What activities do I like to do regularly?
What really annoys me? What makes me smile?
What food makes me feel good physically? How much food fills me up comfortably? Am I hungry when I eat?
How much sleep helps me wake up feeling refreshed? Yet if I’m excited about something, can I push through tiredness or am I mostly cranky?
Do I think and learn better when I’m alone? Or do I prefer to bounce ideas around with others?
Am I more relaxed and attentive when I’m nestled in amongst all my things? Or in a sparse environment because clutter is too distracting?
When I’m interested in something, how do I like to learn about it? Do I sit back and observe? Research? Do I dive in? Give it a shot?
Do I like baths or showers? Morning or night?
Do I like a routine to ease gently into sleep? Or do I like to keep going until I drop, content and exhausted?
The answers to these kinds of questions paint a unique picture of who I am and what makes me tick.
Many parents make these choices for their children: “Tidy up your room before you go play.” “It’s bedtime—go put your pyjamas on and pick a couple books.” “Your t-shirt is dirty, go put on a clean one.” “Finish your plate before you get down from the table.” Why? I think there are a few reasons that mix and match to varying degrees:
- These are the ways that feel best for them so they want to pass their wisdom along to their children—they like things tidy; they like to read before they go to sleep; they like their clothes spotless;
- They want their children to fit in smoothly with their routines—life is easier, less complicated;
- They have been told there are “right” ways to live their lives and they want to help their kids develop those habits so they aren’t judged negatively by others (even if the parents themselves don’t feel they measure up).
It’s a noble ideal: they want their children to learn the right ways to take care of themselves so they become successful adults.
But what does this have to do with unschooling? Let’s find out.
To start, I’d tweak the goal with two short but very important words: “ … want their kids to learn the right ways for them to take care of themselves so they become successful adults.”
We all have our own definitions of “successful”, but what a difference those two words make. For them. We are all different people, yes? Regardless of our age. Think about you and your spouse for a minute. You’re reasonably successful adults, do you go to bed at the same time? Get up at the same time? (I’m more of a morning person, while my husband’s been more of a night owl—huh, common phrases for different sleeping patterns.) Do you both like baths? (For us, that’s him more than me—if we broaden the definition of bath to include hot tub). What about living environment? (I enjoy being surrounded by things that make me smile and if it’s not in a pile I can see I forget it exists, while he mostly finds clutter distracting.) In essence, we’re both pretty different in how we tick: our habits, our personalities, our likes, and our dislikes surrounding day-to-day living.
Those differences are part of life, and there is no one “right” way for individuals to live; other than the way that works best for them. Why would we think that would be any different for children?
So, say I want my children to learn how they tick, why are unschooling principles a good way to go about it?
As I got more and more comfortable with the unschooling learning environment, as I saw my children’s real learning in action, as I saw all the learning that comes through living, my eyes opened and thoughts swirled. For me, there were a couple key observations that swayed my choice.
Firstly, this personal learning rose in importance in my eyes. With the education system’s myopic K-12 view gone, I began looking at the bigger picture of their lives, to view childhood as the growth of the whole person into adulthood. Digging deeper, I realized how important understanding myself and how I tick has been for all aspects of life. How exceptionally useful that information is as an adult, in both my work and my relationships, and how since figuring that stuff out my life has been much more joyful because I am no longer working against myself (i.e. trying to act like someone else’s—society, parents—vision of me). So much better! I also realized that it took a lot of time to explore and discover my quirks, my needs, my goals—and to realize that they change over time. For me, this understanding of themselves became something very important to pass along to my children, alongside their more academic learning.
The second observation was about the learning: I came see it’s all learning. Over our first unschooling months, their learning became more intertwined with our living. I began to make less and less distinction between academic and personal learning—both were happening in most situations. Their personality and current needs and ways of processing were just as vital to the learning process as was the academic knowledge or skill they were pursuing. And unschooling was supporting all of their learning spectacularly.
As parents, we choose whether we’ll extend unschooling beyond academics in our family. I just encourage you to make that choice mindfully. Let’s tie this in to last week’s post about unschooling with strong beliefs. I think we can liken strong beliefs with strong rules based on the belief that these are the “right habits” a person should develop. Maybe that strength of belief comes because the parent had a very negative experience growing up that they are determined to help their child avoid. Maybe they are firm that their children do the things they think may have helped them avoid the situation (early curfews, restricted activities, restricted foods etc). Again, the parent’s motivation is understandable, but they have become stuck and can’t see the real effect of their actions—the damage that attitude can do to their relationship with their children can be irreparable. They have put their issue above their children.
If you do choose to move to an all-encompassing unschooling lifestyle, as with all unschooling learning, the key is when they’re interested. As their parent, you have an idea how your children tick and can make a good guess at what works for them—they’ve been communicating that information to you since they were born. Don’t overwhelm them with choices they aren’t interested in making. But when they are interested in trying things differently—like a change in their going to sleep routine, or in their eating habits, or in how tidy their room is, or whatever bit of life they are contemplating—be open to letting them explore. That’s when their interest is piqued and their learning is sparked.
There’s one other point I’d like to touch on. It’s common for those first hearing about unschooling to wonder skeptically, how do the kids learn to get up in time for jobs, or to do what their boss tells them, or to do any other adult thing the questioner finds distasteful, so that they will grow to be independent, successful adults who can pay their bills and get jobs. That’s not a surprising question—it’s a big stretch at first!
But think about it for a minute. It’s actually not that illogical. Unschooling kids are making their own choices every day and throwing all their enthusiasm behind them. When they choose to start a job, their enthusiasm to follow their choice will help them get up in the morning, more than any previous years of “training” to get up will.
Unschooling has precisely helped them learn how to follow through with their choices. And given them lots of practice in making good choices and understanding the motivation behind them. They won’t see their job as a burden, one they must have trained years for by getting up early and sitting bored at a desk for long hours and being forced to do things they don’t want to do day and day out. They will also make better job choices up front: understanding themselves, they won’t pursue a job that is a complete mismatch with their personality and lifestyle. And if they choose to take one that isn’t a great match, they will have other reasons, like the money, or the schedule, or the experience etc, and those will motivate and reward them for going to work. Or if their job does become a burden, they will start looking around for a better match because that’s what they’ve always done. When things don’t work out, they don’t feel stuck, they find ways to move on. They are wonderfully prepared to be independent, successful adults.
Their learning is an amazing thing to witness.
(And wowza. This one took a lot of wrangling to get what was in my head out in words! I think I wrote at least double this trying to figure it out. LOL! But, for now, I’m reasonably happy with it.)