Unschooling with children is an incredibly busy and exciting time. They often bounce up in the morning and dash straight to their activity of choice, their boundless energy propelling them through the day, from activity to activity, until they drop with exhaustion. I remember wishing many times that I had their energy! Some evenings I walked through the house and tallying the bursts of imagination and play that had consumed them that day: a tableau of stuffed animals on the couch; a marble maze built in the corner of the play room; a Pokemon battle scene depicted on the kitchen table; swirls of shaving cream drying out on the bathtub walls; video game controllers askew in front of the TV; the dress up box empty and toy swords and crowns strewn around, the detritus of battle.
Winding down at night, maybe watching a movie or playing a video game, I might start to tidy up. Sometimes they’d help out—more often if I remembered to suggest a small and specific task, “Can you toss the stuffed animals in the bin?” Sometimes I’d tidy up after they fell asleep, surprising them with a fresh canvas when they came down the next morning. Sometimes the house was just as they left it, and seeing the stuffed animals frozen mid-scene inspiring them to pick up their game where they left off. Every day is a new day of fun and exploration for them, even when we sometimes lose track of what day of the week it happens to be. 😉
So just what are they up to?
Exploring and Learning About the World
Childhood play and learning is fascinating. As they reach out into the world so much is new to them! Pirate movies. Bike riding. Pioneer villages. Building toys. Science centres. Water play. Somersaults. Museums with dinosaurs. Fantastical stories with dragons and magic. Baking cookies. Piles of leaves. Board games. Video games. Card games. Dice games. Hide and seek. The questions fly: Why are you doing that? How do you do that? Why does that happen? How does it work? At times you may feel like a walking reference library; other times you seriously consider investing money in your best friend Google. Through their play, children process and explore and connect all the new facts and ideas they encounter, learning all the while.
How can you support them? Let their minds roam free—that’s where the best learning is because that’s what their mind is thirsty for in the moment. Be their companion in play when asked (or offered and accepted) to support and expand their exploration. Answer their questions earnestly, or look them up, so they never stop asking. Share their excitement and wonder to stay deeply connected with them. Offer up food and drink regularly to keep them fueled. Share what you know beforehand about the places you go so they begin to understand the world around them. Be patient. And when you’re tired, sit and watch them for a while. Children are pretty awe-inspiring beings.
Exploring and Learning About Themselves
Alongside all that learning about the world, they are also learning so much about themselves. Their reactions are often visceral—immediate and strong: deep sadness and frustration when things don’t go as envisioned; bursting joy when they do; overflowing anticipation for upcoming events; overwhelming fear of things that scare them. As you are their reliable extra set of hands as they explore the physical world, you’re also their solid anchor as they navigate their emotional world.
How can you support them? Meet them where they are, emotionally and physically—kneel down to meet them eye-to-eye, or sweep them up in your arms. See the situation through their eyes. Share their excitement or empathize with their challenges. Listen to them, talk with them—either in the moment, or later when things settle, or both. Figure out how you can best help them process their emotions by looking to your child for clues. And don’t assume that will be the same for all your children. If they’re receptive, point out things you notice that you think might help them make a connection: “It can be hard to concentrate when you’re tired.”
Be their anchor, their safe place, and build a strong relationship with them. Trust and learning will blossom.
A child’s curiosity and enthusiasm for life is contagious—if you let it wash over you instead of trying to tamp it down. Looking back, those moments when I remembered to be amazed at their persistence instead of battling it would often re-energize me. I eventually discovered a pattern: the exhausting days were those when I tried to make them fit my schedule. I asked myself what I was trying to accomplish with that. They often enjoyed the comfort of routine—knowing generally how the day flowed, how we’d get ready to go out, and so on, but a routine is not time-dependent like a schedule. So I stopped watching the clock and instead watched them. They were so beautifully curious, and much happier, when they followed their needs and interests, from the earliest ages. And I noticed that I was happier too when I wasn’t continually trying to redirect them; trying to coax them to adhere to my vision of what our lives “should” look like. More deschooling. Without my direction most of our days, weeks, months had a wonderful flow to them, with everyone’s needs rippling through. And what I discovered is that their free lives were, and continue to be, so much more interesting I could ever have envisioned!
Take some time to remember the ways your family’s lives sweetly flow together when there isn’t outside pressure being brought to bear on the day. And try to create more of that. 🙂