Guest Post: Our Journey From Schooling to Learning

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

No doubt, we work with some AMAZING families here at Children In Motion. I am so blessed by all of the parents I work with- they are eager to learn, they engage in the OT experience, they ask about my family, they support CIM, and some of them are even willing to share their experiences on our blog! How did I get so lucky? I would like to introduce you to Ms Aja Rutledge. She is the founder of bTripping, a lifestyle traveling agency, and Doing Life Afraid, a lifestyle blog exploring what it means to get out of your comfort zone and defy your fears to live a life you love. Her journey with her son has taken her to amazing places- they are currently living abroad in Mexico!- but it hasn't always been like this. Aja has dealt with the difficulties and challenges that come along with educating your children. Come read about her personal journey with education and prepare to be inspired by her resourcefulness and bravery. Also, make sure you give her some love online! You can find her on facebook at bTripping and Doing Life Afraid.

As a kid, I was in the public-school system, first in NYC then in Atlanta, GA. I thought that was the way it was; some kids went to public school while others went to private. Then I had my son and in raising him my eyes have been opened to so many options that I never knew existed before.

I took the path a lot of parents do and searched for the best elementary school for my son. I moved into a different county to get him in one of the best schools in that county. Kindergarten went well. The teacher was great, and she was so helpful and attentive to my son. She’d always mention how my son reminded her of one of her boys. I didn’t fully grasp the weight of this until my son moved up to the 1 st grade.

Everything went downhill at this point.

When I say down I mean doooown. Things got to a point where my son was hiding under the desk during the school day, not doing any work and not participating. Of course, the teacher wasn’t telling me this. It hit me then, just how much my son’s kindergarten teacher impacted his learning experience. Because my son reminded her of one of her sons, she was making accommodations for my child that I wasn’t aware of (and that he needed). She was more patient with him than others because she understood his learning style. He made it through kindergarten with love and excitement because of her.

However, with this 1st grade teacher everything about my son’s happy spirit was evaporating before my eyes. We needed a change quickly. I managed to switch my son to another class with the most patient teacher I have ever met in my life. All the while, I was attempting to work with the school to get an IEP for him, but they continued to insist he didn’t need one. They didn’t recognize his struggles as sensory or overstimulation or anything, really. It was incredibly frustrating. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of the story with the public school and in the 3rd grade I pulled him out for good.

The shift to private schools.

The first year at the first school was amazing and great. It was a small student-led, project-based school for kids with ADHD, Aspergers and other learning disorders. However, there were some major issues with the academics, for my child and the cost was unsustainable for me for the long term. The second year and second school were a disaster. The director convinced me that she “worked with these kids all the time” but time showed that she had no clue how to work with my son and others like him. I pulled my son from the private school system two months into the school year.

I was running out of options quickly.

I was determined not to put my child back into a situation that was terrible for him. What was I to do? My first thought was to homeschool him. I knew about homeschool because my, much younger, siblings were homeschooled in their early schooling years. I figured it may be our best bet. Not one to jump into things uneducated, I did all the research I could about homeschooling. I settled on a curriculum that was actually free. I found a homeschool co-op so that my son would still have regular interaction with kids and develop new friendships. I submitted my letter of intent, registered him with an umbrella school and we were ready!

Until homeschooling became monotonous and boring. One morning my son came to me and said, “this is boring, doing the same thing every day. Can we unschool?” I had come upon unschooling in my research for homeschooling, but I struggled with it for our personal situation. As a mom building a business and being home with my son, constantly, unschooling was a dream for me. At the same time, I thought it would be a nightmare for my son. The thing about unschooling is it’s driven by the child’s interests and formal curriculum goes out the door. The theory is children (people, really) learn best when they are drawn to learn so teaching a child to read at 6 may take a year because they don’t care but if a child is ready to learn at 10 it may take 2 months. My aspie boy is not intrinsically interested in much outside of video games and this is why I felt unschooling wouldn’t work for us.

Unschooling Trial Run

I told my son we’d do a trial run and if I didn’t see initiative then we’d go back to “regular” homeschool. Our run was interesting and opened my eyes to a few things. One being that I was right about my boy. He’d say he’d want to learn about rain clouds, research it for 5 seconds and was finished. Oy vey. I did learn, though, that when I pulled him into things he was more than open to learning and even got excited about it.

For example, I complete my budget on a bi-monthly schedule and I used the envelope system for my cash during the two weeks until the next date. I brought my son into completing the budget with me. We then went grocery shopping with the allotted amount in our “Grocery” envelope and he helped me shop. While we were shopping he learned several things but one specific thing we practiced was mental math (which he’d always struggled with). He rounded up the cost of items we put in the cart and added them, ensuring that at the end of our shopping we were within budget. After arriving home and packing away the food my son walked up to me and said, “Thank you for teaching me like that. I really enjoyed it and I learned something!”

Unexpected Learning Through Travel

Of course, though, me being me…I noticed that while traveling my son seems to become a whole new person. What I mean is executive functioning skills that are a struggle at home and he can’t get beyond step two become seamless on trips and he’s able to master the tasks. “What is this?”, I wondered. It was amazing, confusing and intriguing all at the same time. I came back from a trip and rushed to share it with Michaelene, wondering if she knew something I didn’t.

From this experience and discussion, we started on another way of schooling called

worldschooling. Worldschooling is learning through traveling the world so basically unschooling in other countries. I just had to see what such an opportunity would do for my son’s growth, perspective and future personhood. It’s funny because we’re actually doing a hodgepodge now. Since we left the U.S. my son has really gotten into doing his online curriculum and does it every morning. Then we go out into the world, currently in Mexico, and explore, learn and experience everything there is to experience.

Schooling is not confined to a box and it isn’t confined to one way. It saddens me that my son has such a hard time in the school system but at the same time I’m grateful for the gift of being set free. My son is now learning in a way that is best for him; a way that lights him up and engages him on every level. In addition, no one is worried about him not sitting still or struggling to pass a standardized test. We found freedom in realizing that learning happens everywhere, every single day.

What I love most about Aja's story is that she never gave up on her son's education and she kept looking for the right environment for her son to learn in. Let's be honest, not all of us are destined to do world schooling, but I hope you are inspired by Aja to keep searching for the right environment for your child to learn in. Maybe you need to talk with your child's teacher and make a few adjustments to the classroom or maybe you need to try a different school. Whatever it is, just try it. You are your child's advocate & I hope that you feel empowered. You know your child best.

I'd love to hear your feedback! What did you find most inspiring about Aja's story? What has your personal journey with education been like? What are you struggling with? And make sure you give Aja some love online at bTripping and Doing Life Afraid!

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photography by Lydia Chang