Unschooling Journey

Our journey from traditional schooling, to "school at home" and then on to greener pastures…

Tag: expectations

Ticking Boxes


TICK! Can’t let him fall behind!

After pulling Clay from school there were still boxes to tick. I found myself scouring the standards and organising spreadsheets with check boxes to make sure I covered everything, so he would “keep up”. The Australian Curriculum App was my best friend for the first part of our homeschool journey.

I came up with some fabulous ideas, I mean, these were interesting and exciting ways to learn all that boring dribble that the Education Department deemed necessary. I’d spend hours coming up with different ways to teach things, make sure I knew the content before hand, had all the worksheets and laminated cards ready to go, pencils sharpened. Clay was on board to begin with, he was happy to be out and so would readily comply to my requests.

Then the resistance crept in.

How could that be? My lesson plans were epic! They were different and fun and interesting! Well, I had put in all this time, he would just have to knuckle down and do them anyway. Sorry buddy, there were standards we needed to cover, the big wiggies in plush offices, far removed from the minds and needs of children, said so.

“Do we have to do this?”, “This is boring!”, *thump* (head on desk).

Oh dear.

The arguments and threats began, no he couldn’t go to that activity without finishing his writing, no he couldn’t have his ipad until he’d completed the allocated math questions, no you’re not going outside until you’ve written this or that.

What was I doing? How was this different to school? It wasn’t, I was doing “school at home”. This wasn’t how I had imagined it, it wasn’t how it was supposed to be.


“Spelling Book C”, that was my wake up call. He’d finished the workbook, complete with crosswords and word sleuths and look-cover-write check’s. What a neat little package it was, I could almost frame it. At the end of it all he did the last test, covering all the words he had learnt (and generally gotten at least 8/10 right throughout the semester on mini-tests), and he failed miserably. He got a little over 30%. It was like a big, fat slap in the face. The brightly coloured, Education Department approved, workbook had taught him nothing.

I began to let go of my pre-conceived ideas and tried to follow his interests, moving from a more “relaxed” style, (eclectic perhaps?), through to eventually throwing the standards out the window completely.

Clay has always surprised me with the things he says, what he has learnt, entirely on his own. He had this, this was about my fear, I needed to learn to trust him. His interests range from video gaming and YouTubing to chemistry, cooking, the natural sciences and beyond. He learns visually and kinaesthetically, having him fill out worksheets was never going to work. He has to see, he has to do.

IMG_3372 (2) Playing with acids and bases…IMG_9517

…comparing reactions and how the pH changes.

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Learning about physics and mechanical concepts through Scrap Mechanic

And then there’s Jessie, who has never been forced to “learn” anything. At 3.5 yrs, she asks me regularly how to spell things, types it on her iPad, asks me to write out the letters in words (her hand in mine), to read a book, she is interested in learning!

IMG_3361 (2)She found some geoboards in the cupboard and proceeded to make shapes, stretching the bands in different directions to make new ones.

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Pens/pencils and paper are always at hand

It’s hard, though, to let go of the idea that she needs to be taught, I mean, how will she learn to read? But I haven’t sat her down and forced her to memorise the alphabet, yet somehow she knows it, and I haven’t sat her down and forced her to learn phonics, and she knows most of those too. She’s already learning on her own.

One thing that I find people (myself included) often get concerned about with Unschooling is the idea that kids will learn on their own. Yes, but that doesn’t mean that if they ask for your help, if you see them struggling with something, or if you see that they are interested in something, that you don’t get involved, don’t offer suggestions (or strew), it just means that you wait, and watch, and listen to what they need.

I do believe that children can learn on their own, in their own time, because I’ve seen it, we all have. You can sit a child down and force them to do work, but you can’t force them to learn. My kids were born with a love of learning, not it’s my job to get out of the way!


PS. Check out the documentary “Race to Nowhere”, it costs $4, but is well worth it, especially if you’re still in the mind set that kids need to “keep up”.


Expectations and Gaming with Dad


Children are born as blank slates, like a new computer file. I had a clear image of who my child would be, if only I could make the right inputs.

He would be sporty.

As a child (actually, as an adult too), I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life. I still recall with humiliation the sports classes where we each had to stand on a line (taking turns, you know, so everyone would have their eyes on me), and throw a tennis ball as far as you could. Then we got a score, which counted towards our grade. Wonderful. I wasn’t the worst (that was saved for my even less abled friend), but second worst was bad enough.

So, I signed Clay up for soccer when he was three (that was the youngest I could slip him in), determined that he would not go through what I went through each and every sports class. The little orange cones were set out, easy enough instructions, parents on one side, kids on the other. Kick to each other. Right.

Off he went, rolley polling down the hill behind me, bouncing on the ball…rolling on the ball…kick!! Ack. Wrong direction.

I think we went about half a dozen times before I finally accepted that him lying on the grass for half the lesson looking for bugs probably meant he wasn’t interested.

(I got some pretty cute shots of him, though, but I’m not sure the instructor was too pleased with our grass-rolling photo session in the middle of the soccer field).

So we left.

Next, on to athletics!! Surely Little Athletics would work, it was all about running and jumping! But no. He was happy to run (with his friends away from the line), and jump (over the guard rails around the oval), just not when/where he was supposed to.

Surf Life Saving? Footy? Hip Hop?? Nope, nope, nope.

Clay loved to move, just not in the way that these sports required him to. But wasn’t I doing everything right? Blank slate….inputting sport…why wasn’t it working??

My son was also going to be popular.

I was not popular in school. I lacked confidence (sports class perhaps??). I also didn’t have dozens of friends, I was shy, and found it hard to break into conversations.

Lots of playdates. That would work. He would always have friends over, so that at school they’d know each other and be best of friends.

It didn’t work. He loved playing with his little buddies, one on one was fabulous, but get him into a big group and he seemed to become a bit…lost?

He would be intelligent.

I pushed reading on him at a young age (at 4 we started lessons at home), he picked it up easily. We also did a lot of maths, being sure to include counting and basic arithmetic in his day from the get go (Baby Einstein anyone??).

But at school, his reports didn’t reflect how clever I knew he was. Apparently he never finished his work.

He was happy. He was such a clever little thing, he had this amazing mind, would tell me all about nature and bugs, Lego and Transformers, stories from his vivid imagination. He loved to make us laugh, had the most infectious grin, and was hands down the best leg-cuddler in the world. He seemed to shine from within when he was in his own element. When he was free.

When it was just us, he was larger than life, I was completely in love with this little human being.

But my expectations were not being met. Societies expectations were not being met. He wasn’t great at sport, he seemed happier on his own or in small groups, and although I knew he was bright, the teachers were not so sure.

Could it be that Clay wasn’t a blank slate? Could he (*gasp*) have been born with an innate personality?? Could it be, that who I was expecting him to be, everything society expected him to be, wasn’t actually who he was?


Meet them where they are. That is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. It took a lot of soul searching and inner reflection to realise that my son is not me. He does not feel the need to be the best at sports, the most popular kid in school, or the most academically successful. All that time, the early years, I had been projecting myself, and my own struggles, onto this perfect, little, entirely unique, human being.

Ever since that realisation struck me, I have been trying to support who he is. And I’m still learning. Still catching myself projecting my fears, my aspirations, and societies expectations on to him. But I recognise it now for what it is, tell myself sternly to pull my head in, and re-focus on supporting his journey.

It’s taken me a loooooooong time to get to this point. We’ve been home nearly three years. That’s three years of us together pretty much 24/7. So when I see my husband next to me, supporting the decisions I’m making, listening and trusting the direction I’m going in, it amazes and humbles me.

Sure, I can get frustrated and defensive sometimes, when he questions some decision I’ve made, things that seem completely foreign to him.  But then I think about how he still has to go to work each day, he hasn’t had the three years of being with Clay, and being around the homeschool/Unschool community, to get used to some of the ideas I bring into our home. I realise that he isn’t questioning me because he doesn’t trust me, he’s questioning me because he hasn’t had the time to digest and learn the things I’ve learnt. He needs the headlines and dot points so he can align himself with where we are going.

Take “screen time” as an example. It wasn’t easy for me to give up on the restrictions. Society and my own background growing up said that this was a bad idea. Screen time, technology, playing computer games, wrong, wrong, wrong. I did hours and hours of research, reading, listening and talking to get to this point where I truly believe that limiting something Clay is so keenly passionate about is harmful, and that supporting his interests is hands down the best way we can parent. (Not to mention, I now believe that him spending hours on a computer is actually a really awesome way for him to learn).

The relationship we now have is beyond what I could have ever hoped for. He is 9, he loves spending time with me, he has long conversations with me, and he is honest about his actions and his feelings. He’s a really awesome kid. Being supportive of who he is, rather that projecting myself and my expectations, has been key to getting us to this point.

Me connecting with Clay…my first attempt at a survival world (and one of the first videos on his channel (head on over to subscribe!), so please excuse the quality!)

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Clay and Jess playing…

So when I realised that perhaps the relationship that he had with his Dad was a little disconnected, I suggested to my husband that he start gaming with Clay. Now, he was a gamer in his day, but (aside from the odd Mario Kart round), isn’t really keen nowadays. He’d even tried Minecraft before, but it wasn’t his thing. Still, he took on board what I said, found a game he didn’t mind, and begun playing it with Clay.

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Clash of Clans, great for bonding!!

My heart melts when I think about the difference this action has had, and it’s only happened in the past week! They’ve spent hours together, chatting about the game, laughing, giving each other tips and strategies to try. Just being together. And when they’re not playing, they talk more, they laugh more. It’s not just about the game, it’s about connecting. And it’s working.

So, meet them where they are, it’s an awesome destination.


PS. Check out this podcast with Pam Laricchia and Jen Armstrong, it has a great piece about Dads 🙂


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