From Overachievers to Unschoolers: How Our Unschooling Journey Began, Part 2

After the late night conversation in which I’d reluctantly agreed to research homeschooling, I promptly moved it to the back of my mind.  ALL the way to the back of my mind…past far more pressing concerns like nursing Baby Ethan every hour or two, scavenging meals from the barren refrigerator, taking a shower, and sleeping.  I’d been experiencing hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation… kind of cool in a trippy way, but mostly scary.  Sleep was definitely paramount.

In fact, sleep was the ever-present challenge those first few months — actually, years–of parenting.  Baby Ethan was just not that into it.  My coping mechanism involved scouring online mommy discussions, searching for morsels of  wisdom or at least commiseration.  The group I liked most focused on a concept called attachment parenting. Attachment parenting teaches that infant night wakings are completely normal and biologically healthy, and promotes secure attachment through nursing, baby wearing, and safe co-sleeping practices.  I noticed that some parents in the online group were homeschoolers, which reminded me that I had promised Jason I would research homeschooling.

Several months passed by.  Baby Ethan was starting to pull himself around like a snake with arms and master yoga push-ups.

Wow, people weren’t joking when they said it would all happen so fast!  Soon, he’ll be starting school…  I pondered.  Oh – wait…school.  There was that nagging thought in the back of my mind…I still had not fulfilled my promise to Jason to research homeschooling.

Several more months passed.  Baby Ethan celebrated his first birthday, and started walking, running, and doing full yoga sun salutations.

Catch me if you can!
Yogi Baby


Sometime after Ethan’s first birthday, I finally got around to the intense and laborious undertaking of beginning my research project.  I opened my laptop, clicked to open the browser, and entered….homeschooling.  Whew.  Clearly I had needed a year to work up to the enormity of that task!

The first interesting thing I learned was that compulsory schooling is a fairly new experiment when looking at the total picture of human history.  Just a few hundred years ago, humans learned very differently, from mixed-age play within tribes or from their families in more organic and self-directed ways.  I was intrigued that the institutionalized schooling I considered so essential, normal and necessary was actually totally divergent from how humans evolved and learned for thousands of years.

I also learned that homeschooling is a continuum.  The motivation for homeschooling varies, from religious beliefs to simply wanting the freedom to educate their own in their own way.  On one end of the spectrum, some parents essentially replicated traditional school at home, complete with desks in a mini classroom with textbooks.  This was what I had always pictured in my mind when I heard the word “homeschool.”

On the other end of the spectrum, I learned, were the unschoolers.  Remarkably, unschooling parents allow their children a great deal of freedom in choosing what to learn and when.  Unschoolers see learning as our natural state and integral to being human – learning is not necessarily a separate activity that happens only in specific environments like a classroom.  Unschooling parents deeply trust a child’s natural inclination to learn and unfold at their own pace; they see themselves not as teachers, but as facilitators who help their children acquire experiences and knowledge.  What especially struck me was the idea that giving a child ownership of their own education could result in a more motivated, self-directed individual who retains a lifelong passion for learning.

There are homeschoolers whose practices fall inbetween on the spectrum, too.  But I was most intrigued by unschooling philosophy.  I had lots of reservations and questions, but the more I read the more I noticed certain recurring themes resonating within me… natural, nature, trust, organic, play, independence, self-directed, freedom.  It dawned on me that perhaps my own preconceptions and limited past experiences with homeschoolers had influenced my initial resistance to the idea of homeschooling.  Perhaps simply living in a culture where institutionalized schooling was the prevalent model for education had conditioned me to look unfavorably on a path outside the norm.  Unschooling was definitely outside the norm and even radical in terms of its divergence from mainstream culture, but somehow it tugged at me, gently nudging me to delve deeper and open my mind to a new and different path.

However, in order to seriously consider alternative education in any of its forms for our family, I would have to work through my reservations and questions, as well as excavate and examine my own personal, complicated relationship with formal schooling that began at age 5.  For over 16 years of my life, I was the poster child overachiever student.  Was I seriously considering a path so far off the beaten track for our own child?

To Be Continued…


4 thoughts on “From Overachievers to Unschoolers: How Our Unschooling Journey Began, Part 2

  1. Enjoying your posts, Carrie. I’m pissed when they end, so you know how to write! I admit I’m where you started in regards to my thoughts on homeschooling, and since I’m 18 months away from being an emptynester, I’m not really your audience; but I do occassionally enjoy having my assumptions challenged, especially by someone I respect, so I look forward to hearing more about your journey.


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