Wanting the Unschool Life in a Go to School World

I’ve been struggling with a very difficult parenting decision. And I thought I’d made peace with it, until we came out of a weekend where we were beautiful, model unschoolers. Or homeschoolers. Or whatever term makes you happy. I really want to continue to live the unschool life in a go to school world.

This story happened the weekend before school started in Mexico. These are my struggles with my decision. I believe in and love unschooling and I sent my kids to school anyway.

A balloon filled with water and cornstarch, called ooblek, and part of our “unschool” science experiments.

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Living The Balloon Life

My husband came home from the grocery store with balloons. I hate balloons. That’s not entirely true. I hate the sound of balloons popping. If there’s a phobia of that, I might have it (there is and it’s called globophobia and after reading the description I doubt I have it). I love recording water balloons popping and then putting the videos online in slow motion. But neither of those things are what we did with the balloons.

I went upstairs to write and I heard massive giggles coming from downstairs. There are definitely some shenanigans going on, I thought. I heard a crash and then my husband asked if I could bring a big towel downstairs.

And still I heard a lot giggling.

Yep. Shenanigans.

Explosion, chaos, and no one’s yelling? What is happening, I wondered in delighted shock. I took the towel downstairs and I discovered there was shaving cream everywhere: on the couches, on the floor, and on the kids. It smelled delicious.

“Experiment” #1*

First, my husband had put shaving cream in the balloons and let the kids play with them. Eventually, the balloons popped. Apparently, when this happens, shaving cream flies through the air as if you’ve hit the jugular (his words, not mine). After the shaving cream explosion, we had very happy children who were rolling in the foamy, heavenly scented mess.

“Experiment” #2

Second, my husband used a funnel to put baking soda into one of the balloons. He then put vinegar into a bottle. After attaching the balloon to the bottle, he emptied the baking soda into the vinegar and we watched the gas it created fill the balloon. Then, the kids compared the balloon filled with the gas to the balloon filled with the breath of a human. The gas created by mixing the vinegar and baking soda is denser than air. They had fun playing with the two different balloons.

“Experiment” #3

The following day, my husband did a third science project. He introduced the kids to a non-Newtonian fluid made of two common household items: water and cornstarch (also called ooblek). While getting the mixture into a balloon wasn’t very easy, the result was really cool. It was a great way to demonstrate that it sometimes feels like a solid and sometimes feels like a liquid.

My son’s favorite balloon filler is shaving cream (when given the choice between air, water, shaving cream, and the ooblek). My daughter also finally settled on shaving cream being her favorite.

*The word experiment is in quotations, because we didn’t write down each step as we went along, choosing to focus on talking about things instead of following the scientific method (which we learned about in Dragons and Marshallows, book 1 in the Zoey and Sassafrass series, which is among our favorites!

three "fidget spinners" made out of legos. Two are spinning. One of the unschool projects that I didn't force my child to make.

Three of the fidget spinners my son made. Each spins perfectly.

Later in the day, my son made his own “fidget spinner” out of legos and it spins perfectly. I don’t want to stifle his creativity or force him to move on after 40 minutes from an activity he enjoys. He loves to build and he’s really good at symmetry. My daughter is observant and creative. She will dress as Batman Girl and also as Elsa (from Frozen). And sometimes, she’ll combine the two. She’ll also pretend she is a cat and lately, she’s been pretending to be a differently-abled cat. Her imagination keeps me on my toes. In addition, she loves to watch the cartoon surgery videos and to perform surgery in the games she plays. What will I miss out knowing about my children if they are in school? Why do I have to give up the pleasure of watching them discover fascinating things?

Peer Pressure

Yet, I’m experiencing a unique set of circumstances that have me feeling pressured into sending my children to school. It sucks. I don’t want to. I don’t want their creativity and curiosity to be squelched in a factory schooling situation. I’ve toured two kinder schools so far. They are okay. Some things sound really great (though, after going through the initial interview it doesn’t sound great at all), but they still will exist in traditional looking classrooms with children within one year of their ages. It also sucks because there isn’t as much to do in our city as there was back home. In addition, due to the language barriers, we’ve struggled to make local friends.

If you are committed to homeschooling or unschooling, then you may be able to relate to my dilemma and concerns. Or if you never expected to make the decision to unschool and yet, here you are. I’ve made more concessions than I’ve expected since moving to Mexico. Most are very small concessions. Sending my children to school is a very big decision and one I never, ever expected to consider. I’m usually pretty great at ignoring peer pressure.

But peer pressure coupled with a little loneliness? It’s difficult to ignore.

a red balloon and a blue balloon, filled with cornstarch, with wrought iron behind them.

These balloons also want us to live the unschool life.

I Feel Sad

One of the tougher parts about making this decision has been that not one single person here can even begin to understand my concerns or where I’m coming from. For them, school is the only way. At least, this is the impression they are giving to me. I am so grateful for my mom (who allowed me to unschool from age 11 until I graduated highschool) and my momfriend, Julie, who has struggled through the decision to go from school to homeschooling. Both have willingly listened to my concerns and provided insight if I’ve asked. Though I’ve (mostly) come to peace with this decision, there is still sadness hanging around my brain. But, at least I don’t have globophobia.

Moving Forward

We will still travel. Life will be a little different than I’d imagined for a little while. In the long run, we are still doing what I hoped to do, which is open ourselves up to new things.

Have you ever struggled with a really huge decision right after making a really huge life change? What fun science experiments (done properly or not) do you and your children do together? Do you unschool?


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