How I Gave Up and Started Unschooling

A guest post by Venisa McAllister

We started with high hopes.

When my oldest daughter Sarah was old enough for kindergarten I enrolled her in a program called k-12. They would give us a computer, fun learning materials, and help me turn my daughter into a genius! We started with high hopes. How could it not work? Everything came beautifully organized in a large box and it seemed very well planned. The downside was that this curriculum was very big on testing. I still remember the feeling of trying to force the names of the continents from my mind into my little 5-year-old daughter’s mind so she could pass the test and we could move on! But it didn’t work. Yes, we did get through the test, but I knew we needed to try something else.

We were mostly happy.

We then enrolled Sarah in a California Charter School. They still supplied the materials but I was able to choose from a large catalog. We had so much fun in the beginning. We had a great Education Specialist(ES) who encouraged me to surprise the kids with some of our fun art materials as Christmas gifts and who would do science projects with the kids. The expectations weren’t difficult for us to keep up with. We were mostly happy. Sure, some of our reading sessions would end with a little bit of tension. But I knew that if I found the right curriculum everything would work out and Sarah would catch up. Now, by this time I had another child in school. But I will focus on Sarah because out of my six children she prompted the most change.

I felt sad because this work felt like such a burden and we were wasting our precious learning time.

As time went on we got a new ES. She seemed more concerned about Sarah’s testing scores. Well, it was not just the ES but the school regulations had tightened. Every child who tested behind by a certain amount was able to use remedial software the school had purchased. The school, as a special charter school, was under pressure to keep their test scores up to please the sponsoring district and keep the school open. So, there was a little pressure. Still, the computer programs did not seem that helpful. When school-wide essay writing time came around I found myself editing Sarah’s work and leaving just a few age appropriate errors. Even with my coaching and correcting we had missed many of the things that were supposed to be included in the essay. I felt sad because this work felt like such a burden and we were wasting our precious learning time. But I also felt nervous. Maybe I did need to get it together. Clearly, there were experts who felt I could be doing a better job. We really tried but the upper elementary and middle school years started to get a little stressful.

Little by little I had changed to accommodate other people and out of fear.

Now, I want to take a moment and point out that I had started with ideas of a great Waldorf education and loved the Charlotte Mason ideas and learning from Great Books. I really wanted to promote joy in learning because my school experience had been so difficult. But somehow things had gotten away from me. Little by little I had changed to accommodate other people and out of fear. But as Sarah started 9th grade we were forced to make a decision. The ES let us know that Sarah would have specialized teachers for each subject and that most of her learning would be directed and graded by them. This, combined with a few other things, led us to make a radical decision to homeschool on our own. Of course, we kept our workbooks. Every Sunday I would spend hours making up boxes of work for each child for the week. I would plan one on one time and small groups and which big child would entertain which smaller child during those times. Things were going pretty well. Sure, there were times when many things felt like busy work but surely reading comprehension and learning to get through difficult things were important. The kids were picking up bits here and there and everything was organized and under control.

I started to shed things from our schedule that felt the most useless, like our geography workbooks.

But that summer, everything fell apart. I found out I was pregnant with my 6th child and that was my brick wall. I feel so terrible talking about my sweet little one like this, but I couldn’t see how I could keep it together. When I mentioned my stress people were quick to mention that I could drop homeschooling. So I mostly stopped mentioning my stress. But inwardly I wondered if they were right. I felt like things were falling apart. I gave up. I spent a lot of time resting. I was physically and emotionally tired. My older children would make lunch. They would do fun things with their younger siblings. Gradually, the cloud began to lift and I started to shed things from our schedule that felt the most useless, like our geography workbooks. Nobody really remembered much from those, but they were sure grumbled about the most. We started writing without so much grading. We watched more of those learning videos that the kids loved so much. And I noticed that the kids were still learning! I started to read books about unschooling by John Holt. I found Sue’s blog and her podcasts. We started deschooling.

I have grown to trust that my kids will learn what they need to know.

So, we are in our second year of unschooling now. We are still finding our way. I have grown to trust that my kids will learn what they need to know. I have seen sibling relationships improve as competition and stress lessened. I have improved my relationships with my children as we talk about what their goals are and we work together to achieve those goals. Often I find opportunities for my children and they are eager to take advantage of those opportunities. I have had more time to learn new things myself and have found that setting a good example really is the very best way to teach children.

About Venisa McAllister

Venisa is an unschooling mom of six. In addition to supporting her kids with their interests, she enjoys weaving and is learning to play the piano.

Thank you, Venisa, for writing this guest post for my blog.

I’d love to know how your unschooling journey began. Please feel welcome to stop by and comment. Or maybe you’d like to write a guest post!

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  1. How cool that you “found ” unschooling. Although it was there all the time, under the layers of busywork.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

      • venisa
      • July 8, 2017

      Thank you for reading it! Yes, it was there all along!

  2. Reply

    So lovely to hear how other people have made the journey to unschooling. Thanks for sharing your story. The transformation in all our relationships has definitely been the most wonderful thing for us about unschooling. Wishing you all the best.

      • Venisa
      • July 10, 2017

      Isn’t it wonderful how are family can blossom and come together when we give each person the chance to have what they need? That is a big part of what unschooling is to me. We are moving into a period where my second daughter wants a little more direction and we are signing her up for some co-op classes this year. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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