Sarah Mickulesku is a mother of three, adventure-seeker, rule-breaker, and limit pusher. She received her BA in Journalism from Metro State University in 2007 and is a published children’s book author. (“The Woodchuck That Could Chuck” available on Amazon) and the proud owner of High Country Headwear. She is a Colorado native and spends most of her time immersed in the forest with her kiddos and her Weimaraner, Mia. She currently lives in Denver.
What was the catalyst that lead you to choose unschooling for your family’s learning and educational needs?
Our journey as homeschoolers has really been a bit all over the place. We started out as project-based homeschoolers and decided to give public school a go after going through some personal family struggles. Public school was a nightmare in every sense of the word. From the negative teachers and bullies to constant testing and inappropriate behavior from classmates, it felt so mechanized and force-fed. The stress my kids were under in a public school environment really started to change our entire family dynamic and we decided that their happiness was our only priority.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back that made us turn in our withdraw notice and return to homeschooling was when my son’s first-grade teacher started leaving mean notes addressed to me in red pen on my son’s homework that he brought home! We finally had enough and spent this past year completely unschooling and letting the kids find their passions and talents organically.
Prior to your venture into unschooling, did you have any preconceived ideas, beliefs, or notions about what unschooling entailed (positive or negative)? If so, have any of those beliefs or ideas shifted?
I think I’m always in the position of being a student in all matters in life, so for me, learning how to unschool as we go is part of my natural state of being. As a mom, I still question myself a lot and feel guilty sometimes for the decisions I make. But I think that’s just part of being a parent and I think I’ve had to learn how to be really forgiving of myself when it comes to all things unschooling. I think having switched from traditional style homeschooling (worksheets, assigned “learning” hours, etc.) to a more unschooling approach has really allowed me to see my children for who they are at their core, as opposed to just little robots that need programming with information.
Before taking a more unschooling approach I had the preconceived notion there was no way my kids would learn anything unless I taught them. But I’m happy to say that I’ve been proven wrong. I had them take an assessment test recently at a public school to see how far behind they were so I’d know what, if anything, needed to be focused on in the upcoming school year, and they both scored way above grade level. It just goes to show that we are often our harshest critics and that children can and will learn at their own pace.
What have been some of your favorite strategies, tools, or resources that you’ve employed to make unschooling a successful fit for your family?
We spent this past year attending an enrichment program once a week but unfortunately discovered it was not a good fit for us. I still struggle quite a bit with finding all the right things that help us along our journey – mostly community. As far as resources go, we use YouTube a lot and watch a lot of documentaries. One of my favorite things to use are monthly subscription boxes like Little Passports, Literati, and Mel Science to name a few.
How has your family’s experience with unschooling been so far? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges? What milestones and successes have stood out to you?
My kids fight non-stop which makes having a fun learning environment a struggle. But one of my biggest challenges at the moment is time-management. We have a new baby which has almost made us accidental unschoolers due to my inability to schedule our days very well so I constantly feel like I’m juggling the baby and the kids’ education.
As far as milestones and successes go, my 10-year-old is reading at a 9th-grade level and I feel like if she was stuck behind a desk all day at school, she’d never be able to delve into all her reading material. Unschooling allows her to spend as much time on a book as she wants without ever feeling rushed or nagged for always having her nose in a book. And my son gets to spend as much time as he wants at the ice arena perfecting his hockey game, which is equally important. It’s really incredible to see them growing and blossoming in the things that they love and following whatever interests them.
What questions do you receive most often about unschooling your family and how do you address those questions?
Thankfully I don’t get questioned much about our educational choices anymore but when I do it’s always the typical questions: “Don’t you get sick of your kids? Oh my God, do you like it? And what about socialization?”
I’m used to being questioned because I’m also vegan so I’m constantly being asked where my protein comes from. I think most people just can’t fathom a child learning outside of a classroom so it’s really awesome to feel like we’ve proven them wrong in some sense. Also, I think after getting to know me and my kids first, before finding out that we unschool, helps a lot. People can see on their own how well-adjusted, polite, and smart the kids are first, so through their actions they prove that they are no less educated than anyone else their age.
What have been some of the most rewarding moments of your unschooling journey?
When I’m around my kids all the time, I don’t notice how “different” they are from public-schooled kids until we are in a situation where public-schooled kids are the majority (sports, parks, etc.). I’m always amazed by how different their behavior is from their peers after getting the opportunity to see them in action in a mixed group. The most rewarding moments for me are when my kids come to me and say, “Wow, did you hear/see that kid? I would never do that!” It makes me feel like all of my gut feelings have been justified, and I know that I am raising good humans.
What advice would you give to someone considering unschooling or just beginning their unschooling adventure?
Everyone has their own “style” of homeschooling or unschooling so I think the biggest thing is just figuring out what works for each individual family. No two families are the same and every kid has a different learning style so it takes time to really figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others who are on the same path and wonder if we’re doing it right, But, just like the woodchuck, who’s to say which way is the “right” way or not? It’s all about trusting yourself and your kids and letting go of the insecurities and self-doubt. Go easy on yourself and enjoy your kids while they’re still small!
What key skills and traits do you feel unschooling has instilled in your child/children/family?
I feel like my kids are able to relate to anyone, anywhere, and aren’t limited to interacting with just their own age group. I think unschooling has made us all more flexible overall and patient with the process.
What has been one of the most powerful insights you’ve gained from unschooling?
I think just knowing my kids have been able to have the time and freedom to really follow their interests has been such an incredible gift. Watching them grow and thrive with very little instruction from me is truly inspiring.
What do you feel is one of the biggest myths about unschooling?
I think the prefix “UN” really gives the whole thing a negative connotation. In our society, school equals education. So adding UN before the word school really translates to “UN-educated” in most people’s minds. I never use the word unschool when discussing our educational choices and still just refer to it as “homeschooling”. Because even though homeschooling still makes us “weirdos” by society’s standards, I think that word and concept is a little bit easier for most people to swallow.