Idzie Desmarais

Your Child Doesn't Have to Be a Homeschool Poster Child

YES! THIS! Your child doesn't have to be a homeschool poster child in order for your homeschool life to be successful. Great post from a grown-up unschooler.

When I was young, there were a lot of homeschooling parents who would brag about the chapter books their children were reading and how many grade levels ahead they were. I wasn’t reading yet, and my mother — feeling somewhat overwhelmed I’m sure — repeated for years, “She’ll learn to read when she’s ready.” It became a mantra of sorts, in the face of surrounding pressure. When she’s ready, she’ll learn.

My mother was right, of course. I was growing up in a very literate household, and without any learning disabilities. By the time I was 10, I was reading at least as well as my same-age peers. Surrounded by other parents who were very pleased to have poster children, my mother had resisted outside pressure and held true to her beliefs in natural learning.

When my family shifted more into unschooling-friendly circles, we started seeing less comparing of children to each other within the community. But holding up unschooling poster children — and poster young adults — to those new to or outside of the unschooling community seems every bit as common.

The message seems clear: In the face of widespread misunderstanding and criticism, we have something to prove — and the best way to prove it is to show how spectacularly impressive unschoolers can be.

I get the drive behind it. It’s hard to be such a small group doing something so unconventional, and it can be easy to feel a ton of pressure to prove the validity of our choices.

But, it can be really hard being one of those teens and young adults who are held up as examples, and even more difficult for the ones who end up feeling they don’t measure up to poster child status.

What success means is pretty subjective. In our culture it generally boils down to college degrees, a “good” job, money, prestige… Unschoolers often add some less conventional items, like traveling the world or starting a business, to the list. But whatever judgements are used, I think all young adults feel a lot of pressure to prove themselves capable adults. When you’re coming from an unschooling background, not only do you have something to prove personally, but suddenly you’ve become a stand-in for all unschoolers, a metric by which to judge the worth of an entire educational philosophy and group of people. Any success is seen as proof that maybe unschooling has some merit to it — and any failure? Well, that’s seen as proof that unschooling is a really bad idea to start with.

With that type of pressure coming from outside the community, it can feel especially hard to have that pressure coming from within the community as well.

I sort of accidentally fell into the role of unschooling example. When I first started writing my blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. I never knew it would end up being so popular or lead to conference engagements and some level of notoriety in alternative education circles.

It’s a position that I sometimes feel very proud of, and that, at other times, makes me kind of uncomfortable. I love that my existence and my writing can help people see how valuable unschooling can be, but at the same time, I want to be looked at as just me, and to be representative only of my own life.

I want what I think we all want, no matter our education: to be seen as a unique individual with my very own aspirations and goals and experiences. I want my successes to be celebrated, and I want support and encouragement when I fail.

As a community, school-free learners want greater recognition and understanding. I want this as well, and have chosen to do what I can to advance that cause. But I also want each and every homeschooler and unschooler to be seen primarily as themselves, not as products of a philosophy, whether it’s believed to be good or bad.

As I wrote in a post last year:

I just hope, as unschoolers, we can hold tight to our shared value of appreciating learning for learning’s sake, whether it’s big or small, sung from the stages of a national singing competition, or curled up in a comfy chair in a nondescript house reading about Arthurian legends or the history of comics.

The goal should never be raising children who are impressive. It should be, instead, about nurturing and celebrating each individual, no matter who they are.


Growing Through Traveling: Independence, Confidence, and What We Become Away from Home

Growing Through Traveling: Independence, Confidence, and What We Become Away from Home

I didn’t grow up in a traveling family. Besides the yearly ritual drive down to a cabin for a week every summer, my parents weren’t big on trips of any sort.

But in my later teens, that started to change, mostly because of my sister and me. We started wanting to connect with the unschooling community more, and traveling as a trio of sisters and mother (my father’s job doesn’t allow for much traveling) to unschooling conferences and camps. And pretty soon, the friends I made at those places had me craving more time spent away.

In the past six or so years, I still haven’t been off this continent. I haven’t even made it to the opposite coast! But I have made many, many trips to visit friends, most within a (sometimes long) days bus or car ride. And though it might not be as exciting as backpacking in Europe or hiking in Peru, I have learned and grown a lot from the experience of traveling, not to mention having some of the best times of my life. Here are just a few reasons why I love getting away from home every now and then for a good adventure.

Independence

When I first started traveling by myself, at a time when I was just starting to be more independent, it felt like a very big deal to be the only person responsible for getting myself over long distances and handling whatever problems came up while I was gone. While parents have definitely been called in a panic time or two, when they’re not within an hours drive you still have to fix things yourself, with just advice (and the occasional emergency loan or bus ticket) to get you through. I haven’t needed either of those last two in a while, and the panicked phone calls have become few and far between. But travel has marked some of the times in the past that I first started to feel like an adult because I did manage to solve problems by myself, get myself to the right destination, deal with emotional upheaval (both my own and that of friends), and otherwise keep it all together. And managing to do that while far away from my parents meant so much to me.

Confidence

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cafe in rural Maine, many hours from my home in Montreal. Some things may have changed in the years since I started spending more time away from home, but what hasn’t changed is how much more confident I feel when away from my familiar haunts. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but being somewhere unfamiliar, meeting lots of new people and going to new places, gives me a freedom I feel few other times. I’m more outgoing, and though it’s still scary, I’m more likely to introduce myself to someone, joke around, and be more myself than I often am with anyone other than close friends. Maybe it’s because my immersion in the social life of wherever I am is so temporary, so that I don’t feel as concerned about how other people view me. I can be less self-conscious when I’m leaving in just a week. But whatever lets me push my social boundaries when away definitely stays with me when I head home. I’m reminded of all that I’m capable of, and that I can be an outgoing person at home, too, if I want to. Stretching my comfort zone when away gives me that much bigger a zone when I get back home.

Familiarity

If I’m to be confident and independent, I need to first feel secure. This has meant learning, through trial and error, how to find or create situations where I can be comfortable far away from my usual surroundings and routines. For me, this has meant that I now stay only with friends (whether at their houses, or camping with them, or staying at a less familiar place with a good friend) and not friends of friends or casual acquaintances. I need to feel safe wherever I am, and for me that means being with at least one person I really trust. It also means that I keep my routines. I might be away from home, but I can still do the same things I always do before bed and when I get up in the morning. I can still use the same methods to calm down when I’m stressed. Bringing familiar routines away with me helps me stay calm and grounded, no matter how unfamiliar a place I am. It’s thanks to that base I can try scary new things and meet so many new friends!

I head back home on Monday, after over a week of adventuring in Maine. I’ve already met a lot of new people, tasted a whole bunch of different food and drinks, slept at two different houses, walked around Portland, and swum in a lake. Plans for the coming days keep unfolding, as my good friend and host thinks of more places she wants to bring me and more people she thinks I should meet. It’s been a really good time so far, with more good times to come I am sure. And through it all, I feel myself stretching, testing my current limits and finding new ones, and feeling better and more centered within myself.

No matter how near or how far we venture, I think travel can help us all to learn and grow!


Do Unschoolers Have Gaps in Their Education?

Do unschoolers have gaps in their education?

By its very definition unschooling is something individual and flexible, something that will look different to each child and in each family. With the cultural idea that people need to Get An Education, as if it’s something that can be pre-packaged for mass consumption, comes the idea that there is one single education to get: a set collection of facts and formulae that will lead to a well-rounded, competent, and productive adult.

I think there are several things wrong with that idea.

Curriculum varies by geographic location, individual schools, available electives, and teachers.

Even the most ardent attempts at standardization can only affect so large a region. There might be Common Core standards in the USA right now, but what you’ll find being taught in Arizona will not be the same as what’s found in a school in Massachusetts. Similarly, my home province of Quebec has different curriculum than British Columbia. And that’s just talking about North America! While the model of industrialized schooling (along with the accompanying ideas about what education means) has been exported to most regions of the globe, the content taught varies widely.

Add to that the difference between what individual teachers focus on or choose to include, whether someone is in a “gifted” program or not, whether a teenager takes shop class or theater or music…

On the spectrum of home education, few families seek to create an exact replica of school in the home, as most want to create something more personalized or rigorous or otherwise different from what a child would be taught in school. No family and no child will receive the exact same body of knowledge and skills as every other child, no matter where they spend the majority of their days. People and standardization just don’t go that well together, no matter what many bureaucrats and politicians might hope.

This means that, since there isn’t one “education,” either everyone has gaps in their education or the idea of there being such a thing as “gaps in education” doesn’t really make sense. I’m going with the latter.

Embracing diversity in education.

One of the first things you realize when you start unschooling is that not everyone will learn the same things, and that that might actually be a good thing.

What’s important in the life of one person won’t be in the life of another. Someones’ family and place of residence, their cultural background, friends, interests and aptitudes are all going to have a strong influence on what they actually learn and remember, regardless of what anyone attempts to teach them. As unschoolers, you really just choose to embrace that diversity!

There is so much in the world that can be explored, studied, and experienced. Each of us will only ever learn a fraction of what there is to know. What a narrowing of possibilities to attempt to teach every child the exact same things.

Learning “important” things.

Despite the appeals of personalized learning, most people still feel that there are some universally important things that everyone should learn. I could say that my important isn’t your important, which is true, but I can’t really disagree that understanding history helps us understand current events, or that an understanding of mathematics is important for everything from budgeting to pursuing scientific careers.

But what history is important will depend on where you live, what you care about, and what’s currently going on in the world. How much and what type of math you need will vary depending on whether you plan to pursue a STEM career or just need to know the basics for your everyday life.

And, as unschoolers quickly learn, the important things crop up in life all by themselves: you learn what you need to learn by living, by encountering the challenges life presents, by pursuing your interests, and by striving to meet your goals. It’s the job of parents and mentors to help young people figure out what they need to learn to get where they want to be, and that works best when the young people themselves are driving things. After all, the best motivation is always internal motivation.

I don’t know what you know, but that’s okay.

In my teens I used to worry that I had “gaps” when compared to schooled peers, but the older I got the more apparent it became just how different everyone’s skills were. I realized that I was better at some things than some people, and other people were better at other things. I knew more about some subjects, and less about others, just like all of my friends, whether schooled, homeschooled, or unschooled.

Who I am and what I’m good at depended on a lot of factors. All unschooling did was give me the space to grow and learn in a more flexible, organic way.

We all have “gaps,” but I feel good about the knowledge and skills I have, and most importantly, I feel like I can continue learning and growing as I meet new challenges and explore exciting new topics!


The Opportunity for Real Work: Embracing "Dangerous" Skills in Your Homeschooling Lifestyle

 In recent months I find myself reading a lot about the importance of play--unstructured, risky play included--and all of the ways it influences childhood development.

Sometimes when I think about my own childhood, I feel like it didn't include much risk. I didn't spend a lot of time in unsupervised outdoor play, I didn’t climb high trees, travel freely around the neighborhood with a pack of fellow 6- and 7-year-olds, or build forts in the woods.

But I'm realizing that there were other elements of my childhood where potentially risky tasks were embraced, namely real work with "dangerous" tools and materials.

I remember once when I was in Brownies (a level of the Canadian Girl Guides program), my mother, one of the leaders, organized an applesauce making activity. She was all set to provide all the 7- and 8-year-olds with small paring knives and peelers, but the other leaders were positively horrified by the idea. None of their children had ever handled a knife in food preparation before. My mother found this surprising, considering I'd been doing so for years at that point.

I owned a set of small yet perfectly functional tools: a hammer, screwdriver, etc. with metal heads. Real tools, just child-sized ones. And when it came to the kitchen, I was using small sharp tools--under the supervision of my parents when I was younger--almost as soon as I was able to hold and control them.

My sister and I helped with cooking and cleaning, banged on nails, stacked firewood, helped change bandages on our dogs' minor wounds, and all other tasks, small and large, of everyday life. Some of these tasks (like wood stacking and apple cutting) seem, to some, to be dangerous and inappropriate for small children. But in our house, they were just treated as important skills, and things that needed doing.

In our adult lives, my sister has expressed distress at the way some other people she knows mistreat their cast iron cookware (we love our cast iron in this house) or (don't) clean their kitchens. I've been surprised many times over at how difficult cooking even the simplest dish is to so many young people. We learned from a young age how to feed and take care of ourselves and each other: our own version of “home economics,” I guess you could say.

In this culture where children are increasingly being sheltered from any possible risk, and where domestic and hands-on skills of any sort are considered to be far behind more intellectual and academic pursuits in importance, I guess it’s not surprising that many don’t learn those skills at a young age.

It seems to me that one of the ways home education prepares young people for later life is by intimately involving them in the here and now. Learning domestic and life skills alongside their parents, through nothing more elaborate than helping with the running of the house in age appropriate ways, is important. Anyone, regardless of education, can do this to some extent. But home learners, with their strong ethos of life learning and without school taking up the majority of their children’s time, seem to be especially good at it.

I might not have gotten those countless hours of unstructured outdoor play that researchers are finding is so important, but I did learn a whole lot of equally important life skills from a young age. I can budget for and buy food that I can turn into various delicious and healthy meals; mend clothes; start fires in our wood stove; grow garden herbs; care for sick pets and sick humans.

In some ways, I guess that doesn’t sound like much. But I’m as grateful for those skills as I am for the more academic ones I’ve worked on in my life learning journey thus far. Which I guess highlights one of my favorite things about self directed learning: the ability to value and cultivate the skills that you feel are most important, for yourself and your kids, and to expand the range of learning well past what a school curriculum considers to be the most important. Literacy and history are certainly important, but so is the ability of each individual to take care of themselves, their dwellings, their loved ones.

I wish that instead of seeing children using the tools of daily life as unnecessarily dangerous, people could instead see it as the first steps in learning to live healthy lives and as an opportunity to gain the unique feeling of independence found in being skilled at the everyday necessities of life.



Why Boredom Is an Important Part of Learning

why boredom is an important part of learning

I read a post today suggesting parents create a “bored jar,” filled with chips with both “fun” activities and chores for any child who dares to complain about boredom. “At our house, boredom is not allowed” begins the first sentence, and I found myself thinking how incredibly sad and limiting a view that is.

Boredom tends to get a really bad rap, and it inspires a lot of worry in parents. In our productivity obsessed culture, where the common view is that learning is only happening when it’s easily seen and measured, and the only useful activity is one that looks busy, boredom is seen as something that should be corrected quickly by the nearest adult.

The fear and distrust of boredom is unwarranted.

I believe how someone experiences boredom comes down in large part to personality. My sister and I have the same parents and grew up in the same household, yet while she has always been able to entertain herself for hours at a time—playing and pretending as a child and lost in thought as an adult—I’ve always been more likely to pace the hallways, restless, complaining about boredom.

While persistent, hard to fix boredom—the kind that weighs you down and impacts your life in a negative way—can definitely be a sign that something is wrong (frustration with the way your life is going, feeling a lack of control or a lack of direction, etc.), it is just one of many human emotions, and it is part of the learning process. It is not something to be feared or corrected.

It’s through boredom, that restless frustration of having nothing immediately obvious to do, that I’ve ended up breaking routine and doing something I wouldn’t have otherwise done. Picking up my neglected guitar to try and learn a new song; pulling out a book from my shelf that I’ve been wanting to read for a while but just haven’t gotten to; opening up a biology course on Khan Academy; sitting down to do some journalling; thinking about the next post or article I want to write, and starting to construct it in my head…

“Boredom is just the time and space between ideas… And sometimes the wellspring of genius,” said Janet Lansbury, and though for most of us, “genius” might feel like too much to aspire to, I do know that boredom has always lead to a lot of creativity and exploration in my life. Boredom acts as a gateway, as the beginning of something new or different, or the introduction (or reintroduction) to a new hobby or passion, something that will go on to be an important part of our days.

Or not. As important as the productivity that boredom can lead to, equally important is simply the space of boredom itself. The time for us to get past the initial restlessness or discomfort of not being busy, not doing, and settle into reflection, observation, stillness. We need the time to process and digest our learning, our experiences, and sometimes boredom can be a part of that.

When attempts are made to outlaw boredom, not only are children being told that experiencing that emotion is “bad,” they are also being discouraged from sharing what they’re feeling with the adults around them, lest they be chided for their idleness and assigned chores or busywork, anything to avoid a dreaded lack of productivity.

One of the things I value in my upbringing is the freedom I had to work through boredom. My mother often made suggestions and helped me figure out something to do. It’s not that I was left on my own to deal with it. But it wasn’t treated as something horrible, even sinful: boredom was just accepted as part of life. As life learners, my family was able to relax, let things unfold, and not worry so much that every moment should be devoted to education, or productivity, or doing “something useful.” I could be bored sometimes. And I could figure out what to do with that boredom.

For any creativity to occur in my life, I need boredom. It’s part of my process. I might complain melodramatically, flop on the couch, feel frustrated… But then I’ll get an idea, or a spark of inspiration, or settle on a course of action, and the next thing I know, I’m contentedly making something in the kitchen, or writing with deep concentration, or lost in thought…

Making friends with boredom has enriched my life. I think everyone, parents and children, could benefit from learning to embrace boredom and see where it leads them!


Education for a Different Version of Success

education for a different version of success

“How will they ever learn to listen to their boss if they don’t have to listen to teachers?”

“They’ll never make it in the workforce, you have to do things you don’t like to do and deal with jerks.”

“In the real world you don’t get to do what you want.”

There are a lot of ways that many people seem convinced unschoolers will fail, and most of those reasons lead back to the belief that unschoolers just have it too good. They get to be too happy, too playful, too independent, too creative. If they’re used to living such full and interesting lives, how will they ever manage to knuckle down, obey their superiors, and resign themselves to a job that’s unfulfilling at best, and nearly intolerable at worst?

I think this attitude is an indictment of the current education system (as well as the typical workplace environment and maybe even the current economic system). Unknowingly, people who express concern that unschoolers won’t be able to function in such unpleasant situations are saying just what they think schools are good at: namely, teaching people to function in unpleasant situations.

I should hope that school free learners aren’t holding up, as their greatest vision of success, that their children become good at resigning themselves to unhappiness. I’d hope, instead, that life learners are raising children who will seek to build lives that make them happy.

Is it important to be able to deal with unpleasant people and situations at times? Of course. Sometimes you’re going to have to take a job you don’t like so that you can put food on the table. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with a bully to get something you need.

I’ve always thought unschooling was a good way to help individuals develop a strong sense of what is and isn’t right for them, and to make choices that support the type of life they want to be leading.

However, I believe that people are best prepared for challenges such as these when they have a core of self confidence and self respect instead of just being accustomed to putting up with discouraging situations on a daily basis. I’ve always thought unschooling was a good way to help individuals develop a strong sense of what is and isn’t right for them, and to make choices that support the type of life they want to be leading.

There are certain qualities in myself that I try to cultivate and encourage.

  • A lifelong fascination and excitement about whatever catches my interest at any given time. In other words, a passion for learning that never ends.

  • A strong ethic of self care and firm boundaries, skills and practices that help me to stay healthy and grounded in a world that can often feel overwhelming.

  • Caring and empathy for other people, and a focus on educating myself about important issues, seeking with my words and actions to make the world at least a little bit better.

  • Trust in my own instincts.

  • Confidence and a feeling of self worth, no matter how much I’m struggling at any given time.

  • Striving always to keep my passions, dreams, and plans at the forefront, working to build my life based on what I truly want and think is right for me.

I share this because, when I think about my own future children and what I’d want for them, I don’t think about college acceptance or an ability to conform to the values and pressures of the dominant culture. Instead, I think about what I want for myself, and I hope that my someday children will have those qualities in even greater abundance than I’ve managed so far for myself.

Figuring out how to live a life in line with your ideals and values is hard no matter what your educational background. But I like to think that unschooling helps. It’s certainly helped me to trust myself because as I child I was never taught that I was untrustworthy. It’s taught me to value the perfection of flow in learning because having experienced it, I know I need to always seek that out in my adult life as well. It’s taught me to question the supposed “common sense” of the dominant culture, and to develop my own thoughts on various issues for myself. And it’s taught me to always follow my passions because doing so will almost always lead me in the direction of the greatest happiness in my life and the greatest contribution to the world.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
— Howard Thurman

Let’s cultivate in our life learning journey a version of success based on what makes you come alive.


How Unschooling Shaped My Social Life

How Unschooling Shaped My Social Life

We’re all familiar with the tired old myth of the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, spending their days locked inside, interacting only with their family members. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time disputing these myths (earlier this year I even wrote a post addressing every possible misplaced socialization criticism I’ve ever heard). Yet while there are plenty of wrong ideas on home education and socialization, I find myself pondering how unschooling has impacted the friendships I make and the communities that I’m a part of now, as a 20-something adult.

Like many homeschooled families, when I was young my family participated in a range of activities, from homeschool coops to French classes, group hikes to choirs. What set us apart from many other home educating families in my area at the time was just how much input my sister and I had in the activities and outings we were involved in, and on whether we stuck with those activities. I knew that my mother would step in when asked (and occasionally when not asked!) to help solve a problem—such as when the musical director of a production I was involved in was trying to use me, a “good” kid, as a human buffer between the two most disruptive children in the group—and that if there wasn’t a good solution that I was free to quit. If I didn’t like a group of kids, or found that certain adults treated me and other children unfairly, I was never forced to spend time around those groups or individuals.

That doesn’t mean I never had to deal with bullies or other unpleasant people, or that I didn’t on occasion feel trapped by commitment into continuing to participate in something that made me unhappy. What it does mean, though, is that I was never subjected to the type of forced association faced by children in school, who often have little to no recourse when faced with regular harassment and even physical violence from other students, or teachers who treat their students badly. It seems to me that too often children learn early on that they just have to suck it up, no matter how toxic an environment is or how frightened they are about seeing people who have harmed them in some way. They learn that they can’t act on their own feelings or judgement about a person or situation in order to protect their emotional or even physical safety. My feelings were treated as important by my parents, and my judgement was trusted (with plenty of discussion and guidance from them). As a consequence, I feel like I never had to learn, as an adult, to trust myself and my instincts. I already knew how to do that.

In my teen years, and now as a young adult, I often marvel at those who are dating people they don’t like very much just because they don’t want to be single, or hanging out with groups of people who make them feel bad because they just don’t want to spend time alone. I’ve grown up in such a way that, barring the occasional bad decision, I generally surround myself only with people who I genuinely like, care about, and who make me feel good about myself. And when I’m not spending time with people, my introverted self is mostly okay with being alone or with family. It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel lonely, or experience the struggle of meeting new people at an age where it’s  no longer easy to find “peer groups,” or that I don’t sometimes find it hard to join new groups because of plain old shyness. But I do feel that I’m good about setting strong boundaries with less pleasant people, being choosy about the communities I become a part of, and surrounding myself with people who make me happy.

I feel like I never had to learn, as an adult, to trust myself and my instincts. I already knew how to do that.

It’s always hard to know how much to attribute to unschooling, since by the very nature of such a personalized education, my life and my experience is pretty unique to me, my family, and my geographic location. Perhaps no matter what education I’d experienced, I’d have reached the same conclusions that I have now. I think that being able to grow as I did with so much freedom in my interactions, so much trust in my choices, and so strong a message of how well I (and others) deserved to be treated, definitely had a positive impact on how I build (or find) my social life now.

I guess what I’m saying is that, contrary to what many people seem to believe, I think unschooling actually helped me to develop healthy social skills. I genuinely enjoy meeting new people, but I’m very grateful for also having good boundaries, strong feelings about mutual respect, and the strength to walk away from individuals or groups that are causing harm in my life.

That’s the type of socialization I want, and the type of socialization I hope many other life learners can develop through our marvelously self directed, trust-filled, and respectful upbringings!


How to Talk About Homeschooling (So That People Will Listen)

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

I left kindergarten for a life of school-free self directed learning, so I’ve had many years to get used to talking about home education. Some people are curious or excited, some angry or defensive, but what remains a constant is that almost everyone has an opinion on the topic and some questions to ask. I still freeze up sometimes when asked an unexpected question, or stumble over a simple explanation, but for the most part I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the range of questions and reactions that come from different people.

The approach I take hinges on a couple of key questions: who is it I’m talking to? And, what’s my goal for this conversation? It all depends on the answers to those questions.

Interested strangers or acquaintances

When I’m talking to someone I’ve just met or don’t know well, I often pull out my “elevator speech” and talk a bit more about the unique education I had, since I want to share these ideas with people. “I was unschooled,” I say, “which is basically a self directed form of homeschooling where parents act as facilitators instead of teachers.” I answer questions (again without getting defensive), while keeping a firm stance on what I will and won’t talk about. I recognize that no one is entitled to my time spent explaining my life and education, so as much or as little as I feel happy sharing is enough. If the people I’m talking to react negatively and confrontationally, I just try and change the subject, remove myself from the conversation, or firmly tell people when their questions or reactions aren’t appropriate (when people try and quiz me, as they have even in my adult years, I tell them that it’s rude and I decided long ago not to answer when people ask such questions).

I think what’s best to remember is that you never have to be an advocate if you don’t want to, and to not get dragged into arguments, keep your cool, and set boundaries around what type of conversations you will and won’t engage in. Each person you talk to will have different questions and concerns and will be curious about different aspects of homeschooling, so I find it’s best to follow their lead and answer the questions they’re interested in, or respond to their biggest concerns. I’ve found that conversations with interested strangers and acquaintances can be really rewarding, and help people think about education in a new light.

Health care providers, bureaucrats, and other professionals from whom I need some service or assistance

If my goal is getting something I need, I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of unschooling or get into any long explanations. In these instances, if it comes up I simply say I was homeschooled, and when their eyebrows raise and their mouth forms an “oh,” I just smile, say it was a good experience for me, and succinctly answer any questions they have. Several things I’ve found important in these types of conversations is to make the upbringing I had sound as normal and as similar to school as possible; to answer only the questions that are asked and not get into any long explanations; and to make sure I remain calm and non-defensive, whether the person I’m dealing with is polite in their questioning or not. My priority isn’t to educate them, it’s to get the services I need, so I try and keep things as light, non-confrontational, and brief as possible. I’ve now got this down to a science, and can reassure concerned doctors and other people in a remarkably short amount of time!

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Friends, family, and loved ones

These are the people who you most want to support your choices, so naturally these are often the most difficult discussions to have. One thing I’ve personally found important is staying away from comparing my education to a school education. Instead of trying to show how baking helped me get better at math, or talking about how my reading comprehension was on grade level, I think things worked best when we just shared the richness of our lives and learning, without making comparisons to to a schooled life. Talk about all you’re learning and doing, what each individual is passionate about and engaged in, without couching it in school terms or trying to make things sound more like school. We’ve chosen to live and learn differently because we think it’s a better option for us, so share why you feel that way instead of trying to show how similar your life is to school.

Of course it’s also important to remember that even if someone is family, you’re not obliged to share every detail of your lives or allow relatives to quiz you or your kids. Share the aspects of your life that you feel are the most important and exciting, and as politely as possible set limits on what you will and will not talk about.

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Everyones’ experiences will be different, and to a large extent I think each of us needs to develop our own strategies. I just hope that, by sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years, others can gain inspiration in their own journeys of living school free and sharing their educational journeys with others!


Meet the Team: Idzie

Meet Idzie Desmarais, one of our new bloggers. Idzie is a grown unschooler, and she's the author of the popular blog I'm Unschooled. Yes, I can write. She has published her articles in various magazines and has spoken at home education conferences in North America. We asked her a few questions so that you can get to know her better.

 

Me in 100(ish) words: I use a lot of labels to describe myself, so I suppose I could start there! I’m a grown unschooler and unschooling advocate, a (confusedly) queer 20-something woman, a green-anarcha-feminist, a cook and baker, a writer, blogger, and speaker. I’m an INFJ, in case you’re into the whole Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator thing, an introvert, and someone who values intuition very highly. My dream in life is to help build a small intentional community somewhere both rural and wild, and live there with assorted family, friends, dogs, cats, goats and chickens.

How I feel about my background as an unschooler:  I feel very positively about it, which is why I’ve spent so much time combining my love for writing with my interest in self-directed alternative education, specifically unschooling. I feel that by growing up unschooled, I really got the chance to learn, grow, and develop at my own pace and in my own way. I credit unschooling with making the anxiety issues I’ve always dealt with much easier to bear as a child, and with helping me grow into a much more confident and competent person than I might otherwise have been.

What a typical day looks like in my life right now:  I get up, and almost instantly get on the computer to check email and messages, and go through my various feeds, reading articles on education to try and find some good ones to share on my unschooling Facebook page and other social media haunts. After that, I’ll eat something, do some work around the house, and probably get back on the computer to do some writing or editing. Right now it’s just me and my sister at home, since my mother has gone back to school to pursue her passion for building, and my father works full time, so we pretty much keep the house not-too-messy and make sure that things are running as smoothly as we can make them! Once my father arrives home, I usually go with him and our big hairy Irish Wolfhound cross to the dog park, and then, along with my sister, help make supper. We both like to try new things and don’t tend to do things half way when tackling food stuff, so we make some pretty good meals! The evening will then be spent watching TV as a family, writing, or hanging out with friends, depending on the day. My mother has just gone back to school this fall, so we’re all still adjusting to the new schedule, and my sister and I are still adjusting to not having a car on weekdays. Still, we’re finding a flow that seems to work, and I’m doing better with writing productivity and selling my work than I ever have before, so that feels pretty good.

Favorite book(s):  That’s a tough one! I’m a big fan of fantasy novels, and I can say that current favorite authors include N. K. Jemisin, Kate Elliott, and Tamora Pierce. I also really love the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett. When it comes to books on education, I like 101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler by ps pirro and Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier edited by Wendy Priesnitz.

Favorite driving music:  Once More With Feeling from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Great Big Sea, the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack…

Things I like:  Food! Cookbooks. Fantasy novels. TV shows (especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and Orphan Black). Dogs and cats. Goats and horses. Big gardens. Downpours in the middle of a hot day. Snuggling with my furry family members. Hiking. Sunflowers and forget-me-nots. Curling up with a good novel. Going on roadtrips with friends. Unschooling conferences. The satisfaction of completing a difficult new dish. Folk music. Singing.

What I loved about homeschool life:  The lack of pressure and rushing. Being able to spend as much or as little time on a subject as I wanted to, and as much or as little time as I wanted out with people or home with just my family. Being able to learn purely for the joy of it, and not because I was trying to cram for a test… A whole lot of things, really!