I’m often asked what is the most difficult aspect of
life learning for our family. That question is easy to answer…and it’s in
the past. Truthfully, there doesn’t seem to be a downside these days. But
early on, when our son was transitioning from school to not-school, things
were not so easygoing. My wife and I pulled K. from school in fifth grade
for a variety of reasons. He agreed with the idea and was, in fact, very
happy to begin learning at home. However, none of us were prepared for the
amount of time it would take for him to make that transition.
We realize now that most kids will need some time to
adjust, and that the amount of time will depend on the child, his or her
situation in school, the age at which he or she has left school, and so
on. I’ve been told that it takes roughly a month of decompression time for
every year spent in school, although I don’t know who came up with that
guideline. In our case, close to a year passed before K. successfully moved
out of passive mode and began to thrive as a life learner.
My wife and I found it difficult to be patient and
not to worry that we’d made a horrible mistake. The mistake we did make
wasn’t to take K. out of school, but to try and bring school home. We had
never intended that. We had planned to have a relaxed – semi-unschooling
– attitude toward learning at home. But our anxiety got the best of us for
a while and we tried to force our son to do “just a bit of school work”
each day. It became clear pretty quickly that was the wrong approach. Although
K. didn’t know anything but rules and curriculum, and therefore seemed to
want them, he really didn’t want them. And we began to see just how much
school had eroded his self-confidence. So for the most part, we backed off
and let him be while he found his footing in his new lifestyle.
That’s not to say we “did nothing,” although K. did
spend quite a bit of time in front of the television. He also spent hours
riding his bike around town somewhat aimlessly. (It seemed aimless enough
to me, at any rate, but I see now that he was burning off energy and maybe
working through some issues.)
My son has always enjoyed reading, so he and I spent
a lot of time together at the library. (That was a luxury I appreciated
for myself and I realize, in retrospect, that my enthusiasm rubbed off.)
Other things we did included watching videos on a variety
of topics (okay, you might call them educational, but that wasn’t the point)
and exploring making art – which I think helped us both work through some
feelings as well.
Since we both enjoy hiking, he and I took a number
of short, local Nature walks, and the whole family took one longer and more
challenging four-day trek. If I chose to, I could document a huge amount
of learning that ensued, from botany and biology to climate change and taking
physical and emotional risks. All of that has been part of the foundation
on which K. has, for the past few years, built his self-directed education.
At the same time, the process taught me trust and respect
for this capable young learner. So when your school-leaver needs some decompression
time, just try chilling out with her and enjoy!
Greg Reisser lives in eastern Canada with his wife, their
teenaged son, and his step-daughter. He feels fortunate to be able to participate
in learning along with the rest of his family.