Courtney Barker and her husband Dave are unschooling their three children. Originally from Australia, they moved to Northern Zambia when their first child was 12 weeks old. Four years later they moved to Chile, and four years after that they moved to Canada. We have a wonderful conversation about their journey from school to unschooling, her most surprising discovery about life with children so far, tips for handling big emotions, unschooling and atypical kids, her favourite thing about unschooling, and lots more.
Questions for Courtney
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
What did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
When people first hear about unschooling—about not following a curriculum, about not doing endless worksheets of practice—it can be so hard to imagine what that might even look like. It’s a totally foreign concept. What did that mindset shift around learning look like for you?
What has been one of your most surprising discoveries about life with children so far?
You have a great blog post about handling big emotions. As you say, being in touch with and able to lean into our emotions are hallmark traits of emotional wellbeing, resilience, and healthy relationships. Yet many of grew up being shushed and shamed for having big emotions—especially negative ones—so we have a hard time figuring out how to support our children through those moments. Can you share some ideas to help?
You’ve also shared on your blog that one of your children is neuroatypical. That’s a pretty common question: “Will unschooling work for my atypical child?” Because often parents have found that conventional school isn’t working for their child and they worry that’ll happen with unschooling as well. What has been your experience?
I think another really important realization on the unschooling journey is that things are going to go sideways. This isn’t some fairy-tale utopia, it’s life—with all its ups and downs and twists and turns. Yet, the further we are on our journey, the more we come to recognize the valuable learning and self-awareness that often grows out of the mess of things going “wrong.” So much so, that I think eventually we rarely label any of our choices as “wrong.” But life is definitely full of mis-steps, isn’t it? How do you handle those?
What’s your favourite thing about your unschooling lifestyle right now?
Links to things mentioned in the show
Courtney’s blog, The Untamed
Courtney’s blog post, How Do You Handle Big Emotions?