When I heard that the LTTL unschooling conference was going to be held twenty minutes away from where I live, I jumped at the chance to find out more about unschooling from the experts (like Sandra Dodd) and meet some real-life unschoolers.
Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the highlights of the unschooling conference.
I’ll start today with the speaker who inspired me most – Cathy Koetsier. Cathy has unschooled her five children since 2002. Two of her adult children came along to the conference and shared their perspective on unschooling.
Cathy inspired me to trust my children to choose their own learning paths. She shared many examples of how well this has worked within her family. Here are just a few of my favourites.
Prior to 2002, Cathy homeschooled her children in a more traditional way. At that time, her 8-year-old daughter was struggling with maths so much that she was becoming withdrawn and depressed.
When Cathy discovered unschooling, after much soul-searching, she took the courageous decision to allow her daughter to quit maths. She was delighted to see the little girl quickly return to her former happy self.
Fast forward nine years – this same young lady announced to her surprised mother that she wanted to sit maths GCSE (the public exams English schoolchildren take at around age 16). With the help of a tutor and a short but intense period of self-motivated hard work, Cathy’s daughter passed the exam with a B.
I wonder how differently that story might have turned out – for the young woman, and her whole family – if Cathy had persisted in requiring her daughter to study maths in a way that wasn’t working for her, back when she was eight?
Two of Cathy’s children struggled with reading because of dyslexia. Her son who came to the conference was one of them. He spoke appreciatively of the many hours his parents had spent reading aloud to him during his childhood.
Then, when he was about thirteen, his desire for book learning began to exceed his parents’ read-aloud-availability, and he taught himself to read fluently and accurately. He didn’t find the task easy, but thanks to his parents, he had grown to have a deep love of books, and by thirteen he had the self-motivation to take the necessary steps to overcome his learning difficulty.
My own son J(8) was diagnosed by an educational psychologist as having mild dyslexia and last year we used the Toe By Toe multi-sensory reading programme recommended by the psychologist. I’ve heard many good reports about Toe By Toe, and I’ve seen improvements in J(8)’s reading since using it. Mostly our sessions are fine, but there have been occasions when they have induced in J(8) tears of frustration.
Cathy’s talk has given me the confidence to trust J(8) to know what is best for him. He loves books and he loves learning. Next year I intend to respect his wishes if there are days – or longer periods – when he doesn’t want to do Toe By Toe. He’ll get there in the end. Our relationship is more important than the rate at which he learns to decipher phonics.
Oh – and, to Cathy’s astonishment, her other dyslexic child was inspired by a love of mythology to take Classics GSCE at age 16 – she passed!
Unschooling and family relationships
Cathy’s two grown children contributed richly to the conference discussion.
Cathy’s eldest daughter was unschooled for the shortest time. She commented that when the family homeschooling in a more conventional way, she envied her schooled friends their relationships with their mothers. When her friends had a problem with their teachers, they could talk it through with their mums. But while her mother was her homeschool teacher, Cathy’s eldest couldn’t do that – there just wasn’t the room for a normal mother-daughter relationship. When the family began unschooling, she said, “I got my mum back”.
To find out more about Cathy Koetsier’s unschooling experiences, visit her website, Christian Unschooling.
In my next post in this series I’ll share about Joyce Fetteroll‘s Unschooling Toolbox.