You’re feeling an incredible swirl of both excitement and trepidation: you’ve decided to try unschooling! You understand that you, and anyone else in your family who has been in school, will be deschooling for a while.
But without school, what will you actually do all day??
Great question! And now we have some seriously fun stuff to talk about!
A Season of Saturdays
To help get you in a relaxed and open mindset (better for your learning!), try thinking of your days over the next while as a season of Saturdays. If you find yourself waking up and thinking, “It’s Monday, time to get back to work and learning,” try to catch yourself before you put that filter firmly in place: “Oops, I forgot, it’s Saturday!”
What would you do with your children if it was Saturday? Weekends are typically a time to relax and follow the flow of the day rather than an imposed schedule. Would your kids enjoy sleeping in? What a wonderful part of the transition away from imposed schedules: sleeping as much as their bodies would like. Or are they early risers? Now they can savour the beauty of early morning without the pressure of getting dressed, fed, and out the door. Or are they a mishmash of both? Now they can learn about themselves, discovering their own unique patterns for sleep, figuring out how to better support their own needs.
Are there places you and your kids have always wanted to visit (or visit more often) but you haven’t had the time? Now you do! The museum? The science centre? The art gallery? Cool! But remember, you don’t need to lead your children through them, making sure they see all the exhibits. (If you’re tempted, take a moment to think about what it really means to “get your money’s worth”—is it quantity or quality?) Instead, follow their curiosity. Look at the map with them, chat about what they’d like to see and do, let them navigate you guys around—if they want to. If they are engaged and excited at a particular exhibit, let them stay as long as they want. (Hint: the best learning is happening there!) If you only hit three exhibits that day, great! It’s not a competition. If you breeze through them all in a couple of hours, that’s fine too! You hit breadth instead of depth. Both are perfectly appropriate: you are following their interests, seeing their minds in action. For me, the fun over time is in seeing how each visit is uniquely its own. And as I got to know my kids better, I started seeing connections between how a visit played out and the other things that were happening in their lives. It’s all connected. It’s all learning.
How about something a bit closer to home? What about playgrounds? Maybe explore a different one in your town each week. Hiking trails? You can go every week or two and see how things change as spring arrives, or fall. Or rainy season. You can buy night vision binoculars and take them on a nature walk at night, let them see how different nature is once the sun goes down. Check out Outdoor Empire night vision binoculars buyer’s guide to learn how to pick the right pair for you and your kids. Find the things that catch your children’s attention and follow up over time. Would they like to try bowling? Or laser tag? Or trampoline? The bonus is that family places are much less busy during the week—most of the kids are in school! We even scheduled our vacations in the off season: lower cost and less crowded.
If you live in the city, take trips beyond the suburbs and explore farms and parks. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride. Visit a pumpkin patch in October. If you live rurally, take trips into the city and explore the attractions. Walk the streets and admire the tall buildings. Take a subway ride. Explore the world around you, not just the one outside your door.
Tired yet? Haha! I have given you a pretty wide range of ideas to help kick start some conversations with your kids, and I’m sure you guys will come up with many more! (Another great thing to do with your kids now that they’re home: talk.) It’s pretty unlikely that they are going to be interested in all of these things—certainly not all at once. But don’t be stressed if your children aren’t interested in even a handful of them. We’re all uniquely ourselves—find out what your kids are interested in.
Meet Your Kids
That leads nicely into this really important piece of the deschooling journey: getting to know your children. Understanding them is the foundation from which you will explore the world together. What are they doing when you see their faces light up? What do they ask to do regularly? What new things would they would like to try? What brings them joy? What engages them so completely that they don’t notice time passing? Do those things often.
Bring in related things you think they might also enjoy. If they like Spongebob, would they like to do a puzzle depicting a scene from the show? Or if they like a certain movie, might they enjoy watching the gag reel or the short making of documentary on the DVD? You don’t necessarily need to ask them, just let them know it exists and see if they are drawn to it. Just be careful that these are things you think they will enjoy, not things you wish they would enjoy. (Like that Spongebob math workbook you were eyeing at the supermarket—keep deschooling!) And if they aren’t drawn to something you give to or show them, don’t fret—you’ve just learned something new about them. Maybe your guess was off a bit for now, or maybe they were busy and it will catch their attention next week, or next month, or next year. Their world is still a bit bigger because now they know that such a thing exists.
And don’t forget about home—life can be fun and interesting there too! What do your children enjoy doing in their PJs? Board games? Card games? Twister? Red light, green light? Colouring books? Crafts? Puzzles? Building forts with couch cushions and blankets? Carving snow sculptures after the big storm? Playing catch? Hula hooping? Making their own playdoh? Kicking a ball around outside? Frisbee? Reading stories together? Playing hide and seek? Tent in the backyard? Watching movies? YouTube videos? Somersaults and handstands? Playing video games? Online games? Baking cookies? Acting out TV shows? How could I forget Lego and K’Nex and Duplo? The possibilities are vast.
Whatever they enjoy, do those things with them. Bring bits of the world to them that you think they’d find interesting.
Remember, it’s Saturday! Relax and enjoy your time together. 🙂
How Do You Learn?
I remember when my daughter’s preteen friends would comment to her about how boring her life must be without school. What do you think? Does it sound like life without school will inevitably be boring? I don’t think so!
As you dive into all this fun living (and learning!) with your family, don’t forget to take some time yourself to continue learning about unschooling. The challenge at this point is probably that you’re feeling overwhelmed! There is so much information coming from so many places:
- observing and engaging with your kids;
- contemplating memories dredged up from your school career;
- reading more and more about unschooling and parenting that supports that lifestyle;
- hanging out with like-minded people to see how they approach things;
- philosophical meanderings about how you want to live your life; and
- questioning, well, everything!
How are you going to connect it altogether to paint yourself a cohesive picture of unschooling?
Well, how do you like to learn?
Do you learn things more effectively through writing? Like to journal? You can pick out a beautiful notebook (or decorate one yourself if you feel so inclined) and fill it with observations and thoughts and ideas as your family moves through deschooling. Or maybe you’d like to create a blog, either a private one for your family’s eyes only, or a public one where you share the ups and downs of your journey with others.
Or do you like to process information more visually? Like taking pictures? You can create photo essays, grouping them through the threads you see in the images. Or maybe a photo blog if you would like to share with others.
Or do you lean toward verbal processing, enjoying conversations with others on the same journey? You can find local unschoolers and meet up to chat at park days or coffee nights, you can attend an unschooling conference or gathering (there are more and more of them!), or you might approach some unschoolers you’ve met online and see if they are interested in chatting by phone or skype.
Or maybe it’s an eclectic mix of all of these, but figuring out how you like to learn is a worthwhile step in deschooling. It helps you discover the vast array of ways that people learn outside school, opening you up to all the ways you might support your children’s exploration and learning.
And that’s where the real fun of unschooling is. 🙂