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the “un” of schooling

2013 July 29
by Rachel Turiel
I got an e-mail recently from a blog reader, about a comment I made in this post:
Hey Rachel–
Gosh, I adore your blog. And I’m sure this nitpicking thing I’m about to mention is mostly about me and something some soul said to me nine weeks ago or some weird doubt I hold in my left elbow, but . . . this bit in your July 2 post niggled me enough that I found myself looking it up and re-reading it: “Col builds a marble chute while his journal (ie: writing practice) collects summer dust on a shelf and I can see how easy it would be to slide into unschooling.” This makes me worried — perhaps not so much about your perceptions of unschooling, but more about the perceptions of your readers. Unschooling isn’t something that (all) families just slide into, the default position of least resistance (and maximum laziness). For some families, it’s a choice, with research and thought and even planning. (And then, you know, maybe radical unschoolers would shout: “No planning! Definitely not planning!” But, well, you know.) And unschooling could even include journaling and writing practice. Feeling silly as I write this, as I know I’m mostly speaking to the choir. But good mamas all over the place unschool and they do it with thought and love and intention. And you know that, but I had to say it. Stopping here. A million blessings on your garden,
xo Nancy in NC
Firstly, I am always interested in your thoughts, so thank you, Nancy in NC for writing.
Secondly, my children’s education occupies vast sections of my brainspace, so lets talk about this.
Recently, Col got interested in what happens when you add 6 + 6, then take the sum of the two sixes, and add them together, as in  12 + 12 = 24. And then, because it seemed like great fun, he added the sums of that number, getting 24 + 24 = 48. (I’m sure there’s a technical math term for this.) Col was scratching his way through these math sums on a piece of paper, into the double digits, then the triple digits, like it was the funnest thing to add for the sake of adding, which some accountants or very rich people may agree with.
And the homeschooling mother in me, the one that wants learning to be fun! and self-directed! was having a small internal celebration on par with say, The Rose Parade, while outside I was cooly noting, “why, yes, 384 is the sum of 192 + 192,” trying not to interfere with his flow that eventually took him to 3072. And I’ll admit, I like to put a tidy check mark next to “math” on the schooling to-do list in my head, but extra bonus is the check mark next to “curiosity,” or “perseverance,” or even “learning is fun when it’s on your terms.”
In my dream world—or actually, the world where my anxieties want to grab the reins and wrest some control–our homeschooling would always look like this, like the kids ticking forward in a linear, measurable fashion of their own accord. But, of course, moments this salient are the exception. What our schooling really looks like is a motley soup of daily life simmering under time, freedom and trust. And lately, out of that simmering soup, more and more moments are emerging where the kids show me how much they’re absorbing while it looks like they’re simply picking weed bouquets in the garden. (I overheard Rose’s friend protest when she nabbed a “beautiful white butterfly.” “It’s a cabbage moth,” Rose explained, ” it looks pretty but it lays eggs on our broccoli and cabbage that become caterpillars, so it’s OK to kill them”).
And the truth is, had I sat Col down with my idea to add the sums of 6 + 6 until reaching 3072, he likely would have grumbled over such a hard assignment. Had I sat the kids down for a lesson on cabbage moths, they may have yawned and looked for an escape route of weed bouquets. And this is where I become uncertain about how much of their education to place in front of them and how much to let them discover. About every six months I worry that my children’s penmanship isn’t up to par, or that they’re spending too much time playing and not enough time completing work with quantifiable results, or that they’re already six and eight and I’ve missed something huge. And so I step things up. We do more focused, at-the-table learning, the kind that can be charted daily: fractions, check, reading, check, handwriting, check. 
But rarely does this “focused” learning contain the satisfaction or excitement (theirs and mine) of their internal motivation to say, learn about hypnotism, which Col is currently researching (thanks to Lemony Snicket book #4, The Miserable Mill). Also, when I place more value on a subject than they do, like writing practice via the daily journals I ask the kids to keep (which—oops!—they haven’t written in since July 17th), we battle, which is my least favorite part of homeschooling. Col hates his journal, hates it with tears and protests and half hour doodle sessions before a single word gets written. And yet, I have not unschooled myself quite enough to let it go.
So when I say, “Col builds a marble chute while his journal (ie: writing practice) collects summer dust on a shelf and I can see how easy it would be to slide into unschooling,” this is a Note To Self that my children (and yours too) are never not learning. A reminder that the more I unschool myself by giving up my ideas on what, when and how a child should learn, the more their world can truly, effectively serve as their classroom. Remembering this requires working out daily at the gym: trust.
My trust muscles are growing. Though Col is a late reader by school standards, I now see his reading development as perfectly on track for him. At eight he is just beginning his reading fluency. While we were waiting for the neural connections of reading readiness to coalesce, Col learned to chop wood, make and shoot a bow, play chess, read animal tracks, name over 20 wild plants and their uses, express himself through art, and build a lego helicopter with no instructions nor pictures.
And Rose is hardly reading at six. Were she in traditional kindergarten I’m sure she’d be reading and writing by now, and we’d be tickled about it. And I’m entirely certain that because Rose is bright, verbally oriented, read to daily, and lives in a world filled with words, she will learn to read exactly when she’s ready. I am curious to see what her six year old mind wants to master given freedom. (And if you’re looking for me, I may be putting in extra time at the gym: trust)
All of which is to say, I believe deeply in the power of a slow-paced, choice-based education. I am thrilled that we can offer this to Col and Rose. I’m sure as my children grow and develop, so will the particulars of their days. I am blessed to be learning right by their side. And I am still flummoxed by the damn journals.
What does your children’s education look like? 
Questions welcome.

54 Responses leave one →
  1. mimi permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Would you school Sophia? I’ll move back in a heart beat.

  2. anne permalink
    July 29, 2013

    I struggle every day with the decision to un/homeschool my daughter vs. send her to the (very well rated) local public school. At 4, she is ready very fluently, able to read chapter books by herself. She taught herself to read, and resisted any effort I made to help her get there. It was so early that I hardly tried, but I see that pattern with pretty much everything we do. She resists my suggestion and direction, and then comes up with something much more complicated and beyond what I was even going for on her own! I fear that the school structure will frustrate her. She likes to get deeply involved in an activity, and that is not the goal of traditional school. As a friend I was agonizing over this with told me last night, “Pre-k helps them learn how to stand in a line, wait their turn, etc.”, and she was saying this as someone who fully embraces a traditional schooling model.

    • Chelsie permalink
      July 29, 2013

      I have worked in the education field for many years in different capacities and from the sounds of it you have a very special kiddo on your hands. I personally would encourage you to un/homeschool her. Sending such a bright child to school will force you to face the dilemmas of skipping grades and the social repercussions of that & how to keep her moving forward and interested in learning while others are struggling or working at a slower pace. Many teachers don’t know how or don’t have the time or energy to create learning opportunities for those outside the average learning level in the classroom and that is when misbehavior jumps in and or complete disengagement…Things to think about…if you have the ability to stay home with your child do it. Children don’t need to go to school to learn how to stand in line or wait their turn, in my humble opinion. oy

      • anne permalink
        August 2, 2013

        Chelsie, Thanks so much for your input! I have my suspicions about her incompatibility with school, but don’t know any teachers/administrators myself. So it’s very interesting to hear this from someone “in the know”.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      Sounds like you have a very self directed learner, which is a beautiful trait. Your work may be providing oppotunities and then getting out of the way more than leading your daughter any particular place. Good luck with your decision, and remember you get to evaluate and re-evaluate what is working for her and the family as a whole.

      • anne permalink
        August 2, 2013

        yes, I must remember that I do get to evaluate/re-evaluate. I’m kind of an all or nothing person, so the decision to just try pre-K (or even let her go for the year knowing we will homeschool K and up) feel like I’m committing to the traditional path forever…I need to work out my go-with-the-flow muscles I guess…

  3. July 29, 2013

    Like this!

    Our schooling looks like yours. Long periods of trust and amazement interspersed with jolts of anxiety induced “real school” that happens at a table and produces something we pin to the “school wall”.

  4. Molly permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Most of the time, my daughter has been in a traditional preschool, and soon will be in a regular kindergarten. But for two months a year, I don’t work in an office, and even when I do, my work days when I have her are shorter than most people’s. And in her preschool, she had one teacher who followed her for four years, a Montessori trained woman who I regard as her second mama. At my house, there is a huge focus on making and fixing, with some growing. We are both working on our kindness, empathy, hospitality and generosity. We hardly ever buy new household objects, and not much of our food comes pre-assembled. She isn’t reading, and I do not push it. I was taught to read early, and was confused about the use of kindergarten under the circumstances. I am worried that school will appeal to her rule following aspects, that she will become some kind of dreaded “normal” person, over time. I look forward to high school years, when she will have more options about how to be educated, and I’m grateful that this is the case to such a greater degree than when I was in school…

  5. Kathy permalink
    July 29, 2013

    AMEN AND AMEN! Trust is what matters!!!

    All the terminology we homeschoolers/unschoolers, home educators, whatever, use, is just that, terminology. I do agree with the reply, there is a specific definition of unschooling, which in the old days meant not ascribing to a firm and published curriculum, but discovery. And I understand your comment as well.

    You are 100% correct in assessing your children’s reading capabilities. I know way back when, as a home educator, I learned that some students learn to read by ten. I wish I could stop the pressure on my public schooled grandson to be reading fluently by 10. He is not. He was pressed too hard in the classroom by his teachers, his parents (both educators), his grandparents (the other ones, both are educators), and the SYSTEM and he is now labeled and bogged down in that same system. He is much like Col, esperimental in nature, enthusiastic about learning what interests him, and stymied in his journal (and I could say more, but won’t, about the pressure from his step-mother). Let the boy LEARN! on his own terms! I say. But the system will not allow that. And he will be followed by the labeling for the rest of time, including his college records.

    The journal….there are ways to create one. Personal communication is the journal’s purpose. Drawings! He is after all, an artist. He can add words later, one sentence or paragraph at a time. Give him words as prompts, or the family can give prompts. He can cut out photos, choose interesting fonts and words. Also paste things in it, or put stuff in a plastic sleeve. Photos too. Anything to give him a prompt to find words, and he can also record on tape his thoughts, then later you and he can transcribe them. And give him BIG words, show him the dictionary. And quite often those big words will have drawings! He can copy those to put in the journal. Increase his vocabulary and keep that in the journal, and perhaps to what it applies. I still discuss big words with Sarah, and tell her that if they are used correctly, they define her and her education, as well as the concept or object she is explaining. (Sarah is 28 and has Down syndrome. She was home educated until 18 and read at age 7, and that’s another story.)

    Wheew. I miss teaching at home. Teachable moments are thankfully still present. However, at this stage and age, Sarah has become the teacher.

  6. Kathy permalink
    July 29, 2013

    I forogt to mention one other very important aspect of shcooling at home, the value of TRADITION.

  7. July 29, 2013

    Amen Sister!
    I loved this. Remember me sharing my girl reading at 9!! That may have been the hardest day at (weeks…. months….) at *gym trust*. Now she can polish off enormous books in an afternoon. So crazy.
    For us…. it’s not about fitting into a box. Much like you. It’s a blend of this and that. THAT in my opinion is what makes homeschooling so incredible. Time for kids to focus on what they love. FIND what they love. I’m not saying we don’t do typical math or spelling…. but I AM saying that we value the incredible gift of free time. That we celebrate robots built from random pieces of wood and garbage debris. That the mama (in particular) here is letting go of everything fitting neatly into some category. It’s part traditional classic style learning….. part unschooling…. part something that might have a label next month.
    A dear HS friend forever ago said…. “we’re eclectic.”
    And I guess…. six years later…. that’s right we’re at too.
    Eclectic, I like that.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      “It’s part traditional classic style learning….. part unschooling…. part something that might have a label next month.”

      Yup. Pretty much sums us up too.

      * also, “nature immersion”

  8. Emmanuelle permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Dear Rachel, this post is wonderful in the way it gives us the whole picture: your everyday life where learning and curiosity like to dance together, even if sometimes they have to be introduced to each other first, your thoughts about it all, and also Col and Rose’s view.

    Something strikes me there: Col loves to draw, and he is very good at it, so there’s no doubt he’ll be able to draw nice-looking letters when it makes more sense to him. Probably around the time when he really gets hooked in reading – so many stories you can discover by yourself! so much information available to be pondered!

    Meanwhile, he might actually enjoy keeping his journal if he was able to DRAW his activities in there, instead of writing them. Words would simply come handy when the thing to be described is too abstract to appear in the picture… therefore becoming a useful tool (like a complicated screwdriver that you don’t like using but you’re glad to have once in a while) instead of a nonsensical nuisance.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      I think you’re 100% right.
      *prying open my mind*

  9. Bree permalink
    July 29, 2013

    I’m glad you posted Nancy from NC’s message and addressed it so beautifully. Lazy-schooling is what a friend of mine called my methods (or lack of methods) as an unschooler. Ouch. She just didn’t understand it. So I’m thankful you clarified here for those who may not understand.

    Also, I wanted to share a story with you about my 10 year old son who dislikes writing. Up till recently it seemed his life just had no use for something so tedious and tiring. Then a week ago we had to struggle through writing short thank you notes which brought him to tears, literally. (I usually write them and he signs his name.) He had only written a handful of words in ten years and never had a lesson. But here, life had presented him with a real need for writing, a challenge. With some chocolate to encourage him for lines completed and several lengthy breaks, he did it. After he had finished, he floored me by saying, “Mom, I’d like some handwriting lessons. I want to learn to write faster than you, then this will never take me a long time ever again.” And progress is now being made because of interest and purpose.
    So, be encouraged with Col. It all happens with freedom, time and trust, just like you said.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      Wow. I liked hearing this story. Sounds like you’re a lifetime member at the gym: trust. (And the gym: patience). Beautiful. I’d like to hear the continuing story of your son’s handwriting lessons as it unfolds.

  10. Jonni permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Rachel, thank you so much for writing this. We home schooled our last child. We were harassed, and told we ‘should’ do this or that. It is so nice to know to hear of other families doing the same. We pulled him out of public schools in the middle of the 5th grade, and he was ‘unschooled’ most of the time, we were very much like your family. When I asked his teacher when he got to be a kid, she couldn’t give me an answer. So we encouraged him and ‘let’ him be a kid with our ‘unschooling.’ We gave him the choice to finish ‘HS’ with his friends, and he chose not to. He realized he had learned way more than they had (he was helping them with their homework.) When he started college (without a technical HS diploma) he just flew, and he was 16 yo. He was ready, and he had the tools to make it work. That is what you are giving your children. Let them find some of those tools (reading, math etc) on their own terms. It will bring them so much confidence and the ability to process. Kudos to you, and all the families that are choosing this path. From what I have observed, I wish more families would do the same…

  11. July 29, 2013

    My daughter (now 12) has been attending a small secular progressive school. It’s very project-based learning, but they assess skill development frequently with a 12:1 student to teacher ratio. They believe strongly that each individual child develops at their own pace, so they don’t expect all children to be doing the same thing at the same age. Emma has spent her summer swimming with friends, constructing fairy houses outside in the woods, and baking sweets she wants to eat. The math review sheets I printed out are languishing on the kitchen table, and she hasn’t read a single book all summer. She’s been reading recipes and learning that if you put all the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies (including the chocolate chips) in the bowl right away, mixing with an electric mixer won’t work. She also plays on her iPad, and can figure out how to navigate through mystery games without instructions. Personally, I think all of this is just as important as those math problems for her brain development.

  12. Andrea permalink
    July 29, 2013

    High five on this one!

    We unschool here, so far. There is a ton of pressure to do something more structured with boy child. After all, he is ‘disabled’and how could we possibly be qualified to get the task of educating him done. There is also a terrible stereotype that spectrum kids need pradictability, ridgitity, structure, rewards, charts, timers etc. An outdated behavior based model that, while benifits many a child, doesn’t allow for individuality, creativity, self confidence, or self taught learning.

    Trust is hard! But hey, we are all making this up as we go along. And we are free to change our minds at any time.

  13. Kathy permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Sorry, but must qualify a comment… I said unschooling is discovery. It is way more than that! It is purposeful and directed (and sometimes not, like Col’s math discovery). It is serendipity, and also can be planned.
    I like Stephanie’s comment: “Time for kids to focus on what they love.” That is what Robin, my older daughter, did. She read all the public library books about sports medicine when she was 12; this was in 1991. Then she used interlibrary loan. Then she discovered the community college near us offered the best athletic training programs in the state. Her goal was to attend that college, and she did, at 15. We drove her to town and when she was in her anatomy & physiology class, Sarah and I did seatwork at the college library. At 16, the director allowed her to enter the program. She finished her AS at 18.
    Both my girls love books and learn well by reading. But Robin was too busy to read before 9 yo. She struggled, but once she found a good series of books (Mandy series), and then prompted by her interest in sports injury, she had a real reason to read. Sarah had the ability to hear and see the syllable combinations in her head, and was able to comprehend. She still enjoys reading Amelia Bedelia! Some kids hear and learn, others see and learn, and a good number learn from doing, constructing, manipulating. The fact that Col could manipulate numbers and discover a mathematical prinicipal is something Robin would not have thought to “discover.”

  14. Jaime permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Hello…I’m Jaime and I have two daughters, 10 and almost 9 (in September). We live in Eastern Colorado and both girls have been in public school since day 1 (3-year-old preschool). My husband and I have thought about homeschooling them for at least 2 years now. Due to finances or whatever, it’s just not been possible to do it yet. It’s not that we have ‘problems’ with ‘regular school’ but we feel both girls could thrive learning at home.
    Both girls are advanced in multiple subjects (I just gave them a state achievement test) and I know they’ve been bored at school. I hate that. Why not be able to keep challenging them at their rate?
    So…this is the year. Things have finally worked themselves out and we are tackling the homeschool life. Our first day is August 19th. I’m quite nervous that I won’t be able to pull it off. I know it’s probably going to be a tough first year, but I am trying to stay optimistic about it and both girls are quite excited. I do have table-based curriculum (which is what they’re used to) but I hope to introduce lots of off-table learning as well.
    What advice do you have for us? I wish I would have been able to do this from the beginning; the girls are used to the public school environment at this point so I’m just not sure how it will all come together. I read your blog daily and look to you and your family for encouragement and guidance. Thank you!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013


      Thanks for writing. I will be thinking of you on August 19th (with great excitement). Congratulations!

      I will say, first: beware of any pressure/expectations you’re putting on yourself. Many parents require months of “deschooling” to let go of previously held beliefs about education when they decide to homeschool. I am certainly still peeling off the layers.

      Secondly, go slow, appreciate simply the time you all have together, that in itself is a great gift of connection and education.

      Thirdly, talk to your daughters. Sounds like they’re old enough to communicate their desires. Check in with them, and be patient about their own process of “deschooling” and letting go of all the structure and stimuli they’re used to. Maybe help your girls stay in touch with their school friends.

      It has been very helpful for me to have a local community of homeschoolers to collaborate with. I never wanted to do this alone. Sometimes this means our homeschool co-op where we learn and teach with other families, other times it means just hanging with another homeschooling Mama, discharging all my doubts and anxieties to a listening, empathetic ear.

      Finally, cultivating trust as a daily practice is essential anytime you’re doing something out of the mainstream.

      Wishing you so much enjoyment and growth!

      Do keep me posted on how it’s going.

  15. Audrey permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Col is close to discovering the Fibonacci series(!), an important and beautiful math concept that appears frequently in art and in nature…

    Go Col!

  16. July 29, 2013

    I think I’ve gotten onto this soap box before, so forgive me (hug). I always wonder who it was who decided that kindergarteners should be reading. What study? What evidence that if you are reading at 5 vs 6, that you are doing better in school when you are, say 15 (controlling for socio-economic status). I’ve read that it makes a difference in elementary school, but the differences are lost by the time kids hit middle school (and when it is more important, as they navigate the choices that will effect the rest of their lives). We seem to spend a lot of time focusing on little littles and very little on middle school and up, where teen pregnancy soars and drop out rates go up and hormones rage and rebellion reigns.

    First grade. 1972. Twin Falls Idaho. The first week. Up around the classroom is the alphabet in block letters. Under each letter is a small pouch. Our job, as young first grade students, was to bring in something small enough to fit in the pouch that started with that letter. For the first 26 days of school (the first month!) we concentrated on the alphabet and the sounds letters made. “A” for apple or army men. Then we graduated to “see spot run” books. The horror.

    I have always been a reader. I took to it like a duck to water, pegged all the reading comprehension tests, and was reading way beyond my grade level very quickly. I’d guess that about 70% of that was simply the way my brain is wired. The other 30%? I was ready. Yes, I think I knew the alphabet. But no one was trying to teach me to read in kindergarten (though I was read to, and exposed to lots of books).

    My step son wasn’t a reader. He was almost kept back in 3rd grade b/c his reading was so poor. This in spite of being read to, being made to read himself, and having many adults around him that LOVED books. He suffers from test anxiety and has always lagged behind on these kind of milestones. The more you push, the more progress slows. But we’d also always seen him eventually get there, under his own power, in his own way. So we trusted that he would again. We kept reading to him. We kept making him read. And we laid off pushing for more. The turning point came in 6th grade. Three years later that the experts wanted, but he got there. Primary motivation? Being able to read up on cheat codes for video games! He is now an articulate 23 year old who writes better than a lot of older adults I know.

    The thing to remember is that averages are just that. Averages. If 3rd grade is the average for going from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” than that means that some kids are going to be there in 1st grade, and some in 6th. No one is going to be exemplary at everything. My handwriting sucks (cursive – what exactly IS the point of learning cursive other than to make those of us who can’t master it well feel bad when we look at our mother’s beautiful handwriting?). I struggle with complex math despite having gotten an A in calculus in college (after a motherload of work). Trust that your kids will get to where they need to go. Because you are giving them the freedom to have the world be their classroom AND also teaching them, by doing more traditional “worksheet” learning, that part of being in this world is learning how to go along to get along. That sometimes you have to do the “not so fun” stuff in order to get to where you want to go. All of these lessons will serve them well. Because YOU are an exemplary Mama.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      Thank you, Jennifer. I’ve been told that were Col in regular school, he’d be in all sorts of remedial programs. So glad we get to bypass that.

  17. July 29, 2013

    we tried the journals. i couldn’t take the seething that came from my kids so we abandoned them. a few months later they took great interest in my journal and wouldn’t you know, picked out their very own journals and now they journal, sketch, write stories and i don’ t have to ask. yay!

  18. Carly permalink
    July 29, 2013

    I responded, oh hell yeah, when I read this:
    “And I’m entirely certain that because Rose is bright, verbally oriented, read to daily, and lives in a world filled with words, she will learn to read exactly when she’s ready. I am curious to see what her six year old mind wants to master given freedom. (And if you’re looking for me, I may be putting in extra time at the gym: trust)”

    That’s so exactly where I am with my own 6 year old. She loves to be read to and to write her own books. She especially loves to figure out the spelling of her words independently (e.g. butter = budr, race=ras, awesome!). But ask her to sit down and read for practice, or do a phonics exercise in any form and forget it. Gone. Not interested.

    I’m working out at gym: trust, too, because I know that there’s a process happening in her relationship with the written word that is organic, profound, and ever-changing. There is not one right way to learn how to read (although I do think there are a variety of wrong ways to try to push someone to learn how to read). Among other ideas my own traditionally-schooled brain produces, I resist the urge to bring home readers from the library that contain words “easy enough” for her to read because I know she wants substantive stories to sink her emergent reader teeth into, even to the point of feeling she must write and illustrate them herself.

    Let me just say, I find your thoughts about and approach to life with kids to be a constant source of inspiration and comfort. Thanks for every single blog post you write; getting it in my email is truly a highlight of the day.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      I am so right with you. We just found a “bob book” (easy reader) from the library under the couch that I checked out haphazardly awhile back thinking maybe Rose would want to practice reading. Meanwhile, she’s been paging through picture books making up her own elaborate stories, making “pam sat on a hat” sound awfully dry.

  19. Susan S permalink
    July 29, 2013

    If I could share my perspective? I’m not a mom, so I don’t really have anything valuable to share from that perspective, but I am a product of the public school system. I know there are better and worse schools within any school system, but my entire educational experience was absolutely miserable. I so wish that I had had the option of home-schooling or some sort of alternative to the public school system that seemed to emphasize conformity over creative thinking and problem-solving skills, searching for individual talents and nurturing them, encouraging curiosity and the pursuit of whatever interests you. One day, in a 7th grade science class, I was looking at the wall, trying to grapple with the assignment. I was completely flummoxed and terrified to ask for help. Here’s why: The teacher came along and asked me what I was doing. I said, “I’m thinking.” He responded, “That kind of thinking will get you into trouble.” Did he offer to help me? No. Just slammed me for being confused.

    What I “learned” about poetry, for example, was that I couldn’t understand it, therefore, I didn’t like it. What I learned about math was that I wouldn’t be good at it because I’m a girl. I recently turned 46, and I’m *still* finding areas of intellectual interest that I’m shy about pursuing because it is so ingrained in me that learning isn’t fun, that it’s hard for me, that there is always only a “right” way and a “wrong” way to learn something.

    So what I hope to do by sharing this perspective is to ENCOURAGE you parents of all these beautiful, shiny, infinitely capable and diversely talented children to do whatever it takes to preserve your child’s curiosity, their innate love of learning and to build within them the permanent knowledge that they can do anything they want to do if they put their minds to it.

    I hope that helps!

  20. Melissa permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Was thinking of you because Avi had his first day of Kee Tov today! And we chose Tehiyah because kids get to be kids there and they don’t use grades. It’s such a lovely, small place. I was surprised by my excitement over it because I wanted to support the public schools but it just felt so big, unwieldy and not like the right place for us. I so admire the way you (and many commenters) are home schooling/unschooling their kids! But that is just not for us, either. So I am grateful we have a sweet place like Tehiyah for k-8!
    Ps. Leeor was labeled some kind of remedial reader in first grade. Apparently they had never seen Israeli Jew in Lubbock, TX, and didn’t get that he was just ESL. Sheesh. He started reading “late” but seems to be doing just fine these days. You should see our living room! Looks like a library and both kids love books (: as always, love your honesty, humility and gorgeous writing! Xo

  21. Andrea permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Loving this discussion

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 30, 2013

      Me too. I want to comment on everyone’s comment, but I’ve got one kid outside playing “ponies” and another kid carving a wand at the kitchen table, wood shavings flying everywhere. So, THANK YOU to everyone for taking the time to share their stories and encouragement.

      • Andrea permalink
        July 31, 2013

        Well, we all love it when you have time to comment on each one of our thoughts! But there is only so many hours in the day and a full garden to pee on. Wink.

        That’s why you write the post, and we do the commenting! It’s just so fabulous to hear what everyone has to say. Plus, this is a topic not discussed in my circle of friends. I don’t know a single homeschooler. Don’t even know many stay/work at home moms. This thing, the Internet, has given me the chance to enrich boy child’s life in a way my local community can not.

        • Rachel Turiel permalink*
          July 31, 2013

          Yes, I agree. I get tremendous support and encouragement via homeschooling parents I’ve never met in person. So thankful for that!

  22. July 29, 2013

    What a great post! We are radical unschoolers and it took me years to fully deschool myself enough to truly, entirely trust the learning process my girls were choosing. Funnily enough, my girls now want me to do some lessons for them (I was the one who was resisting at first…). Then, I wondered what it was exactly they were asking when they said they wanted to do school (after two years of total unschooling and traveling, before that, we were Waldorf homeschoolers) and I realized they wanted me to tell them beautiful stories illustrated with a chalk drawing (hidden by a silk on the board), do more crafts and see me lead more activities in general.

    It is fascinating to see yourself go full circle and see your relationship to learning change totally. My girls feel it too, I know.

  23. July 29, 2013

    Om Mani Padme Hung!

    {conscious breath}
    {re-adjust into elegant posture}

    a bold entry…like before you hit the PUBLISH icon, it was probably as if you were about ready to strike a hornets’ nest with too-short a stick! trust me, ilg has been there, lives there. adores there!

    feeble ilg bows to your Bravery within your endlessly awesOMe sharings…

    can’t imagine this plane(t) without you and your precious Clan!

  24. July 30, 2013

    Great post! Well written as usual, but what struck me most was the images. And this line – “…a Note To Self that my children (and yours too) are never not learning.” – which could easily be a caption for any of the photos above. Thanks for sharing Rachel, and keeping me thinking about my own family.

  25. meredith pollick permalink
    July 30, 2013

    Hi Rachel! I love my journals! Don’t you? I suggest a few things: use the journals for drawing pictures, sketching and labeling (i.e. if they went in the garden, drew a pic of a plant, and then labeled it’s parts). When the journal is much more of an open-ended thing- something special, that they and they alone get to use- the writing will come. I also like to call them “research journals,” and teach the kids to use them as the scientists that they are. Lastly, put a journal for you on the shelf with Rose and Col, and model to them using it. When you come across a new plant or a recipe or want to sketch out a design, pull your journal off the shelf, pull out the colored pencils, markers, pens, erasers and such, and jot your ideas down. They will see you using your research journal in this way, and then perhaps they will too.

    Good luck! And happy journaling!

  26. July 30, 2013

    “how much of their education to place in front of them and how much to let them discover. ” i love this, it so aptly describes my journey. as you know, much of my brainspace is also consumed with this stuff. i think it’s so important that we discuss it, so i’m glad you did. i can relate with nancy from nc, in that i don’t want the rest of society to think *all unschoolers unschool out of being anti-everything-else, or out of neglect, which is kind of how i guess someone *could interpret “sliding into it” though i don’t think they *should interpret it that way, coming from you, and having paid attention to the rest of the thoughtful commentary you have provided on the subject. also, i know full well the rest of society will hold notions of what they think an unschooler is, regardless of what we really are, so i guess i tend to sit back and observe when i see those types of opinions fly around. i thought nancy’s opening statement exhibited much self-awareness of that sort- hey this is probably something about me. i notice that when i am sensitive to a criticism of unschooling, it is also usually something about me that i need to work through.

    back to “how much of their education to place in front of them and how much to let them discover.” i don’t think there is a place on that continuum where you can really cut it off and say beyond this point is what is called unschooling. everyone approaches it a little differently. strewing is one of my favorite terms from reading through the unschooling literature years ago, wherein the parent does indeed put things in front of the child, interesting ones- it’s just that then they listen and pay attention to which ones are grabbing the kid’s interest, and follow that thread. putting it in front of them doesn’t necessarily mean they do it (if you don’t push them to do it). i think unschooling is misunderstood, often, to mean that parents are completely hands off. i think that may be true in some families, but it is the farthest thing from true in many more families i know of who unschool. the general consensus among unschoolers, from what i can gather, is that we actually put much more time and effort into things, much more thought and planning, because we are creating our path as we go along, rather than following someone else’s. honestly i feel more lazy when i lean on curriculum (gasp) to help my kiddo learn something that feels essential, than when i am able to lead him to it more organically, or simply use my effort and energy to hold myself in check and allow it to unfold (like the day quinn randomly looked up and told me he had discovered that adding two odd numbers gives you an even number. col’s mathematical gymnastics reminded me of that.)

    pumping iron in the trust gym right along with you, mama.

  27. Nancy in NC permalink
    July 30, 2013

    Wow, Rachel! Thank you for such a very full response to my comment. So lovely to be met with those photos — a collection of the motley, amazing things that add up to a full education. (But man, some days, what I wouldn’t give for a completed workbook. Or just the dang nam ability to check off a box — “done” with that, over and out! Oy, my human desires for certainty and clarity.) And you totally hit on the crucial point for many homeschooling parents: “how much of their education to place in front of them and how much to let them discover.” Yup, how much does a good parent help, interfere? It’s not exactly the same, but Melissa Wiley’s old post on what she calls Tidal Homeschooling is a balm to me: Mostly, that post gives me that jolt of recognition I crave, that puts me at ease, “Yeah, other homeschooling moms do this too.” Thanks again! Will you show us the newly carved wand?!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 31, 2013

      Nancy, thank you for sparking this discussion and for that link. I love how she describes her family’s learning style. That is exactly right on for us and I suspect for many homeschooling families.

  28. Melissa permalink
    July 30, 2013

    i had to come back to this rich discussion (and I’m procrastinating so thank you, internet), but i was remembering that i taught in the public schools in CA for two years, when i was just 24 and 25 years old, and knew nothing, but learned that I couldn’t abide by the CA state standards. they felt so stifling and not at all developmentally appropriate. it was that experience, actually, that prompted me to get my MSW. i’m so grateful to have choices about my children’s education. and i also recognize that for better or worse, my parents didn’t think that much about it and things seem to have a way of working out. xo

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 31, 2013

      Yes, things do have a way of working out. I was in an all-day home daycare starting at age 2, when my mom went to law school. And then public school all the way through with plenty of after school childcare until I was old enough to walk 1-2 miles home myself. I believe back then, the classroom ratio was 1:30.
      I wouldn’t say my spirit was nurtured, but in these large public schools I learned how to speak up for myself and find my way socially (can’t say I learned *much* academically, which honestly is my own fault ).
      But, when I think of the many creative, free-thinking, courageous people I know whose parents didn’t think much about their education, I know it’s true what you say that things have a way of working out.
      Also, smiling at your above comment about an Israeli Jew in Lubbock, TX. Oy!

  29. Amy Carney permalink
    July 31, 2013

    So in high school we had an awesome English lit teacher who started each morning with a song on the record player….sometimes classical sometimes Bob Dylan, but mostly the Beatles and Rolling Stones. We were instructed to pick up our pen at the beginning of the song and to write write write without thought until the song was over. Spelling grammar and content were not important only that free uninterrupted thoughts flowed onto paper. He would Check the journals, but never read them such a great way to begin the school day. Reading your post reminded me of this and am now thinking maybe I will try this with my kiddos too! I bet they like it

  30. Denise permalink
    July 31, 2013

    I teach high school English in the public school system, and my son goes to public school; however, I am respectful of alternative choices. It’s very important to do what works for you and your family. It appears that your children are learning many valuable lessons that will last a lifetime. At the end of the day, we are all trying to do what we believe is best for the children. Blessings!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 31, 2013

      Absolutely, and thank goodness for choices.

  31. Ellie permalink
    August 1, 2013

    Thank you for writing so thoughtfully about this subject. As a foreigner in this country, currently teaching English/American literature to affluent kids in an expensive private school on the West Coast which, at least in the lower grades, seems as the antithesis to unschooling (and which, not incidentally, my own not-affluent son attends), I am both fascinated and thankful to get a glimpse into the beautiful, purposeful way in which you educate your children. I’ve been wondering for a couple of days how to comment, and in the end it all seems to boil down to the recognition that I feel lucky and grateful to live in a country where people have so many choices about how to think and live. Having grown up under Communism in Eastern Europe, and having ended up doing what I love to do here, I echo one of your other reader’s comment that things have a way of working out. In my daily observation of all kinds of children–including brilliant, motivated, kind-hearted ones–the home makes ALL the difference. Regardless of how/where we choose to educate, the thoughts and behaviors we model at home have the best chance of leaving a lasting impact on our children. By that measure, your children are nothing but lucky and privileged to have you as a mama.

  32. August 1, 2013

    This is a really wonderful post Rachel. Our “schooling” looks much like yours. I use Project Based Homeschooling methods to help me become a better mentor for their projects, which are totally of their own choosing. They dive into subjects with passion and learn more than I could ever hope to teach them in a “unit” of my divising.
    It is amazing to see them grow and learn this way.
    We work on “lessons” for things they want to work on. My daughter pretty much taught herself to read listening to me try to pronounce Dino names when she was researching Dino’s around age 5. It turns out that Dino names are great for learning phonics. Her brother has not “picked up” reading the way she did but wants to build models that require reading plans, that he wants to read himself. He has asked me to teach him to read so we worked on learning phonics and he, at age 7, is starting to read. His progress has been amazing to see.
    Thank you for this peek into your world.

  33. janie dalton permalink
    August 2, 2013

    you guys rock!

  34. August 16, 2013

    This I love. (And I shared a short bit and a link on my homeschool group’s blog.)

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