Its interview time again here on the VC - Unschooling Page. This week, we get to hear from another of my most favorite unschooling bloggers, Diane of Mackville Road. Diane lives in Vermont with her husband Lucian and two children. Diane also is an amazing maker of things and has a sweet little shop called Lulu&Bea. You can see more of Diane's beautiful photos here. Grab a cup of coffee with me as we learn a little more about Diane and how she and her family are all learning along together.
Eren: Hi Diane, let's get started. So, how does your family define unschooling?
Diane: We say we unschool but I'm not sure I even want to try defining it! Pretty much what we do is live our lives. The kids are part of everything we do and allowed to participate in any way they want to in the general goings-ons. I noticed early on with my first, Em, that if he was allowed to move at his own pace he would learn things for himself without any trouble. As he got to "school age" I tried to introduce some workbooks: I mean, this is what you do, right? Work sheets! That's what I did! But it didn't take long at all to figure out that he was not interested in doing these things and it eventually became clear to me that they were completely disconnected from his real life. Not to mention no fun. And I didn't like doing them either. So we gave those up. Also early on, people would say, "Oh, I could never homeschool! I don't know enough algebra (or fill in the blank.)" Well, I myself am the product of a public school education and there's an awful lot of things I don't know or didn't retain! For instance, Em knows way more about Revolutionary War history at the age of 10 than I knew before he started learning about it. He knows more about it now than Lucian and I put together. Also, there's an awful lot of things I wished I'd learned a lot earlier -- practical things. The great things that I do remember from school were the things that thrill me still: photography and writing. I like to think that with unschooling Em is immersed in the things that thrill him and it's clear to me that he's learning exactly what he needs to at exactly the pace that is right for him. There's a lot of trust involved in unschooling, in choosing any path that leads away from acceptable mainstream-ness.
Eren: That's exciting! So, do you consider yourself a strict unschooling family, or would you say you use a mixed approach to schooling?
Diane: Em doesn't use any curriculum at all. He is allowed to follow his interests wherever they may lead him. Luckily, there are a lot of other people around who are willing to do things with him, too! For instance, he is really interested in all things medieval and really wanted to build a trebuchet. Suffice to say, this is not my forte. But then it turned out that a grandpa was game to do this with him and they got to spend a day a week at least over the fall and spring working on this projecttogether. Our extended family and friends are also willing and available to do stuff with him where his interests intersect with theirs. Want to build model trains? Go to grandpa. Want to learn about old-fashioned guns and also skeet shooting? Hang out with James. Learn to cook by feel? Check in with grandma. He has also been lucky to attend four years of a primitive skills camp for homeschoolers nearby. This camp has given him the opportunity to interact with a large group and to figure out how to be and work in a group of people. Plus, all those games that are no good with your sister and your mom and your pop get to be played on a large scale and that's pretty great, too. He takes classes occasionally, spends time at our local library, goes to naturalist meetings and field trips with his papa, helps me out at the farmers' market I go to.
Eren: What a great community of people to surrounding your children and their learning. It sounds so simple, but Im sure there are difficulties that come with unschooling too. Tell me, what is difficult about using this approach to learning?
Diane: I've found that unschooling only becomes difficult when we have to "prove" something. When we have to fit into the guidelines that somebody somewhere decided that we should all fit in to, it gets a little difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. In Vermont, where we live, if you are registered as homeschoolers (and we are registered) you have to have some sort of evaluation at the end of the year to show the powers that bethat your child is progressing. This can be a standardized test, a portfolio that you submit to the Home Study Office and they review, or a written evaluation by any licensed teacher in the state of Vermont. We have always gone with the written evaluation. If we were following a curriculum at all things would be much easier to do at the "end of the year." As it is, we don't necessarily have easy to hand over evidence of learning. Instead, we write up a list of books that were read in one form or another -- by himself, one of us reading to him, or someone else's recording. Then we write up a list of special events, classes, workshops, projects he did or trips that he did during the year. From here we have to extrapolate what parts fit into the subject areas the Department of Education wants to hear about and then to demonstrate that he's made progress from the year before. It all depends on how you define progress of course. We are lucky enough to know a licensed teacher who is happy to work with unschoolers. But even so, she still needs to see evidence and this is what I find hardest about unschooling: it's hard to quantify. If you talk to him about what he's been up to, I think it's clear that he's a kid who is interested in lots of different things and is creative, motivated, kind, generally happy, and all-around great guy. That's what's important to us as his parents and he is happy with the way his days are but sometimes it can be hard to translate into the black and white that the state wants to see. I'm really glad that there is the option to meet with a person face to face -- I think it makes a world of difference given the kind of kid Em is to talk with him about what he loves versus trying to show it.
Eren: What is the best thing about applying this approach as you educate your children? I'm sure there must be moments that make it all worth it for you.
Diane: We can do whatever we want! We don't have to follow someone else's idea about what is important to learn and when. We can let our children find their way and help them to learn whatever they want to know. We can be part of our town and our kids can have friends of all ages since they are not required to spend most of their waking hours with only people their own age. The world is our oyster! It wasn't until I was at college, a teeny-tiny liberal arts college, that I really learned how to learn. I think there is no more important lesson. Once you know how to find what you want to know, by whatever means necessary, you are ready to be an engaged lifelong learner. For me, I had to pay a whole lot of money to learn that fairly late in the game -- luckily, my kids are learning it now. There's also something really great, I think, about meeting the kinds of people you meet when you're homeschooling. It's interesting to me to see how people on the right of the political spectrum end up being allies with the people on the left side of the spectrum where homeschooling is concerned! Something we can all agree on...
Eren: What are your children “studying” currently.
Diane: Em is revved up to do some gardening this year. Of the perennial variety. He's digging up his own bed and starting to plan what he wants to grow in there. He's saving up to buy an old-fashioned gun making kit. (Guns are not my thing. Guns scare me. But he has been scouring the Dixie Gun Works catalog for at least a year now studying the different old-style models and learning about how they were used.) He decided he needed to make some money towards this end and recently put a sign at the end of our driveway offering to do odd jobs. The neighbors have started calling. So he's learning about working and how to find work, how to act on the job, how to decide what to charge, how to manage what he makes and so on. He's been doing some mountain biking with his uncle. Working at his grandparent's nursery. He's been learning a lot of songs lately, too, about Vermont history, American history, and a goodly number of sea shanties so there's lots of singing around the house.
Eren: Anything else you want to share with us? Any last words or resources for the readers? Lay it on us.
Diane: Some things that I turn to when I'm feeling unsure about homeschooling: the book How to Learn by, John Holt and always the writing at Camp Creek Blog.
A big thanks to Diane and the other unschoolers who have agreed to be interviewed in this space. I don't think it is a simple thing to do and I am so grateful for the women who have opened themselves up to us.
Thanks again Diane!