Unschooling: Don't Give Up
We've only been unschooling for a few months and we're learning as we go, but the way I would define unschooling is that we are teaching our children how to find answers to their questions and curiosities. We are teaching them how to go about furthering their knowledge in whatever area they want to learn more.
1. Help Unschooled Kids Pursue Their Own Passions
It's not as easy as you think--especially during the traditional school year. Sure, we have the library and the internet (where would we be without Google??). But hands on experience like camps and classes are built around kids who are in school. And most don't involve reptiles.
Yep. Townes' interests right now are: reptiles, chess, and jewels.
It's funny when you have children. You think they'll be mini-versions of you, or at least partly, so. People are born who they are. We have some influence on them, but they have their own story to live and, in our case, it has most definitely been..."surprising". That's part of the fun of raising kids: all the surprises!
Kate surprises me in her ability to try almost anything (except roller coasters LOL). Townes on the other hand has very specific interests. His interest in jewelry and gems has been there for as long as I can remember.
I can't go to any department store without a lengthy visit to the jewelry section where he gazes at the sparkly pieces and peppers the sales people with serious questions about their inventory and history.
He also has a passion for reptiles. He would have five snakes as pets right now, but luckily, Joe and I share a healthy...dislike for snakes and reptiles. I'm shuddering as I write this post!
2. Think Outside the Box While Unschooling
That said, we also knew that we needed to find a way to get him more involved and exposed to reptiles. That's the whole point of unschooling--having the freedom to hone in on what makes our kids light up and then finding a way to expose, encourage, and exploit that interest.
Frustrated by the lack of classes (shocker: there aren't people lined up to take classes about snakes), and other ideas, I was venting to Joe and he said, "Get him a snake. That's the best way for him to learn about snakes and reptiles."
I said, "Hard pass. There has to be another way." He said, "that is the way." He and I both knew that this meant that I would need to be educated and able to help care for said snake. He was basically telling me to suck it up and do what was best for Townes.
I might have cried a little at the thought of getting a snake. I posted something about it on Instagram and I had some people encouraging me and telling me that snakes are "low-maintenance" and that you "feed them frozen mice", about once a month, so it wasn't so bad.
That kind of stopped me in my tracks. We are raising two tiny hamsters. And these people expected me to have an enclosure with a snake that eats mice? This just didn't compute in my logical brain.
Out of desperation, I turned to our local community message board through nextdoor.com. Here's what I posted:
To my shock and surprise, I had an outpouring of suggestions and people interested in helping Townes learn and grow his knowledge about reptiles. I was humbled and moved.
Ultimately, we were connected to a young man who works at the Discovery Zone (i.e. reptiles and fish) at the Denver Zoo! He was already working with kids through birthday parties and was willing to come to our home. I was blown away.
He not only came to our house with FOUR of his pets (two snakes, a bearded dragon, and a turtle), he had written a class curriculum and gave the kids some homework!
Our next class was at the Denver Zoo! Troy works in the Discovery Zone there and he gave us a behind the scenes tour. I don't think Townes really got how amazing this opportunity was, but my jaw was basically on the ground almost the entire time. It was so cool! And I don't even like reptiles LOL I do love me a good Behind The Scenes, though.
3. Try, Try Again
This is just one example--around the same time that Joe and I had noodled this idea, I told him that I had hit a dead end on chess lessons. I found some online teachers in different states, but I really wanted him to work with someone in person.
After relaying that I had heard crickets from a local teacher, I decided to reach out again. And the teacher called me the next day! As it turns out, he teaches a homeschool class twice a month at our local library. So not only would Townes have access to a pro chess player, we have met many new homeschooling families.
I had all but given up on Townes' interest in chess, but now we are rolling! Plus, we are playing more than ever at home. Since he's not really into competitive sports, it's nice to have him playing and competing in something.
Plus, he participated in his very first chess tournament a few weeks ago and it was a huge success! He played four matches--lost two, tied one, and won his last match! He even got a little trophy out of it! If nothing else, this was a confidence boost that he (we) all really needed right now.
4. Each Child has There Own Level of Motivation--Don't Give Up!
Kate is a highly motivated kid and asks (read: pesters) us to take classes and do things. Townes has interests, but he's not as motivated as she is, so it's much too easy to just do the status quo, so I have to stay motivated and persistent.
Don't give up on your kids who are not as motivated as some of your other kids. Or if they have random interests. Sometimes you have to get a little unconventional.
Unschooling is meant to follow the ebb and flow of your child's interests (and interest level), but we've found that Townes needs a bit of a nudge in the motivation department. And some extra research on our part to find activities to grow his knowledge in the areas that interest him.