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The kid who cannot sit still. The kid who cannot focus. The kid who cannot retain information. These were the labels being placed on our sweet eight-year-old boy, and we were tired of it because it wasn’t true.
We have seen him sit still for long stretches of time when he is enjoying a book he chose. We have seen him hyper-focused for hours on a project. We have heard him spit out facts on topics he loves and reenact the Revolutionary War with his toys after watching the play Hamilton. But he could not do these things when he was made to learn things he was not interested in, made to sit still and quiet for six hours a day, or when he was told you must learn these things at the same time as everyone else or — you are failing.
Our son’s self-esteem and happiness were suffering. Something had to change.
It was not his teachers or the administration team’s fault. We loved them. They have always worked with us on his individualized education program (IEP), but it wasn’t enough. We know they work hard at what they do, and don’t get paid nearly enough, but their hands are tied. It was the system and we wanted out. We had to set him free.
Unschooling for Our Family
At first, we were not sure how we were going to do that. I didn’t feel like I was the homeschooling type. Curriculum and worksheets would be more of the same. But I remembered there was another way.
It was the summer of 2019 when we first heard the term “unschooling” from a family friend, and it came back to mind when we had to make this decision for our son. After much research and many conversations, it was the route we chose. What drew us to unschooling (a.k.a. self-directed education or natural learning) was the absence from school and a school-at-home environment while letting your children take charge of their own education.
At the time, we made the decision to take him out of the system, our other three school-aged children were still enrolled in our local public schools. We began to reflect on their experiences, too. The younger girls, ages five and 10, had bad anxiety around schoolwork and getting things wrong. While on the other hand, our 15-year-old daughter, who was in a choices program in computer graphics, was already bored and was just passing the time until she could get into more advanced graphics classes. She has always been a self-taught person. She googles, reads, and YouTubes her way into being well versed in what she wants to learn.
So much so that in middle school, teachers were coming to her to fix their computer problems and having her install software for them. Heck, we even come to her when we have computer issues or need to rebuild a computer. So, we asked them if they wanted to stay in school or learn on their own at home.
They all wanted out.
It was the summer of 2020 when we decided to pull them all out. Believe me when I say it has been a learning process. Not for them, but for my husband and myself. We had to “de-school” ourselves and are still in the process. We had to learn to trust our children and not compare them to what the state says they should know at this age. Kids are going to learn no matter what. They learned to walk and talk, and they pick up things from their environment, whether we like it or not. Instead of us telling them what to learn, we ask them what they want to learn, provide opportunities for them to do so, and get out of the way.
We know this might not be for everyone, but for some like us, we didn’t even know this is what we were looking for. Our kids and family are much happier. The kids are learning what they want to learn and doing what they want to do.
I hope that seeing how we came to the decision to unschool can help a few families that are struggling in the system or just want a different way. It has been great for us and has been so freeing.
For those of us that can keep our kids at home and unschool, great. There are lots of homeschool and unschooling groups in the DFW area to get kids out and about with others. For those of us that work full time, there are also options like Agile Learning Centers and Sudbury Schools, which are popping up all over the country. Many have scholarships or tuition reduction plans. There are even a handful here in the DFW area.
If you want to learn more about unschooling, I have included a list of some helpful resources below. A basic search will bring up so much. There are even a handful of TED Talks on the subject. Best of luck on finding the right path for your children and family.
North Texas Progressive School: A list of local schools that provide an unschooling environment
- Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
- Free to Learn by Peter Gray
- Home Grown by Ben Hewitt
After completing her Peace Corps Mexico service, Nicole, originally from South Carolina, applied to jobs nationwide for her next adventure and landed in Texas in January 2015. She met her husband and his two wonderful children in late 2015, and the two were married in 2017. After working in natural resources for more than 10 years, she decided to step away after adopting their younger three children. When she is not in her garden, you can find her working at her online thrift store, visiting local parks with her children, or volunteering and organizing programs in her community.