As part of exploring and understanding unschooling, we think long and hard about our own childhood:
- our learning experiences (in which situations did we learn more? remember more?);
- our school experiences (how much long-term learning? how much stress? did we use what we learned?);
- the atmosphere in our home growing up (rules? punishments? pressure? control?);
- how supportive our parents were (who chose what we did day in and day out?);
- and generally, how do we feel it turned out for us?
Sometimes there’s a pretty stark difference between the childhood we lived and the childhood we envision for our own children with unschooling. And as that realization dawns, we can be left feeling sad, mourning for the childhood we wish we had.
Then maybe the thought occurs to us that, certainly for most of us, our parents were doing the best they knew. Which is what we are doing now. And what our children will do in the future, if they choose to become parents.
Certainly we can look back with regret, but we can also look forward with anticipation.
And that’s where the fun really starts.
We can incorporate our adult understanding of our childhood experiences into the environment we choose to cultivate for our children. We can re-experience childhood, not only seeing it in a new way through our children’s eyes, but engaging in it alongside them.
We can play with child-like wonder with them. It’s not just for kids!
You will learn so much.
So here was my opportunity to get my fill of those childhood activities I loved but didn’t have enough time to explore. Colouring. Building with Legos. Kicking a ball around. Playing catch. Making goop! Cartwheels. Games, games, games. I still haven’t figured out the hula hoop.
If there’s an activity or a game you remember wishing you had played as a child, bring it into your lives now. Not only will you guys probably have lots of fun with it, it will help you explore the idea of lifelong learning. You’ll discover that there really are few things that are strictly “for children only.” Height restricted rides at the amusement park come to mind.
We have a lifetime to experience, well, life. Does it really matter that we didn’t shoot baskets to our heart’s content until we were in our thirties? Will it really matter if our child isn’t interested in the periodic table until their thirties?
See what I did there? Your understanding of the principles of unschooling will deepen as you play with your children and observe what happens. So don’t spend your time wishing you had done X when you were a child—do it now. Give that younger version of you a virtual hug and invite them along.
Engagement and Flow and Play
For me, as I watched my children in action, I found their deep engagement in whatever they were doing stunningly beautiful. That was something I was keen to get back, even though I was no longer a child.
I lost that capacity pretty early. School bells told us to stop and move on, at arbitrary times. Parents told us to stop what we were doing and do what they wanted us to do, on their schedule. With a conventional childhood, we learned early that our time was not ours to control and without wide swaths of it to sink into our exploration, we stopped losing ourselves in the deep engagement and flow of our activities.
But playing alongside my children helped me re-awaken that sense of immersion in a task. The ability to sink into the flow of an activity where an hour feels like minutes. It’s like the fun house mirror of time.
Eventually I began to realize the deep, soul-crushing impact of the seemingly simple message we absorbed growing up: work is work (and school is work) and work is not fun. I began to see that “play” is NOT a dirty word. That I could approach work, and life, with a sense of play, a sense of exploration and discovery. That work could be fun.
When we approach our work—our day—with a playful attitude, it’s amazing what happens. We feel more imaginative, more engaged. Lighter. Our minds are more receptive and agile and creative. And not only is the time more enjoyable, what we accomplish is often better than when we approach our tasks with adult-like seriousness and expectations.
“Work and play are words used to describe
the same thing under differing conditions.”
~ Mark Twain
It’s hard to remember that when I’m embroiled in a never-ending to do list, but it’s such a revelation each time I do.
So instead of feeling stuck mourning the childhood you wish you had, have it now! Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to toss the playful and engaged approach to each day that marks childhood—and that conventional society works so hard to drum out of them. Play isn’t just something kids do.