Choosing unschooling isn’t a decision to be taken lightly—though it may come together pretty quickly. When considering such a life-changing decision, it’s common practice to weigh the pros and cons. To make our list, we gather information: we read online, hit the library, ask around to see if we have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who’s knowledgeable about unschooling etc.
Over the years I’ve seen some people join various online unschooling groups, only to soon express disappointment that they aren’t finding more “balanced” information: they want to know the bad stuff (cons) along with the good stuff (pros). It seems it’s relatively easy to find people talking about the pros of unschooling, but the cons can be harder to find. (And by “cons” I don’t mean criticisms from people who don’t understanding how unschooling works.)
I know when I was first exploring unschooling everything I found seemed like great stuff to me! But then you wonder, if it’s so great, why isn’t everybody doing it?
I think the irritation comes about because, when we’re searching for “cons,” we’re typically focused on finding the potential negative outcomes for the choice in question. But the thing is, unschooling can work well for any interested child. So for parents who’ve chosen unschooling—and are engaging online—they really don’t have any negative outcomes to share.
But, unschooling is likely not a good choice for all parents. And I think that has more to do with the act of unschooling: the things we do to create a thriving unschooling environment. They aren’t likely things all parents will be comfortable doing, yet parents who have chosen unschooling don’t see them as cons. From their perspective, these actions seem more like the “costs of unschooling,” or even better, “investments in unschooling.”
So in the next few posts I’m going to talk about some of the things that might be considered cons/challenges/costs—basically things to consider when trying to decide whether unschooling might be a good fit for your family.
And it’s okay to decide against unschooling. It’s not a question of right or wrong, but of what will work well for your family. It’s not one size fits all. I think the most important realization is that you have a choice! I know it was years before I discovered that compulsory schooling did not mean my children had to spend their days in a traditional school building. Choice is key—for parenting and for unschooling. 🙂
So, first up: the commitment required to create and maintain an environment in which unschooling thrives. (Note: please don’t interpret that to mean “perfect.” I don’t think there is such a thing. Life has its ups and downs, but a solid unschooling environment is responsive to that. Helpful, even.)
I think we all know that there is a considerable amount of time and effort involved in sending children to school: getting them up, dressed, fed, and on the bus in the morning; evenings dedicated to walking children through homework and studying; managing the flow of school/teacher communication and paperwork etc. Yet not sending them to school, while it does free you from the school schedule, is by no means a “lazy” choice! Instead, all that time and effort is directed to being with your children.
That means actively engaging with them: playing games, answering questions, finding supplies, researching interests, answering more questions, managing relationships, exploring the community, bringing interesting bits of the world to their attention etc. And sometimes just being with them, sharing their joy in the activity at hand, or sitting quietly, radiating your unwavering support and love for them. In other words, actively living with them. Does the thought of that fill you with anticipation or dread?
If you really don’t want to spend your days with your children, unschooling may not be a good choice for you. Though I will say, our relationships with our children are very different with unschooling, so they may be hard to envision without having experienced them. They are not as fraught with conflict as you might imagine. In fact, I found that one of the most wonderful benefits of unschooling has been the fantastic relationships I’ve developed with my children.
To give you an idea, think of your time together on weekends, or vacations, when you’re not trying to move your children through an imposed schedule. When they are doing their thing and you’re playing with them, or doing things side by side, helping them out here and there. When you’re not at odds with each other. Those connected and enjoyable moments happen so much more often once your family has been deschooling for a few months.
That’s why we encourage parents as they begin unschooling/deschooling to treat their days like an extended vacation—drop the schedules and get to know one another. Play together. Be together. Join them where they are and move at their pace. The strong, connected, and trusting relationships that develop are so valuable to unschooling because they allow communication to flow openly, through both conversation and body language.
That’s the work of unschooling: understanding learning, understanding your children, and actively supporting them as they pursue their interests and passions.
If none of those things sound like cons to you, you might really enjoy unschooling with your family!
Want to read more about unschooling days?
What’s Behind a Typical Unschooling Day? — Though unschooling looks different for every family, there is a basic motif that underscores our days: being available to talk, willing to help, and supportive of their goals.
Unschooling Days: Outside in the World — Family dynamics can be quite different in unschooling families. Here are three less conventional ways we work together as a family when we’re out and about in the world.
“What Will I Do Today?” — From the youngest age, children are driven to explore the world around them and learn. Let’s look at what a child’s day might look like if their curiosity isn’t constantly stifled.