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Whispers: A Journey to Life Learning
By Michelle Conaway

Whispers: A Journey to Homeschooling and then to Life Learning
Photo © Christy Thompson/Shutterstock

Have you ever had a tug in your heart, a whisper that won’t stop no matter how much you try to ignore it? If you listen to that tugging whisper, it may change your life forever.

It was the Christmas season and my six-year-old son Cameron was out of school for winter break. He had been looking very tired his first months of school, from August to December. He had also become much more withdrawn and grumpy with each passing day.

I had recently attended a parent-teacher conference. Cameron’s teacher said that he was too shy. He wouldn’t read in front of the class and he seemed to be in a world all his own. He would draw instead of listen and she wanted to send him to the counselor for testing, possibly for attention deficit disorder or some other learning disability.

I was distraught at this news. Cameron had always been a happy toddler. He was very artistic and liked to do a lot of things alone…but a disorder? I had been thinking more gifted and talented. This was the kid who learned to read when he was three and was writing letters and numbers in the sand perfectly since he was two. These were things he taught himself.

During the break, Cameron settled into home life and got more relaxed in his own skin. He played with his brother. He dug out his LEGO and built elaborate worlds that only he and his brother understood. He began drawing and writing again. The light in his eyes got brighter with each passing day.

 

But as the break neared its end, Cameron began to withdraw again. He didn’t want to go back to school and whenever I talked to him about it he would withdraw even more.
Out of nowhere, the all-knowing intuitive voice within me began its whispering mantra. It started out slowly, like a faint murmur in my subconscious. Homeschool, it said. Take him out of school and let him come home for good.

At first, I ignored it. I couldn’t homeschool! That was the most ludicrous thing I had ever heard of. I harbored preconceived notions about homeschooling. I pictured an Amish-like setting where my kids were sheltered from the real world and learned to be complete recluses. I pictured that if I was their teacher, they would have major gaps in their learning and that Cameron’s “condition” of being able to speak in front of others would only get worse. In short, I was afraid to homeschool. Plus, my youngest would be moving from preschool to kindergarten the next year, leaving my days free so that I could do more of what I wanted to do.

Despite my resistance to that voice, it only got louder. Every time I looked at Cameron I would hear, homeschool, homeschool, homeschool.

There was definitely a battle going on inside my head. Why not private school? Why not a private tutor or some extra help? Why couldn’t I just listen to the teacher and push him to work within the restrictions of the school rules? Why couldn’t I force him to raise his hand more and read in front of the class? Why did I always want to do things the hard way?

No, the voice calmly stated, he belongs at home with you. I felt as though I were standing on the side of a cliff with a voice calling from the edge. Jump! it said. And I will catch you. I moved a little closer to the edge each day and one day I held my breath and leapt with great faith into the unknown cavern of homeschooling.

“Could it be right to follow only my children’s interests? Could it be okay to let them play video games and build with LEGO all day long every single day? Could it be okay to let them make choices about what they wanted to learn and when they wanted to learn it?”

I prepared well ahead and ordered all of the books I thought would constitute a great education for an elementary aged child: math, spelling, history, English/language arts, age appropriate literature, science books, workbooks, and a host of other manipulatives and resources.

I also went to great pains to make our upstairs game room a bright, knowledge-building extravaganza: charts of every kind, maps, rulers, crayons, scissors, and the like – in essence, a miniature elementary school. So I was organized. I was really organized. There was a specified time for each subject. I even set up a time for recess and lunch.

Then came the first days. Despite my well thought out plans and agendas, they were a disaster. By the end of each day, my boys and I were drowning in a sea of our own tears. I felt hopeless. I couldn’t do it. I just wasn’t cut out for this homeschooling stuff. The voice was wrong. There was no safety net to catch me. I had made a big mistake.

Right after that, I crossed paths with a woman who had been homeschooling for a while. I told her my plight and that I didn’t easily give up on anything, but that I was fearful that my kids would grow up to be dumb-dumbs if I homeschooled them. I told her I just didn’t think I had it in me.

She laughed. “Throw some LEGO on the floor, turn on some music, and read a book to them while they play,” she said.

What? Let them play? That went against everything I was ever taught. Learning was hard. Learning was something you had to do first in order to do what you really wanted to do. Learning came first and if there was time, you could throw a little fun in there at the end. After several weeks of pushing school, however, I told the boys we were taking a break. They could play LEGO. They could pick the books they wanted to read. They could tell me what they wanted to do.

We played, we cooked, we gardened, and we watched cartoons. We read Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. Our days were fun and the boys were actually happy. Our days were filled with laughter instead of tears, and excitement instead of dread.

But after a period of this playtime, I got scared and pulled out the old school work again. The boys cried and begged me to let them play. I insisted that we spend time on “educational” study. We struggled and struggled. Then the voice came back. Let them play. Stop trying to make them learn and pay attention to what they already know and are building on. Oh Lord, here was that all-knowing voice again. The one that had all the divine answers! The voice that always went against everything I had ever learned from my upbringing and society.

Could it be right to follow only my children’s interests? Could it be okay to let them play video games and build with LEGO all day long every single day? Could it be okay to let them make choices about what they wanted to learn and when they wanted to learn it?

I remembered how Cameron taught himself to read and write. I thought about my youngest son and how he had taught himself to talk, walk, and learn his colors and numbers. I started asking myself: What do they need to know to survive in life and how best do they learn those things?

In essence, I listened to that internal voice. I stopped looking to society and did the radical thing: I attended to my internal knowing. I knew my children better than anyone else did. They were happier when they were pursuing the things they loved to do. They were learning as they played. I trusted that voice within me. I stopped schooling and started living. Instead of pushing my kids, I began researching alternative learning styles. Surely I wasn’t the only one who had heard that voice! Through hours of scouring the Internet, I came across many others who were living a lifestyle called “unschooling.”

I threw myself into all kinds of books and websites where people had written about the unschooling philosophy. I was astonished that others had heard the same voice as I had, and were following it.

I recalled that I had stopped pursuing many of my interests as a child because they were deemed “frivolous” activities. I had buried my love for writing, gardening, and cooking deep because they didn’t seem to have value to the adults in my life. Seeing this now, I welcomed back my own interests and dove in, and encouraged the kids to do the same. My paradigm began to shift from “learning is hard and difficult” to “life is a school.” Slowly, I saw that as I pursued my interests I learned so much. And, as I watched my kids play video games and LEGO, I saw their desire to learn was already there. There was no urgent need for me to push it. They were learning math in the kitchen cooking and on the floor building with LEGO. By reading Harry Potter and Indian in a Cupboard together, they became much better readers. Spelling was improved by communicating with their friends on multiplayer video games. When they wanted to learn how to do something difficult on their video games, they learned to research the Internet and gaming magazines. They were learning a lot by asking questions and letting me help them learn to find the answers. My boys were happy and free to discover the world through their play.

One of the biggest things I have discovered on this homeschooling/unschooling journey is to listen to my own instincts. Every single time I have listened, it has led me to some great discovery. My kids are learning to trust themselves and that their own internal voices will always lead them to where they want to go and to what they want to learn next.

I’m not sure where this internal whispering voice comes from and I won’t ever know for sure, but one thing I do know is that each of us has it and by listening to it we can learn so much about ourselves and the world. Call it instinct, intuition, the voice within, the all-knowing sense about something . . . but whatever it is, it will always lead me to where I need to go, if only I will listen.

Michelle Conaway lives and learns with her supportive husband Stacy and their three children in the Houston, Texas area. She has many passions, one of which is experiencing this wonderful life journey with her family and friends. When she’s not writing or playing Minecraft with her kids, she works as a Master Gardener, cooks, reads, gardens, and supports her kids in all the things they are interested in. She is passionate about the unschooling philosophy and loves supporting others on their journey to life learning. She founded the Texas Unschoolers Yahoo and Facebook page, as well as the Katy/West Houston Unschoolers Facebook group. Michelle blogs about her life experiences at www.michelleconaway.net.

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