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Conquering the Unschooling Fear

Conquering Life Learning Fear:
Trust Trumps Expectations and Fear

By Katherine Jones-Greene

My daughter was seven when we took her out of school. Although my husband and I were very clear that home-based learning was the best thing for our family, I was scared stiff. Mostly, it was fear of the unknown, and I wished I had known what to expect. Now, I realize that my lack of expectations (other than being sure life would be better) was a good thing. It probably helped make our daughter’s transition/detoxification time shorter than it might otherwise have been. I offered her patience and support as she regained her curiosity, and hoped for the best after that.

Slowly but surely, we all deschooled ourselves; I probably had the most work to do because I was a teacher at one time. Eventually, as our comfort levels increased, homeschooling our daughter didn’t seem quite so scary – at least, most days. Then, just into our second year of homeschooling, we met some unschooling families. I realized, with a bit of a start, that we were drifting in that very direction, having already moved from a formal curriculum to just buying books and other materials on an as-needed basis, although I was still leading the process and insisting on a few hours of “book work” each day. But what those school-free families were doing made sense to me, and their kids certainly seemed to be engaged in learning so many different things, more or less on their own. For our daughter, it was like heaven on earth as I tried to let her interests lead us.

So I took a deep breath, found some books and articles on the subject (Holt, Laricchia, Kream, and Priesnitz, as well as articles from this magazine’s website were some of the things I read) and did some more deschooling. But I found myself scared all over again. Then late one night I realized that I was transitioning/detoxifying just like my daughter had done, only this time it was from school-at-home to life learning.

The next day, I asked one of my new life learning friends about the fear. Did she ever feel it? Did she ever worry about whether or not her kids would grow up uneducated, or if they’d hate her for not teaching them certain things? I told her that all I want is for my kids to know that they can learn, that they can figure stuff out for themselves.

Her response was that sometimes she feels sheer terror! But when that happens, she reminds herself that modern society has it backwards: Rather than needing to be taught (which is different than being guided, which they do need), kids are born knowing how to learn, and that they figure stuff out for themselves if – and here’s the trick – we let them. Kids are born with confidence, but then adults (and sometimes older siblings) create an environment that makes them doubt them- selves. So, she said, for her the biggest challenge is to back off and not destroy that confidence. Like me, she loves organizing activities, and finding books and websites for her kids, but she said that she tries to do that with no expectations that anyone will be as excited about them as she is.

So there’s that "trust" word again: Apparently, trust trumps expectations and fear every time!

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