Unschooling parent: 'It's not the easy way out'

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCIV) - When it comes to education in the James household, there is neither structure nor curriculum. Each child only learns what they seek.

"Every night when we put them to bed, one of them will ask, 'What are we going to do when we wake up?'" said Rachael James, an unschooling mother of three. "We kind of give the list of things that need to be done, and then it goes, 'What else do you want to do?'"

James was unschooled herself from elementary school through her junior year in high school, when she chose to go to Summerville High.

"I was the only one out of my four siblings that was technically unschooled," James said. "My mom had them follow a curriculum and I kind of wouldn't. I was like, I knew what I wanted and I did a lot."

James' siblings were all homeschooled and followed a specific schedule.

"They started with Bible, and then math, and then science, and had a break and came in to do Social Studies and English," said James.

James, on the other hand, followed her own schedule.

"There would be times that I didn't touch a math book for a long time, but I would be doing other things," James said. "Doing Social Studies then writing my own papers on them. Not because my mom made me, but because that's what I wanted to do."

Years later, James decided to follow the same approach with her children.

"I knew that homeschooling was going to be what we wanted to do but, it really just kind of fits for us," said James.

Five-year-old Ellis is the oldest of James' children.

"He's kind of the quiet one. He likes to observe," James said about Ellis.

Four-year-old Lily is the middle child and very inquisitive.

"She's very much like me and my mother and very chatty," said James.

And, two-and-a-half-year old Henry is the youngest.

"Henry is non-verbal but Henry is very task oriented," James said.

Each day the three children mainly play, do arts and craft projects and help mommy around the house. The approach fosters child-led interests.

For example, during the family's interview, the children had an interest in birds. So, James helped them make bird feeders out of pine cones so the kids could "spy" on birds as they stop to eat.

"I get 'why?' 50 million times a day," James said. "Instead of being frustrated with that, I take that as a learning experience."

Because of that every experience is a learning experience approach, James says her children have learned grade-level concepts without her having to teach them through traditional instruction.

For instance, James says Lily learned how to count without being taught.

"Numbers are everywhere. We have age. We need two socks for our two shoes for our two feet," said James. "That kind of gradually worked its way into her knowing how to count without me sitting there and saying, 'Count these things: One, two, three, no, that's not right.'"

James says, while the approach isn't commonly used, it certainly isn't the easy way out for parents.

"It's very intentional; it's very hands on. Both my husband and I are immersed in them," said James. "Whereas it's child-led, it's not child-by-themselves doing whatever they want, whenever they want with their parents being completely absent. It's really the opposite of that, where we are doing this together."

The concept of intentional flexibility seems like an oxymoron, but James says it is what makes unschooling work.

"We definitely have rules and boundaries in our household," she said. "But when it comes to learning it's like, it's not an educational thing but more of a lifestyle."

James says by unschooling her children she's training them to make empowered decisions to learn.

"I feel if we snuff that out as children, then it's going to be hard to re-ignite that when they're adults," James said.

In short, James said unschooling is 365 days of education by experience.

"Ultimately, it's not for every family," said James. "It's an all day, everything present for your children."

James said she is open to allowing her children to attend traditional school if necessary.{}

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