Almost 10 years ago I started my parenting journey. I knew all the best practices, the dos and do nots. At first it was fairly easy, other than the excruciating breastfeeding. Ouch. But we carried through and that even got much better after the initial 6 weeks. We had a plan, a method and a picture of how we would live as a family, the things my new son would enjoy and the harmony and happiness we would all be embraced in.
For the first couple of years it went as planned. We didn’t have television in our house. We bought all wood toys, organic food and even organic clothes. We read books, lots of books. My son could recite “Russell the Sheep” at just over a year old. It was precious. He didn’t eat a lick of sugar until his second birthday when we let him taste the icing. But just a taste. Even the twos weren’t so terrible…but then we hit three. That is when this fiery, assertive, independent red headed child decided he had his own plan. He started shooting us with guns made of sticks, didn’t want to read any more books and plastic toys were like a tractor beam for my sons attention and desire. The flashy, loud ones were especially exciting. And things were thrown, balls, toys, rocks, you name it. He had his own way, that was becoming evident.
At first we pushed, he pushed back. Then we pushed some more, he pushed back some more. We did this for quite a while. Too long in fact. Until we started to….listen. And that was not easy. Here was this little guy, cute as could be. Freckles just starting to pop up on his nose, much like is mothers. Stubborn like his dad. Okay maybe his mom a little too. An independent, determined, wild little child. And my “idea” of what our family should look like was vanishing before my eyes. He didn’t like the music I wanted him to listen to. He seemingly already preferred heavy metal, grunge rock and that love only grew as he got older. (He DID get that from his dad). Not the classical, mind-enhancing, music I preferred him to listen to. (Even though, truth be told, I didn’t like it either and preferred rock and alternative music myself). But dammit, we were going to do better for him. But what was that? Violin by 5? Reading the Harry Potter series by 7? Being the best soccer player on his team? Being a grade ahead of kids his own age to prove his brilliance? Yes. These were all things that we pondered. That we wished for him…or for us. Then we stopped. And we started to try to listen…to him.
He loved being outdoors. He loved animals. SO MANY ANIMALS. I learned to love snakes, bugs, even cockroaches. I know…ick. Okay maybe I didn’t learn to love them but I learned to appreciate them and see the excitement in his eyes. And I started to follow his lead. We bought nerf guns, remote control dinosaurs and ant farms. Because he loved them. He started to wear camo. We had lots of camo. We continued to read, but not as much. And instead we watched national geographic, mythbusters and animal planet. And he loved it. We bought science kits and did some of them, some of the time. We dug holes, planted trees, collected tad poles and had sword fights. We watched movies. With fighting! GASP! And we got closer. We had fun. He had fun.
We started to homeschool him and decided on our curriculum. For 3 years we did math sheets, phonics lessons, grammar, reading, writing and we fought. We fought and fought and fought. Sometimes yelling. Sometimes tears. Somedays were good. But more often than not we dreaded the worksheet days. The struggles. He had his own way and we stopped listening, because he turned “school age”. Then I came to the proverbial “end of my rope”. I was exhausted and he was only 8. It was either public school (which I knew deep down in my heart that it would destroy the boy I loved) or…unschooling.
So for a year now we have been unschooling. I have gotten my boy back. Do I still struggle at times with taking the road less traveled? Honestly, yes. But I also have the privilege of seeing kids, regularly, in the public school system, as well as teachers, and when I see the effects of the system on them, I know I am doing the right thing. And it certainly does help when I meet more and more teachers choosing the unschooling style of learning. But really is there any other way to learn? There are other ways to educate, to teach but to learn is something that must come from within, it must be useful.