Your Homeschooling Stories: One Family's Unschooling Journey

I am so thankful that Mary Kate has shared her story. I truly appreciate her honesty, as I often feel the same way!

Our Unschooling Journey

We began this homeschooling odyssey when my sons were 5 and 4. Before having kids I assumed they would go to the public school, as did my husband, and I would return to work. That was the nebulous “plan”. After enduring intense emotional and physical experiences to even have our first child, I approached parenting from an attachment perspective. A dear friend had two years earlier introduced me to extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and gentle discipline as ways of parenting. It made complete sense! I found once I had our son, our miracle baby, that I wanted and needed like-minded moms around me, to learn from, to befriend. We joined an Attachment Parenting group, and it was in this atmosphere of nurturing that more new ideas presented themselves, among them homeschooling. The image of NOT dumping my kid off with strangers for the majority of his day – after what I went through to finally HAVE a child – resonated with me. Another deciding factor was that both my nephew and much-younger brother-in-law were in the public school system, and I realized education had changed dramatically since my youth. I didn't want my children negatively impacted by mainstream culture.
This is a picture of my husband, Lou, and I with our 8-month-old miracle baby
After some research – just some, as I am not an avid researcher – I chose a curriculum that seemed perfect for a kindergartner and his 4-year-old brother. By that time I also had a 7-month-old baby girl. We began Five in a Row, and my sons loved it, as did I. We moved shortly after beginning FIAR, however, and that derailed the project. I could not recapture the momentum I'd attained once we began living with my mother. Perhaps it was that our daughter's needs changed. It was also intensely challenging for me to school two little boys while caring for a baby. I did try, though. I tried different things. I knew in my heart that God was calling me to homeschool, and that belief gave me the strength to continue the journey. The following year we dove into a Catholic-based approach, while augmenting our experiences with playgroups with the attachment parents, and with another homeschooling group. I diversified! While I loved being around parents who are conservative, for the most part, the atmosphere was too rigid. After a year of that particular curriculum, which was boring, we were done, and done with the religious homeschooling group. As a faithful Catholic, I was astonished at the poor fit these groups were for us. They found me too liberal, while the secular groups thought me too conservative.

So, we took a break from curriculum. My son, almost 7, was not yet reading, and at the time I was still in the schooly mode of home learning. Our two boys have different interests and personalities, and reconciling the two in order to study the same subject was frustrating. Then our second daughter arrived, and I found myself less available to explore a variety of interests with my kids. But I heard about de-schooling, and that’s what we did, for a long time. After some months, a dear friend and unschooler introduced me to A Little Way of Homeschooling, and I was hooked. It seemed the answer to the challenges we'd undergone up to that point. We spent two years learning how to take care of the baby!! At the end of two years, all momentum was lost for me. I enrolled us in co-ops and subject-based courses in an effort to DO SOMETHING. 

Our homeschool journey continues to be one of exploring what fits for our family, from the method of religious education classes we choose to how we play. I say we are unschoolers, but I still struggle to embrace that philosophy completely. I struggle a lot. I believe it is right for us, but I wonder if I am the mom to make it succeed. I realize how much of a product of the educational system I am by how difficult it is for me to be imaginative, creative, and energetic for my kids' sake. My oldest is 10, and with a reading tutor, maybe finally on his way to learning to read. The other children -- 9, 6 and 3 -- pursue interests such as art and video games. All of my kids have a lot of knowledge in different areas, but aren't at "grade level". They are, however, extremely physically fit! They love to swim, jump on the trampoline, and play freeze tag with their friends. I try different things hoping to strike a chord with them. We've tried gymnastics, karate, archery, piano, Tinker Crate, and dropped all of those. Our newest experiment is an online program which utilizes Minecraft. Co-ops rock for me because we learn with other kids, socialize, and I have the opportunity to speak to adults. Or people come to our home. Thanks to another great book, Haystack Full of Needles, I have hosted an annual summer co-op for the last 5 years. There is a different theme every year for six weeks. Here in Phoenix it is my answer to continuing to see friends during the Southwest's version of inclement weather.

I continually juggle taking care of the home, the kids, working part-time away from home, attempting to pursue the children's passions, and relaxing. Diversifying our lives still seems the answer for me. We combine different experiences, and I throw in things I enjoy -- reading, cooking, traveling, hiking, camping, watching nature shows -- to shape our days.

The kids have never asked to go to school; I am glad of that. Sometimes I wish they were in school, so I could feel better about them learning, because I still assume they WOULD be learning. Then I talk with another unschooler, and reassess, regroup. My core belief reasserts itself. I hope to attend my local unschoolers' conference in the fall to further enhance our journey and my commitment to it, 

to, ironically, learn how to do it better!

MaryKate Lofredo

We are an unschooling family of 6: 2 boys and 2 girls, plus my husband and I. 
We live in Glendale, AZ.