For most kids, school is out for summer, but for the Martin family, every day they are in session. The Martins are “unschooling”.
“Unschooling is not doing school. It’s not un-educating, and I think that’s a big thing. People hear we’re not doing school, and they think that it’s just like a free for all, and you’re not involved,” says Dayna Martin, who along with her husband Joe, have decided to keep their kids, 11 ½ year-old Devin, 8 year-old Dakota, Ivy who is 5, and 2 year-old Orion, out of school. According to Dayna, the kids learn what they are curious about when they want to learn it. They say everything is a potential learning experience. Their American Girl dolls, teach about history, the family bunny, teaches about animals, and even Joe’s toy-making business has taught Devin how to work with his hands. “There’s learning in everything and if you only value the things that are like educational, you can miss out on so many wonderful learning experiences,” Dayna says.
But you can’t just keep your kids at home. In New Hampshire where the Martins live, they have to get approval from the state after annual evaluation or testing to make sure the kids aren’t falling behind their peers. “Our kids did great this year. They were above average in most subjects,” Dayna says. In Massachusetts, where Julian Baptista grew up, things are a little different. Like other unschoolers in the state, he and his parents had to get approval from the superintendent or school committee to prove what he was learning. “Like any kid, when given the option, of course I played video games and stuff like that but past the first while, that doesn’t really keep it’s thrill when there’s a whole lot of other things to do and learn,” Julian says. He says unschooling allowed him the freedom to find his true passion, music. Now, he’s 20 years old, released his first CD, and is studying music and social justice at Goddard College. “I feel like I’ve really developed as well as I could have, and much better than I could have in school,” Julian says.
“If I’m not getting something when I’m unschooled, I slow down, I focus on it some more, and then I wait until I’ve learned it, and I move on to the next thing. At school, if you don’t get something, well there’s 30 other kids in the classroom,” says 19 year-old Jeffrey Landale. His unschooling, was more structured. He covered traditional subjects, even studied Japanese at a community college. His parents made sure he learned what he needed to do well on the S.A.T.s. When he was 16, he decided he was ready for college, and now goes to Simon’s Rock at Bard College. “I needed grades to motivate me. I was probably one of the only people who went to Simon’s Rock because of the structure. I was like, yes, structure, organization,” Jeffrey says.
As you can imagine, unschooling has its share of critics. A big part of going to school is having that structure of your day, and of the curriculum, along with the socialization aspect. “It really depends on the kind of structure and activities the parents are preparing for the students,” says Dr. Barbara Francis of the Lesley University School of Education. Francis says it is important that unschoolers, like any student, are prepared for what the real world expects of them. “I think that sometimes we have to do things that are on somebody else’s schedule, and it’s not the world where you can go into work whenever you want to, and come home whenever you want,” Francis says.
Back in New Hampshire, Dayna Martin says she knows this is the right fit for her family, “people ask me that, like do you have any doubts, and no even an inkling of one, because I see them learning. I see they love to learn.”