I’m used to making lesson plans. I’ve been planning lessons for my high school science classroom for the last 10 years. Though the topics have ranged from biology, botany and environmental science to forensic science and physics, one thing is constant: I always have a plan.
That’s not to say that I always follow that plan. I once heard a quote that about 50% of a teacher’s day is not in her plans but is instead what evolves throughout the day as she evaluates her students’ understanding, makes changes, deals with disruptions like snow storms or bees in the room, and embraces unanticipated teachable moments. I’m not sure if that statistic is true, but I know that I do make changes throughout my day. My lesson plans are an outline of what I expect to do, but they’re flexible and fluid. I don’t live by my lesson plans and the ringing of the bells, instead I embrace the unexpected and roll with the proverbial punches.
In planning for my upcoming maternity leave when baby boy arrives sometime in November, I’ve thought about what I would like to do for Joshua’s education at this time. He attends daycare three days a week now, but when I’m not working he will be home with me and his baby brother. He loves his school and his friends, and I am amazed by the way he absorbs skills, words, shapes, colors, numbers and letters while he’s there. For a short while, I wondered how I would continue his learning while he’s home with me.
I thought about homeschooling but quickly realized that’s not for us right now. I remember what my days and nights were like with Joshua when he was a newborn, and I am well aware of the reality that I will not be able to plan formal lessons and have supplies to accomplish them when I’m absorbed in caring for my new baby. I’ll be on leave from lesson planning, and I’m not going to set myself up for perceived failure. Instead, we’ll be embracing our own version of unschooling. As Earl Stevens explains, “Unschooling is a unique opportunity for each family to do whatever makes sense for the growth and development of their children.”
I personally thrived in public school from an academic and social standpoint. I earned a free college education thanks to my grades and my closest friends are still the ones that I met in elementary and high school. But I also recognize that a lot of who I am today came from the time spent with my family when I wasn’t in school. I wasn’t homeschooled, but my parents valued my intelligence. We were always reading books together and spending time together on the farm. Some of my fondest memories include talking to my parents: reading my mom’s rough drafts of the children’s book she was writing and offering suggestions and critiques, or having my dad turn to us and listen to our ideas when there was some problem or setback on the farm. They always made us feel like we were smart, we had valuable opinions, and good ideas. There were no lesson plans, we just all learned and problem-solved together.
I think often about what I want my children to be like when they grow up, including what they’ll gain from their education. I want them to share my loves for reading, the natural world, and writing. I want them to learn skills like wood working, metal working and mechanical skills from their dad. These are things that could be accomplished with lesson plans, but why not just follow my parents’ lead and include my children in the real work that we do? Authentic experiences will allow our children to gain so much more knowledge and a sense that we value their intelligence than the artifice of lessons.
I don’t intend to be my children’s teacher- I am their mother. Ed is their father. I want them to gain more through our relationships than knowledge, critical thinking, or problem-solving. I intend to send my children to public school and hope that they have the positive experiences that I did, but I understand that their education is much more than what happens within the walls of their classroom.
I’m embracing the idea of unschooling for right now because I want to follow Joshua’s lead over the coming months, allowing him to learn at his own pace and about his own interests. I feel that play-based learning at this age is most appropriate for Joshua, but we’ll continue to read daily and he will continue to help us in our daily tasks. He loves to help me in the kitchen and help his dad when he’s working in the garage. Through our time together at home, he will learn that we value his ideas, thoughts, imagination and skills. He’ll also learn to be a big brother, as we all learn how to be a family of four. No lesson plans necessary.