Name: Maya M.
Homeschool Group: Northland Families Learning Together (nfltkc.org)
Homeschool Type: Unschooled
Educational Background: Montessori school for six months of Kindergarten, then homeschooled. Currently attending a community college and continuing her unschooling studies.
Interests/Subjects of Study: Music, writing (fiction, short stories, working on first novel), textiles (knitting, crochet, sewing)
Maya came to my attention through a post she had listed offering music lessons for all ages. She noted in her listing that she was homeschooled and wrote about her teaching style:
“My teaching approach emphasizes my belief that technique and theory don’t always have to be rigid and boring; they can actually be a ton of fun. I hope to pass on my love of music to all of my students.”
I sent off an email asking her if I could profile her in my new ‘Homeschooler of the Week’ series. When she called, she had me on speakerphone and it was then that I learned that Maya was just 15 years old. Her post for music lessons sounded so grown up, I had been sure she was closer to 20.
Maya and her mom C.C. agreed to answer some questions on how they had begun homeschooling and how they had liked the process. This is what I learned from our talk.
“Have you ever read the book ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl? I’m kind of like her.” Maya laughed when she said this.
Maya wasn’t bragging. Her mother explained that, when Maya was five, a high school teacher had told C.C. that Maya was already reading at a high school level, exclaiming, “She reads better than some of my high school students!”
Not long after this, Maya had wandered into an aisle of a bookstore and was reading aloud from a thick, advanced book and caught the attention of two other women, both teachers, who noted in amazement her advanced reading skills.
One friend, also a teacher, advised C.C., “Don’t ever put her in a school, it would ruin her.”
After just six months in a Montessori school when Maya was five, C.C. had to agree. With an upcoming move to another state, and the close companionship of mother and daughter tested sorely by the time apart while in school, it was the natural course of action to turn to homeschooling.
For Maya and her mother, unschooling became the mainstay of Maya’s home education. Unschooling is a form of child-led learning, and while it can still have structure, it remains child-led, following the natural course of a child’s curiosity and interest and relying on this natural curiosity to focus on what truly interests the child to learn.
Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.
The term “unschooling” was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the “father” of unschooling. While often considered to be a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically estranged from homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment makes a child more equipped to handle the “real world.”
For Maya, this often took the form of writing and she mentioned that she made up stories even before she learned to write. Later, as her writing skills expanded, she took to fiction and short stories.
She took the time to point out a great website that has really inspired her to move beyond the short story format and focus on character and plot development. NaNoWriMO (National Novel Writing Month) encouraged her to expand her writing skills, and she is currently working on her first novel. When pulling up the website I noticed that NaNoWriMo now has a young writers section as well – a great place to go for juveniles and adolescents for additional writing support.
I asked Maya to share with me her feelings about homeschool and what it meant to her. She said, “I feel like it is such a blessing. It is a gift to have a parent who is so committed to her child’s education that she would sacrifice her life and other things to make that happen.”
When Maya decided that she wanted to try dipping her toes into college-level classes, she chose a local community college and took the placement tests required. Her English scores placed at a college level, despite having never had any formal training in sentence structure or grammar. In her math placement test she placed at a 10th grade level in high school Algebra. For a 15-year-old that meant she was right on target for her age group.
C.C. noted, “Maya was upset that she didn’t do better at her math placement. I asked her, when is the last time you cracked open a math book? She told me, ‘about a year’.”
That struck me as rather impressive for not having even reviewed a math book before taking the placement test.
Maya is currently studying music and is hoping to open a cafe in the future that will feature live music and healthy organic food.
When I asked Maya for some drawback, any kind of drawback to homeschooling she had a hard time answering. Eventually she said, “You grow up sheltered, but in a good way, without all of the insecurities and social challenges that public school kids have.” She went on to say that it is important to be committed to maintaining social connections, and friendships. She also pointed out that her friends were not all her same age, but that she could connect, and relate to, all ages.
This reminded me of a quote about socialization and homeschooling, “Where else in the world will you EVER be surrounded by a mass of people your exact same age EXCEPT in school?”
It was refreshing to speak with an only child homeschooler. After all, with my two girls born eighteen years apart, I essentially have had two only children. It was reassuring to hear the self-assurance in Maya’s voice and know I had at least one example of an only child who had been homeschooled successfully. I suppose it is natural to look at similarities in others for some kind of reassurance that you yourself are on the right path.
C.C. mentioned that during several years spent in Alaska, she had attended a conference in which one of the speakers had said, “You cannot possibly teach your child everything about everything. Teach your child to LEARN and the rest will follow.”
Truly words to live by.
I asked Maya if she had any words of advice for those who are considering homeschooling of just starting out. She said, “Keep going. It can be hard to break out of public school and its mindset, and it is easy to get scared and may seem like it would be easier to just go back. But [homeschooling] pays off.”
C.C. added, “Stick with it. Be committed to learning through everyday life.”
A huge “thank you” to C.C. and Maya for allowing me to profile them as the homeschooler of the week. Best of luck to you Maya in all of your endeavors!