Now that we have chosen to follow the call and begin our unschooling journey in earnest, we, even if almost unconsciously, seek out a guide or mentor.
How will we stay on the right path?
What are our signposts?
What if we need help?
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 57)
Our guide helps us on our journey, providing information, protection, and motivation as we encounter challenges along the way.
Mythologically, guides tend to be elderly, having been through the journey and returned. But in a cool twist, I discovered the most important guides on my unschooling journey were, and are, my children.
They have a similar openness: where elders have journeyed beyond the animosity and judgement of conventional society, children have yet to be acculturated. They have yet to suppress their open and curious view of the world to fit within the myopic focus of conventional bounds. Their vision is unclouded by guilt and shame and negative judgement.
We can find, in our lives and/or online, experienced unschoolers whose thoughts and experiences are invaluable on our journey. But in the end, this journey is about our family, so it’s natural that our children are intimately involved. Not only are they our motivation—the reason we began this journey to unschooling in the first place—but they can also be our beacon and guide when we feel we’re losing our way.
I should probably make the distinction that, as guides, our children aren’t leading us around—we aren’t blindly following them. There’s not much learning for us in that scenario, and that’s what our unschooling journey is about: exploring and learning about a new way of living. As guides, our children don’t tell us what to do; they give us helpful information that we can use as we make choices along the way.
On my journey, I discovered that whenever I began to question something in our unschooling lives, it most helped to look to my children. I would certainly read and/or ask knowledgeable unschoolers about their experience with similar situations, but that’s just the start. With that information in tow, I would then look to my children to see what fits for them, and what does not.
Let’s look at a few examples to illustrate what I mean by my children guiding me.
If I began to worry whether we were doing enough things, I looked to them. I’d remind myself that the measure of “enough” is individual (not defined by the family down the street, nor the one I read about online doing all those fun things) and ask myself some questions. Are they restless? Are they expressing, in words or body language, a desire to expand their horizons? Or do they seem content? Engaged with their activities? Happy?
If I was still unsure, I’d try a couple things and see what happens. I might choose to look more intentionally for opportunities and share those that look promising based on my child’s interests and personality. I might choose to bring home a surprise or two to mix things up—a new game or toy or movie that I think they’ll enjoy. Or if my child enjoys surprise outings, I might spontaneously offer one up—maybe a trip to a favourite park, or out for their favourite food, or just a random exploration of a new area to see what we might discover.
If their reaction shows these moments feel more like interruptions, then it’s likely they are happily busy enough. (Maybe my discomfort was more about me? That’s something different to ponder.) If in response to these moments they light up and dive in, they are open and receptive and I try to do that more.
If I began to wonder whether they were learning enough, I looked to them. Worried thoughts became a signal to stop ruminating and shift to observing their play, their actions, their words. Even better, if the opportunity presented itself, to shift into the moment and play with them. To sink into and absorb their joy and laughter.
And later, to think. To tease out the threads that weave through these moments over time. These threads represent how they are piecing their lives together i.e. their learning. When I take the time to look at my children with clear eyes, I always see their learning.
If I began to worry about their behaviour, I looked to them. Again, I’d engage with them. Through play, through conversations, through attention—the ways to connect that worked best, depending on their age and personality. I explored their worlds alongside them with an eye to understanding their fears, their motivations, their goals.
Once I dug in and understood the roots of an issue, I understood the perspective from which they chose their actions and behaviour. The fear and worry I was feeling was replaced by understanding. And from there, I better understood how I might help and support them moving forward.
What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. (p. 59)
And remember, it works both ways. Listen to your guides—your children—even when you’re thinking things are going pretty smoothly. If their actions or words seem to say otherwise, pay attention. Don’t discount messages just because you don’t want to hear them. Your guides are warning you of challenges to come if things stay as they are. Often we get subtle clues before things get really messy—if we don’t ignore them.
If you’re getting started on your unschooling journey and your children are just leaving school or curriculum-based homeschooling, they may have absorbed some of the more conventional messages about learning. They’ll work through them just as you are doing. For now, think back to how free and happy they were during their last summer vacation. When you saw them at home, immersed in something they were interested in, so engaged and learning like wildfire. That child is your guide.
Or, if your child seems to be a shadow of their former self, remember their engagement and joy with life before they went to school. That child is your guide. For now. Soon enough (again, “enough” meaning on their timetable, not yours), they will rediscover their love for learning and how it lives in everything they do. It’s not important that they be able to name it, but that they are able to live it.
Your children are your most important guides. They will let you know if this is working well. Watch. Listen.
And embrace living alongside them. That way you won’t miss the clues.
For long, anyway. 🙂
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “supernatural aid” stage to get you started:
1. Have you found the answer to a worry by looking to your children?
2. Have your children given you clues when things aren’t as they seem?
3. Do you find it challenging to take information about others’ unschooling experiences and apply it to your own children?
4. Is it hard to engage with your children? To get into the flow and experience the world from their perspective?
The road so far …
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.
Refusal of the call: The many implications of choosing unschooling hit. Do we commit?