“Easy for you to say unschooling works,” someone told me. “Your kids are interested in academic things. You don’t know my kids. If I unschooled, all my kids would do is play video games all day.”
To which I can only laugh. Because, you see, I could spin it two ways. I could tell you that before my son decided to learn Japanese, he read about how long-term and short-term memory works, and came up with a plan based on his research. I could tell you how my teenage boys have been to three different symphonies, and enjoyed them all. I could mention the programming they’ve worked with. I could tell you how well they work in the family business.
Or I could tell you that all they want to do is play video games.
Both versions of the story would be true. Because they are such avid video game players, they have pursued interests that came from their passion in video games, but their core passion remains video games.
Because of the hours and hours and hours and hours, day after day after day after day, month after month after month, year after year after year of video game playing, they naturally became immersed in Japanese things because that’s where Nintendo headquarters is. That led to their interest in manga and anime. They have Twitter accounts so that they can follow things about video games, and sometimes along the way, the video gamers they follow share an interesting article about something else. They listen to podcasts about video games, which, as podcasts often do, sometimes talk about off-subject things.
Their games sometimes have historical or mythological creatures in them, which gets them curious, resulting in google searches and family conversations.
Because of their love of Japan, I got them each a subscription to Japan crate for their birthdays, where they get a box of Japanese goodies each month.
The symphonies I mentioned? Video game themed. Music from the Zelda video games with footage from the games playing behind the orchestra. Once, the conductor used the Wind Waker baton.
As a matter of fact, through the years, they’ve been so into music because of video games. The Zelda series of games has always been, and remains, a favorite. The main character in the game, Link, plays an ocarina, so they bought themselves and taught themselves to play the ocarina. We listened to some of their favorite video game music on youtube, first on ocarinas, and then we listened to people playing guitar, piano, violin, harp, marimba, you name it. We learned about a lot of musical instruments through youtube, by following their passion for the music in their video games wherever it led us.
They took guitar lessons for awhile, and one of them took piano and trumpet lessons as well. Their sole reason for learning new instruments was to learn to play Zelda songs.
We went to the Renaissance Faire because the Zelda games have a very medieval feel to them. While there, one boy bought a pan flute and learned to play it.
The reason one of them took horseback riding lessons was so he could ride a horse just like Link. We found the most awesome teacher in the world, who was even willing to put the cones he was supposed to ride around in the shape of a triforce.
Of course, we had to sew our own costume so that he could look like Link while he rode. Then we made our own shields out of foam board. Then we decided to try making wooden shields with a jigsaw. We made rupee bags (rupees are the currency in the Zelda games). We hiked through the woods with our shields once, going on an adventure just like Link.
We used Sculpey clay to make triforces and our own ocarinas. We painted on magnifying glasses to make the Lens of Truth.
We went to Nintendo World in New York City.
We made cake pops that looked like Koopa shells. Well, we tried to make them look like Koopa shells. We made pumpkin soup, a delicacy in one of the Zelda games.
I took them to Pax East in Boston, which is a huge video game conference. While there, they were able to play many indie games before they went on the market, hear a panel of video game developers talk about their careers, and hear one of their favorite podcasts live. While we were there, they had their first Pho from a Vietnamese restaurant and fish and chips from a British restaurant.
Some of the very first words they read were video game-related (save, continue) , and some of their earliest reading was video game guides.
They’ve always enjoyed making up their own levels in games, from the time they were little and played Freddi Fish. They spent days making elaborate Lego versions of Mario Party games, complete with their own minigames. This inspired them to work on an idea for a game they wanted to make and sell as an app, which led them to learning some programming. They didn’t follow through on that to completion, at least not yet. Who knows what the future holds.
Some of the programming they learned was aided in part by Minecraft. When one of them was building a giant spider on Minecraft, he did a lot of research on spiders first. When I needed help figuring out drop box, they were able to easily help me, because they’d used it for Minecraft.
Sure, they work hard selling things in our family business. So that they can buy video games and add to their growing amiibo collection. Even when they were younger, they gave a lot of thought (thought that involved arithmetic) to how they would spend their birthday and Christmas money.
I haven’t even mentioned my daughter yet, who when she was around ten, was very into an online role playing game called Everquest. She played during the day when many kids her age were in school, so she played with adults who assumed she was an adult too, but one who couldn’t spell well. She was called “bimbo” one too many times, and because she was taking on leadership roles in the game and wanted to be taken seriously, got serious about figuring out grammar and spelling. She asked me the difference between to, too, and two and their, there, and they’re. She verified spelling of a lot of her words, or looked them up in the dictionary if I wasn’t around. She learned how to use commas and periods correctly. She started to be taken much more seriously in the game.
I never sat down and said, “Today, we’re going to learn about instruments!” or “Today, we’re going to have ocarina playing lessons!” I never said, “Our next project will be sewing a costume!” I didn’t even say, “Why don’t you pick a video game-related art project to do!”
I never said we had to supplement their video game playing with academic things, or told them that they had to “learn something” today. I trusted that they were learning all the time, and that their interests would take them wherever they needed to go. I paid attention and talked to them, and when they asked a question, I answered or looked it up if I didn’t know. I googled lots of things for them when they were little, and looked a lot of things up on youtube for them. When someone said, “I wish I could ride a horse like Link” I considered how we might be able to make that happen, and if they were interested in my ideas, we did them.
And some days, a lot of days actually, all they did was play video games.