Sometimes I worry about unschooling (I know… all us unschoolers do!). I worry that because we don’t do any (or at least not much) formal instruction, and no worksheets, and no sit-down time where I walk Neko through equations and participles and such things, that she might fall behind her peers. When she shows an interest in learning to read or write, or figuring out math, we follow that interest. We have a Reading Eggs subscription that she uses a couple of times a week, and there are tons of workbooks and math games and reading primers available within the house. We read together every day, and even loosely follow the Jolly Phonics program. The opportunities are there.
Of course, I know that at six and a half, I have no reason to worry. I have plenty of unschooling friends with older kids, who describe to me on a regular basis how things have gone in their house – one kid picked up reading easily at age four, the other didn’t find that it really “clicked” until about eight. No matter the age they’re describing, it’s always the same story – they didn’t push any of the academics, they let it happen on their child(ren)’s own timeline, and provided materials to meet the child’s interest as well as a stimulating environment, then one day the child took interest and BOOM!, in about two weeks they were reading proficiently.
I’ve also seen plenty of evidence that basic math is better off learned naturally rather than through rote learning.
So, the logical part of my brain knows we’re fine. I have complete faith in what we’re doing.
And yet, I have more friends that are sending their kids to school. Friends from the States whose children learned to read in preschool at age four. Whose five year olds can recite the 5o states (I can’t even do that! Not all of them!). Who post on Facebook wondering if anyone else’s child is having trouble with their grade one homework of reading one chapter per night. Neko’s not even reading Hop on Pop yet!
I think about our impending homeschool facilitator visit, and what I’m going to tell her. Our board is very unschooling-friendly. It’s why I chose them (for those of you in Calgary, we are with Home Learning Connections). Our facilitator is hands-off, unless I need her – then she is available. We’re left to do our own thing, which is what I want. The last time she came, I told her about our regular activities, and our philosophy on Neko learning reading and math when she’s ready, and our facilitator was very supportive. So it’s not that there is any worry of her actually saying, “But you’re finished Grade One and your child can’t read! FAIL!” Still, I have nagging doubts in my mind that question our path.
Then I remember… I look back at all the things we’ve done this year.
Days spent at my parents’ ranch.
Meetings to plan our little off-grid house.
Runs for fun (complete with setting up Neko’s own Daily Mile page).
Lots of neat crafts.
Sliding, fully clothed, down a handmade mudslide along the river bank. And on and on. And I realize that given our schedule, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of these things if we had been sitting at home doing worksheets.
I understand that some homeschoolers (lots of them, probably) have time to do both. I’m not saying that just because you’re doing worksheets, you’re not having fun. (I also understand that there are plenty of kids out there who enjoy worksheets and the like and do them by choice.)
But for us, given my work schedule (one full day and two half days each week, plus stints of working from home worked into each day), and us having two extra kids in the house another day and a half each week (when I would prefer to not attempt to make Neko sit down and focus on worksheets, though I suppose I could if I needed to), I really prefer to use our time, while she’s six years old, to slide down mudslides, tromp through the woods, watch old Lindsay Lohan Disney movies while eating pizza, watch silly YouTube videos, go on playdates, do cool crafts and play at the playground.
I picture myself when she is 10, or 12, or 20. This usually happens when I’m thinking back on Neko at age two or three and reminiscing about how cute and funny she was. She was also a total pain in the you-know-what and I am enjoying six so much more, but she was admittedly hilarious, and we had a lot of fun. I think a lot about how glad I am that we spent as much time together as we did, because we’ll never get to live that age together again. I’m thankful that I nursed her as long as I did; I’m thankful I didn’t need to go back to work full-time (well, really, I worked a TON of hours each week developing the store, but at least it was flexible and I still got to spend lots of time with her); I’m thankful that we went on dates and did silly things together.
I reflect on my favourite memories…
Taking a week to go camping on Summer Solstice when the rest of the kids were still in kindergarten
Having pancakes for supper in fancy dresses at a local pancake house when Justan was away for weeks and we just needed a break
Visiting a photo booth together; going for tons of playdates at our friends’ farm right outside the city; checking out new playgrounds with friends. And I realize that these will be some of Neko’s favourite memories, too.
That’s when I tell myself: It doesn’t matter that she can’t write a sentence yet, or count by twos. Like learning to walk, or talk, these are skills that will come. In the next year or two, most likely. If they don’t, then we’ll look at focusing a little more. But for the rest of our lives, we’ll have these memories to look back on. And then I feel really good about what we’re doing.