Why My Son Doesn’t Go To School

Life

Guest Post by Megan Stonelake

This fall my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with pictures of children heading off to school for the very first time. Kids of all ages were being introduced to new schools, fresh classrooms and unknown adventures.

Yet, my son’s face was absent from this sea of smiling faces and chalkboards adorned with names and dates to commemorate the life-changing event. There was no tearful send off, no new lunchbox and no new schedule to get used to. Why? Because he isn’t going to kindergarten. Instead, we’ve chosen to unschool.

To many people unschooling is an unfamiliar term. It is distinct from homeschooling; we don’t use a curriculum or assign worksheets. In essence, my son is steering his own education. I equip him with resources, and he takes it from there. His learning isn’t confined to a classroom; it’s holistic and woven throughout our daily lives.

WHY UNSCHOOLING?

Children learn through play, through first hand experiences. They are scientists, and the world is their laboratory. And yet, kindergarten is becoming increasingly academic. There is no compelling evidence that mainstream education at five years of age gives children any advantage later in life. On the contrary, the data suggest that beginning traditional academic schooling too early bring with it several downsides, many of which ones that may be difficult to undo.

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Kids are passionate about learning until we take the fun out of it. When we determine what, when, and how children must learn, we strip learning of its magic and spontaneity. When we use methods that aren’t age appropriate, we risk adding stress to the mix.

As a 2015 report by Lilian G. Katz, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois and past president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, explains, “An appropriate curriculum for young children is one that includes the focus on supporting children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, their natural inclinations.” She goes on to state that, “an intellectually rather than academically focused approach is most likely to yield desirable ‘school readiness’ as well as longer term benefits.”

True learning takes place when we foster intellectual inquisitiveness, not when we focus on rote memorization.

Because my son isn’t in school, we’re free to follow his innate curiosity. It may might begin when he asks a question about the largest dinosaur from the Cretaceous period and end with a discussion about the geography of Asia. Along the way we’re bound to delve into a multitude of topics. Some will be the result of fleeting interest, while others become a topic for deep exploration. Because I’m following his lead, my son is free to learn what interests him in ways that are developmentally appropriate. Learning remains a joyous, engaging activity that we can share.

When children are ready, they are like sponges, absorbing information and concepts at an astonishing rate. Before they’re ready, learning is an uphill battle. And a battle indeed since we must continuously strong-arm them to remain focused on tasks that can feel like torture. It’s frustrating and arduous for everyone involved. This is how we strip learning of its appeal.

Compulsory education has the capacity to dampen collaboration, creativity, and individuality.

Our values and rules at home are diametrically opposed to those at a traditional elementary school. At home there are few firm “no’s” but most things are open for discussion. We don’t operate on rewards or punishments. Instead we problem solve with our son and encourage him to think creatively to come up with solutions that work for all of us. If we had a family motto, it would probably be, “How can we work this out together?”

The same can’t be said for most traditional classrooms where absolute compliance is expected and enforced. We want for our son to continue to be an independent, critical thinker; values not many schools emphasize or even tolerate.

WHAT WE ARE DOING AND HOW WE MAKE IT WORK

We are able to unschool because of some intentional choices. We’ve made sacrifices to have the flexibility to unschool and our lifestyle probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

As a family, we’ve chosen to live simply; we drive older cars, live in the most affordable part of our town and we don’t indulge in many luxuries. We were both excited when we got iPhones for the first time last year and the models we have are as old as our son.

We made a conscious choice to live close to family for support. This isn’t possible or even ideal for many people but it is working for us. We find creative ways to generate extra income to supplement my husband’s salary. I work primarily from home and my husband takes on extra tasks at work.

HOW DO WE SPEND OUR DAYS?

Here’s a snapshot of our wild and free days that I am so grateful to share with our son.

1. My son attends an outdoor program a few hours every week where he explores and plays with other children. He is dirty, illiterate and joyful, just like the kindergartners in Finland. We also spend lots of time outside.

2. I read aloud for about an hour a day and we make frequent trips to the library.

3. We follow my son’s interests as they change and expand. We can stay on the same topic for months if we choose, studying topics on a deeper level than an ordinary classroom could accommodate.

4. We PLAY. Sometimes we pretend play, sometimes we build with Legos. Since he’s an only child, my son also plays independently a lot.

5. Whatever we want! We aren’t beholden to a school schedule, so we can travel, create adventures or spend the whole afternoon at the park.

I appreciate that unschooling isn’t be the right choice for every family and isn’t always possible. For us, we opted against traditional schooling because we know that to prepare our son for life means nurturing his individuality and not demanding conformity.

We chose to go our own way because our son’s vivacity, imagination and love of words are his greatest strengths, not flaws to be managed.

We chose this path because the data on early education are unequivocally clear and because we recognize that life itself is an education and a whole lot more fun without worksheets and homework.

Unschooling is the right choice for us and if it is for you too, I hope that sharing our story may serve as inspiration. Ultimately, we chose to unschool because it feels the most true for our family values and that’s reason enough.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Megan Stonelake

Megan Stonelake is a parent coach, writer, and mama. She’s passionate about supporting happily imperfect families. Check out her website Empathic Parenting Counseling where you can sign up for her newsletter to receive monthly encouragement and information you can use. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

COMMENTS
  • March 12, 2018

    We’re unschoolers too (for the most part at least). Learning doesn’t have to be forced. Kids learn best through everyday exploration and following their interests. Always great to hear about other families doing self led learning!!!

  • March 12, 2018
    Cynthia

    It’s delightful to think of children learning at their own pace in their own unique and individual ways! I’m encouraged by this inspiring, intelligent article.

  • March 12, 2018
    Cynthia Baxter

    Both my girls were unschooled much like you are doing, and both went thru college earning a BA and a Masters.
    Just a success story to share and give more encouragement and confidence, hopefully, that unschooling “works”.

  • March 13, 2018

    I wish I could do what you are. I completely agree with he concept. You have sacrificed a lot for the betterment of your own child. I have 3 and cannot imagine how I would manage. I am a great advocate of your method of teaching.

  • August 14, 2018
    Haylie

    I love this article! This was our intent with our first child, but as our second son came into this world, the “education” that was our everyday suddenly came to a halt. It’s difficult to explore and talk about whatever might be peaking his interest when baby #2 is climbing, screaming, eating god knows what off of the ground. Luckily we’ve found an oasis at our preschool. They believe in free play and indulging and exploring all of the interests of the kids. And I actually get a break in my day to focus on things around the house, so when they come home they can have more time with me. I hope this article reaches those parents who aren’t aware of what kids really need. Thanks for writing it!

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