Let’s pick up where we left off last week and dive right in! More stuff to do instead of school when you’re deschooling.
The key right now is building strong relationships with your children. Getting to know them well. Being open and allowing them to better understand you as well. Try to consistently move forward towards unschooling, while being careful not to make so many changes in quick succession than your family loses its footing—you don’t want to pull the rug out from underneath them.
If you’ve just pulled your kids from school, or decided to stop pushing your school-at-home schedule, it’s likely that your priority right now will be exploring how they will learn without being told what to learn and how to learn it. For unschooling to work well in your family, you need to understand and become comfortable with how people learn outside school.
A tip: during this season of Saturdays, beyond not pulling out workbooks or sitting them in front of an online video lesson, be careful not to take a natural moment and turn it into a “lesson”.
Because it interrupts their brain, the way they are thinking and connecting pieces together in that moment, and makes it about the way your brain is processing what’s happening. What they are getting out of a moment may be very different from what you are getting out of it. And that’s okay. Perfectly okay. So instead of jumping in and risking taking over, focus on your children. Try to notice the clues they are giving you—often by observing what their next action or comment is, you can discover what they are taking in and focusing on. Figure what they are seeing and learning. This is what I mean when I say “see through their eyes”—which I say pretty often. 😉 By doing this over and over and over you will begin to see how people learn without coercion and outside direction. Observe your children carefully. Not only will you begin to see unschooling learning in action, you will also get to know your children better. Lovely!
And remember, this process takes as long as it takes. Stop as soon as you catch yourself trying to direct their activities, or trying to entice them into an hour a day of reading or writing in a journal. The key word here is entice. If you offer to read to them and they happily join you, great! If you think they really might enjoy a journal of their own to write or draw in, take them out to choose one, or surprise them by bringing one home the next time you go out. Deschooling is about discovering your motivations and expectations, and then being careful not to put them on your children; help them discover their own. It’s not the end of the world if you catch yourself slipping into the role of teacher—just stop, regroup, and start again. Observe instead of direct. I did warn you that you’ll have most of the deschooling to do, yes? Haha. But I promise there is so much fun in the observation! Children are amazing learners when they are immersed in their interests and passions. And so are we.
One thing that can often trip up a parent during this season is how passionately a child can dive into an interest that has been restricted up to this point. Most often I see parents worry about “too much” TV or movies or video games. The key here is that whatever the activity, it has been restricted. Once it is no longer restricted, there’s a good chance they will take advantage and indulge to their heart’s content: and that may take some catching up! Another consideration is that they may worry that this reprieve is only temporary and try to fill as many hours with it as possible in anticipation of losing that freedom when you eventually change your mind. Especially if you’ve been back and forth about it before. It will take time to build trust with them that this freedom won’t be revoked. As they begin to trust that they are free to choose to play or watch any time, and they fill up on what they felt they were missing while the activity was restricted, they will begin to feel safe and free to make other choices.
If you find yourself in this situation, maybe ask yourself some questions surrounding the issue. Would I be worried if their passion was reading? Or sports? Is it the time spent that concerns me the most? Might this be their life’s passion and they’re happily putting in their 10,000 hours? Might readers become writers? Gamers become programmers? Movie watchers become directors? Do I only feel comfortable if I think of this time as training for a career? What did you put many hours into as a child? Did it become your career? If not, was that time wasted? (I put countless hours a year over thirteen years into ballet and dance yet I didn’t become a professional ballerina in the end. Time wasted? No way. It was my window to learning about myself.) Are your children engaged and happy and challenged? Do they work hard to figure things out and progress? Even through frustration? Isn’t that pretty cool?
There’s also the possibility that this is their learning tool of choice for now and you won’t see their passion wane over time, maybe for a long time. But the great thing is, alongside their playing or watching, you’ll be spending lots of time with them, observing them, chatting with them, helping them explore their interest. So if it doesn’t begin to fade with time, it’s very likely that you’ll get to a point where you’re comfortable with it as a learning tool. Anything can be a window to the world. And to learning about themselves.
As you examine your motivations, your expectations, your understanding of learning and living, it’s conceivable that you, and your children, will start to question the myriad of rules that surround us every day. This can be a great source of questions to ponder yet, if the process gets tiring, it can be tempting to throw your hands up in defeat and declare your family rules null and void. Please try to avoid that. I think there’s a good chance it would be akin to the abrupt removal of the rug underfoot I mentioned earlier. That won’t be fun either. It will likely be messier.
Yet hard and fast rules are better examined—at least once somebody balks. Dinner at 6pm? Bedtime at 9pm? Why? What purpose does it serve? Is there another way to accomplish that purpose? Talk about the rules, share your thoughts, listen intently and respectfully to theirs (in relaxed moments, not when the energy of power struggles is in the air).
One thing that might help is to shift your perspective from rules to routines. Let’s peek at bedtime. People get tired. Is the goal getting to sleep when tired? Might circumstances change day-to-day? Do they for you? Are you sometimes really tired at 8pm? Other nights not until 10pm? 12am? What would be different if you thought of bedtime as more of a routine to help your children get to sleep when they are tired, rather than a fixed rule regarding the time on the clock? Does it seem reasonable to you to help them listen to their bodies and follow its cues, rather than try to control their bodies based on outside factors? No matter your answers it’s better to know what you think and act from that place rather than to blindly follow rules.
Another helpful aspect of thinking in terms of routines rather than rules is that for many kids (and adults!) there’s comfort in routines, in knowing what to expect. Routines help with transitions: a relaxing routine to get ready to go to bed when they’re tired; a routine to get ready to go out the door so things aren’t forgotten; a calming routine to move through frustration etc. It’s all about getting to know and understand your children. And yourself.
You might also want to check out my blog posts from last October when the topic was “How is unschooling different than school?”. There’s one post in particular that I won’t regurgitate here about why it’s helpful to avoid lessons during deschooling. There’s also posts about how kids learn reading, writing, and math outside school if you’re curious about what unschooling learning might look like.
Be patient. Deschooling is a time of stretching and growing and analyzing and playing and learning and observing and exploring and being together with your family. It’s challenging and it’s beautiful. It’s work and it’s play. Remember to enjoy the moments. 🙂