An Interview with Mary Griffith, Part 1

Recently, Mary Griffith, author of The Homeschooling Handbook and The Unschooling Handbook was kind enough to answer some questions and share her thoughts with me about homeschooling and unschooling. I’m going to share excerpts of our Q&A every day this week. Here goes:

Adrienne: So may I start with my first question? It’s the one I ask everyone: How did you get started in homeschooling?

Mary: The short and flip answer is “I had kids.”

I think, though, that I was primed for the idea by my own school experience. I was one of those kids school people consider shining examples: I got my straight As without much work. I had a knack for understanding ETS item writers’ thinking. I was well-behaved and involved in school activities. I was also bored out of my skull (despite thinking of myself as somebody who liked school) and felt like a fraud most of the time.

Until I had kids, I never had much experience with babies or toddlers, so most of what I did with my kids was trial and error, based on what I read. This was the 80s – I had Spock and Brazelton and Penelope Leach, and somewhere in there among the three of them I could always find justification for whatever it was I wanted to do.

Sometime either while I was pregnant with Kate or when she was a toddler, I happened to run across John Holt’s Teach Your Own in a bookstore, and I was immediately attracted by the idea. I loved watching Kate explore and play and learn, and I couldn’t stand the idea of her having to sit still in a classroom and get all that knowledge doled out to her in appropriate little bits, not to mention all that waiting around for the next thing. I figured if one was to be bored through large chunks of the day, one could at least be somewhere comfortable. Plus, California at that time was in the midst of one of its periodic “phonics is the only possible way to learn to read” paroxysms, so there was no way I was even going to think of letting her attend school until after she could already read.

Essentially, I had fun with my kids as toddlers and preschoolers and could see how easily they learned from just being alive and active, so I didn’t see any reason to suddenly change things.

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