After watching another TV interview with an unschooling family done by the mainstream media, I found myself again reacting to the fact that the interviewer (Juju Chang, who also interviewed us) was asking 'schooling' questions. I thought to myself, why doesn't she ask unschooling questions? Then I thought, well, what are unschooling questions? If I had an opportunity to write the questions, what questions would I write? How do we talk about our lives and our kids "as if school didn't exist"? So, here are some questions I wish they had asked me (and the answers I would have given them):
1. How do you define your lifestyle?
Our lives are focused on our family - we want each person to be happy and successful and to grow as people. We are aware of each others wants and needs, and we help each other accomplish our goals. We tend to make decisions as a family - everyone has a say in the way we live. As parents, our job is to ensure our children (and each other) has the maximum exposure to the world at large. We set goals, go on adventures and to activities, visit family and friends, and pursue our hobbies and interests.
2. What was the most important factor in this decision?
Christine and I started out with a family oriented lifestyle - home birth, extended nursing, attachment parenting. We initially sent the kids to school, but we saw changes in them that saddened us. Our daughter achieved perfect scores on the standardized tests, but she was labeled with problems and was miserable. We ultimately felt that we could do a better job of educating them. Christine did a lot of research into home schooling, and we decided on unschooling after a careful review. The clincher was meeting some unschooling families at a conference - the joy, the love, the wonderful children really convinced us that this was the right path for us.
3. How do you describe your relationship with your children?
While we are clearly their parents, and as such are responsible for their welfare and safety, we have a close relationship built on trust, respect, honesty, and love. We respect them as people - we treat them at least as well as we do other adults. We count on their input and opinions, and we enjoy their company. We're pleased that they would prefer to have us around more often than not.
4. What kinds of things are your kids interested in?
Their interests change pretty often. Right now, Shaun is interested in swordfighting and the associated role playing that accompanies it during his classes at Guard Up; he is an avid World of Warcraft player, and has reached some of the highest levels available; and he reads books geared towards fantasy and mythology (both Greek and Roman) and Japanese Manga. Kimi loves watching and reading about forensic science and police drama, and is also very interested in Japanese Manga. Both kids like to travel - they've been all over the country, as well as outside the US, and look forward to planning trips.
5. What are some of your favorite family activities?
As a family we like to travel, go to movies, have long discussions about all kinds of topics, and watch certain TV shows. We also tend to read a lot of the same books. Christine is involved in Guard Up, where both kids take classes; Kimi and I like to work together on the motorhome and some landscaping, especially when it involves cutting down trees.
6. What kinds of changes have you seen in your children over the past 1-3 years?
I've been proud to have watched them grow into young adults. They continue to be very confident in their decisions. They are able to discuss mature topics, and they have developed important relationships with friends all over the country.
7. What are the biggest disadvantages of unschooling?
While I don't think we lead perfect or idylic lives, I don't see a disadvantage in our lifestyle. We get to spend an incredible amount of time with our children, and we enjoy each other's company. We share so much, and hide so little. Our children will only be young for a little while - I'm happy we can maximize our time with them and watch them develop and grow.
Here are some questions for our kids. I won't answer these :-)
1. What is your favorite activity?
2. What is something that you used to be interested in and now don't find so interesting?
3. What is the most unusual thing you've done in the past year?
4. Is there something you're looking forward to in the next year?
So, if you're out there and you're looking to get some insight into an unschooling family, try to ask these kinds of questions, and you may be quite surprised at how you can appreciate the choice we've made for educating our children.