No one I know unschools because they want to be known as unschoolers. The goal of an unschooler (or a self-directed homeschooler) isn’t to exist as the yang to the authority-driven, classroom-style approach’s yin.
I didn’t choose self-directed homeschooling by accident. While I do not have any specific agenda for what my children do or how they choose to live their lives as adults, I do have 10 goals in mind as we go through this self-directed homeschooling thing together:
To preserve my children’s love of learning
No one has to tell a baby, a toddler, or a preschooler to love learning. They just do! A child’s love of learning is suffocated when they come to associate learning with drudgery, frustration, boredom, and tasks that are meaningless to them.
It is by design that my kids do not associate learning with drudgery, frustration, boredom, or tasks that are meaningless to them. Because they love to learn, they choose to pursue knowledge and skills that have meaning for them.
To nurture my children’s natural senses of curiosity
Just as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers love learning, they’re also naturally curious creatures. They have an innate drive to make sense of the world around them. That sense of curiosity is extinguished by the same things that suffocate their love of learning, and is preserved by allowing life to reward their curiosity with discovery.
To teach my children how to learn
It is not my job as a homeschooling mom to teach my children everything. It’s impossible to do, even if I wanted to. After safeguarding their love of learning and curiosity, my primary task is to teach them how to learn.
Kids need to know how to ask the right questions, to identify and separate what they know and what they don’t know, to locate and evaluate resources, to study, and to determine when what they’ve learned is enough. Those skills are much easier to teach in the context of something that is meaningful to them than in something that kids haven’t claimed as interesting or useful for themselves.
To teach my children how to listen and respond to their own inner voices
We spend 12 years telling children to sit down, shut up, and do what we tell them to do regardless of whether or not they want to do it…and then we wonder why they are so often all too willing to go along with crowd? Really?
I want my kids to be introspective. To know themselves, their values, their dreams – inside and out. Allowing them to begin making their own choices about things that are deeply personal to them as young children gives them plenty of practice before they are teenagers. I knew I had this nailed when Erica (my 14 year old) talked with me about how she was letting “Future Me” help guide and shape the decisions she makes now.
To teach my children how to make good choices
Most children spend 12 years under a system where the decisions are basically made for them. They have to ask permission to go use the restroom. They don’t have the freedom to wait another year before diving into ancient history or to start learning algebra in elementary school – because that just isn’t done…and then we wonder why they have such a tough time making good choices? Really?
A choice isn’t always between something good and something bad. Sometimes it’s between good and good, or bad and even worse. This kind of goes along with teaching my children how to listen and respond to their own inner voices. I want my kids equipped with the skills to evaluate their options and choose appropriately. That comes with practice and guidance.
To empower my children to make tough decisions
If the most difficult decision a child has to make before he’s out on his own is whether or not he’s going to study hard enough to pass a test that someone else has said is a crucial part of his grade, he’s leaving the nest ill-equipped to deal with the real world.
I want my children to understand that you cannot have it all, all at the same time, and do it all well. Choices have to be made, and sometimes those choices are excruciating to make. Sometimes those choices have life-altering consequences. Children must be allowed to make these kind of choices.
My son, Jarrod, had a choice to make when he was 16, and he was offered an internship with Congressman Trent Franks’ Arizona district office. The choice was between that and a traditional college-bound course of academic study. He wasn’t going to be able to do both at the same time. We discussed the pros and cons of each, and left the decision in his capable hands. He’s been an intern there for a year now, and is hoping to spend the summer in the DC office.
My youngest daughter, Jillian, doesn’t make such weighty decisions on her own yet. But, she does make the choice about which extra-curricular activity to do. Gymnastics or horseback riding? She wasn’t going to be allowed to do both. Gymnastics was available right then. She’d have to wait for horseback riding lessons. At six years old, she decided to delay gratification and wait for horseback riding lessons. We didn’t care either way what she decided to do, but the fact that she was able to make what was a tough call for her was significant.
To encourage my children to take calculated risks
With everything in school riding on not making mistakes and getting good grades, most children are discouraged from taking calculated risks. As an adult, I’ve never been asked for my grades and the majority of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned have come on the heels of mistakes. I want my kids prepared for that reality.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want my children taking reckless risks. There’s a difference between a reckless risk and a calculated risk. That said, I believe that the lives of our dreams exist right outside of our comfort zones and if we never have the courage to step out there, we’ll never discover what we’re really made of and seize the opportunity to make any profound contribution to humanity.
Jarrod’s decision to take the internship was a calculated risk. He weighed both sides very carefully before he made a decision. He didn’t remain paralyzed in indecision, though. Once he had enough information, it was go time.
To validate who my children are right now and who they want to be next
One of my chief complaints about authority-directed, one-size-fits-all approaches to education is that they waste an extraordinary amount of time on preparing kids for the future. Let’s just assume that we accept the premise that we even can prepare a child for the future in the Information Age (and I don’t accept that premise), is doing so an efficient use of their present?
Children are people right now. Who they are right now matters. What they want to learn, be, and do right now matters. I don’t want my children socialized to believe that happiness and fulfillment are always in the future.
When they’re left to their own devices to make choices what what, when, where, how, and why to learn something, life partners with them to provide them with a compelling reason to keep pushing forward and places obstacles in their way when they need more knowledge or stronger skills.
To equip my children to pursue their dreams
A lot of people don’t know what makes them happy and fulfilled. They don’t know what they have to contribute to the world around them. They never learn how to ask themselves, “What problem can I solve?” They end up stuck in jobs they hate.
If I have any say in it, that is never going to happen to my kids because they will have spent their entire childhoods learning what makes them happy and fulfilled. They learn how to do the hard things, the things they don’t want to do, as a means to an end that is important to them. They learn to commit to something and pursue more and more of it like an insatiable hunger. They learn to do what sets them on fire inside, regardless of what anyone else is doing. They learn that learning is its own reward!
Jarrod’s soul ignites in the political arena. If you want to be touched deeply by a thing of beauty, watch Erica do a song she loves in American Sign Language. With lessons and a great-aunt who takes her to the annual Arabian Horse Show, Jillian is building a passion for horses. All so different.
To preserve the joy in my children’s spirits
The statistics are dismal. Kindergartners are stressed out by developmentally inappropriate standards. Teenagers are overwhelmed by the enormous task of balancing school, all of the homework they get after they’ve been in school all day, sports and extra-curricular activities, time with their friends, time with their families, and time alone. Anxiety. Depression. And for what???
Not my kids. Not as long as it’s within my power to avoid it…and it is. Self-directed homeschooling fuels their need to matter right now, to be successful right now, to explore and discover right now, and to keep moving forward in their own time at their own paces.
It isn’t that my kids live in some utopian home where they never feel stress, anxiety, or frustration. Even if I could protect my kids from that all together, I wouldn’t because it’s a part of life. The difference is that those are fleeting moments, rather than an albatross slung over their shoulders. The confidence and enthusiasm that they own acts as a buffer and preserves their joy.