Expecting Happiness

Debbie Smith

In response to a public question about how unschooling can work with children with special needs, Debbie wrote this:

I don't try to make "unschooling" work for Kevin (my six year old son with disabilities); he makes it work for himself. I guess that sounds flippant, but it's really the only way I can explain it.

I provide him with lots of textured materials, because he's a tactile learner (he's vision impaired); I give him a safe place with lots of things to explore...poke his fingers into, push over, taste, hear, smell, etc. I am with him, talking to him, telling him what he's feeling, what he's seeing, what he's hearing...keeping him safe; helping him crawl up onto the couch so he can touch the cold windowpane, and I tell him about winter, pointing out the clingy snowflakes I had put there another day that he can peel off; he crawls over to the piano and pats the leg - his sign for me to lift him up so he can *play* the piano...and I talk about what beautiful music he makes.

I make books for him because book publishers don't cater to the small market of kids with vision impairment; but he loves books and he deserves to have books to enjoy. If he wants to spend an entire day going through his "books", then that's what we do; if he wants to spend the day in his specially-designed swing listening to his "Best of Sesame Street" CD, then that's what we do. My job is to provide an environment that supports learning; he does the learning himself.

I am there with him, giving him whatever help or information he needs to make sense of his world, and along the way he learns that he's valued as a human being, he's loved, he's respected.

So, for Kevin, unschooling doesn't fit into his life...it IS his life.

My understanding of this gradually changed the way my other children homeschool. Unschooling Kevin came so naturally to me, because my only expectation for him was to be happy. It hasn't been so easy for me to let go of expectations for my other kids...but we're getting there...thanks to Kevin.

I hope this helps you understand unschooling in a family loving a child with severe multiple disabilities...who also has a gorgeous smile, an infectious belly-laugh, and the heart of a hero in a frail body.

Debbie Smith
February 2003

Happiness and Unschooling


Look directly at your child