Unschooling Field Notes 1

We are five months into our unschooling journey and life is much improved. Dare I say even very, very good. The freedom I feel in each day is refreshing. Our schedule has totally opened up and we are all experiencing more free time as well as an abundance of quality time together. The learning going on with no effort at all to plan for it is simply astounding. They are leading the way and I love it.

At first, it felt like long tentacles from a ginormous black octopus were beginning to recoil away. Those tentacles were threaded into cracks and crevices throughout our lives. They were dragging us down. As they receded, we discovered the ability to breath unrestrained again…just like summertime. What a relief! There is magic in the resulting lightness. We feel the freedom and creativity of being ourselves and simply enjoying life with no deadlines or schedules except the ones we set for ourselves. We are enjoying realization of a whole new existence where we are calling the shots. It is, quite simply, liberating.

Still, at the edge of my consciousness is a somewhat annoying persistent thought about the upcoming proof of progress we must file with the school administration by mid-summer. Sometimes I catch myself imagining that black octopus just bidding time to pounce and wrap us all up again. I know it sounds dramatic and I know it’s just a fearful thought, one that I consciously I kick out. There have been many times that I’ve soothed myself away from the scary idea that we’ll be challenged for trying to get away with something and then be required to justify ourselves. Which seems like a totally ridiculous thought since a previous generation has already fought the good fight to have homeschooling be an allowed option.

Lucky for me, here in Virginia there are a couple ways to choose from in order to demonstrate educational growth and progress. Families can do good enough on a nationally normed standardized test of their choice (place in or above the fourth stanine) or have an evaluation letter from a qualified individual (a licensed teacher or someone with a master’s degree). If progress is not found to be good enough, the homeschooling family gets a year of probation to continue homeschooling then try again next year to adequately prove progress. If progress is still not good enough there will be intervention and the kids go back to school. I have been advised by local homeschooling gurus to “just test out” because they say it is the easiest and most objective way to jump through the required hoops. This I have a problem with because standardized testing is one reason I wanted out of the school system. Also, having done more traditional homeschool with my son in the past I know how quickly learning time turns to rote memorization and uninspired lectures while running through a checklist of what to learn to do well on the test…a frustrating exercise for me and my kids to be sure.

So I have settled into the idea that we will show progress with a letter that I write reporting on the progress of each of my kids for this first year. The reason I can write the report is that I have a Master’s degree and regulations do not stipulate that the evaluator cannot be the child’s parent. This seems a bit risky but I’m sure it will all work out. After all, I am with them all day every day being continually astounded by their questions and creative ways of thinking. As a backup, I am also keeping an Evernote portfolio for each kid and their interests and activities throughout the year. Those Evernote portfolios will likely become portfolio blogs for each kid as they advance. The kids are very interested in building their own portfolios already. They love that we are collecting photos, videos, links, and audio recordings of what they are focusing on a creating and so do I. The portfolios will serve a purpose similar to a scrapbook too. The kids enjoy looking back at what they’ve done even now and it solidifies their learning as they do.