article was published in 2007, Mette Guillaume, her French
husband Eric and their two children – Freya (six) and Silas (18
months) – were living in Denmark
after having spent ten years in France and around the world. The
decision to unschool came to them as a whole new idea at first
through friends then slowly imposed itself as the evident way of
educating children. In addition to living and learning with her
family, Mette is working on a book and a website
about sustainable consumption and living
Q: How did you decide to unschool?
A: We were unfamiliar with this approach to
learning, but it just rang true when we were introduced to the idea through some
friends. We then continued to read about it and extended the philosophy to our
daily life in general.
Q: Was this a joint decision with your
A: Not really, to begin with. Once my husband
got past some of his initial doubts, he was as enthusiastic as me. But he needed
a bit of time to get used to the idea, I think possibly because we were raised
in two very different school systems. In France, the whole system is much more
strict, and aimed at academic achievement. In Denmark, students are encouraged
to take initiative and often work in group settings. French schools use tests
and grades from the very early years; in Denmark report cards are introduced
late, from the seventh grade only.
Q: Describe how you unschool.
A: Well, that’s hard to describe. I try to just go with the flow
of the day. My daughter likes some scheduling though, so we have a weekly
planner posted on the refrigerator door, where we plot in activities like
playgroup, outings to the zoo or visits at friends´ places. Then I try to create
a rich and stimulating environment by having lots of stuff accessible (books,
games, crafts, etc.). We also use the library and several other free activities
a lot, such as dance lessons, movie shows and puppet theater.
Q: What has made an impact? For example: understanding learning
styles, decompressing, etc.
A: Definitely getting to the core idea of unschooling and what
it meant to our family. We prefer to speak about life learning; that learning
and education touches and takes place in all aspects of our lives and that
trying to fit things in boxes and divide life into “subjects” and specific
“learning times” really is a very unnatural and stiff idea.
Q: If you have read about the topic of
homeschooling/unschooling has one particular author or work or event
influenced you the most?
A: John Holt is a classic of course. But a major
eye-opener and inspirational source for me has been Alfie Kohn, although
he’s not a homeschooling advocate in particular. I’ve read several of
his books on the mechanisms of learning and parenting in general. This
is wise and challenging stuff – plus he writes in a really
straightforward and humorous way. One of my favorites is
Unconditional Parenting — this one really should be offered to all
new parents, very insightful.
Q: What do you remember most about your childhood
education – in school or elsewhere?
A: The lack of freedom probably – feeling stuck in a
system that didn’t allow you to advance at your own pace, be it fast or
slow. Though the Danish school system leaves a lot of space for personal
initiative, it is still a school setting, with the limitations that
follow. If you’re a “weak” student, of course you will get some extra
support, and if you’re “smart” they’ll hand you an extra worksheet to
fill in, but that’s about it and it’s obviously not enough. I was also
raised in a very authoritative environment where there wasn’t much room
for explanations, let alone negotiation.
We prefer to speak about life learning; that learning
and education touches and takes place in all aspects of our
lives and that trying to fit things in boxes and divide life
into “subjects” and specific “learning times” really is a very
unnatural and stiff idea.
Q: How has this shaped unschooling with your
A: I definitely know what I don’t want to repeat. I’m
trying to be very attentive to my children’s needs and feelings, and
really take them into account. I really want them to feel that we, as
their parents, acknowledge and respect what they might feel or think,
and that we will do our best to help them pursue their true interests. I
want them to know that they’re free to make choices about their life and
learning, but that we will always be there to support them, guide them
and help them out when they need us.
Q: Any advice or caution you would like to offer to
A: Yes, that the unschooling path is definitely not the
easiest one to choose, especially when you choose to extend the idea to
your life in general and not just
Sandra Rakovac is a homeschooling mother. This is one of a series of
interviews with homeschooling parents from around the world. Read a
follow-up article by Mette Guillaume about her family's unschooling