Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. (p. 81, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell)
We are in the world of unschooling now, finding our way. We have removed our conventional filter—well, at least the first layer—and are open to learning. On this road we will confront our conventional beliefs about learning and living and dig into many of our existing assumptions, often handed to us in childhood, questioning how well they mesh with our own experiences, and watching it unfolding with our own children.
So many questions bubble up now that we’re looking at life through this new lens of unschooling. Each represents another trial. Some will be relatively easy to work through, while others may take great energy to process, leading us to more and more questions. That path is unique to each of us, depending on the messages we received growing up and our experiences in the world so far. And as we address them, one by one by one, our understanding of unschooling grows.
My blog is essentially a window onto my road of trials.
For example, there were so many things to ponder about learning. One was the fear of leaving curriculum behind. By really digging into it, I came to better understand unschooling’s less predictable, but richer, curiosity-driven path of learning—“even if” at some time A they hadn’t (yet) learned B. My perspective broadened beyond childhood. As I gained more and more experience with seeing the learning in all their activities and seeing the learning in the quiet moments in between, I came to see how unschooling doesn’t look like school at all. And from there, my perspective grew from childhood learning, focused on gaining “a fixed set of knowledge by a certain age,” to lifelong learning.
I examined many questions in the realm of parenting, including the power paradigm of adults versus children, discipline, the meaning of “fair,” what it means to “spoil” a child, developing character, and ways to consider everyone’s needs as we lived together day-to-day.
Then there was my growing understanding of the importance of learning about themselves. What makes them tick. How they like to learn. Seeing them as separate and unique individuals and pondering how my beliefs about the world may not be theirs. And how I might approach times when we see things differently.
Not only was I learning about the environment I wanted to create for my children to grow up in, this new lens of unschooling was also changing my perspective on my own life, like my definition of success and the search for meaningful work. And I pondered ways I could excavate my own curiosity.
I also asked myself, how is it that experienced unschooling families get along so well?
That’s a taste of some of the trials I encountered. 🙂
Some questions that crop up are expected, some are surprising, and we do the work to move through them. Sometimes we’re thoroughly energized, other times we’re so exhausted that we’re almost brought to tears, wondering where we’ll find the strength to take another step. Breathe. Water. Sleep. And it really helped me to remember to keep the focus on my children—my guides. How are they doing?
Another tip for the road: remember to take note of those moments with your children where you see them—and unschooling—shining brilliantly. In scribbled words before bed, or quick photos of the moment, or vivid memories etched into your brain. These snapshots will help you build trust in the process, and can be a welcome ray of light during the more challenging trials.
On the deschooling road we discover things about ourselves we didn’t before imagine—the depth of our strength, of our love, and what we can learn when we say “hi” to our fears, rather than running from them. Racing down the road risks skimming the surface, short-changing this transformative process, which needs to take place in the roots of our being. Beyond what we are doing, into why we are choosing to do those things.
So don’t try to rush your learning. You will see people further on the journey and wish you were there. You’ll get there—be patient with yourself. Yet don’t use that as an excuse to linger. Take it slowly, but surely. Keep questioning. Keep observing your children. Keep playing with your children. Play is learning; for parents too. As Sandra Dodd reminds us about the unschooling journey, “read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.”
Working through our trials we are rewarded with new philosophical insights into learning and living, and as a result, we often want to change some of our behaviours and actions/reactions to better support our children and our unschooling lifestyle. Sometimes it’s pretty easy. But sometimes even when we know we want to act differently, habit takes over and we can find ourselves playing out the same conventional scene over and over.
Change can definitely be hard. But rather than beating yourself up about it, keep trying. Try to mindfully take a beat between action and reaction. Find yourself a moment of choice where once there was only thoughtless habit. Without the pressure of a school schedule, there is time. Things don’t have to move so fast. Be more proactive. Act first. Ask your children if they’d like to play a game with you, rather than waiting for them to ask, maybe at an inopportune time.
There will be uncomfortable times. If there’s no clear path, learn to live with the discomfort for a while. New insights and ideas can bubble up, but only if you’re patient and open to them, not closed up and trying desperately escape the discomfort. And remember, no matter how long you’ve been unschooling, as your children get older you will encounter new situations which you haven’t yet worked through (at least not beyond the conventional response). We are always learning and growing. Living.
The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land. (p. 90)
We’re deep into our journey now! As we continue through the initiation phase over the next few weeks, we’ll gather up what we’ve learned so far and pull it up into the bigger picture, ones that speak to the person we choose to be, sometimes seen as the more spiritual aspect of the unschooling journey.
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “road of trials” stage to get you started:
1. Which conventional ideas were you quickly able to move through on your deschooling road of trials?
2. Which ones did you find more challenging?
3. Were you tempted to rush through the process? If so, did that make it harder for you to deeply trust the process of unschooling?
4. Did you find some habits were hard to change?
The road so far …
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.
Refusal of the call: The many implications of choosing unschooling hit. Do we commit?
Supernatural aid: Our children guide us on our unschooling journey.
Crossing of the first threshold: Confronting the guardians who claim to protect us.
The belly of the whale: Transitioning to a learning mindset.