Hi. I’m Juwayria Asvat, and this is my unschooling story written quite a while back. So much has changed now, so this is part one. I will share more recent reflections in another story.
My unschooling journey began the year after I completed first grade. At the time my schedule was very busy and I often complained that I didn’t have enough time to play, especially in winter. I would go to school early in the morning, come home, eat lunch, then spend the afternoon at my religious study classes (called madressah). Coming home from that, I still had to do homework and a good few other things. Things were quite hectic. My parents decided to unschool my sister and I after seeing and hearing about it from a friend of ours that we reconnected with. I don’t remember how I felt about that decision but I do remember feeling conflicted about not going back to school. I was excited and slightly worried.
After I completed first grade, instead of going back to school for second grade, that February, my family and I went on a five week road trip in southern Africa that began in Lesotho, and ended in Johannesburg, via the Eastern Cape, and KZN. My family and I enjoy the outdoors very much, so a large portion of our trip was spent exploring, hiking and spending time by the sea. I must say it was one of the most memorable trips of my life. One of my favourite places that we visited (among many others) was a quiet place called Bulungula in the Eastern Cape.
After the trip, I began to see what it was really like to be at home and not going to school. While I did continue with madressah, I seemed to be always bored. Because my friends all went to school, I often complained to my mother that I had nothing to do. My mum would usually say “well then go find something to do”. That response was a key part in the beginning of my life learning journey. This was when I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my time. I was so used to being told what to do every day at school. It was a learning process, to have all this free time and not be told what to do with it. It was really all new to me. My mum is a very artistic person and would often be involved in some creative process. So, as a kid, (and still now), I tried my hand at lots of creative things such as, beading, loom bands, painting, mosaic and paper crafts. I still enjoy these very much, and continue to test my creativity in many ways.
Personally, one of the many reasons I don’t like school, is because I feel there isn’t enough space for kids to use their imagination, or their creativity, or however they’d like to express themselves. I’m a big bookworm. I absolutely adore books and reading. I feel that in school, kids are forced to read, and this sucks all the enjoyment out of it. Yes, all people are different, and not everyone likes reading and such, but I still that feel that it doesn’t give kids a chance to do things when it feels right. My sister has never been one for books; she learned to read at a very late age. I think she was twelve when she could read fluently. And the only reason she needed to learn how to read was because she had a friend who lived far away and texting was the only way to communicate. Its one of the very things that I love about unschooling; that you don’t have to be forced into learning math, or learning to read for that matter. Instead, it’s all about doing things when you feel YOU’RE ready.
During those early years, I played many sports. My sister and I loved mountain biking, so we started competing in local races. I remember having to put “home school” as our school’s name as the races were part of a schools’ race series. We continued mountain biking as a competitive sport for a few years. We still continue to ride, but don’t race anymore. I played a lot of sports during that time, mainly because sitting at home was not the most exciting thing, but also because being outside doing something physical is really enjoyable! I tried many things, and even though they were fun and interesting, they just didn’t feel right as something I wanted to do full time.
When I was ten, and still complaining regularly about being bored, (I must say it was a thing I did for a long while), my mother asked us to try gymnastics. It was around October 2011, and I remember being very uninterested and really not wanting to go. Surprisingly, after a month of going, I began to love it. My sister and I continued the next year, competed in our fist competitions and had loads of fun. She quit after doing level one as the sport was not exactly for her. I continued until I was fourteen. At one point, I was doing swimming, gymnastics twice a week, as well as pottery and tennis once a week. I had come to the point in gymnastics, when training twice a week was not enough. So, I decided to drop tennis, swimming and pottery, and give gymnastics my full attention. This led to crazy times of gymnastics training almost every day of the week. So my training went from two times a week, to four, and then five days per week, for two and a half hours minimum. This was when I realised that I wasn’t a little kid anymore, with an endless supply of energy. I had joined a different gymnastics club by this time, and I found that even though I was generally an active person, I was not very fit. It took me a while to get into running, (which I despise!), and actual workouts, but I was very happy with how I was training and how much stronger I was.
In between all this, I found a really big passion of mine: Baking. I’d watched my mother bake cakes on various occasions and found it very interesting. I started baking with the help of my mum. The first cake I remember baking is one I still make today. It’s a simple, yet delicious, chocolate cake. I made the cake often and always asked my mother about many baking-related things. There were times when my mother could not come and help me, so I could either wait a really long time for her, or do it myself. I remember feeling nervous when I had to do it myself. At first, I stuck to simple chocolate or vanilla cakes and cupcakes. Then I went on to making a bit more complex bakes, and things just progressed from there. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep reading baking books multiple times. I must have had some really delicious dreams!
Around that time, I made a few birthday cakes, including my brother’s sixth birthday cake, and I really enjoyed making a mountain bike cake for my eleventh birthday. It was one of my best accomplishments at the time. When I started using the internet for recipes, I would spend hours watching videos, looking at recipes and so on. I was amazed at all the ideas I’d never thought about, and could not wait to try them. A lot of my time was spent trying and experimenting; there were lots of failures that just turned out to be a yummy disaster, or sometimes just a big mess.
My obsession for baking is not just any baking but anything related to chocolate! Mostly, I make anything that has or uses chocolate. I’ve made cakes, cookies, brownies, desserts and more. Yet I know that I have so much still to learn. After my mum bought me a chocolate cookbook (one of many cookbooks we’ve bought), I found this recipe for chocolate puddle cookies. After making and tasting the cookie, I decided it was one of the best cookies I’d ever made or tasted. So, I continued to make them, and shared them with friends and family. Everyone loved them! Lots of people asked for the recipe and enjoyed them too. I was thrilled, and even happier when I was talking to one of my younger cousins who told me, “I don’t care what you do, I just want puddle cookies”. It was something that made me extremely happy.
After baking for a few years, my mum came to me with a proposition. She asked if I wanted to supply a local tuisnywerheid (home industry shop) with some simple cakes and cupcakes. I made a few samples and went to see the store owner. She was very surprised to know that I had made the baked goodies, as are a lot of people who buy or eat my baking. I was 12 at the time. I supplied the store for a few months. A few weeks later, I got my first order for a boy’s thirteenth birthday cake. It was challenging. But in the end it came out great. I’m really thankful that my mum and dad have always been with me, to help me in any way possible. To this day, my mum is always there to help me when I receive large orders and so on. She tells everyone that she is my assistant, which she is.
All my baking work was put on hold when we moved to a nearby town. When we settled into our new home, my mum suggested that I start selling my bakes from home. After consulting with my mum’s cousin (who is a self-taught baker and has a hugely successful baking business in Durban), we decided on a name. Since I absolutely love chocolate, it was only fitting that my business was named Crazy for Chocolate. My mum’s cousin designed the logo and helped with many other little things. We had business cards printed, and I started a Crazy for Chocolate Facebook page to advertise my business.
Over this time I had been making birthday cakes for a local pre-school, and with that came many more orders. A few months later we decided to have a stall at a local farmers market. It was at this point that my mum and I realised that I didn’t like talking to my customers. I had no issue baking and making things, but when it was time to sell my baked treats at the market, I didn’t talk much to the customers. My problem was not that I was shy; I simply didn’t like talking. I could spend hours talking to my friends, but this was not my piece of cake. At the next market, I made it my mission to talk, and I think the mission was a success. While I still don’t enjoy it very much, I do it anyway. If not, I have to answer to my mum! With the business, I also learnt about pricing and costing. My mum and dad helped me a lot with this. It was quite interesting because I had never done it before and let’s just say, math is not one of my strengths. Numbers are just not my thing. I also tend to get frustrated when things don’t go the way I’ve planned, or when something doesn’t turn out right. But I have learnt to go with it, even though sometimes it drives me crazy.
Baking is, (I think), my biggest passion in life so far. And if you thought that I started baking just to satisfy my very sweet tooth, then you would be spot on. Baking is, to me, about enjoyment and the amazing feeling you get from having a freshly home baked treat. Selling my baking is just a hobby. My favourite part of baking (other than eating it, of course), is trying new recipes for anything, whether it’s a dessert or a cake or even a muffin. I have loads of fun trying recipes and different combinations. Over time, I’ve come to know how recipes work, in a sense, and can often adjust things, according to taste or other preferences.
When I say I’m an unschooler, who doesn’t go to school, and doesn’t do any “school work”, people often ask, what do I/unschoolers do then? What do I do? You can never hear what I do and think every unschooler does it as well. Every unschooler is different. And it’s one of the reasons I love unschooling. Regular society puts people in categories, and tends to box people; it tries to make people similar, which doesn’t take into account a person’s uniqueness or special character, in my opinion. I’m not saying people are the same, simply that it seems like we are all trying to fit into this picture that society has made; I like to think instead that we should simply be ourselves. As unschoolers, there isn’t really a set of things we do. Some might like different sports, others might like gaming, or different kinds of art. It completely depends on the person. It’s one of the many pleasures of unschooling. You can try different things and find what you truly love. You’re not forced to do what you don’t want. Personally, I have many interests and things that I am passionate about, starting with baking. Gymnastics, tennis, swimming and cycling are some of the sports I love. Along with everything else like crafting, painting, reading, beading, bracelet making and a few more. When it comes down to it, we do what makes us happy. And I think that’s a very important part of unschooling. There’s no point in doing it if you don’t enjoy it, or if it doesn’t make you happy.
This is where I am right now. I often get asked by adults and kids alike, about school subjects, and curriculums, and how I’m going to get into a university if I haven’t been to school. Honestly, I have no idea right now, and sometimes the questions are annoying. But, here’s what I say: If I really wanted to go to university, I’d complete school, probably by doing an online course, or registering with an institution, and then go to university to study whatever I wanted. And if I wanted to get a job? Well it would depend on what job I wanted. And if I did want a specific job then I would do the necessary things to get it. When my mom read this, she reminded me that I have been working for a few years now, and earning my own money, and I have had my own, moderately successful business, for a few years now. While I may not submit tax returns (no idea how to do that yet, or really what it is!?), I do cover my expenses, and use my profits happily to buy books and sweet treats that I’ve not yet mastered making!
So, I believe, when the time comes for all these other things, it’ll come. But for now, I’m going to try and enjoy life as best as I can.
Growing Minds Edit: Feb 2020
Please do watch Juwayria’s Tedx talk if you haven’t yet.