusiastically called out her completion of each letter like a senior citizen declares Bingo! on a Tuesday night.  Discovery learning?  Unschooling?  What I know for sure about this- is it was on her time, she was internally motivated, and she was proud of her work.  After dinner we took a family walk and she brought a flashlight and the letters she had made along on our walk.  I am pretty sure that if I had asked her to get in her school uniform, announced that I had purchased these stencils and what we would be using them for, the situation would have played out in a completely different tone.  Second sidebar:  I asked myself, “Is it really important that she learns the correct way to form letters from the onset?  If it is okay to take swimming lessons just to ensure comfort in the water and foster discovery of being in the water, couldn’t the same argument be made for gaining comfort and discovery of forming the letters?

After our walk, I grabbed some yellow masking tape with the intention of making a mock yellow brick road on our patio for her upcoming Wizard of Oz 4th birthday party!  Well, Sam wanted to participate, actually, she wanted to bring her own idea into fruition and upon reflection:  it’s her party, and its about process over product, she won.  It’s not what I had imagined and I have to let go of my pride because to the naked eye it barely has the semblance of a yellow brick road.  It looks like abstractly strewn hay.  But to Sam, it is THE yellow brick road incarnate.  She dedicated herself to laying the “bricks” so that no part of the old porch could be seen.  Periodically she asked me, “do you see any porch coming through?” and she would dutifully cover it.  Several times she paused to try it out.  She skipped and sang, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “We’re off to See the Wizard“.  We spent maybe 20 minutes working together.  I cut the bricks, she laid them.  I taught her the word mason in context and I know she understood because she said, “then, we’re masons.”  While she decorated the porch we talked.  And my, the topics that arose:  God, heaven, the last words my grandpa said to me, aging, healthy diet…  I asked her if she thought she would remember turning four once she’s my age.  “No.”  Her response was simple and honest.  She didn’t just throw her answer out, she had considered it.  Her “no” had awareness and acceptance in its tone.  It was a lovely activity and lovely dialogue with my lovely daughter.

Its almost 7 am as I’m writing and I’ve been at this post for an hour or so.  In that time, Sam got out of bed and is snuggled up next to me on the couch, wrapped up in a cozy blanket.  She is four years old today.  I don’t think she’s seen her balloon yet, even though she walked right past it.  In another three hours she’ll be ready to wake up.  She’ll see the bouquet of roses we have for her (which she’ll undoubtedly declare to be her wedding flowers), her card and miniature Pooh Bear.  Sidenote:  Pam Laricchia illumined her perspective of the unschooling philosophy via Winnie-The-Pooh, so I gifted Sam this plush bear as a possible introduction to another world–The Hundred Acre Woods.

In October I will attend my first official Unschooling conference in Southern California.  I hope to amass more glorious inspiration and fuel my desire to document Samantha’s adventures in unschooling as an adventurous four year old.  More to come…