by Aza Donnelly, MHA Board Member

Aza Donnelly, MHA board member

It’s Fall. I love Fall; however, Fall makes me a bit unstable. I feel a little off my game. The excitement of the new school year is everywhere, regardless of the educational philosophy. As unschoolers we spend countless hours during this season with our more curriculum-minded brothers and sisters hearing about curriculum, manipulatives, MATH  (pretty sure 75% of us homeschoolers break out into a cold sweat at the thought of math). Then someone turns to you and asks, “What curriculum are you using this year?”

In the world right now, home education of all types is controversial, unschooling most of all. Our reputation precedes us, except, most of us did nothing to earn that reputation. However, when asked, it’s also hard for us to defend ourselves. It seems that no matter what we say, the listener hears, “Blah blah blah, children roaming the streets, blah, blah, blah.”  For me, a seasoned unschooler, it leads to frustration and, even now, a little bit of self doubt.

I think that it is important that we remind ourselves of what we actually do.  We are facilitators. We help our kids learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it. Not when we need them to learn it, but when they are telling us they need to learn it.


Momo Kitty, our fearless rodent hunter, surveying his land.

Allow me to demonstrate, with our cat, Momo.

So, Momo likes to run around outside, and we have a hard time convincing him of the dangers of that. One night, after a day of terrorizing the rodents, he could not bear weight on one of his legs. This concerned us, and my 10-year-old, Kate, and I watched him carefully, and hoped that maybe he just had an irritated paw. However, the next day he was not better. We noticed his leg was swollen in a very specific spot.  So she and I brainstormed using all the cat knowledge we have, which is pretty extensive, and hypothesized that he either got bitten by a vole while holding it down, or he injured it on the fence. (Science) So we called the vet, and made an appointment for that afternoon. Kate likes to always know precisely what time things are happening, so we had to work out how she could track the time. (Math) When it was time, we put Momo in his carrier (basic safety skills, global precautions, first aid — this is a story about a cat, after all) and took him to the vet. He had a fever, and it appeared to be he had an infection on his leg. The vet gave him a shot of antibiotic that was slow release over 14 days (math, calendar skills) and then we also had pain medication we had to give him for 5 days twice a day (math, time-keeping skills). This is Kate’s cat, and she is very on top of his care. She used all the skills and knowledge she had to lead the charge in his recovery. Whatever she didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, or understand she demanded information, explanations, repetition. My job was to help her gather all of the information she needed, and learn it myself, to help her to continue to care for her kitty.

It’s important for us to realize and remind those that question us, that as a child ages the world becomes a very confusing  (and possibly scary) place without knowing the basics. Reading, basic math, the ability to communicate. Kids (being pretty astute problem solvers)  come to us, when they need to learn these things, and we give them every tool we have got.

The world also becomes a very boring place without knowing the basics. Kids don’t like boring. A kid will learn the basics, like reading, to do the thing that they want to be doing, such as playing a video game. A kid will practice writing to roll up that D&D character so they can play with their friends. And a kid will learn to do math, if only to try and convince their parents that a new Chromebook  is a wise investment. ( Negotiation, research……..lobbying.)

These are the things we have to keep in mind that, as unschoolers, what we do every day. Our kids set the pace, and we go with them.   They are self-directed learners, and they are learning all the time. They are learning the subjects that the state of Minnesota requires every day — Reading, Math, Science, History, Geography, and Phy Ed. Because these things are daily pieces of information that we all navigate as humans. Heck, we can hit all of these subjects in the prep of one meal. Like say Ramen. (We get the phy. Ed piece with ramen because we keep it in the pantry in the basement!)  They are bringing it on board as their brains can handle it. In ways that they can assimilate and use it, in ways that entertain them.

So when you get that question about curriculum or educational philosophy, by all means wave that unschooling flag proud. But remember what you actually do as the facilitator. Our kids are self-directing their education, and we are there to help. Our kids never stop learning, and we are there to guide them through the rough patches, the frustration, and also for the fun stuff.

We are the Janets (For those of you who are “The Good Place” fans) — We are summoned, and we assist.

Because as unschoolers we like to strew tools ( I will write about strewing this winter, as we are all going stir crazy), I strew this tool for all of you.

Check out The Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Happy Fall Y’all