I first heard the term unschooling when Marina was four. All of my teaching and psychology instincts kicked in: Let the kids lead? How can you do that? It's permissive parenting. They'll stress from having to be in control. When will they learn to read?
In all fairness, the homeschooler who told me about the unschoolers in the group was not an unschooler. In fact, she was a retired teacher. She spoke a lot about alternatives to traditional teaching, like using cooking to teach fractions and multiplication, but she felt letting kids choose when to learn to read and do math was a mistake and could lead to all sorts of problems in the future. I shared that belief. Needless to say, Marina was more traditionally taught in the beginning. I had my classical model of "The Well-Trained Mind" and Marina was very willing when it came to sitting down and listening to history or practicing writing. That is, she was very willing once I overcame the hurdle of teaching her to read.
But at the start, Marina did not want to learn to read. A neighbor had given me her copy of "Hooked on Phonics" and I was excited to begin teaching my daughter how to read. That's what you did in school, right? I was determined to show I could do this as well as any school, maybe better. So I forced phonics and reading upon my poor little five year old.
And she pushed back.
Reading ended up being the one thing I couldn't teach to my daughter. She happily went on walks where we counted steps or spotted nouns and verbs. She loved the museums she went to with grandma. She enjoyed our kitchen experiments. She even liked going to the library and taking out books for me to read to her. But reading by herself she hated. By the end of her kindergarten year I was sure I had ruined her for reading. True, the BOB books went over better than the Hooked on Phonics, which I set aside. But she just didn't get it, or didn't want to do it with me. Summer was approaching, I was tired, so I figured I would take a break for the summer.
That summer was the first year she was encouraged to do the library's summer reading program. Participants received prizes for reading so many books for their age level or higher. I credit this program for teaching Marina to read. At first it was the draw of the prizes, but eventually the joy of reading took hold of her. Reading finally began to click, and she did it by having fun without anyone forcing it on her! I may have given her some basic phonics instruction, but in the end she read because she wanted to.
Chase was harder to teach than Marina. Chase needed motivation. I shamefacedly admit that I threatened him to get him working. ("If you aren't going to learn it from me, I'll send you to school and let them try!") It's a good thing we don't stop learning as adults. Because of Chase and Marina, I started "Stealth Teaching"--laying out interesting books or activities that they would notice and use because they "found" it. Little did I realize at that time that my stealth teaching was just another form of unschooling. I was exposing them to new subjects and ideas hoping they would be of interest.
By the time Sierra came along, her older siblings had their routines in place, so I felt confident I could focus my efforts on her and more easily teach her. This was something I had never really done. When Marina started homeschooling, my toddling Chase divided my attention. The only problem was Sierra didn't want my attention. She bucked at any premise of teaching. It had to be her idea or she didn't want to hear about it. She didn't want my phonics books or beginner readers because they were "baby books." All of my stealth teaching tricks were transparent to her. I didn't know what to do. She was still a kindergartner, so I figured I would step back a little and see what happened.
Sierra copied what her older siblings did. She began watching Chase play Spore and she wanted to do it too. Playing Spore taught her how to read. She would listen to history with Chase. Marina would read to her. Eventually, workbooks were used as an excuse to stay up late. I could hear Marina helping her figure out the puzzles and other activities in the workbook when I was turning in for the night. I think she knew I wouldn't disturb an educational moment. Sierra will only learn if it is of interest or serves some purpose for her. This is how she has always been. It's why I've dubbed her "the aggressive unschooler."
Two days ago she decided she wanted to write her name in cursive. She told me that she didn't like to do cursive before, but now she's interested in it. Yesterday she asked me to write some of the big and small letters in cursive so she could copy them. She asked me questions about how to connect them. She let me teach her! Sierra led us to fully embracing our inner unschoolers.