A Year Without School: Measured in… FUN!

It’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m thinking about my son’s school year so far.  Around this time in traditional schools there are parent teacher conferences, 1st quarter report cards have gone out, and the choppy month before winter break begins (where it feels sometimes like there are more breaks than school days).

But this year, neither my son nor I are experiencing those traditional milestones of the school year.  For me, because I’m still out of work as a classroom teacher.  For my son, it’s because this year we decided to run an experiment with his education.  I described the choice in this post.  In a nutshell, he’s unschooling. It is taking the form of 3 days a week at the Village Free School (modeled after the Albany Free School), and the other days at home.  

I think it’s been a tougher adjustment for me.  It took me a good two months to not be stressed by the lack of traditional schoolwork going on.  I worried that he wasn’t reading a book in regular segments or doing regular math work.  How will he keep up?!?!  It was not until we met with his advisor that I began to transform my thinking about “school” for my son.  He is 10 years old and she spoke to him with no condescension and no alteration of her language.  She didn’t talk over him and she put him in charge of the direction of his own learning.  It was so different than any parent teacher conference I’d ever participated in.  She emphasized how important it was for kids his age to play, she asked him what HIS interests were and negotiated some interesting ways to support those interests.  He spoke more about learning than I’ve ever heard him speak before.  He was actually invested in what he wanted to learn and he was taking ownership of how that would happen. He has made great friends and he looks forward to his chances to see them and play and work with them. Unlike traditional school, there are no set classes or tests, no forced lecture time or sitting at a desk without moving.  They can eat when they want, they can join together for projects and they can decide the direction of their own learning. They go on field trips every week and he’s learned to ride the city bus, to enjoy bowling, and to play in the park.  The kids in the free school decide together, democratically, what direction the school will go in.

Last week, there was no school at all.  But there was learning – we traveled to visit my brother in South Carolina.  We visited Ft. Sumter and the state museum and we learned about the start of the Civil War and the USS Hunley and looked at actual guns from the war!  History lesson in live action.  He didn’t have to read a text book or take a test.  And it was awesome.

At home, he doesn’t have to do particular assignments – but rather, we find fun projects or interesting things to do.  He has been focused on creating video games, something he’s seriously interested in.  He has to research how things work, how to troubleshoot how to create different aspects of a game, he learns physics and mechanics and math in order to create.  And he creates.  He has become more creative, more thoughtful and less stressed out about daily life.  He is a joyful child, and he plays… All. The. Time.

And we’re playing together.  We regularly watch Wil Wheaton’s Table Top and learn new games.  We’ve become obsessed with Castle Panic, and I’ve even learned to play Magic: The Gathering (though I’m not very good at it).  Gaming together has become its own magical gathering in our house.  We are spending more time together than we ever have, and we’re actually having fun at it!

This Thanksgiving, I think I’m most thankful for the joy in my son’s heart that has emerged with the absence of traditional school.  He is learning and he is growing, and so am I.


10 thoughts on “A Year Without School: Measured in… FUN!

  1. Cari! I am so, so stoked that this has turned out to be so positive. I remember when he was starting out and how…well, I wouldn’t say scared, but how hesitant you were about the unschooling. Throughout our last dinner dates it’s become clear how beneficial it was for both of you, and that is so cool!

    • kassa Posted on I would very much like to do my masters in early chhdliood Education because I love to kkow more about how childresn learn, and I want contribute by preparing the right materials .

      • I am inspired by so many peploe right now, it is hard to thank them all. I have been recovering from a traumatic divorce and just finished paying my ex-husband his half of my retirement savings accounts. I have been trying various outlets to heal, but somehow I have holes in my heart and soul that are not being repaired. People say time heals everything and I am praying this is true for me. Along my healing journey, I have been inspired by the women and friend in my family, my boyfriend who survived 2 forms of cancer over the past 4 years, the peploe of Faith Community, Brave Girls Club, Denise of Boho Girl, Taryn of Wooly Moss Roots, Jeannie of New Tribal Textiles, Miss rose of Run with the Tribe, Meekah Sage of Daily Wild, and many more talented and strong spirited women who have encouraged me. You are all a blessing to me and I am so thankful for your friendship.I think I just need time to be still and the healing will come. I am hopeful that I will recover and be a better me. Faith, hope, and gratitude are blessings that no one can ever take from me. Thank you both for this give-away.Blessings

  2. Kudos to you! If I had that option when I was a kid, I probably would have chose engineering earlier on. I loved to tinker, fix things, and learn about how stuff worked but ended up not having the resources to keep it up and as I got older I didn’t have time.
    I remember back in 2010 when you were stressing about Martin’s education but didn’t like the connotations of Montessori schools in Portland. I’m so glad you found something that fits! But I’m retroactively jealous as well. Even today, I look for opportunities where I can just get in there and be trusted to do it.

      • Most likely they would teach Biology. Most Health teeachrs are also PE teeachrs and coaches. All the classes that you took to be an RN (chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology) are the endorsement requirements for 7th-12th grade Biological Sciences. Also, there are way more jobs for Biology Teachers than Health teeachrs.

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