It’s kind of funny to think in terms of “typical” when talking about what unschooling days look like. I mean, one of the things I often emphasize is how different unschooling in action can look from family to family, even from child to child. Yet there is a basic motif that underscores our actions with our children, even when those actions vary widely:
Being Available, Willing, and Supportive
Being available to talk, willing to help, and supportive of their goals. Not just with words, but with our actions.
Here’s a little story. Last fall when I decided I wanted to write on this blog more consistently and I was working on Free to Live, I thought it would be helpful to set up a writing area out of the way to minimize distractions so I set up a desk in the basement. It was a nice area: under a window, lots of wall space to tack up my notes, power for my laptop and a desk lamp. I had fun setting it up!
I think I lasted about a week and a half. I felt too out-of-the-loop, too unavailable. I wasn’t nearby for a quick chat or a question, or to notice if something was starting to go off the rails and I could tweak something else to help our day flow more smoothly. So I moved back up to the desk in the library, smack dab in the middle of the house—the hub whose spokes lead to the kitchen, the bedrooms, the family room and more. Okay, I just counted how many doorways lead out of this seemingly small room: six. LOL! It is the crossroads of our home!
This is where I feel comfortable writing. I sometimes use headphones to keep random and distracting sounds at bay—usually gentle ocean waves breaking on a beach, or right now, coffee shop sounds! Everyone that passes by can see I’m writing, or working away at something. Yet they know if they need me for anything I am happy to stop and help them out (and I mean it—I am mindful not to carelessly react with frustration at an interruption). I peripherally notice the comings and goings: snacks being grabbed, someone going outside for a walk, another going downstairs for something. I can sense frustration through body language and check in to see what’s up. I am available and willing to help.
Not surprisingly, when my kids were younger being available and willing to help looked a lot different! That’s a much more physical phase of parenting, yet very important for their emotional development: when you support their physical needs, from food to sleep to play, you are building the loving and supportive foundation from which their lives will branch out. Playing board games and video games and watching Blue’s Clues and drawing clues and reading stories and grabbing drinks and changing diapers and building Lego cities and playing with ping pong paddles and making snowmen and helping work through frustrations and disagreements: your children aren’t yet able to do many things and you are their more experienced hands. Just remember, this isn’t a time to push beyond your limits—be honest with yourself and your family. Yet it’s also a wonderful time to explore those limits, to discover what you are capable of.
Nowadays it’s driving places and text chats and sharing interesting information and earnest conversations and and trying new recipes and organizing activities and looking up US tax info and reorganizing rooms and “good morning!” and clinic visits and snow shoveling and Mario Party 9. Seeing the world through my children’s eyes gives meaning and purpose to every one of these activities. Supporting our children as they explore the world, at every age, is a great way for all of us to learn.
And as unschooling goes, your days may look very different from my days. Not only will our family’s interests and personalities differ, our circumstances are surely different as well. Maybe you work part-time outside the home, or are a single parent working from home, or you and your spouse both work from home, or you live in a multi-family home, or your children spend some time being cared for by others. The possibilities for what your particular unschooling days look like are vast, but the motif stays the same: being available, willing, and supportive. Having some fixed parameters in your lives like work hours or one car to share or whatever realities are part of your landscape doesn’t mean unschooling can’t flourish. It means what it has meant for all of us: working together as a family to find ways to support each other’s needs and dreams; being creative and open to unconventional ideas.
Is it working? The key is to look to your children. Do they feel that you are available for them? That you are willing to help them reach their goals? That you are supportive of their interests and activities? Are they happy? Let those answers guide you to create and maintain a supportive unschooling atmosphere that values them as individuals and supports their learning, no matter your circumstances. It’s not about trying to ignore reality and pretend our lives are “perfect”, but about living our real lives.
Our typical days.