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The Search Is Over: Unschooled to Freedom!
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About This Site

Monica Z. Utsey, age 36, is wife, mother and freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She homeschools Zion, age 3, her only son. Monica is also the president of the Southern DC Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc. Monica is a foreign language enthusiast and is currently learning along with Zion Spanish and Swahili. Monica is fluent in Sign Language.

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Stage 1: The Preschool Fast Track
Believe it or not, by the time my son had celebrated his first birthday, I had begun a frenzied search for the right school. I started reading all of the local guides to best private schools (public school was never an option). By the time Zion was 2 years old, I had been to more than 30 open houses. Each school had wonderful qualities, but there was always something that wasn't quite right -- the curriculum was too eurocentric, the school was not diverse enough, or the tuition was completely out of our price range. Nevertheless, I wanted Zion on the fast track, so at age 2, I enrolled him in a very flexible Sign Language pre-school program on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only college in the country for the deaf and hearing-impaired. My sister is deaf and I was already teaching Zion Sign Language so I thought this was perfect. He hated every minute of it. He was kicking and screaming every time I dropped him off. After about three weeks of utter misery, I had to ask myself if what I was doing was of any real benefit. His last day was when I returned early to find my son screaming his eyes out, naked and unsupervised on a changing table. I thought to myself, I'll just teach him Sign Language myself.

Stage 2: The Seed is Planted
While working as a consultant for DC Parents for School Choice, I learned about homeschooling as an educational option. A fascinating concept, I thought. The organization sent my family to the Black Alliance for Educational Options Conference in Dallas, Texas in March of 2002. After attending a homeschool workshop on creating your own African-centered curriculum, I had a conversation with Mama Nomusa, an educator, storyteller, and poet, and I'll never forget these words. "All this stuff is good, but the only real education is homeschooling. The rest is make believe." Later, after interacting with my son, she told me he was brilliant, a fierce king in the making, and encouraged me not to send him to school because it would break his spirit. I thought to myself, teach Zion myself? Wow! I could create a tailor-made African-centered curriculum and I wouldn't need to worry about my son disengaging from learning by the fourth grade.

Stage 3: Straddling the Fence
After taking a Mom and Baby Spanish class in the summer of 2002, I jumped on the "language immersion school track." I was back to attending open houses again, only this time they were language immersion schools. Many were great, but still I encountered the same problems: most were predominately white and none affirmed his African heritage. Still, this past summer, at age 3, I enrolled Zion in a Spanish Language Immersion Summer Camp program at the prestigious Washington International School. I was straddling the fence-one side homeschool, the other side, language immersion. Initially, Zion liked the program, but soon the novelty wore off and he began to cry when I dropped him off (He was having fun when I picked him up though). After about a month into the program, Zion began to beg me the night before not to take him to camp, and only agreed to stay if I stayed with him. And one day he asked me, "If you love me so much, why do you take me to camp?" That was it! Prestigious or not, he wasn't going back. I thought to myself, again, I'll just teach him Spanish myself.

Stage 4: More Indecision
By this time I had begun reading a lot about homeschool and had joined various support groups. My decision had been made, or so I thought. Then I heard about the new Latin American Montessori Bilingual School and thought to myself, "a perfect combination -- the freedom of Montessori and language immersion!" I went to the open house. The crowd was hip, funky, and diverse. The classrooms were cute. The class size was a little too large (up to 22 children), but they said there would be two to four teachers in a classroom. Okay, I can deal with that. But then came the whammy. The hours were 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Wait a minute, this is not a job, this is school, I thought. When asked if there could be any flexibility with the schedule (in the back of my mind I was planning to "homeschool" once he was out of class) and the principal told me, "Absolutely not. This is a DC Public Charter School and we have rules for attendance."

Stage 5: Free at Last
In late August of 2003 when the call came, my lips moved before my mind had a chance to offer an offensive move. "No, Zion will not be attending the LAMB school. I've decided to homeschool," I told the principal. There! That was it! No more indecision. Finally, I was at peace. I had spent the last two years fretting over my child's educational future when I was staring the most qualified teacher right in the face -- Zion. My own child had been telling me all along. "Mommy, I don't want to go to school. I want to stay here with you and daddy." But the system teaches us not to trust our children, and most certainly we are not to listen to them when it comes to choosing something as important as how they will learn. Well, I'm glad I listened in time. It was the most revolutionary decision our family ever made.

Stage 6: Learning All the Time
It's amazing that I almost missed that we had already been learning all the time. My son had already taught himself so many things. My best friend sent him a toy drum for his first birthday and by age 3, he had already taught himself to play -- not bang, but really play. He drums at our church and runs up on stage every chance he gets. He taught himself shapes using computer software -- all by himself. We learned colors by purchasing food coloring for the bath time, so Mondays became red water night, Tuesdays, green water night, and so on. We had been having a blast and we hadn't missed a beat. We practically lived at the museums, where my son has learned about dinosaurs, Native Americans, and held hissing cockroaches from Madagascar. In fact, what I learned is that homeschooling made us more of a family. Our lives were no longer dictated by being-home-in-time-for-Zion-to-be-in-bed-early-so-we-could-be-up-in-time-to-take-him-to-school rat race. Instead our days start with breakfast with daddy (who leaves for work at 2 a.m. and is back home by 9:00 a.m.), where Zion asks, "So daddy, how was your day?" Unschooling fits not only my child, but our life too. Right now Zion loves to fill up the tub with water and toss in his toys. Useless, you might think. Not at all. This is how he discovered that if we put water in the ice tray and then into the freezer, whola-ice! "Wow, mommy," he said. "I didn't know that water makes ice." Ahhhh, the wonder in his eyes. Why would I ever want to relinquish that experience to his preschool teacher?

Unschooling the Days of the Week

Zion has recently expressed an interest in learning the days of the week. I almost purchased one of those "days of the week" charts, but instead found a more creative way to make the days of the week more relevant to his life. I started thinking about all of the things that Zion does in a week to make a pictorial representation of the days of the week. Zion loves to take pictures thanks to Dad, an amateur photographer, so I let him take some of the pictures (even if we don't end up using them). After developing the photographs, we paste one representing each activity onto a separate sheet of construction paper. At the top of the page, I wrote the day of the week. For example, for "Tuesday" I took a picture of Zion playing with his best friend Zen at a Mocha Moms support group meeting day. This gives the day of the week more meaning to Zion because it's something that he does on that day.

Monday: Help Mommy with Chores Day.

Tuesday: Mocha Moms Support Group Meets and Zion gets to play with his friends.

Wednesday: Field Trips to museums, story time, or work with Daddy.

Thursday: Free day to do whatever Zion wants to do (he loves to watch his favorite Michael Jordan documentary while practicing his slam dunks).

Friday: Visit your great-grandparents---every Friday we spend the day with Zion's great-grandparents who teach him about cactus plants, cross word puzzles, and canning vegetables.

Saturday: We go to the gym -- mom and dad work out while Zion participates in sports mania and plays with his friends from the gym.

Sunday: We go to church -- afterward we have breakfast and Zion plays with all of his friends from Sunday school.

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The author also suggests the following:

Home Schooling from
                     Scratch: Simple Living - Super Learning
Home Schooling from Scratch: Simple Living - Super Learning

Countering the Conspiracy
                     to Destroy Black Boys
Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys

The Ultimate Book Of
                     Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun And Creative Learning Activities For Kids Ages 3-12
The Ultimate Book Of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun And Creative Learning Activities For Kids Ages 3-12

Jan/Feb 2004 Vol 1/Issue 1