We are in NYC for the weekend. Usually when we come here, my preparations are finanical. For example, perparing for the inevitable $8 hot chocolate (pictured above).

But this time we were going to a wedding and I knew we had to prepare for the questions about school.

So, the first thing is, I’m done telling people I  homeschool. Because look, if you think worksheets, and national-non-customized curricula is best for your kid, then really, school is great at that. School is great at teaching to the test, and you don’t need to homeschool.

So I am unschooling. I am trusting my kids that they can figure out what interests them and it will be my job to help them learn what they are curious about. So we are doing self-directed learning.

I told my sons, “When someone says, ‘What grade are you in?’ or ‘How’s school?’ you should answer, ‘I am doing self-directed learning.'”

My nine-year-old said, “Are you going to get in trouble with the police?”

The other thing I did to get ready for our trip to New York is that I prepared for the inevitable question, “How will your kids get socialized?”

In general, the only people who think kids need school for socializing are people who have other reasons for thinking kids should be in school: like, change makes them terrified.

But anyway, I reviewed the answers that Laurette Lynn suggests at her blog, Unplugged Mom: My favorite of her answers is that her kids are not socialized. Because socialized really means knocking them into lockstep with all the other kids forced to sit in school all day and learn what they are told to learn.

So I will tell people my kids are self-directed learners who are unsocialized, and this week we are learning about $8 hot chocolates.

17 replies
  1. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    Oh my gosh! After all these years I really get it now. My child was not socialized. And maybe the way she “turned out” is just what people feared. She has high self-esteem, does not make decisions based on others’ approval, is independent. I think she’s lovely. To the socialized, she’s probably weird.

  2. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    We’re curiosity-driven, not entirely “self-directed.” In our “learning lab,” we share the reins. Sometimes I introduce a topic to see if he’s ready. Or I introduce something that I’m interested in understanding to see if he wants to join in, too. Other times he takes the lead.

    As he matures, he can take more of the reins in his education as in other things. It’s worked well for us, this approach, since he was tiny.

    As for “homeschooling” or “unschooling,” both of those words are so loaded and vary so much in definition by who utters them that I finally settled on “eclectic homeschooling” and just don’t care what anyone else perceives.

    In my experience, most people who ask are just following the social norms of chatting. How we respond is a good lesson for our kids. It’s a lot like asking your major in college–it’s a reflex, automatic. Anyone that we encounter who wants to get judgey-wudgey about our educational choices is probably going to judge me on other fronts, so I treat them politely and move on.

    Enjoy New York!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Pamela you are totally right about remembering that people are just trying to be friendly. I need to remember to be friendly back. Also, it’s so true that kids learn a lot from how I respond. So I guess this process will actually socialize me :)


      • MichaelG
        MichaelG says:

        Seems like you missed the obvious replies:

        “I’m a student of life.”

        and “Mama don’t hold with no book larnin’.”

  3. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I always answer the socialization question with…We have so much more time for activities and playing with other kids because with homeschooling, there is not homework in the afternoon. This satisfied most people because most of them don’t even know why they are asking you that question.

    And I stopped telling people I home schooled too or I was really vague. Most people are really uncomfortable with it so why get into it with people.

    Don’t forget the other comment…I could never do that. I always wanted to say…ya you probably couldn’t. hahaha

  4. Latha
    Latha says:

    I agree with Pamela that most people ask those questions about school because it is like weather, a safe topic to talk to a little kid. Sometimes I joke that my son is being educated in the most expensive private school with the most favorable teacher-student ratio, by a teacher with a terminal degree who actually loves her student. My son sometimes says to people who ask such questions, “I am so lucky I can do whatever I want”. Finally, I like the salsa approach: Lucky us, we are an unschooling family! Could you please pass the salsa? or the hot chocolate?”

    At the same time, when people are serious and want to discuss more, we are always happy to share our learning process, experiences, resources etc.

    And another thing that helps me is to always be benevolent about the other person’s intent. They are not asking those questions so they can make us defensive but because they are (a) making small talk (b)genuinely curious or (c) genuinely concerned about the state of education. If violating any of these positive intents is a pattern with certain individuals, I use the salsa approach.

    Finally, what I find extremely helpful is other schooled children’s reactions. We spend three to four months a year overseas visiting my family. The kids that go to school make their parents so defensive, it is not funny! Then they end up having to explain/defend to their children why they cannot or will not homeschool:)

  5. redrock
    redrock says:

    I think there is a misconception of the term socialization. It does not mean to move in lockstep – while the word might have the same linguistic roots as the word socialism, it is not to “behave like in a socialist country and move in lockstep like a group of soldiers”. Socialization is simply the process of a child learning how to live and interact in their respective environment. To live and learn how to interact within its own culture, family etc.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Nice pic.
    Hello kid!
    $8 hot chocolate – was it the cursive that drove up the cost?
    This post reminded me of two ’70’s songs –
    Alice Cooper’s hit ‘School’s out’ and
    Edgar Winter’s hit ‘Free Ride’ (we played it(among others) in college just before taking a calculus test to both get psyched and to clear our minds of the last minute review/cramming).

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    that’s funny. looks like very good socialization to me if he learns that in Madison there won’t ever be a $8 hot chocolate because that’s ridiculous. but in NYC that’s normal.

    also, when i was a kid it was sooo nerve wrecking to order what i wanted. i remember the day when i faked strong confidence and walked into an office and spoke English and told the lady how i needed help.

    it was weird and exilarating. i spoke too fast and had to repeat a few things because of my accent.

    i was sad my parens had never taught me to juts walk up to a counter and say “I need help with this.”

    it may be weird to most people but it was a big thing to learn for me. then i realized that because of all the time i spent in school and people made decisions for us because we were “the kids” we just sort of were too shy to speak for ourselves.

    i practiced in stores when people have to say “can i help you find something?” just because they have to. so i’d tell them what i need and asked for help to find it fast.

    my English was terrible but we got over that.

    while kids are in school getting everything dispensed for them, your child is learning a few different things from the “real world.”

    i think it’s awesome.

    this has changed my career goals. i want to work in a way that allows me to homeschool/unschool.

  8. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I have really been enjoying your latest posts on both blogs. I love the fresh career advice and eat it up as it relates to my son’s potential future as well as our own. It also seems like things have really clicked for you and the unschooling, and I’m glad. Love your pictures too. Please feel free to post more pictures of New York if you so desire. I’m a Wisconsin girl currently living in the desert (AZ) and dreaming of visiting New York some day. I don’t know why. I cant’ explain it. It started wtih a burning desire to visit Rockefeller Center at Christmastime and go ice skating. Now, any time I see New York in photos or a movie, my heart skips a beat. It’s not that I want to live there, but something is drawing me for a visit. I even loved the photo you took of the farmer (as seen on his blog) in last winter’s blizzard. Beautiful.

    Hope all is well with you.

  9. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I find this all very interesting and the thought of teaching my kids at home has occurred to me. But I really like my job and it makes me a happier person.

    Is there any middle ground where I can send my kids to school AND YET teach them to be self-directed learners at home as well?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Nicole, I think the biggest barrier to doing that is homework. Public schools have tons of homework which dies not leave room for a kid to direct his or her own learning after school. Higher-priced private schools have a more self-directed learning approach, and there are many private schools that scorn homework, pecusely because it destroys the kids abilit to explore on their own. But after a long day at school, many kids are too tired to do much of anything self- directed.


      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I think there may be a trend over the next several years towards incorporating more of these self-directed/project based learning concepts into the public school system. There is a school that recently opened by me called the Big Picture School (http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/east_king/bel/community/128404893.html) that is exploring that territory for middle school and high school aged kids. I am a long way from having children that age, but I am definitely keeping an eye on this school (and others that may open along these same lines) to see how they evolve.

  10. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    But what about schools like Sudbury Valley School? Do you think unschooling/homeschooling is better? I found a similar school near my work (and I live in Brazil, so I was really happy for that!) and now I am scheduling a visit. Anyway, homeschooling is against the law down here…

  11. Heather
    Heather says:

    Congrats on your decision to unschool, we do the same. It’s so great to live & learn in freedom! I have enjoyed watching your deschooling process & getting comfortable in your journey and I thought you were headed down that path. I think most would agree, that usually there are variable answers for the people asking questions, random strangers whom it’s none of their business get we’re homeschooling, as it’s not worth our time to go in more detail, nosy neighbors or family who are just trying to be polite might be told we’re not following a curriculum and are learning through life, and then there are those that are truly interested with whom I will discuss it all in more detail with. People aren’t used to seeing kids out in the world unfortunately, so yes, they usually ask why they’re not in school or what grade are they in because they don’t know what else to say. Enjoy the journey!

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