I stopped looking for “teachable” moments. I stopped explaining everything in ways that made them walk away from me. I stopped and just watched. I actually listened. And something crazy happened.
They taught ME a lesson.
Let me back up to a few months ago. When my husband landed a new job with a contractor two states over, we made the decision to pull our preschooler and 4th grader out of a very good public school to homeschool so we could travel with him. When I say “very good” I mean we purposely bought a house in that district because we wanted with all of our hearts for our children to go to school there. My husband graduated from that school and I grew up an overachiever with high expectations that my kids would fully benefit from such a distinguished education. (Yes I'm rolling my eyes at myself now...please feel free to join me).
The first month acted as an extended spring break. It was all a huge adjustment and we had so much fun just exploring our new surroundings. Then the break was over and it was time to learn.
We had a lot of curriculum and worksheets so we sat down at the table and started working. We would spend hours reading and working through problems. We tried so hard. And cried so hard. We yelled and fought each other until Daddy came home. Every. Single. Day.
We decided to take another little break and regroup. I would let them play Minecraft while I spent hours studying about all different types of curriculum until I found one I thought was going to work for us. I bought some cool new supplies that I thought would help us get excited about learning. Except IT DIDN'T. Bring back the tears and daily struggles. It was so hard!
Here I was, a controlling mom who just wanted to give her kids a proper education with this highly accredited curriculum and all I ever ended up doing was threatening to send them to a public school because they wouldn't do their work. We were growing apart and our relationship was crumbling.
Homeschooling was suppose to help us bond and grow together. I was suppose to spend this next chapter of our lives getting to know my boys better than ever and becoming their friend and mentor. But what we were doing wasn't working. So we stopped. I stopped. EVERYTHING. I knew I needed to change who I was and what we were doing.
I had read about unschooling and while I wasn't sure if it was right for us, I knew it was different...and we needed different! I wondered how they could learn without any curriculum or a daily schedule. How would they get what they need? I was your typical outsider. Letting them play video games and watch YouTube videos all day? That's just what they've been doing on their breaks...how on earth is that learning? Except, IT IS.
The things they talk about and come up with are incredible! We recently went to Sedona for a day trip and our oldest requested to go to the art district as our first stop. We ate prickly pear ice cream, hiked a vortex, and had dinner with a view, but according to him the best thing he saw all day was the lapis we saw in a gem store. (If you don't know what lapis is, your kid probably doesn't play Minecraft...and if they do and you still don't know, then sit down and watch them play for a while and start asking questions.)
That trip was shortly after the decision to unschool was made and things have progressively gotten better. We have spent countless hours watching YouTube videos about Alcatraz, Minecraft, ocean animals, and more. We learned a crazy song about a narwhal...and if one of us starts singing the whole family joins in. It's quite entertaining.
And even though all of that is wonderful, sometimes when somebody asks about what curriculum we're using or starts talking about what so-and-so does for their kids, I catch myself wondering if this is enough. How will they learn the more complex stuff? Like cursive. Or geometry. Or body organs.
Well...they ask. Humans are curious creatures by nature. No pressure needed. The other day my five year old simply asked, “What are these bony things in here?” (while pointing to his ribs) and without offering up too much information I simply told him they protect our insides. But the discussion continued...What insides? What are they for? What do they look like? Then the oldest mentioned how fun it would be for me to draw the organs on him.
The old me would've wanted to print out a picture and make him label everything. The new (still in progress) me decided that his idea was perfect just the way it was. I watched his face grow more and more excited as I took out the washable markers and told what each organ was as I drew it and explained the basic function of each (when he asked of course). I'm sure I left out some major information and maybe an organ or two, but that's not what's important.
What's important, more than anything else, is that I accepted and approved of HIS idea. In that moment that I was drawing a quick burger and two fries in his “stomach” we couldn't help but laugh. When I was done he was proud to explain it all to his little brother. He explained it all again to the RV park manager before we went swimming. That night he told his dad all about how I actually drew organs on him. He was so proud of himself for coming up with an idea that everyone wanted to know about.
I learned that my children don't need proper lessons or a “distinguished education.” They just need acceptance and approval to be themselves.
Holly Thompson is embracing homeschool and RV life with her wonderful husband, their 2 boys, and 2 dogs. She loves reading, writing, hiking, exploring, spending time with her family, and sharing their journey on Instagram @_livemorelife.