How do you go about explaining Unschooling to family, friends, random strangers?
I guess I am most concerned about my parents and the ILs. My parents know we are 'homeschooling' but we haven't had much discussion on it at all. I am actually a WOHM and my DH stays at home with our little guy. He is only 3.5 but we've already had many questions on sending him to the Kindergarten down the street, etc. Usually I just don't confirm, or say "yeah" or something if I don't feel like getting into it. I know I could pass the bean dip but I know at some point closer family and friends are really just going to want to know point-blank... and for some of them I can see a certain amount of panic causing them to get really nervous and ask invasive questions.
Any tips would be appreciated... and examples of how you handled certain situations in the past.
DS: Logan 6/14/10
"Oh, maybe. [smile] On the other hand, we're also considering homeschooling."
"Yeah, *if* he goes to school. [smile, shrug] That's something we're still discussing. Homeschooling's on the table, but we're not discounting anything at this point. We'll see what fits him best at the time."
"We'll see. Right now we're strongly considering homeschooling, at least for kindergarten."
If they want to offer their opinions or arguments, just smile and change the subject. "Thanks for your concern. We're certainly considering all the angles and we won't go into anything blindly. We'll see how things evolve and what opportunities open up.... So, how's Tyler liking his basketball team?"
As you head into the time when you would otherwise be enrolling him in school, I think it's helpful to have a few things on the go that you can point to as evidence that home-based child-led learning is already underway. Involvement in a homeschooling playgroup, swim lessons, a few neat projects, a zoo membership, an obsessive knowledge of dinosaurs that has been enthusiastically supported and facilitated by parents, whatever works for your family. I don't think these things are necessary for a 4-year-old or 5-year-old, but if he enjoys them, they can be useful validation for skeptical relatives. At this point you change your tune a little:
"Well, no, we've decided to take a pass on kindergarten. Things are great at home, we've got a lot of good stuff going on and it just doesn't feel like it's time yet to interrupt that. He's learning _____ and _____ and we're doing ____, and then there's ____ classes and he has a bunch of homeschooling friends, and it feels pretty good to all of us."
And then as the kindergarten year ends ...
"Yeah, we'll be sticking with homeschooling for now. He's really thriving, and it's nice to be able to take advantage of his strengths and enthusiasms. [insert any brags here] We'll see how it goes year by year."
In my experience by the beginning of first grade no one will even think to ask any more.
As for explaining unschooling as an educational approach (as opposed to whatever people assume about one's homeschooling) I honestly just don't. Eventually it becomes obvious to anyone spending a lot of time with us that we're not doing sit-down lessons for three hours every morning. But when people spend a lot of time with us, they have already noticed that the children are bright, knowledgeable and talented, so it's kinda hard to argue with success, kwim? Mostly we get a sort of genuine curiosity, and that's really very easy to deal with, in the context of an Exhibit A (your child) who is so clearly thriving. I usually just explain "Natural learning fueled by curiosity and a love of learning seems to be doing the trick. If at any point we hit a barrier, and it's not working anymore, we'll consider more structured approach. But for now, it's hard to argue with success."
I started officially unschooling my eldest more than 14 years ago and their paternal grandmother still believes that I put the kids through hours of lessons a day. She lives quite a distance away, and every time she visits she thanks us for setting aside homeschooling in honour of her visit so that the kids can spend lots of time with her. You're welcome, we say. No problem!
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
I wish I could thumbs-up/mark your comment helpful x ten!!
VERY VERY helpful, I am totally copying your post onto my desktop to refer to when I get stuck!!!
We have mentioned 'we *may* try homeschooling' to a few family members and it seemed to go over pretty well. Right now we are in the process (a very slow process) of getting involved with a homeschooling group so I think saying something like that will help quelch the socialization comments.
I also agree that it's really these first few years that may be the hardest, after everyone gets over the shock of it it may turn out to be no big deal. I used a midwife for my pregnancy and that was like VERY hard for some people to accept, but once I started reporting my appointments and answered a few questions, in the end it was almost like everyone didn't care (well they did care but you know what I mean). So hopefully it will be like that and I just need to remind myself if I've done something radical before (and lordy have I!) then I can do it again.
Unschooling is just SO SO SO against both our families usual mindset, we are totally breaking out.
DS: Logan 6/14/10
I wouldn't mention unschooling as a term. I would stick with "homeschooling" and say something like "we are very child-led. He has so many interests and so much enthusiasm, as I record what we do I can see we are covering all the bases we need to!" You don't need elaboration, though sometimes the more you talk (if you can keep it light) the less chance they have to say something . My girls are very effusive, and all I need to do is mention the subject du jour and they are talking the ears off anybody. They are easily the best testament to how we are doing things.
If I'm talking with, say, a parent at gymnastics, and they start asking about curriculum and organizing their instruction time, that's when I might say "we are closer to the unschooling side of the spectrum", but I rarely mention it out of the starting gate. If the conversation gets this far, I might instead mention that they are curious about everything, and that I haven't had the need to introduce a curriculum *yet* (note qualifier) and that *for now* we are just "riding the wave" for as long as we can."
But mostly, if the conversation turns towards homeschooling, I talk about what we DO. I do skip mentioning the Gilligan's Island marathons.....
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.
Good points @SweetSilver which brings up a new thing.... my DH toooootally would just come right out and say it!! So unfortunately it may not entirely be in my control and I hadn't thought of that yet (for some reason). He is great in that he is really confident in his decisions and doesn't care what people thing. I am confident in it but to a small degree to I do care what people think (because I don't want them to think I'm harming DS!!) but also I just get really, really overwhelmed if I'd have to answer a lot of questions or get into a debate-- things in which he thrives on!!!
DS: Logan 6/14/10
I would avoid using the term "unschooling" because it's basically jargon-- people who are unfamiliar with homeschooling don't know what it means, and so it is more likely to confuse them than inform them about your plans.
I try to keep my answers to questions about homeschooling to what I've been asked, and that seems to work well. Generally people don't want to know my educational philosophy (often I think it hasn't occurred to them that I might have one), they want to know where I get "the books" or how I know what to teach.
I read THIS article today and thought it was pertinent- some more good answers.
DS: Logan 6/14/10
Pretty much agree with what has already been said! :) Just wanted to chime in with a story from our experience... when we decided to homeschool, we approached it pretty much how Miranda laid out, and once the decision was 'officially' made, my mom basically ignored this fact completely - for the first year (primary, from the start) she never once mentioned school or homeschool or anything! It was bizarre, but it was her way of coping, I guess. The second year wasn't much better, with me overhearing her telling some random strangers how worried she was about my son and basically how useless I was. Great fun, I tell ya. The third year she seemed more accepting of it all, but it was clear she thought we did lessons and that I taught him traditionally, and she would quiz him from time to time. Gah. Last year, when I mentioned I was writing up our homeschooling report for the year, to tell the DoE what he's been up to and how he's doing etc, she responded "well he's doing absolutely fine, no doubt about that!", which is HIGH PRAISE from her!! So it took a few years (and I've never mentioned the word 'unschooling' to her) but she seems to have come around!
I probably didn't help the process by not being overly forthcoming in telling her about all the good stuff he gets up to... partly because I feel her love for him shouldn't be based on his achievements (though really I think this is unfair of me, and really it's fair enough that she wants the best for him), but also after overhearing that conversation the way I coped with that was by backing away from her and I didn't feel like sharing. Maybe if I had been better at sharing info with her she'd have come around sooner?? Anyhow, I still don't share lots, but she seems OK with it all now. I hope!
That's a great story @chocolove !! Thanks for sharing! Glad your Mom came around and I agree with you about how our love for our children shouldn't be based on their achievements! Good way to put it.
DS: Logan 6/14/10
chocolove, good to hear your story. My inlaws are still in the "denial" phase, I think. They know that the kids don't do much sit down work. The kids see them for a week every two months on average, and skype them at least once a week, so there's no real way to pretend we do anything other than we do, though we have a don't ask don't tell policy. I think what annoys me is that for my inlaws, both retired teachers, school is the gold standard and literally, whatever we do, cannot be as good. If their friend's kid's school takes a three day holiday to EuroDisney, well that's what we should be doing too. Because otherwise my kids will miss out on the life enriching experience that is three days in EuroDisney (two of them on the coach). If we do too much maths and not enough glitter snowflake making, well the kids should be in school because how else will they learn to make glitter snowflakes? Not even going to go there with the late reading-and now a hint of disapproval about the sheer level of reading that ds will get up to when in school he could presumably be doing something unspecified that isn't reading. I think what is frustrating is that whatever the kids do, its always "well think how much better/sooner/in depth this could have been done at school.". Its also quite unfair as its wildly untrue. They are comparing well resourced, fairly rural primaries and private secondaries with homeschooling, when our options are actually, realistically, inner city primaries in an area which ranks poorly nationally for education, where class sizes are never below 30.
Its just an entirely different mindset, I think. They are deeply concerned about the kids, they are extreme worriers anyway. They used to freak out when I let ds, then about 18 months, use a sharp knife (at the table, under supervision) to cut up, I dunno, probably mushrooms or bananas. Or use a hot stove (again, under supervision). My approach has always been to let kids use stuff according to their ability and especially their ability to do it safely, not age. So by their lights they are doing pretty well. I, OTOH, am dreading five days with them in their extremely tidy-but-cluttered home over Christmas...