If you have never heard about unschooling, you might be shocked at the term. The first time I heard of unschooling, my eldest was a baby and I was at an event and met another mother who said she’s an unschooler. I remember telling my husband incredulously, “Can you BELIEVE that?!” I asked. “That’s crazy”, he replied.
It was much like the first time I saw a mother breastfeeding a toddler and said, “If they’re old enough to ask for it…” and then proceeded to breastfeed for 8 consecutive years (ha!). You don’t know what you don’t know, and the universe has a funny way of making you eat your words.
I love the principles and concepts of unschooling. I think it is most definitely a valid, beneficial option for some families, and it is what we have done up until last year, when we begun gradually weaning into some structured learning.
I am beyond grateful to those who donated their own time to advise and mentor me as I navigated unschooling. Those who authored incredible books, which aligned with attachment parenting and put the focus on honouring the unique humans we are raising and choosing love and connection above all else.
There is so much good that unschooling has brought to my little family, that I honestly have worried about sharing the newer structure we have implemented. While I could go on and on about free range, child-led learning, the point of this blog post is to share why and how we ended up here:
1) Unschooling was natural, instinctual and necessary for a long time for us.
My first highly sensitive soul was very averse to imposed lessons and balked at any book work. He was quite precocious, quite active and would only sit still if in front of a screen. My younger child is the complete opposite and yearned for school-y activities at a very young age. I thought about enrolling my younger son in school, but the thought of separating the siblings was gut-wrenching. I struggled to meet both their needs, and came to realize compromise was needed by all of us to find a learning lifestyle that fulfilled us all.
Last year I was starting to see signs of readiness from both my boys to move into intentionally developing certain skills. So I rode the wave instinctually, the same way I did with any milestone in our lives.
2) I am Type A personality.
A disorganized Type A who needs structure to help me. Which is not to say that I can’t unschool, but it has been very hard. And not that we shouldn’t do hard things (trust me, I know that). But I endeavour to live a joyful life, and I know that I function best with a schedule. The schedule I’ve found respects my boys needs for rest, exercise, exploration and conscious development of skills.
Without a schedule/flow for the day, I would see their unmet need when it would be too late. Starting the day with cartoons and video games meant that by 10:00 they’d be agitated and arguing yet have inertia (making it an uphill battle to get their needs met and restore the peace).
3) My mind goes blank and I feel totally scattered unless I have a well-built, aesthetically pleasing curriculum to follow.
I need science experiments doled out to me in an organized fashion or else I’m floundering and we’re just making the same slime recipes again and again. Today we made homemade catapults and it was something I never would have come up with, and the best part of my kids day.
Another example of how my curriculum helps, is that my youngest needed to learn how to use scissors. I wouldn’t have thought to get him cutting activities unless I had a Pre-K curriculum that encouraged it. Within a week he went from not knowing how to hold scissors, to cutting all sorts of shapes with confidence, excitement and pride.
4) I have seen all the learning and development that comes out of video games and YouTube.
My eldest learned to read and learned math through Minecraft. I don’t demonize “screens” even though I do limit them. Unschoolers don’t use screens as babysitters, but I admit, I was getting into that habit.
I don’t personally want to spend so much of my time with my kids watching or talking Minecraft for the duration of time that my eldest did. Gaming was the only thing my eldest would talk about. This would be a problem if he was too intently focused on any one thing. And as his parents, it is our responsibility to help him expand his comfort zone. To give him opportunities to try something out of his wheelhouse and have the experience of doing something he didn’t think he could do.
All this to say, if given the opportunity to really delve into this passion full time, he could become a computer programmer or game developer, but at the same time it was becoming a relationship divide between us, which goes back again to my first point.
5) Current Circumstances mean that the options that were previously available to us to learn as we lived life (travelling, libraries, Science Centre, museums, drop-in programs and even playgrounds for awhile) are no longer an option to the extent they once were.
While we can certainly make our home a cozy nest of learning with practices such as strewing, I knew that I would now need more help to ensure the day was filled with fun activities. With all the extra time at home, it feels like a great time to practice skills and learn in a way that builds and connects from lesson to lesson.
Fortunately, I found a curriculum that incorporates different learning styles and is very tactile. I also love that morals and character are emphasized with the lessons we are using. There is no way I’d be able to curate and prepare and serve up learning that is this fun without a great curriculum like we are using.
I could never have predicted any of the choices I have made in parenting my kids, but I can also say that I don’t regret a single one of them, including our time unschooling. I have never been dogmatic about my choices (or at least I always strive to remain open and flexible), and I believe it’s entirely possible that we end up back unschooling down the road as circumstances evolve.
In a perfect world, we’d be world schoolers and learn through adventure and travel! In the meantime, we are having an excellent time homeschooling. The best advantage (other than the reward of seeing their faces light up every day), is that I feel we are spending even more focused, intentional time together.
Many of you might have only just started the journey home educating and could be feeling overwhelmed. To read more about reducing the stress of homeschooling during current circumstances, check out the guest blog I wrote for Ask Dr. Sears in Spring 2020.
Happy Homeschooling or Unschooling and remember that YOU always know best how you and your kids will thrive!