Not too long ago, I had my own graphic design business and I worked days, nights and weekends.  My children were introduced to day-care and nannies when they were babies.  We lived segregated lives.  I saw the kids in the morning when I dressed them and drove them to school (their nanny would pack their bags and feed them their breakfast).   And I saw the kids in the late afternoon – when I collected them from school.

Then we all ate supper (cooked by the nanny) as we sat in front of the TV.  Then there would be some play.  And then the kids would bath and go to bed.  And then Nick and I would watch more TV (or catch up on work) until we fell in to bed too.

You can read a bit more about that season of our life here… (and what eventually was the ‘last straw’, as it were).

These days, life is very different.

  • There’s no more graphic design studio (I shut the whole lot down in November 2007).
  • There’s no more TV (we turfed it… deliberately).
  • There’s no more nanny (she returned to her home country with the aim of setting up a little business of her own).
  • And there’s no more full-time day-care (or… even school).

These days, everything has changed.  I facilitate the education of my children.  I don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves with a label like “homeschooling” or “unschooling”… but we probably lean more towards the unschooling philosophy (although I don’t like the term itself – because when people hear that word, they tend to assume that we’re not doing ‘anything’ with our kids… or that we’re un-parenting).  I prefer the term “Life Learning”.

Learning isn’t “school”.  Learning is life.  Learning happens every day (and we love learning!).

We aren’t (as a family) too hard and fast on things like Rules… or Systems… or Time-Frames.

Every day is different.  Every learning experience is fresh and new.

Yesterday, it was all about butterflies and moths.  Morgan and Joah had discovered a big moth in our kitchen and they’d captured it in a jar.  They wanted to know the difference between a butterfly and a moth – so I googled them some Youtube videos which we watched together.  Then, we browsed a few photos of different species of butterflies and moths.

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Joah loves bugs and beetles…

After a lot of questions, the kids were satisfied with their moth knowledge… and moved on to lego.

We LOVE lego.  We have a small mountain of lego.  The kids build new creatures and structures every day.  They’ve enjoyed creating robots recently… and today, Joah made a “Giant Crab”.  Morgan likes building towers – and she likes adding string and other bits and pieces to her interesting creations.

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Yesterday, they discovered an interesting beetle which they captured – and kept in a jar – while they built it a lego house (which it promptly escaped).  Which got them to re-think lego-bug-houses and how to make them.

And we do art.  There’s always lots of drawing and painting happening in our home.

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Sometimes, we’ll bake.  A week ago, we were baking and decorating cupcakes… (and eating them, of course).

Sometimes, we count.  Morgan, especially, enjoys counting.  She counts everything… lego pieces… beads… toys… you name it!  She has easily picked up the basic principles of addition and subtraction (especially when I present a problem to her in the form of cupcakes:  i.e.:  “You made 12 cupcakes – and Joah ate 3 of them!  How many are left?”).

I recently purchased a counting set which allows me to break things up into tens, units and colours (and is making it easier for me to explain numbers to Joah).

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Learning about tens and units…

Neither of the kids are super-keen to dive in to reading and writing… (yet)… (although they love being read to).  Morgan knows and understands the alphabet (phonetically).  She can write all the letters – and read basic, 3 letter words… but she doesn’t like being forced to do it… (so I’m not going to force her).

Nick and I aren’t measuring or comparing our kids to other children.  We don’t have this magical number / age or system-of-progress in mind.  I’m perfectly content to allow them the freedom to develop at their own pace.  I’ve also noticed that most un-schooled / life-learning children… tend to start reading and writing at a later age (say – 8 or 9).  I see that the Waldorf Schools also encourage parents to hold off on the early reading & writing… “expectation”.

We do have a selection of Leap Frog readers – which help kids to read.  Morgan prefers this method… but doesn’t want to be forced to do it every day.  If I let her learn at her own pace, she usually ‘reads’ the Leap Frog books on her own (without needing to be nagged).

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One of life’s greatest gifts is the ability to read.  Books and stories have enriched my life, and I want the same for Morgan and Joah.  The difference is that we’re not forcing a specific time-frame or schedule… (but we play alphabet games – just for fun… and we’ve even made up our own Phonics-Song… which the kids love to sing while we drive in the car).

I have full confidence that, (like thousands of un-schooled children before them), my kids will learn (with our guidance and encouragement)… how to read and write (at their own pace, in their own time).

And yes… there’s “screen time”.  We don’t have a TV (so my kids aren’t exposed to endless advertising or questionable content).  But we do have a movie room and an X-Box.  In the evening, the kids will watch a movie or play Lego on the X-Box with Nick.  Nick enjoys this “downtime” with them – and my kids are VERY good at that Lego game!

We also go on a lot of outings.  Museums… play dates… swimming… occasional pottery class… beading classes… lots of different play grounds… (not to mention preparing for a life-style of world travel).

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The East London Museum…

So – there you have it.  A short little walk-through of the way we view education – and what works for our family.

If you’re curious about this whole ‘unschooling’ thing – here’s some interesting links:

  • I have written a long blog post about how I believe the “System” fails children (and how it failed me) here.  If you want to better understand why “school” just doesn’t make any sense to me – it’s a great place to start (even if the post is a bit ranty).
  • Seth Godin was written a brilliant manifesto on why the system has failed (fantastic food-for-thought reading)
  • Sir Ken Robinson has been re-imagining the education system for years… let’s just say that I spent hours watching every video on this page and saying:  “Yessss!!!”  (I also loved his book called “The Element – How finding your passion changes everything”).
  • TED video “Play, Passion, Purpose” by Tony Wagner.  (Excellent video which also had me nodding in agreement).  “The world no longer cares about what you know – but about what you can DO with what you know… and that is a completely different education problem”.
  • A TED talk on why John Bennett (a maths teacher) believes that maths instruction is unnecessary.   Don’t diss the title until you’ve listened to what he has to say.
  • If you click on only one link in this section – click on this one.  Ken Robinson explains everything beautifully (in animation format).
  • Wondering how unschooling children get to university or college?.  Here’s an excellent post about college (dispelling the myths and presenting some other educational options).
  • Here’s one radical viewpoint that I resonate with on many levels.
  • Interesting Video with 3 stories from different families and children.
  • An explanation on unschooling in FAQ format from a 19 year old who has never been to school.
  • A mother who unschools her kids (and has done so for years) answers questions in an FAQ format here.
  • A post from a homeschooling mom who gradually moved to unschooling.
  • Another post (with lots of photos) written by me.

Quick Disclaimer:

Obviously, I’m not saying that unschooling… or even homeschooling is for everyone.  I have many friends who send their kids to school – and they have happy, well-adjusted kids. This blog is about our choices – and why unschooling works well for our family at this particular point in our lives.  We’re not trying to convince… or ‘convert’ anyone.  We’re just sharing our journey.