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  • Michelle Smith

Unschooling Before Schooling?: a consideration of child lead learning

Updated: Feb 27


This Dec 31, 2019, while everyone is preparing their flyest looks for the night’s party, or finishing pots of black eyed peas and greens for family, I will be basking in gratitude as I thank Yah for 3 years with my beautiful son. It dawned on me that I am not only celebrating my child’s third year of life, but also 3 years on this journey known as motherhood. When I really think about it, this is a huge feat considering that becoming a mother was the most life changing event that I have ever experienced. If you are a mother reading this, I feel no need to go any further. And if you’re not… well just reconsider everything you thought you ever knew… about EVERYTHING! But I must admit, it feels nice to know that I have survived, that WE have survived this learning curve. I am fully aware that I have barely started to shift degrees, but I feel confident our start.


I am presently in a moment of trying to process an overwhelming sense of emotion as I reflect. The number three is significant and represents completion, to a lesser degree than 7. Three months (or moon cycles) complete a season, while the complete power of God comes in three forms, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This third birthday represents my baby transitioning into a child. And to be honest, this anxiety also comes from the fact that he is entering into a new phase of learning, which means that it is time for me to step my game up. I have spent three years thinking about, researching, and planning for my children’s educational experience. One of the most inspirational things about having a child for me was the idea of having the privilege to rear and shape the molding of a human being that will go on to contribute to this world. As parents, I’m not sure if we take this power into account as often as we should. A common ground that many parents share is the desire to give their children what they didn’t have. While for some that may be every new iphone that comes out, or a top notch private education, I envisioned blessing my children with knowledge of self, and the power to recognize their own personal gifts to use accordingly. Three years ago I didn’t have the vocabulary to express this, but I knew that I had to do something different.


I knew this because I understood that raising a Black boy in the current state of not only this country, but this world, requires something to be different than it has been, because... well excuse my French but THE SH*T AIN’T WORKING!! (referring to the public education system’s inability to significantly affect the community of Black boys in a positive or equal rate to that of their counterparts)


While my son is only three, and there is no need to infringe some crazy routine on him, I do however want to teach him and myself how to manage being consistent. I believe that self discipline and time are two of the most valuable resources we have. And although this may sound like an oxymoron, freedom and faith are the other half to this magical equation. You can imagine my excitement when I found a label for my “nontraditional” way of viewing learning and education. While my personal philosophy of learning does not coincide 100% with the that of “unschooling”, I find this to be the closest school of thought to that of my family’s.


Unschooling is a child lead method of learning that advocates learner focused activities. There is no set curriculum, but more of an individualized education plan. Whereas a curriculum guides a child’s educational experiences, unschooling allows the child’s interests and experiences to guide the curriculum. I love the idea of my children feeling empowered, valued and trusted enough to take the lead role in their own learning experiences. I can only imagine how much more valuable my education would have been if I was allowed to pursue my own interests. Now, unlike parents who follow the standard idea of unschooling, which includes giving a child complete autonomy, I do feel that some guidelines are necessary. For instance, one ideology of unschooling is that the parent should always honor the child’s right to say “no”. While I am open to accepting my child’s distaste for something, I do feel that all children need guidance to some degree. Even if they don’t understand why some conditions are necessary at the time, eventually they will come to value lessons that can only be understood in hindsight. One thing that I have learned is that nothing is one sided. Life is about give and take, so it is also very important that my children are well versed in leading as well appropriately following. This is why I find it important that they are empowered with the role of leading themselves at an early age, as well as working alongside like minded others to build community.


One thing is for sure, there are no one size fits all answers or theories for any of life’s great how tos. I’m starting to understand that the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing. With this revelation, I cannot allow my own limitations to lock my children into the same box that I have been fighting so hard to break out of. I also understand that this is no easy task, and in order to support my children in this journey I must be willing to charge myself with the commitment of a life long journey of learning.