I’ve talked about deschooling a number of times, that period of adjustment as your family moves from schooling to unschooling. Yet some parents discover unschooling before their children hit compulsory school age and don’t send their kids at all. Though my oldest was almost ten and in grade four when we found homeschooling, my youngest was four and had only spent about six months in half-day junior kindergarten. Consequently, he had minimal deschooling to do—school attendance was a small, albeit annoying to him at the time, blip on his radar.
Last week I talked about how an attachment parenting style with your young children can transition to an unschooling lifestyle relatively easily if you choose not to send your children to school. The days before and after your child’s first day of compulsory schooling will look the same to them: they’ll get up when they wake up, they’ll play what they enjoy, they’ll eat when they’re hungry, you’ll comfort them when they’re upset, and they’ll nap when (if?) they’re tired.
Yet your thoughts may start to change—and it may take you by surprise. With attachment parenting you’ve been steadily moving away from a lot of conventional thinking related to parenting, and you’ve moved enough on the education front to have chosen to create an unschooling learning environment for your child. But with school now firmly in your thoughts, you’ll likely discover pockets of conventional thinking about learning still tucked away in your mind. You may start to have more lofty goals for your newly school age child. You may find yourself looking for learning that looks more like school. That’s not very surprising because it’s likely what learning looks like to you. Remember that although your child hasn’t been to school, you probably have. For many years.
When that happens, it’s time for some more deschooling. I’ve mentioned before that parents continue to grow and learn about unschooling, and life, alongside their children—your learning is never “done”. So don’t knock yourself when it happens. These moments will pop up from time to time as you encounter new-to-you moments in your parenting journey. Just as having a child triggered you to examine and choose the kind of parents you want to be, your first child reaching school age is likely to uncover some conventional thoughts and assumptions about education you didn’t realize you had. Same with other milestone moments, like when your eldest reaches the teen years: conventional expectations about the transition to adulthood will probably begin to explode into your thoughts like fresh brain popcorn.
What can you do? I think being mindful and aware of my thoughts has helped me catch my more knee-jerk reactions before injuries occur. For me, the idea isn’t to reject ideas solely on the basis that they are conventional, but to catch thoughts and actions that are based mostly on the fact that “that’s the way everyone does it.” I want to think about and analyze the situations for myself and choose my path forward with my children.
So what are some of the conventional ideas about learning that may pop to mind as your child reaches an age when the educational system would start teaching them in earnest, expecting them to perform to a certain level?
- You may find yourself feeling an urge to start teaching your child instead of watching for learning.
- You may find yourself looking at their activities through a school filter, looking for school-like topics, like reading and math.
- You may find yourself feeling an urge to direct their play to more “respectable” activities.
- You may find yourself feeling an urge to sign them up for “lessons” without considering their interest, like art or swimming or those cool-looking homeschool field trips.
- You may find yourself looking for signs that their activities are more “purposeful”, more goal-oriented.
Your triggers may be different, but if it happens, first take a couple deep breaths. A stressed mind finds it hard to think outside conventional lines. When you’re feeling a bit more open, start digging into your thoughts about learning. Explore more deeply the principles of learning that underscore unschooling. Sure you may have read about them before, even intellectually agreed with them, but now you have a living and breathing child you love in front of you. It’s time to mesh your theoretical understanding with the practice of living and learning with your child. Revisit those questions. What does real learning look like? When does the best learning happen? Can we really define what every person “should” know as they transition to the adult world? Is a time-line for learning a useful concept? How is it helpful that unschoolers develop their own unique web of learning connections?
And alongside that, as always, go back to looking at your child’s perspective, their needs and wants. Instead of trying to direct them, use their interest as your guide. What are they doing? Why? Really look at them. Their learning doesn’t look like worksheets and tests, but I bet they’re learning. Their learning isn’t necessarily “this is math” and “this is reading”, but I bet it encompasses the much larger terrain of life. Life is full of numbers and letters AND emotions and play and thinking and discovery and logic and movement and and and … so many things!
Remember, it’s all important.
And they have a lifetime to explore it. 🙂