Problem was, I went to school.
This past Christmas, my mother brought over a pile of my childhood stuff, and my 5th grade report card was in there. I was in a gifted program, but you would not know it from my grades: I got a C in literature. Is that possible? It seemed unlikely that I deserved it, because most of what I recall from 5th grade was literature (and that dismal sewing class where I made a garment that my girls refer to as "that dress-thing"). Even French class was literature; our teacher read Les Miserables aloud to us. In French, .
I recall spending hours at my best friend's house reading and talking about books. We read and reread Narnia and Little House, drawing pictures and maps, and affirming each other in choosing "Peter" or "Laura" for the names of our yet-unborn children. I walked to school most mornings, uphill in both directions (there was a hill between home and school), as the sun rose on frosty winter mornings, singing Tirian's marching song in my head as I stomped through snow. Once that year I brought The Last Battle to Symphony Hall and read during Seiji Ozawa's inaugural season, while the Boston Symphony played Flight of the Bumblebee and Bolero. It was a school trip, and someone ratted me out to the teacher for reading, so I know she knew I was reading.
As a class, we read Animal Farm, and chanted "Four legs good; two legs bad" together, until someone screamed "two legs better" and we all laughed. Each student was assigned a Newbery Award book, and each gave a presentation to the class. We cried as Lori described the possessed sister in The Bronze Bow. We all longed to hear the Heynal with its broken note when Mark told us about The Trumpeter of Krakow. When Richard reenacted the scene with molten silver spilling over Johnny Tremain's hand, we all stared in amazement at his talent, until we discovered that Richard had actually fainted, and had to be taken away by ambulance (he was fine, and returned to school the next day). After everyone had given a presentation, we all traded books until everyone had read through the list.
During a unit on pirates, we each put on a puppet show based on the life of a real sea raider. I chose Captain "Red Legs" Greaves, a pirate with a heart of gold, who was fleeing captivity when he joined a band of bloodthirsty buccaneers. We watched the 6th graders' performance of The Taming of the Shrew, and sang "Brush up your Shakespeare" in the schoolyard. And we wrote our own (rather bad, I'm afraid) plays based on classroom shenanigans, like the time the bus broke down on the way to Old Sturbridge Village, and John put a toad down Mary's shirt as we waited by the side of the road for a replacement bus. Gosh, it should have been a better play, with material like that.
So, why was my grade so mediocre? We were required to write weekly book reports, and I simply didn't bother to write them. To this day, I find book reports intrusive, as well as formulaic and dull, and I never require them of my children. Like many unschoolers, we read and talk about books, sharing quotations, passages and impressions. When they were younger, my kids made maps and invented their own stories. They challenged each other with impromptu trivia quizzes. We took field trips to visit settings (or places very like the settings) of our favorite books. And we parents stepped back, giving the kids the freedom to be Swallows or Bastables or Hobbits.
Looking back, I now realize that my friends and I did the same in 5th grade. Maybe I deserved a C, but I unschooled an A's worth of memories.