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Talking About Life Learning
Sandra Rakovac speaks with Mette Guillaume
Talking About Life Learning
Silas and Freya with their mother Mette Guillaume, a Life Learning Magazine reader living in Denmark.

When this article was published in 2007, Mette Guillaume, her French husband Eric and their two children – Freya (six) and Silas (18 months) – were living in Denmark after having spent ten years in France and around the world. The decision to unschool came to them as a whole new idea at first through friends then slowly imposed itself as the evident way of educating children. In addition to living and learning with her family, Mette is working on a book and a website about sustainable consumption and living on less.

Q: How did you decide to unschool?
A: We were unfamiliar with this approach to learning, but it just rang true when we were introduced to the idea through some friends. We then continued to read about it and extended the philosophy to our daily life in general.

Q: Was this a joint decision with your partner?
A: Not really, to begin with. Once my husband got past some of his initial doubts, he was as enthusiastic as me. But he needed a bit of time to get used to the idea, I think possibly because we were raised in two very different school systems. In France, the whole system is much more strict, and aimed at academic achievement. In Denmark, students are encouraged to take initiative and often work in group settings. French schools use tests and grades from the very early years; in Denmark report cards are introduced late, from the seventh grade only.

Q: Describe how you unschool.
A: Well, that’s hard to describe. I try to just go with the flow of the day. My daughter likes some scheduling though, so we have a weekly planner posted on the refrigerator door, where we plot in activities like playgroup, outings to the zoo or visits at friends´ places. Then I try to create a rich and stimulating environment by having lots of stuff accessible (books, games, crafts, etc.). We also use the library and several other free activities a lot, such as dance lessons, movie shows and puppet theater.

Q: What has made an impact? For example: understanding learning styles, decompressing, etc.
A: Definitely getting to the core idea of unschooling and what it meant to our family. We prefer to speak about life learning; that learning and education touches and takes place in all aspects of our lives and that trying to fit things in boxes and divide life into “subjects” and specific “learning times” really is a very unnatural and stiff idea.

Q: If you have read about the topic of homeschooling/unschooling has one particular author or work or event influenced you the most?
A: John Holt is a classic of course. But a major eye-opener and inspirational source for me has been Alfie Kohn, although he’s not a homeschooling advocate in particular. I’ve read several of his books on the mechanisms of learning and parenting in general. This is wise and challenging stuff – plus he writes in a really straightforward and humorous way. One of my favorites is Unconditional Parenting — this one really should be offered to all new parents, very insightful.

Q: What do you remember most about your childhood education – in school or elsewhere?
A: The lack of freedom probably – feeling stuck in a system that didn’t allow you to advance at your own pace, be it fast or slow. Though the Danish school system leaves a lot of space for personal initiative, it is still a school setting, with the limitations that follow. If you’re a “weak” student, of course you will get some extra support, and if you’re “smart” they’ll hand you an extra worksheet to fill in, but that’s about it and it’s obviously not enough. I was also raised in a very authoritative environment where there wasn’t much room for explanations, let alone negotiation.

Q: How has this shaped unschooling with your children?
A: I definitely know what I don’t want to repeat. I’m trying to be very attentive to my children’s needs and feelings, and really take them into account. I really want them to feel that we, as their parents, acknowledge and respect what they might feel or think, and that we will do our best to help them pursue their true interests. I want them to know that they’re free to make choices about their life and learning, but that we will always be there to support them, guide them and help them out when they need us.

Q: Any advice or caution you would like to offer to others?
A: Yes, that the unschooling path is definitely not the easiest one to choose, especially when you choose to extend the idea to your life in general and not just education.

Sandra Rakovac is a homeschooling mother. This is one of a series of interviews with homeschooling parents from around the world. Read a follow-up article by Mette Guillaume about her family's unschooling experiences.

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