How Do I Know My 'Unschooled' Kids are Learning with No Tests or Reports?

This year my kids had no tests, no reports, no school awards or medals - they are home educated in the midst of this permaculture village and local community. How do I know that my unschooled kids are learning or feeling that they are achieving?

This semester, Maia and Hugh have chosen drama as a key theme that links a lot of their their language learning. They've done speechcraft, singing, they've had leading speaking parts in a play (had to remember lines), they've been part of two drama teams, taken part in a couple of drama workshops, explored character and plot development, helped design and make props .... it's been fabulous to develop so many skills in such a fun, active and engaging way. They want more!

Last week I had a moment of doubt about the learning opportunities I am offering my children. We were at the annual primary school concert where Maia and Hugh used to go. "Am we doing the right thing? How Maia and Hugh feeling? Are they learning enough? Are they learning the 'right' things?" These and other questions flooded my mind. Since then I've been checking in on my thinking about our choice to educate our children at home, and more importantly checking in with the kids, their learning, and how they feel about it.

I think my doubts started because I was worried that the kids would be feeling left out and unacknowledged for their efforts this year (they've been unschooled all this year - their choice). The other kids were getting awards. It used to be them. They are very academic kids and their walls used to be plastered with certificates. I wasn't sure we should go to the concert, but they were determined. They wanted to watch and encourage their friends, and perform in the school concert band (they constitute 20% if the band!).

The kids play saxophone and trumpet in the senior concert band at the local primary school.

I sat back and watched for signs of discomfort, but Maia and Hugh were confidently hanging out with their friends, sitting with their old class groups and loudly cheering them on. They didn't seem to have any issues. Even though they don't go to school anymore, they still maintain their old friendships - they play music together, swim together, play tennis together, play in the park together, have sleepovers, go on adventures together ...

Just to be sure, I checked in with them....
Me: "How do you feel about being there tonight?"
Kids: "Great - no worries - wasn't it great - which bit did you like the best Mummy?"
I fished again ...
Me: "Would you like to go back to school and be part of that next year?"
Kids: "NO!  
OK, my unschooling doubts are starting to wane - but still, what about their learning and sense of achievement for the year?

The next day after the concert, on the last day of term, we sat down as a family and asked the children to think of all the things they feel that they'd learnt, achieved and felt proud of doing (kind of like doing their own report). They wrote their thoughts up on a big whiteboard side by side - excitedly chatting and reminding each other of the things they'd done and we talked about it as they. Hugh was literally bouncing! Eventually they ran out of space, but not ideas.

Maia and Hugh's lists of what they felt they achieved during this year of unschooling. 

Now I feel great!  Not only do the kids feel confident with their social life, with old school friends and also all the other friends they have in the community and their various learning groups, but they also feel totally excited by all the things they've been learning this year (and this list is just a snapshot). When I sit back and look at the year in total - it's been quite a journey. One example from each - 10 year old Maia has found amazing writing mentors (Story Slingers) and written the first book of her trilogy.  Eight year old Hugh invented his Worm Extractor method  - a simple way to extract worms from worm farms - revolutionary. We made a youtube clip about it and people have written to him from around the world.

After taking this picture above as a record, the kids rubbed it all off and filled the board again - this time with things they'd like to do in 2017. But I'll leave that for another post ...

I am genuinely impressed at how much the children learn in this relaxed way, and how motivated they are to get into so many things. Learning, not reward is their motivation - their environment and curiosity drives them. Overall too, I have noticed at how much happier, confident and calmer they are, and how less stressed and anxious they have become over these past 18 months - also how much more helpful they've become too.

Maia performing in the recent Maleny Players pantomime. 

So far, my experience is that homeschooling/unschooling has been so rewarding. It does not require lots of resources and money - really just time, a shared curiosity, a willingness to respond actively to interesting questions, and to get in and do things together.

My take home message from this is:
Homeschooling doesn't mean just sitting at home isolated, as much as unschooling means you're not doing any learning.  In fact, learning this way helps to cultivate such deep connections with community and place, and to cultivate broad and deep learning through extended inquiry and connection to context.

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