Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Canadian Senior's Journey to Unschooling

A student originally from Croatia and now living in Canada writes about her journey from public school to homeschool to unschool as she enters her final year of high school. Here are excerpts from her educational biography:

"As a true homeschooler, I believe that my education didn’t start from the moment that I stepped into a school but rather the moment I came into the world, so I feel that it is only right to begin my educational biography from my beginnings.

"Originally, I am from Croatia. Croatian was the first language I learned, and it was the language in which I began to read at 3 years of age. That in and of itself is already a valid argument for the belief I stated previously.

"My mom regularly took me to the children’s section at the public library from an early age. There I would enthusiastically look through all of the picture books, both in Croatian and English, and take home the ones that I wanted to learn from that week. At home, my mom would sit with me and go through all of the books. I would always repeat them until I’d know them by heart, then I’d go back with my mom to the library again next week and pick some new ones to memorise, which delighted me greatly...

" grade 3, I had become too worn out to continue with public schooling. I found that I dreaded not only going to school in the morning, but also the learning itself was feeling as though it was just a burden and not an enjoyment as before.

"My mom knew that I was still unhappy in school and feared that I would lose whatever enjoyment of learning I had left, so she began looking for whatever other option existed, and she found one. That summer, after some careful forethought, my mom asked me if I would like to start homeschooling. My immediate response was “Sure! Why not?” I don’t think I actually realised the gravity of the decision my mom had made. For me, all homeschooling meant at the time was more space for all of my extracurricular activities and courses (finally) and no more homework! What more could I ask for? Only now can I understand the extreme pressure she put on herself with that decision. She decided to devote all of her time into exploring what it was that my learning needed. And she truly delivered.

"Grade 5 marked my first homeschooling year. That year I was enrolled as opposed to just registered, meaning I still had to show my work to an instructor who would grade me every semester and give me a report card at the end of the year. But that still wasn’t what homeschooling was all about. What is the point of working at home only to be graded by a teacher again, and this time one that hadn’t even taught me what I know? We had found a homeschooler support group that we would be with and we had some pleasurable times with them. There were always organised trips of some sort and all of the homeschool children really enjoyed being at the center. But, once again, we found that my needs and wants were bigger than that of the other homeschool kids so I began to sign up for many courses around the whole lower mainland. There are numerous educational and arts centers that cater to the public for extracurricular courses and each community has at least one that the locals can easily go to. I didn’t stick to just the closest one but rather searched all around and tried to get as many in as possible, no matter how far we’d have to travel by transit. Martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, scuba diving, volleyball, speech and drama, Shakespeare, theatre acting, writing, speed reading, science,electronics, architecture, economics, sculpture, weaving, knitting, “girls only” clubs, St. John’s Ambulance babysitting, ... there was a myriad of things that interested me, and because of unschooling, I was able to partake in them all. It is true that I learned from 8:00am-6:00pm almost every day, but the courses at the end of the day were my way of having fun. It was there that I was able to socialise with many other students, both homeschoolers and public schoolers. It is important to note, though, that I still followed the B.C. curriculum guidelines as they were available on the internet, despite the many extra classes I took. The main reason I was able to do so much was because my schooling was continuous year-round. I didn’t take summer breaks and that is why learning became so enjoyable: The motivation was making learning fun, not getting a three-month break during the summer as a “reward”.

"After I realised that this was the best choice for me, I switched to being completely unschooled, continuing all of my studies as usual and just renewing my registration with my school every year. But by then, mom was feeling the pressure. She wasn’t sure whether I would be missing something that the kids in school had. So she made sure I got the most well rounded education possible, combining the curriculums of Canada and Croatia as well as the U.S., giving me enough places to go to socialise with kids my age, working at a skill level that was formatted to me personally letting me proceed faster in some subjects if it was within my capabilities. Despite all of this, she still wasn’t sure what to model my schooling against, so one year we decided to go to the Annual British Columbia Homeschool Convention and partake in some of the seminars. It was after those two days that my mom then realised that I wasn’t lagging behind in any way. Everything that she wanted to get more information about in those seminars, she found that she already knew through all of the research and investigating she did before, and that came as a big relief. The convention was still beneficial in the fact that all of the information a homeschooling parent could need was all in one place. The parents would help each other in finding resources, discovering new paths available for homeschoolers, and explaining the different learning styles there are for every individual child and how to find it. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to attend every subsequent convention after that.

"As High School approached, so did another anxiety. How was I going to have a High School Diploma that would be recognised by colleges and universities while still keeping the same learning style I had for the last 3 years? That began the search for a homeschooling “school” that would allow me to do just that. The search was long and hard. It spanned the course of almost a year and asked for countless hours of research and analysing, trying to find the best fit, but finally we came across West River Academy. At first it looked too good to be true. I was expecting that I would have to give up at least some of my freedom as an unschooler in order to get a diploma, but W.R.A. didn’t expect anything like that. “Write me a yearly report, finish the High School Program and you’re set.”--can be a summary of what the website basically said. I didn’t believe it at the start. Yet the more I looked into it, the more I became convinced that West River Academy was a legitimate accredited High School, and that it was the right school for me.

"The rest is all history. As I look back now, my education has been rather varied. Some might even say unorganized and “all over the place”, citing all of the different methods of schooling I have experienced, but I beg to differ. I went through all of the different systems and took only the best parts of each in order to create a custom fit. Although it may be true that how I started my education is far different from how I have finished it, the lessons I have learned along the way and the conclusions I have reached from the whole experience has shown me that it is always necessary to evaluate the path you are heading down even if it means completely changing your previous decision. If that’s what is necessary for you to fulfill your dreams and to grow into a complete human being, then it is much more important than sticking to the status quo. A little variety can go a long way.

"The decision to homeschool has changed me for the better. My passion has become life and learning and that is the most direct way that it has changed me. But it is almost as though my homeschooling “appearance” can be plainly seen. Through the years, the longer I was a homeschooler, the more others would single me out as someone they could respect, offer a job to, even confide in. By becoming a homeschooler, I not only helped myself but also those around me.

"That’s the greatest benefit of all."

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