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The Evolution of a Life Learner

The Evolution of a Life Learner
By Jessica Rodorigo-Dunican

When my family began our home education journey more than five years ago, we knew nothing about homeschooling philosophies, curriculum choices, or support groups.

We knew no one personally who had chosen not to send their children to school. We knew very little about natural learning and had never heard the terms “unschooler” or “self education.” You might say we were blissfully ignorant or you might say we were sadly ill-informed. Whichever the case, we used what we knew to “teach” our oldest. We began by recreating a school in our small two-bedroom apartment; we began each “school day” at precisely nine a.m. I traded in my mommy hat for my teacher hat and we dutifully went through the checklist of subjects – math, writing, phonics, science, etc. Most days, we spent four or five hours “doing school.” Our daughter was just five and she already hated “school” and was quickly losing any natural love of learning that she had.

Slowly – very, very, slowly – we began to realize that this was just not working! Our kids were miserable, we were stressed out, no one was enjoying this and the thought of another 12 years of doing it loomed large and daunting. I knew there had to be a better way so I began doing research on child development, education, and homeschooling. I read about John Holt, I read some John Taylor Gatto and it all, amazingly, made sense. My thinking slowly began to change. While taking on this somewhat radical lifestyle, I was also challenging and changing views that I had taken as absolute truth. I was re-educating myself (and my husband) about what education really was.

 

I would love to say that we read a few books and woke up the next day ready to hand our children’s learning back to them. But unfortunately it took a long time to change the thinking that had been ingrained in us over 24 years. I still could take the simplest of concepts and try to expand upon it to make it more “educational”. I still would quiz them after every story read. I still believed that the more paper we produced the more proof I had of real learning taking place.

Meanwhile, we were destroying any joy our children – especially our oldest – had for natural learning. The more we pushed her, the harder she pushed back. We would let up, things would improve and then I would panic and begin pushing again.

However, we were moving in the right direction, albeit by baby steps. I started to change little things about our day. We read more. We played outside more. I threw away most of our workbooks and I was less afraid to stop on a beautiful afternoon and take a walk without fear of them missing out on some important educational milestone. We began to meet and talk to other people who shared, believed, and actually practiced unschooling!

“I still could take the simplest of concepts and try to expand upon it to make it more 'educational.' I still would quiz them after every story read. I still believed that the more paper we produced the more proof I had of real learning taking place.”
It was so important for us to see what self-education looked like for real people, in real families that we knew in real life. Each family was different and each family had its strengths and weaknesses but we learned something from every one of them...whether it was seeing something great that we wanted for our family or just seeing what wouldn’t work for us.

Ironically, my change in thinking really hit its stride after I took on a part-time job at a local homeschooling bookstore. Many new homeschoolers came through those doors and I saw myself in each of them. They would come in with a four-year-old as their oldest child and ask me, “What would you recommend?” My answer would always be the same: “A library card, and lots of time to play.” Wow, if they had asked me that question even one year before I probably would have given them a list of math programs, expensive phonics kits, and handwriting books. Now I was able to step back and really see the absurdity of it.

Granted, I was probably the world’s worst salesperson, but I like to think I changed some new homeschoolers’ perceptions about education before they put their child through what we put our daughter through. I can now look back over the last six years of learning with our children at home and clearly see our many mistakes. I can see how far my husband and I have come in our thinking and our learning and I can use the knowledge we have gained and apply it. I can project where our future may take us and dream about what my children’s future might hold. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for making the decision to keep our children home so many years ago we would not know them the way we have had the privilege of knowing them now. I would have unwittingly handed them over to the “experts” and not given it a second thought.

I would have missed not only an entire chapter of their lives but also an entire chapter of my own learning as well. My children have become my greatest teacher. They have given me the strength to question things and to look at things a different way, to really try to figure out the what, where and why of so many things. Ironically, being able to keep our children home has given us so much freedom and incentive to explore what our own passions are. I took up writing again, something that long has been neglected. My husband went back to college and now attends Nursing School. I think that this is the real core of self-directed learning: learning about yourself and being able to live your life marching to a different drummer.

We have been blessed to be able to watch our children learn and develop unpressured from external sources. They have been able to develop naturally and all of them have displayed passion for things I didn’t dream possible for their ages. It is our deepest desire to know that we have not “given” our children an education but instead that we have allowed our children to live, to learn and to make mistakes while never losing their core sense of self and their innate love for living.

Jessica Rodorigo-Dunican lives in Connecticut where she enjoys sharing her days with her three daughters and her husband, Robert. She is most joyful while writing, reading or walking outside.

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