MOVING AT OUR CHILD’S PACE
by Pam Laricchia
Unschooling gives us a lot of freedom to choose how we go about our days with our children. We have the time to shift beyond our own perspective and watch moments unfold through our children’s eyes. The view is amazing from there! And one of the things I soon realized was that my children were most interested and engaged—learning—when things were flowing at their pace.
In school, one of the big challenges teachers face is that there is really only one pace at which they can move their class: the one defined by the curriculum they have to cover, in the days allotted. And that average speed will only mesh with a handful of students at any given time—and that handful will vary according to the subject. So, more often than not, from the perspective of the individual student, the pace of the class is either too fast or too slow for their learning.
Either way, it can be frustrating. And it’s not how real learning thrives.
Real learning is messy. Sometimes learning connections happen quickly, like dominoes falling, one after another after another. Other times, persistence is the name of the game. Sometimes there’s lots of talking: questions and answers and theories. Other times, intense concentration demands silence. The beauty of unschooling is that the only pace and style that matters is the child’s.
How amazing is that? If our child is diving deep and fast into something, we can support them. If they are feeling stumped and frustrated by a challenge, we can support them there too. No matter the circumstances, our children are free to learn at their own pace, with their own style.
The challenge for unschooling parents comes when we find ourselves out-of-step with our children. Over the years, I discovered that I managed those moments more gracefully when I was able to shift to finding patience.
Finding patience when the kitchen table is taken up by the Monopoly board, and your children have vowed this will be their longest game ever.
Finding patience when your child wants to give the monkey bars one more try. And one more. And one more.
Finding patience when your family is enjoying a crisp, fall walk in the park and your young child is stopping to examine each fallen leaf on the path.
Finding patience when you are waiting to leave and your teen is deeply engaged in conversation with their friends.
It’s not about patience in the “zone out until they’re done” way, but about realizing that choosing to be patient in the moment gives the process of unschooling time and space to unfold before me, with my own children.
I love how Ray Davis put it: “Patience is not passive waiting. Patience is active acceptance of the process.”
When I take the time to look for the learning—or the self-care—that is invariably always there in my children’s activities, it helps me more clearly see the situation from their perspective. That’s more learning that I can do. They are choosing this moment, and this pace, for themselves. Why?
As I explore that question I begin to really see their process, to see unschooling in action.
I see how curious they are about making the Monopoly game last. Taking a beat, I realize they’ll discover how the game strategies change when all the properties have been purchased, the streets completed, and hotels built. So as dinner time approaches, maybe I suggest a “dish up and eat in the family room” kind of dinner. Or I offer to carefully move the game onto the living room table. I’m pretty sure we can find a path forward that works for everyone.
And the monkey bars! Challenging themselves physically is so much fun, and their determination is fierce. Why wouldn’t I want to support that as much as possible?
Sometimes our children are the most amazing examples for slowing down and really seeing what’s around us. Stop and smell the roses—or at least, join them in wonder as they examine the leaves. Which ones catch their attention the longest? Do they seem attracted by colour? Shape? Maybe I can bring more of that into their world at home too.
And friends. Just imagine how important their conversations may be! Maybe they are sorting out plans or processing emotions or sharing perspectives on a well-loved topic. Even then it’s not so much about the topic, but more about creating and strengthening a genuine connection with people. Maybe they are supporting a friend after a hard day with some relaxing banter. That is living and learning in action.
When I understand my children’s perspectives, I’m much more willing to actively accept that this is the time that unschooling takes. I don’t expect them to live and learn on my timetable. The value of unschooling is in helping them explore and discover the pace and style that works best for them. Our patience gives them the time to stay engaged in their activity as long as they like, and to sink into the unique flow of their learning.
At the heart of it, it’s about remembering to pause and ask yourself, “why not?” Sometimes there is a solid reason and you step in, but often there really is time to let things continue to flow as they are. By regularly choosing patience and taking that time to see how things play out, you will steadily build trust in both unschooling and your children. Which helps you reach for patience more easily the next time. And the next.
Patience is a visible display of respect for, and understanding of, your child. Their choices in each moment are the culmination of the moments before, flowing with where they are looking to go, and the clearest picture of that is in their head. Support their exploration as much as you can by giving them the unfettered space and time to play and learn at their own pace. That is where the best learning lives.
Patience is definitely a valuable tool to have in your unschooling toolbox.
First published in The Natural Parent Magazine, Issue 19, Winter 2015.