Another remarkable outcome of growing up unschooling is our children’s level of self-awareness.
To help them understand themselves is to show them that their needs, thoughts, and feelings are important.
Even if we need to slow down so we can pay close attention to their words and body language.
Even if their wishes change widely and often.
Even if we need to be open to shifting gears and figuring out a new path forward.
Even if it stretches our comfort zones.
Unschooling parents see great value in actively helping our children become aware of their thoughts, behaviours, and fears.
That awareness helps them understand themselves better—both intellectually and emotionally. And is a great starting point as they explore the kind of person they want to be. They also learn that this isn’t a one-time thing. This introspective process is ongoing throughout our lives because circumstances change, and we change and grow as a person.
As unschooling parents we lead by example, sharing as we strive to understand why we do the things we do, to get comfortable challenging our beliefs, and to keep an open mind. Our children see us learning and shifting and growing—in other words, living.
To give them the space and support to choose their own actions is priceless.
Conventionally, there’s a yardstick of “normal” actions and behaviours that parents and teachers are subtly trying to guide children toward, often using tools such as judgment and shame. Judgment pours the adult’s expectations deep into the mixture, making it much harder for children to suss out how they feel about the situation, as opposed to how they are “supposed” to feel. Shaming children (and adults) for their seeming shortcomings or mistakes mostly just encourages them to distance themselves from those moments, rather than understand and learn from them.
Just as giving them the space and support to explore their interests helps unschooling children cultivate their curiosity, the space and support to explore themselves helps them better understand how they tick and the ways they enjoy engaging with the world.
What makes them shine? What brings them satisfaction? Help them follow their curiosity, choose something to do (an action), and see how it goes (a result). And note—this doesn’t mean they’ll always choose easy things. People who’ve grown up unschooling don’t shy away from challenges. They know the delight and gratification that comes from accomplishing a difficult task, and they are more willing to attempt something ambitious because they didn’t grow up being judged negatively when things didn’t work out as expected.
“Didn’t work out as expected” is not just a way of avoiding saying “I made a mistake.” When learning is as intricately connected with living as it is with unschooling, it’s hard to imagine an outcome as being definitively “wrong.” If things don’t work out, we celebrate the effort, commiserate over the outcome, help our children process the situation to learn what they can from the experience, and encourage them to try again, or try something new.
What’s interesting is I really don’t look at almost anything in the frame of a mistake. So I’m going to reframe that question in my mind which is where’s an incident where my expectations ended up being radically different from the reality in a way that I didn’t want to happen. Because to me, no matter what, as long as I look at that, and I deconstruct it, and I learn from it, actually it’s a great thing to move forward with.
Another thing to consider when giving our children the space and support to follow their interests is that their choice may be to quit something. And that’s okay. If our overall goal is to help them learn more about themselves (rather than to learn about a particular thing), choosing to quit fits the bill nicely. Maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting. Maybe their interest has faded. Maybe the atmosphere wasn’t a good fit. Regardless, greater self-awareness is the result.
For those who’ve grown up unschooling, self-awareness plays out as better personal choices and increased empathy for others.
The value of self-awareness is found not only personally, but also in their relationships with others.
Personally, when they understand themselves well, they are able to make better choices moving forward. As they evaluate potential choices and opportunities, their assessment of the pros and cons is more accurate, allowing them to seek out activities and work environments that better mesh with their interests and their personalities.
In addition, their understanding—and acceptance—of the changing nature of life means they aren’t expecting things to stay the same indefinitely. And because they aren’t worried their choices may being seen as “wrong,” they feel more free to change up their course along the way. They are regularly re-evaluating their circumstances, interests, and goals.
Growing up in an unschooling family, they understand that different people have different goals and perspectives, and they bring that awareness with them into their extended relationships with friends and colleagues. They appreciate the value of seeing situations through the perspectives of others and working together with them—empathy. They are experienced at digging into situations and differing viewpoints to discover their essence, and brainstorming ways to move forward that meet the goals of both the group and the people involved.
Self-awareness is a valuable skill for day-to-day living.
And giving our children the time and space for introspection, and our active support as they process what they discover, is a valuable part of our unschooling work.
Want to explore more? Here’s some related reading:
Choosing to Quit — Children who have the freedom to explore a variety of things and discard those that don’t catch their prolonged interest do not feel like failures when they choose to drop something. Instead they see it as another experience from which to learn a little bit about something, and a lot about themselves.
Unschooling Doesn’t Have Report Cards — There is so much valuable learning about themselves that is never measured on report cards. But in case you need reports or other kinds of cards, there is a great Digital ID service to help.
Seeing Learning in the Quiet Moments — It can be a soothing, repetitive activity that doesn’t take a lot of concentration. Something relaxing and familiar, where their mind can wander. If you ask what they’re up to, maybe they say, “just thinking.” But they’re just as apt to say “nothing.” And our society doesn’t look kindly upon those moments. They use words like lazy and apathetic. Again, they’re seeing the surface, not the rich soil being cultivated underneath.