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Adjusting from school to Home Learning

I took my 13 yr.old son out of public school in March of this year. He had become frustrated, bored, and totally turned off about "learning". I hope to reawaken that desire to know, to explore, and to discover that he once had.
At first, to my great delight, he was asking more questions and showing more interest than I've seen him do in a very long time. But he's still programmed to wait for an assignment before "learning" can begin. He hates textbooks and worksheets, and I've watched his interest wane as I've used these techniques. So we've moved into less structured schooling, with an eye towards eventual self-directed learning. But as he's realized he's free to choose what he wants to learn, he just bounces from one subject to another, never really delving very far into anything, and getting bored very quickly.
My concern is that when he is free to choose what he wants to do, it's always video games. He will only read if I tell him he has to read something everyday. Is it possible that some children, if given total freedom to decide for themselves, will never choose to pursue a topic to learn more about?
I really like the concept of unschooling/self-directed learning and believe it could be a great adventure for my son, but I'm afraid to just let him drift along, hoping he'll become interested in something.
Any words of advice or encouragement from you experienced unschooling parents?


It sounds like you are describing my son a number of years ago. My son reacted negatively to anything described as schooling or education, however if we found something that he was interested in, he would naturally start asking questions. If he shows a natural interest or aptitude in a particular area, use that as a starting point, and look to see how you can use that to stimulate interests. He can take a while, because he has to get that negative view of education as being something that you are forced to do out of his mind and get back to enjoying learning naturally.
In my son's case, his interest and aptitude is with respect to computers. He wants to get into computer maintenance and support. To help encourage his desire to learn, we modified the computer that he used to make it easy to make changes to the hard drive, etc., and he was now free to experiment. Once he started experimenting, he realized that there were many thing he could not do and that he would have to start reading and learning to be able to address his questions, along with guidance from us. Once you start down this path, suddenly he realizes reading is important, and math is necessary to address some of what he needs, and other things naturally start to come into play.
As to how to get started, that varies from child to child, depending upon their personality and interests.
I hope that this helps.

First of all, does your son like to read?  If so, what? Some people like to read books; some prefer magazines or comic books.  Schools have reading lists that give little consideration to a child's personality and tastes, and if he doesn't know his own, it's going to take time to find out what they are.
Try reading to your son.  Does a chapter book keep his attention?  If he doesn't seem to have the patience, it's either the wrong book or not his style.  You can also try books on tape.  My children love these at bedtime.
Video games aren't necessarily bad, but we have a rule in our house, "no tv, computer games until sit down work is done."  My 7 yos, who would spend his life on the computer, is the first to the table and the first one done.  Highly motivating. Pick one or two subjects you consider especially important (like math and science) and tell him he's free to do anything he likes that's not electronic until these are finished.  Then he gets an hour or whatever before he has to move onto something else.  Again his choice, just not electronic.  He'll either find something to do or he'll stare at the walls, which may lead to him wanting to paint them and that's the start of a hobby.  (That's how interests and learning begin, isn't it? As hobbies?)  :)
Check out the "Motivating Learning" page and a couple of others under "Topics" on this web site. There are some past answers there you might find useful.
Give him time.  For most of his life, school has been his life.  You can't expect that to change overnight.  I know it's tough because you feel all these expectations when you're first starting out, but that's just the way it is.  This is a major change in lifestyle.  It may take a year or more to make the transition.
Lynda in NY 

What you describe is a very common thing.  Have you ever read Real Lives?  It is a good book to read to let you know what some kids have done when allowed to.  You might also read The Teenage Liberation Handbook.  I don't agree with all that is said in it, but it has some good info in it.
Give your son time.  He will find an interest and then take off, but it could take a year or more.  It took longer than that to get him to this point!
Best of luck to you, and congratulations on your decision to unschool!

I agree with what Lynda and Tom already said.  A very good friend of mine and I started homeschooling at the same time.  We met because both of our children had the same kindergarten teacher.  Mine in kindergarten was my oldest child, hers in that class was her youngest.  When we started homeschooling, her oldest was 12, and what a difference that made!!  He was an "A" & "B" student (knew how to play the game well).  I remember helping him with algebra (that he already finished in public school with a good grade)  He knew no real information at all and was just nodding and parroting what I said.  I have moved away, so I don't get to see his struggle up close anymore, but her exact words, OFTEN were- "All he is interested in is Nintendo!!!"
I advised her to sell it- hard advice, I know, but if it is a true stumbling block in his life, if that is ALL he will think about...I told her in his case it was the same as an alcoholic with liquor in the house.  (But I am dramatic at times :-)
Anyway- we do a similar thing as Lynda- NO t.v., computer games (other than educational), etc...during our school day- until the whole day is OVER and it's night time.  I don't make them finish sit down work before they do what they like, it's just that during the day, sometime we try to do some non- fiction reading by me (science or history type stuff) and we try to do some math.  We do work out of a text some, but we also "mix it up" with homemade LONG word problems, and "outside math challenge" Which is a 3x4 ft. dry erase board- we have a stop watch & time each other on problems, total the score after 10 or so & low score wins!  There is a penalty of 20 sec. for incorrect answers.  My oldest is supposed to do independent reading sometime during the day also- They know what is expected of them, so they mill about and do things on their own, when It's time to read they gather around (I let them draw or build things quietly while I read- No wars with men -too noisy).
They can't go play with other children (round about 3 pm) until we are done with what we are supposed to accomplish for the day.
I would also suggest you check out some videos from the library- history & science stuff, or what ever you think he might be interested in- this may give him some ideas to pursue.  How about building something with his hands?  I think we are going to build our own window box for flowers this week.  How about a fish tank or terrarium?  My 9 yo was really interested in biospheres & the concept or everything surviving in a sealed space, so he made a miniature one in a plastic juice bottle- it work pretty well, but boy did it stink when we took the cap off!  Discovery, TLC, History Channel, HGTV & others like that are great to fertilize the mind.

Some homeschool moms and I  just talked about this same subject at the park last Fri. I limit our t.v. and video games but I'm not seeing an interest in reading in my youngest two.  My two oldest daughters love to read. When they were young we put away our t.v for 4 yrs.  I think it was one of the best things we have done.  I have been trying to limit instead of totally getting rid of it but I'm just not seeing any improvement.  Meanwhile we have been going to Borders ( bookstore ) on Saturday nights, everyone can buy one or two books of interest.  We all really enjoy looking at all the books together.  I think this has encouraged some interests.  Another thing I'm going to try.....is to have some books and other things to do ( puzzles, games, maps etc. ) at tables and have the boys go do something for an hour a day.
I'm looking forward to hearing what some of the other moms on the list have to say about this.

Some of what your son is experiencing is the age, itself. At least that's how it seems from my perspective. I've been hs'ing my son since the end of; 3rd grade (he's now 13.5) and this past year has been a real struggle to get started.  I'd liken him to starting a Dodge (my mom; drove a Dodge the last forty years of her life and it always had a false start. We'd hear it turn over and die and we'd say, "Starts like a Dodge"). We're heading into his fourteenth year and 8th grade and thinking of different ways we can approach schooling.
Levi prefers to have an assignment, but if the idea is child-led schooling and he, being the child, desires an assignment, then I'll give him an assignment and consider it unschooling. After all, HE chose to do it that way.
We're still feeling our way through this and I certainly have no answers. I do think we'll try to concentrate more on auto mechanics and drafting this coming summer and into the school year. His interests. (Who said their boys were just discovering cars? I deleted yesterday's mail already but my son has always been car crazy. Problem is, he gets about half the facts wrong. I try to be interested and carry on a conversation with him, but I swore off mechanics when I was a girl and my brother was fast on his way to becoming a  grease monkey... I prefer horses.)
Anyway, we'll try to muddle through this teenage time with boys together.

As well as the other very good advice to allow your son time to "deschool" and allow him time to find his own interest (while you gently direct, of course) ;-)  I wanted to mention I remember reading -way back- that about this time of a young adults life their growing spurts also interfere with their desire, drive, concentration, energy, etc. in learning.  And I have found this to be true.  (As well as hormones, esp. for our young ladies)  No problem though because as home educators we can allow them to have the time to grow and then they're back to exploring and investigating life.  I find audio book tapes and music history great during these times.
So when you find them not doing too much, to ease your mind, measure them and see if they've sprouted up some more. ;-)  No laughing, I'm being serious here. =^o
In HIS service, 

Well, I was an unschooled kid, do I count?
I would say first, that he probably needs some time without school. Not necessarily without learning at all, but at least without the kind of learning that 'feels like school'. I know that I, personally, am totally burnt out right now from 'doing school' (I go to the local community college), and I need some time to unwind over the summer. I love reading, but right now, even the books I have right now to learn stuff I'm totally interested in are hard to get started. That said, I have two conflicting pieces of advice for you.
* Don't push him into doing something he doesn't want to do. I understand that you want him to be reading, but why? Think about that... It sounds to me like you're telling him 'read some every day'. Well, if he doesn't enjoy the reading right now, I don't think you should force him to read for the sake of reading. He may get frustrated and resentful, and in the long run it can make things worse. Everyone I've met who hated reading, or who couldn't read at an older age, or similar problems, it has been because when they were in kindergarten, someone decided that they should know their letters. Period. Or, in first grade, they should know how to read X number of words (there, some algebra, too :), because that's what every first grader should know. Well, they would rather have been outside playing, and doing other 5 year old things, and were forced to read simply because they were supposed to be able to, and because of that, later in life they hate it. That rant aside, I just want to say be careful how you approach subjects like that, decide first if something is important now, then, why it is important... If possible, try to lead him to come to 'why' on his own instead of having to read because you said so.
* Child-led schooling, in my opinion, doesn't necessarily mean he literally picks what he wants to learn and when. To me, it is more along the lines of recognizing his strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes and planning 'school', whatever that means, around that. I really like what Tom suggested, about the computer to 'fix', and it's an excellent example of how the kid saw 'why' he needed math and 'why' he needed to read on his own. Probably without even realizing it was 'reading', he wanted to know more about how to configure a hard drive, and so he looked it up. Maybe your son doesn't have any strong interests right now... Fine. It could be that he is 'bouncing around' subjects because he is trying to figure out what he likes. I know that I personally have sort of a 'jack of all trades' personality, I am curious to know a little about everything, but I can't concentrate too long on anything before I get tired of it, or more interested in something else (think of Chet from the hardy boys books, with a different hobby every book. That's sort of how I am). The trick is for you to be in charge, but doing things that he enjoys doing. Some examples of things that I learned a lot from and didn't even realize it until later... Cooking. There is a lot of stuff involved in cooking, from math, (Y'know, I never quite understood 'canceling' in fractions until I realized I was acting it out by using the 2/3rds cup 3 times to get 2 cups), problem solving (Hey, there's no milk!), organization skills, and lots of other things if you look for them. 4-H. There is lots that I learned from 4h, and I think it's a great example of how you can get him started and then he takes it from there. If you get him into a 4h club, then let him choose what project he wants to be involved in... It depends on the teacher and the project, but most projects will be mostly hands on, fun stuff, with additional reading if he wants to get into it.
Like I said, these two points do seem to contradict each other, I guess this is where I tie them into one thought. Don't think that 'child-led' means you yield control to the child, but that you lead based on the child's interests.
Well, here are the ramblings of an unschooled graduate... Take them or leave them, they are my observations of my own family, myself, and others around me, from various schooling backgrounds. Above all else, though, you are the parent in this situation, and you know what's going on better than my, or anyone else's guesses... and that is the beauty of Unschooling. 


I don't have much problem with video/computer games or even television viewing. Learning does happen!
In my own experience with a now-14-year-old, the games led him into research and reading. He quickly progressed beyond the basic shoot-em-ups and into strategy games. He needed to research to find "cheats" and, of course, be able to read and comprehend them. Good spelling and keyboarding skills were vital to the success of his missions. He, my non-reader, began buying gaming magazines and reading and reading and reading. One night I found him surrounded by several volumes of the Encyclopedia. He was researching what would be good countries to take over when he grows up and becomes dictator of the world. Okay, so that isn't such a great life goal -- but he had made a list of what would be good to have in a country (I think a good oil supply was one of the things) and he was reading up.
His gaming binge lasted less than a year (about 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 - that growth spurt time). He still enjoys the games once in awhile, but has progressed on to other computer-y things. This summer he will take a class in Web Design and another in Interactive Animation (both are classes for highschoolers offered by our local community college).
No, he didn't become passionately interested in any one thing as a result of this and pursue it to excellence. That always seems to be the unschooling success story, right? Those kids don't live in my house. I'm actually hoping for well-rounded kids and I do think his gaming interest worked toward that end.
Btw, my children are 21 (homeschool grad, girl), 18 (entering senior year homeschool, boy), 14 (entering sophomore year homeschool, boy) and 7-almost-8 (homeschool, boy). This is the beginning of our 14th year of homeschooling.
Have I mentioned yet that David (the above referenced 14 yo) is now sporting a mohawk? He waited until the musical was over (Bye Bye Birdie, where he played a cop and a 50s style dad) before cutting his hair. He used to have spiky hair which he cut about 6 weeks before the play.

Welcome to the list!


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