The Evolution of a Life
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
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!
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
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
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