“Easy for you to say unschooling works,” someone told me. “Your kids are interested in academic things. You don’t know my kids. If I unschooled, all my kids would do is play video games all day.”
I could spin unschooling two ways. I could tell you that before my son decided to learn Japanese, he read about long-term and short-term memory, and came up with a plan based on his research. I could tell you how my teenage boys have been to three different symphonies, and enjoyed them all. I could tell you how well they work in the family business.
Or I could tell you all they want to do is play video games.
Both versions of the story would be true. Because they are such avid video game players, they have pursued interests that came from their passion in video games, but their core passion remains video games.
Because of the endless hours of video game playing, they naturally became immersed in Japanese culture because that’s where Nintendo headquarters is. That led to their interest in manga and anime. They have Twitter accounts so that they can follow things about video games, and sometimes along the way, the video gamers they follow share an interesting article about something else. They listen to podcasts about video games, which, as podcasts often do, sometimes talk off-topic.
Because of their love of Japan, I got them each a subscription to Japan crate for their birthdays, where they get a box of Japanese goodies each month.
The symphonies I mentioned? Video game themed. Music from the Zelda video games with footage from the games playing behind the orchestra. One conductor used the Wind Waker baton.
My sons took guitar lessons for awhile, and one of them took piano and trumpet lessons as well. Their sole reason for learning new instruments was to play Zelda songs.
The reason one of them took horseback riding lessons was so he could ride a horse just like Link. We found the most awesome teacher in the world, who was even willing to put the cones he was supposed to ride around in the shape of the TriForce. Of course, we had to sew our own costume so he could look like Link while he rode.
Then we made our own shields out of foam board. Then we decided to try making wooden shields with a jigsaw. We made rupee bags (rupees are the currency in the Zelda games). We hiked through the woods with our shields once, going on an adventure just like Link.
I took them to Pax East in Boston, which is a huge video game conference. While there, they played indie games before they went on the market, heard a panel of video game developers talk about their careers, and heard one of their favorite podcasts live. Also, they had their first Pho from a Vietnamese restaurant and fish and chips from a British restaurant.
Some of the very first words they read were video game-related (save, continue), and some of their earliest reading was video game guides.
They’ve always enjoyed making up their own levels in games, from the time they were little and played Freddi Fish. They spent days making elaborate Lego versions of Mario Party games, complete with their own mini-games. This inspired them to work on an idea for a game they wanted to make and sell as an app, which led them to learning some programming. They didn’t follow through on that to completion, at least not yet. Who knows what the future holds.
When one of them was building a giant spider on Minecraft, he did a lot of research on spiders. When I needed help figuring out Dropbox, they were able to easily help me, because they’d used it for Minecraft.
Sure, they work hard selling things in our family business. So they can buy video games and add to their growing amiibo collection.
I never said we had to supplement their video game playing with academic things, or told them that they had to “learn something” today. I trusted that they were learning all the time, and that their interests would take them wherever they needed to go.
I paid attention and talked to them, and when they asked a question, I answered or looked it up if I didn’t know. I Googled lots of things for them when they were little, and looked a lot of things up on YouTube for them. When someone said, “I wish I could ride a horse like Link” I considered how we might be able to make that happen, and if they were interested in my ideas, we did them.
And some days, a lot of days actually, all they did was play video games.