Today I’m bringing you an interview from Patrice London, a Black Unschooling, Work from Home Mother of three. Even though families have been unschooling for some time now, it has recently started to gain attention in the mainstream media.There are always lots of questions about how children can learn without a curriculum, or being taught by someone. While Unschooling is rare, I find it even more rare in the Black Community. I often get emails, or messages on Facebook and Twitter about being a Unschooling Black Family. I thought it would be nice for you all to hear from someone besides myself on the subject. Patrice has been at this longer than I have, so this interview is for me as much as it is for you. I’m so happy that Patrice agreed to give us a glimpse into how Unschooling looks and works in her family.
It’s important to remember that Unschooling will look different in every family. With each child being unique, they will learn differently, in their own way, at their own pace.
The ages of your children? How did you hear about Unschooling?
I currently have 3 girls ages 13, 8 and 4 and I’m looking to have more
I was one who lived this way long before I knew there was a name for it. I just did what felt right after giving birth to my first daughter. I used to dread the day when I’d have to put her in school- I didn’t know I had the option not to until I met another homeschooling mom.
My daughter, then about 2 years old, was playing with another little boy who was about 5-6 at an educational booth at some sort of expo. I stood there watching them play and the mother of the boy came over to me and declared, “You homeschool her.” I looked at her surprised (I was maybe 23 at the time) and asked her what she was talking about. She explained that she homeschooled her son and she could tell that I did a lot with my daughter. Astonished, I asked her if it was legal, we exchanged numbers and I left that woman and went straight to the library and got every book I could find on homeschooling and the decision was made. My daughter would never go to school. Reading those books, taught me that what we were doing had a name.
Can you tell us what Unschooling looks like in your family?
Wow, that’s tough since it changes each day. So, at the moment here’s what’s happening: We just got back from our weekly trip to the chiropractor and went food shopping. My youngest (4) is on the floor playing with a miniature bowling set and her wooden dollhouse. My two older girls ages 13 and 8 are currently looking at Korean pop videos online. My oldest has learned quite a bit of Korean and Japanese this way. The last few days has found them in our front and back yards harvesting what most consider weeds and making the tastiest things! My 8 year old got violets and made some really good violet candy and my oldest got us all to pick dandelion flowers and she made some cookies with them. We just bought a new herbal learning system called Herb Fairies so we’re all very into it. For Christmas this year, I started my oldest on the children’s Left Behind series and she zoomed through them and talked to me so much about them that I decided to read the adult series. Now she’s going through the adult series and we spend a lot of time comparing and going through the Bible to look at the verses that correlate to what’s happening in the books.
Can you tell us the process of your children learning to read and do math? Those are always big questions from those who don’t understand, or want to know more about Unschooling.
I feel like I did more with my oldest than anyone else. We read together every single day and now with 3, we still read together and listen to books on tape but it’s not every single day that we do those things together because they are often doing their own things. The journey to reading and math has been different for each. My oldest showed signs of being “ready for reading” very early, at 2 she knew all the alphabet and the sounds each makes but it wasn’t until she was about 7 that I actually heard her read. I remember us visiting a (traditionally schooled) cousin who is her age (they were about 6 at the time) and the cousin was sitting on her bed reading a chapter book. Not too much later, my daughter was reading on her own as well. I can’t say that she’d just began reading at 7 though as she’s not one to read aloud much. She’s far more private than my other daughter but I can’t pay her to stop reading. She loves it. She doesn’t even remember when she began to read on her own. All we did was watch a lot of tv, videos and read a TON of books together and that was it.
My youngest (4) is just beginning to ask about how to spell things and she is recognizing various words so I know she’s on her way. She loves books too and is always “reading” something over in a corner somewhere.
My middle girl was interesting. At 3, she and I sat and watched tv together and a commercial for one of those learning programs that help kids grades go up by at least one letter came on. I had no idea she was paying attention to the commercial but afterwards, she said emphatically, “Mommy, we need to call them.” I asked why and she exclaimed, “I can’t read!!” LOL!!! I told her that was ok at 3 and she said it wasn’t ok so I asked her if she wanted to learn, she said yes. So I started with explaining how the alphabet make up words based on the sounds and words form sentences… I then asked her if she knew the sounds of the alphabet and she knew them all- we’d never done anything formal at all. Since she knew them, I asked her if she could figure out simple words, she read them all and has been reading ever since.
She was strange with math as well. Again at 3, she came to me around midnight asking me to read a book to her. I told her I wanted to go to sleep and would read it the next day. She begged after looking at the book I told her it was an old math workbook not a reading book. She then opened it and asked what this number plus this number meant. I didn’t know she knew of a plus symbol but she did so I explained addition to her quickly and asked her if she could figure out what 1+1 was, she immediately replied 2, I went on with 2+1, she said 3, I said 3+1 she said 4. My husband was brushing his teeth in the bathroom and overheard our conversation. Joking, he said, “What’s 3+4?” She replied shyly, “It seems like 7.”
With all of them, learning reading and math has been out of desire and/or necessity. There are certain things they seem to just know, like my 4 year old doesn’t have to count say 4 pens that are grouped together, she just looks at them and declares there’s 4 there. About a year or 2 ago, I overheard my middle girl while cooking declare, “Oh, ok! Two halves equal one whole!” I don’t know how to explain it, it just works.
Also, early in your journey, or now did you ever have freak out moments…wondering if your kids were learning, or when they would learn, how they were learning, or the speed at which they were learning?
I used to have those freak out moments from time to time and I noticed they happened when we were in homeschool groups where a lot of people did the school at home approach. I’d suddenly wonder if I was doing enough, buy some curriculum of some sort and we’d all sit down to do it only to find they already knew the material, perhaps they didn’t know that this type of math is called “division” or things like that. Then I’d talk to them about my freak out moment and we’d go back to life as normal. They were always very patient with me during those times. They didn’t occur often and haven’t in many years now. Also, I realize that, (at the moment anyway) they are on various “levels” with various subject areas and that’s totally fine. No one is “below” in whatever grade they’d be in if they attended school but really, even in school I myself was always in the higher reading and in the middle with math so I don’t trip about that kind of thing. They’re all far better at everything than I was in school.
Do you get flack from family/friends about not using a curriculum?
Oddly enough, although I have several teachers in my family, I don’t get any flack at all from any family or friends about not using curriculum. Everyone is very supportive and I often give my family members who teach resources to incorporate in their classrooms. The only places I’ve gotten flack was within Christian homeschooling groups as most of them use curriculum and it’s considered anathema if one doesn’t, lol.
Do you feel there are challenges with being a Black Unschooling family? Do you ever feel there is something they must know, because of the stigma some of society has about the Black Community?
We’ve not experienced any challenges at all. It would be nice to be in touch with more Blacks who unschooled (and are Christians) but we get on just fine either way.
I often feel we are a rarity within the homeschooling community because we are so few at conferences and outings that we’ve attended but it doesn’t bother me at all. I feel we represent ourselves very well and I’m quite proud to stand out.
I do make sure to share and explore Black history with them. We have both American and West Indian family so there’s a lot of culture there to explore. I don’t try to push Black this and Black that down there throats, we *are* Black but we have made a point to visit the Black Wax museum in Baltimore and we visited the Smithsonian in DC when they did an exhibit on Black Granny midwives. We look out for things like that and make sure we’re a part of it. We also watch a lot of movies and documentaries and all. My oldest is just getting to a point where I can share deeper aspects of the slave history with her without frightening her. It’s all incorporated into our lives.
For the working parents who want to unschool. How do you juggle working and Unschooling?
I’m a bootleg working parent, lol! When I was doula-ing, I’d schedule my prenatals with women around when my husband could be at home with the girls or they’d be at a friends house or dance class or something. I’ve been really fortunate in that out of almost 50 births, I’ve only had childcare maybe twice.
Otherwise, making our herbal products and even encapsulating placentas is a family affair. They often go with me to hospitals or homes after births to pick up placentas (or they stay home) and I encapsulate out of our home, often with their help. So I’m kind of a work from home type.
Patrice London is a Unschooling, work from home mom of three girls. You can check out her website – Made by Love With Love. Her focus is on herbal products such as soaps, shower gel, and healing salves to name a few. Patrice also does Placenta Encapsulation in the New Jersey area. Be sure to like her Facebook page for updates.