Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Learning Together: Mixing Unschooling and University
by Rebecca Ellis

I’m a part-time university student at a large research university in Ontario, Canada. Currently, I’m working on a Bachelor of Arts in Socio-cultural Anthropology. In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting a paper at an academic conference for the first time. My long term goal is to get a PhD in Anthropology.

I am also an unschooling mother of two. My oldest child, Eli, is five and is fascinated with atlases and birds. Along with his baby sister, we spend our days going to parks, looking at books, gardening, and talking about ideas.
People often ask me how I juggle unschooling my children and being a university student. My first thought is, how can I not? I enjoy being a student and thrive when pursuing intellectual interests. To give up university would be denying myself the ability to follow my passions. My second thought is that my university studies not only enrich my own life but also enrich the lives of my children. We learn together and are able to share our intellectual passions with each other.

This semester is proving to be an excellent example. I am taking a course about traditional indigenous cultures, which looks at the many diverse indigenous cultures of North America. Today, I was reading an article about the map-making of the Inuit people. As I read the article, I engaged critically with the text as a university student, but I also thought about the facts and ideas I could take from the article to share with Eli. For example, we can talk about how and why Inuit women often became experts at cartography or about the way in which European map-making, at least in the past, overlooked important details, such as what is the best and easiest route, where to find valuable resources, and where to find food and safe places to sleep. It can also lead to a discussion of the importance of oral traditions in the past and present of almost all human societies. We can discuss how sometimes knowledge that’s not available in books is the most important knowledge of all.

This particular course has enriched our unschooling experience in other ways, as well. It has influenced the way in which I think about the history of North America. As my professor pointed out in one of my classes, the history of North America is mainly the history of the indigenous people, since they were the occupants for the majority of the time this continent has been occupied by humans. That comment made it clear to me how important it is to make sure that my children have the opportunity to learn as much about the cultures and experiences of indigenous people as possible. It sent me on a mission to find excellent resources – resources that are not biased and that acknowledge the immense diversity of culture and experience among the indigenous people of North America.

Engaging with the information I learn in university – as an unschooling mother as well as a university student – has given me a new appreciation of knowledge and learning. I now read essays in a more in-depth way, looking for relevant and interesting tidbits to share with Eli. It’s more, however, than a simple transmission of knowledge Instead, it is a dynamic, two-way process, because Eli also enriches my experience as a university student. Together, we learn about the things that interest him. Lately, that has been geography and birds. By looking at books with him and talking about the ideas he is interested in, I have learned an incredible amount about both of these topics. It is embarrassing how little knowledge I had – even as an anthropology student – about world geography, until it became a passion of Eli’s. Now I know exactly where a city or a country is located when I read about it in an article or hear about it in a professor’s lecture. I probably even know some of the birds that live in the area and what type of food is grown in the region. This is all due to my role as an unschooling mother.

Of course, there are challenges that come from unschooling my kids while being a university student. I have to find the time to attend classes and study. I am lucky to have a partner with a flexible job and a supportive attitude, not something many people have. Even so, we have to juggle around each other’s schedules which can be stressful. University, even in Canada, is expensive, and I have no time available to work at a part-time job, so money is tight.
However, I am confident that this experience is an immensely positive one for all the members of my family. Being a university student and an unschooling mother are proving to be mutually enriching roles. Next time someone asks me how I do it, I’ll have to answer that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Rebecca Ellis lives in London, Ontario, Canada with her partner and two children. She is close to completing her BA in Anthropology and is also happily unschooling her kids.


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