As unschooling parents, we’ve chosen this unschooling lifestyle for our family. In doing so, we decided that although it’s unconventional, the benefits outweigh the challenges. Or else we’d have chosen to stay on the conventional path, so well-trodden by those before us.
Yet at some point as our children get older, they will realize that their lives are quite different from many of the kids and families around them. In my experience, for the most part, they’re pretty cool with that! They have real control over their lives and can choose what to do with their time. Yet there can be times when living an unconventional lifestyle can feel frustrating and burdensome.
What can we do if our children express disappoint or fear as they discover their lives are outside convention?
The feeling of being an outsider
Sometimes living outside the majority can feel lonely. Maybe they join a local activity but soon find themselves out-of-step with the other kids after answering “I’m homeschooled” to the ritualistic “what school do you go to” question.
And, whereas an unschooling child is there by choice and interested in learning, it’s not unusual for many of the other kids to be participating in the activity at their parent’s behest. Which usually means they aren’t particularly keen to pay attention or participate. Yet another way unschooling children may feel out-of-step with mainstream attitudes.
You can help your child feel more in control, and less fearful, of these moments by doing some prep work beforehand. You could chat about typical questions and come up with possible answers they can use. Maybe you work out what grade they’d be in based on their age to answer that other seemingly universal question: “What grade are you in?”
“I’m homeschooled, but in school I’d be in grade five.” Help them find ways to build a quick bridge of connection with kids who are living more conventional lives so they can ease into activities and feel less like an outsider.
It can also help to remember that many children living a conventional lifestyle feel like outsiders sometimes too. Maybe chat about TV shows or movies you’ve watched together where a child character, who most likely goes to school, has felt like an outsider. It’s not something that’s precisely defined by the choice to go, or not go, to school.
And as moments arise in conversations, as they inevitably do, you can mention some of the reasons why you chose not to “play it safe.” What it was—what it is—that makes this unconventional lifestyle so important to you. Connect these bits and pieces of the world as you see them out loud in a sentence or two, and see where it leads. Maybe further conversation in the moment; maybe a connection they make on their own next time they’re listening to music on the swing, or next time they see a similar situation play out around them.
See the world through their perspective so you can better support them as they play with the idea of conventional and unconventional and dig into what the roots of “feeling like an outsider” are for them.
And don’t forget to remind them that it’s absolutely okay to be different!
The challenge of running our lives
Though unschooling children will definitely appreciate the freedom to learn in their own ways and to choose how they spend their days, at some point(s), they may start to feel overwhelmed with it all. Every so often the thought of someone else telling them what to do can be comforting. To be able to just do, rather than having to think and analyze and decide before doing.
It’s the same for us adults! Now and again, don’t you wish someone would just give you a foolproof plan to follow so you don’t have to figure out yet another thing for yourself? “Do steps 1 through 5 and I guarantee you will accomplish your goal!”
That feeling of overwhelm is a very human thing to experience. Regardless of age.
The bonus is, as unschoolers, we have the time to help our children work through these feelings; we don’t have to quickly sweep them away so they can get their homework done. We can listen. Validate. Commiserate. Share our own experiences. Show compassion. Let them know it’s okay to feel sad or disappointed or overwhelmed.
And when that happens it doesn’t mean that unschooling has failed. Unschooling isn’t about life being “perfect.” It won’t be. But I’ve come to see that the time we spend with our children working through their hurts and fears and sadness is such valuable time! Certainly just as worthwhile as the time spent discussing facts and developing skills. Gaining experience and learning the ways that work for each of us individually to process the myriad of emotions that a full life has to offer is priceless.
Unschooling is life.