Last summer at the age of 14, the son of a friend of mine started working his way through a Math curriculum. Until that point he’d never had a math lesson of any sort. Because of this, he started in Grade 1 to make sure he covered everything from the beginning. In less than three months he’d done 4 grades of Math. Not only done the work, but understood it. A year later he is tackling some fairly advanced concepts.
I tell you this so that on those days when mild panic sets in, whether due to your own latent school brain chastising you for your kids “not doing anything”, or because you’ve been privy to a barrage of posts and/or emails regaling you with the academic passions of seemingly every other homeschooled or unschooled kid within a thousand miles, you can read this, take a deep breath and gain a little perspective.
Here’s another one. When my daughter Maya was maybe 5 years old, I attended an informational meeting held by our local homeschooling organization. One of the women there, whose kids were unschooled, told us a few stories about their learning and lifestyle. Her son did not read until age 10 but then took the SAT for fun at age 14 and racked up a perfect score in the Language Arts section of the test. She also mentioned that at one point, one of her kids told her that all those “educational outings” she’d taken them on when they were younger (at the time of the meeting they were 14 and 13) were mostly a waste of time. I believe the quote from her daughter was, “You know we don’t remember any of that stuff, right?”
My point is, relax. Nothing is so important, so daunting, that if you don’t present it on a school oriented timeline it will be lost forever. In fact, I’d argue that the opposite is true. Following a school timeline for the introduction of any subject is often a recipe for disinterest and ambivalence. And don’t worry if you aren’t spending your days with your kids in art galleries or on working sugar maple farms or taking every possible class that comes down the homeschooling pike.
I’m not saying that at 14 every kid will suddenly develop an interest in Math or Literature…or art galleries. I’m saying that all those things you tell yourself that you MUST do so that your kid won’t be left in the dust? None of them are nearly as important as being available when your kids need you, helping them when they ask and letting them find their own way through when they don’t. Also, nothing beats a good dose of boredom now and then – it’s where the best ideas are often born.
So when the panic comes? Anxiety starts knocking at your door? Take a deep breath and remember that the point of unschooling is not to fill every day with “teachable moments” but to live life fully, encouraging seeds of interest to grow wherever and whenever they fall without concern for what every other kid might be doing and whether or not your kid is “keeping up”. We are learning for life, not for a test. There is no prize for being first; there isn’t even a finish line. There is only knowledge like an endless river where the water runs fast in some spots and lazes along in others; where objects are picked up and carried for a while and then let go to find their place along the shore; where snags and sandbars can impede progress until the water finds its way around them or rises over them. The life learning journey and destination are all of a part, just as when the river reaches and becomes one with the sea.