It’s ten o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday in the middle of January; a time when children are expected to be in school, sitting upright with pen and paper in hand, having knowledge crammed into their soft, pliable brains. My kids, on the other hand, are still in their PJ’s, laying on the couch in the living room, watching vintage reruns of, “The Rugrats”, on Netflix while they munch on toaster waffles and peaches. This is pretty much the typical scene in our house. The boys go to bed around eleven at night and wake somewhere between seven and nine in the morning, depending on their mood. We don’t have a specific wake-up time unless we have somewhere to be.
Recently, I have handed over breakfast and lunch duty to the both of them. They make breakfast when they get hungry. On quiet days, when we are at home, breakfast can turn into more of a brunch. Both boys are really into the TV show, MasterChef Jr. They have expressed a desire to learn how to cook and maybe, try out for some type of cooking competition once they have mastered some skills. So, I’ve given them free reign of the kitchen. My eight-year-old son, Merrick, got his very first chef’s knife for Christmas last year. Since this is an area of interest, I teach them knife skills, kitchen safety, and all the other lessons that come with mastering the art of cooking. What they don’t really know is that I’m also teaching them math (fractions/measuring, addition, subtraction), Science (chemical reactions and compounds, plant life cycles, food chains), social sciences (cultural backgrounds of foods, where food fits in the dichotomy of a culture), and even history (the origins of foods, how foods have moved and evolved throughout history). We watch the Alton Brown cooking series, Good Eats, on Amazon streaming to help fill in the gaps in our culinary exploration. From the episodes, we get technique lessons and even science, math, history, and socio-cultural information. We also read a lot of books in addition to shows and hands-on learning.
The Tampa Bay area is a Disneyland for homeschoolers and unschoolers. They community is large and growing by the month as more and more families pull their kids from traditional schooling, fleeing oppressive testing regimens and unbending systems of learning. My homeschooling pals and I laugh about how little we are actually at home. The local community centers, libraries, and private homeschool Co-Op’s offer a vast array of classes aimed at homeschoolers and unschoolers. My boys take classes three to four days a week at various places around Clearwater. Last year they participated in PE, karate, swimming, theater, art, and gymnastics. This upcoming fall, they are adding in a Co-Op where they will take math and science classes with other homeschoolers and unschoolers. All the classes are meant to be fun, relaxed, and educational. The classes aim to spark curiosity and thus cultivate the child’s own, natural desire to learn through what interests them. My kids laugh, smile, talk, move, and interact with other kids during these classes. We are also starting sailing lessons and taking a kayaking 101 class after the summer. My youngest is really into theater and participates in two different drama classes. He just finished his first semi-professional performance. My oldest just had his first art gallery show…at the community center, but it was still an amazing experience.
Learning out in the world is the heart of our unschooling philosophy. Field trips make up a majority of our learning and we try to get up and out of the house as many days of the week as possible. We visit museums, nature preserves, libraries, and even theme parks to help us learn. During the school year, these places are virtually empty, making them excellent classrooms. We do science experiments, learn about art, watch educational movies at the IMAX theater, and we take tours of historic sites. Even Disney World becomes a learning playground with Epcot being our favorite field trip. We learn about different countries, take a tour of the gardens and learn about hydroponic growing methods. And we don’t do these things alone, the five major homeschool Facebook sites offer planned excursions so the kids can go together, just like any typical “classic schooled” kid would experience on a school field trip. The only exception is my kids can linger on what interests them. We don’t have a schedule. They can play with robots for forty-five minutes if they want. Sometimes, we go to a certain museum to do just one thing. My oldest, Hayden, has autism. Being able to go somewhere and focus on one activity at a time has been maybe the greatest gift of unschooling. He can feel the freedom to explore and dive into the things that pique his curiosity. In the four years we have been unschooling him he has bloomed. In a classic school setting, he would shut down. He never was able to complete his work. He was always angry and frustrated. The school psychologist told me, to my face, “Hayden is going to be the one to slip through the cracks”. Now, he is the poster boy for joy. He loves to learn and is constantly on the move wanting to see and know about the world.
Before we know it, it’s lunch time and our day is a third over. We eat lunch in strange places most days. On floors of community centers in picnic-fashion, surrounded by a gaggle of other homeschoolers/unschoolers. Sometimes we eat at the park so we can play after we eat. Most of the time, we are with our friends. The boys trade Pokémon cards, learning the art of the deal. They love to do a lot of role-playing, made-up type games. Even though many of the kids are nearly pre-teen age—and some are already teens—they love to wield fake swords and don dress-up clothes. A perk of homeschool/unschool; our kids grow up a little slower. My eleven-year-old and his friends still play with their stuffed animals. Now, I admit, they mostly use them to make movies for their YouTube channel, but the point is their imagination is still intact. They dream up amazing things. The spirit of childhood is still present within them as I watch them munch on their PB&J’s and run through the park.
And that’s just what we do from waking up to lunch. Exhausted yet?
**Stay Tuned for Part 2: Afternoon, in “The Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family”, next month.