Saturday, July 20, 2013

From Unschooling to College - a Two-Week Adventure

My daughter has been homeschooled her entire life. She has participated in a variety of classes with other homeschoolers - some very structured, like the Math and Jr. Engineering class she took, which was offered to homeschoolers and taught by a college professor. She has also been dancing since she was four and is a competition-level dancer (earning high gold at National dance competitions), which is a somewhat structured activity. She was a Spiral Scout and a Juliette Girl Scout (that is, a Girl Scout but not part of a troop). We spent two years meeting once a month learning outdoor skills with Koviashuvik and then another year working with teachers from the Maine Primitive Skills School. Our Juvenile services librarian taught a class on library skills. One year we organized an American Girl Club with several other homeschooling families. She's taken classes at Fiddlehead Center for the Arts. We met for a semester with a group of homeschoolers for Maine history lessons hosted at the York Museum. And we have gone on dozens of field trips.

With the exception of the many outside activities, however, she has been a life-long unschooler. We don't do a curriculum or force daily lessons. Occasionally, I will teach a class, which I offer to other homeschoolers, and in which she will be a participant, but for the most part, Deus Ex Machina and I don't consider ourselves her teachers. Rather we are facilitators. She finds something she's interested in learning more about, and we help her with providing resources (books, Internet access, field trips, mentors, etc.) to help her learn more about that subject.

A few years ago, she decided she was interested in sharks, and she learned everything she could about them. She researched and found a textbook on sharks that she wanted, which we bought for her. She stated she wanted to do a presentation on sharks and asked if she could invite some people over. It was a two-hour presentation, and I learned quite a bit from her.

I organized a tour of a marine animal rescue facility at a local college, and while we were there, she mentioned her love of dog fish, and we found out that one of the professors had been doing some extensive research on dog fish right there, in the lab at the college, and so we arranged to have a private tour of his lab. It was fascinating, and certainly, went a long way toward fertilizing her continuing interest in the subject.

For future careers, she's decided she wants to be a marine biologist.

Last summer, she started asking about going to marine biology camp. This year, she went. We picked her up from camp last night, and she spent the entire three-hour drive home telling us about all of the amazing things she had learned and done, including conquering many of her fears: heights (climbing a 500-foot rock face called "The Beehive"); boats; and water (she even learned to snorkel).

For us, the unschooling parents, our favorite story was her adventure in test-taking. As a life-long unschooler, taking tests has not been very much a part of her educational experience. In fact, she's taken exactly one pen and paper test, and that was an Achievement test I proctored for her and her older sister (mostly for her older sister so that we could assess her progress after she transitioned from public school to unschooling) when she was seven year old - a lot of years ago.

She said the first test was a multiple choice, and when the teacher handed out the test materials, Big Little Sister took a look at the test, and then, whispered to the girl sitting next to her, "What do I do?" Sh said the girl gave her an incredulous look, and asked, "Haven't you taken a test before?" And Big Little Sister exclaimed, "I'm homeschooled!"

The next test was the final exam. She was given the test booklet which contained the questions and a fill-in-the-bubble answer sheet. Again, she was at a loss as to what to do and asked her friend, who explained how to color-in the bubble with the correct answer.

The two-week Advanced Marine Biology camp was worth four college credit hours awarded by the University of Maine for those students who wished to be considered for the credits. Big Little Sister, a life-long unschooler received her first grade - ever. At the end of the two-weeks, she walked away having earned a B in her first college-level course.

Better, though, is the friendships she gained. The confidence in knowing that, even as an unschooler and a homeschooler, she fits. She can mix and mingle with forty-plus "schooled" kids and find that in addition to the obvious common interest (they are, after all, at a subject-specific summer camp), there are many other areas in which they mesh. Homeschooling hasn't rendered her socially inept or a cultish outcast and freak.

Best, for us, her parents, is the validation that unschooling really does work, and that an unschooler can go into a "school" situation and perform on par with her peers. She can walk away with accolades from the instructors and program director on what a great student she is and praise for her hard work, and respectable progress in a completely unfamiliar environment.

She is thrilled to have been able to have this experience, and we are grateful that we were able to help her get there.


  1. That's wonderful!! I'm glad it was an uplifting experience for her :)

  2. Sounds like a good field for her to get into, there's a lot of data there to deal with. Hopefully she has good tech and math skills! It's good that you were so involved with her, not all home schooled kids have that support. I've read blogs by some home schooled adults, and they really mangled the english language!