As we expand our unschool experiment, we find that there are more questions than answers. And that’s okay: that’s how we learn. Unschooling really doesn’t come with any kind of hand book, and every family does what is right for their situation, interests, personalities, and a thousand other variables, unique to each situation.
Unschooling is not unparenting
We have not abdicated our roles in any way. Quite the contrary, unschooling actually forces us to be more involved than ever. We have to be aware of everything, sensitive to everything, to make sure that we never miss an opportunity to educate. Every moment is a learning moment – and that takes initiative, insight, imagination, involvement and energy. We have to be aware and connected for as much of the day as possible.
Unschooling makes you honest
Because we learn every second that we breathe, we need to be very real, very transparent, and very honest. Learning happens by seeing, experiencing, “percolating” and discussing. It does not happen in a vacuum. We need to share what we learn, and let our children share what they’ve learned. This implies that we need to be learning, all the time. If something troubles us, we need to be honest about that. We also need to examine that. Why does a messy space trouble me? Am I being reasonable? Is the mess a logical and even necessary part of development? Is leaving the mess harmful in any way, or is that in itself a valuable education? These questions surround thousands of decisions every day, with the net result being that we are more connected, more “ourselves”, and more relaxed. I’m not really sure I can articulate why that is true, yet. But it is true, nonetheless.
Unschooling challenges beliefs
There are some unschoolers who don’t set limits on their children. Everything in life becomes a collaborative learning journey, with children setting their own limits as they work out what works for them. For instance, if the child prefers to stay up late, that is the child’s choice. She must then deal with the consequences of loneliness, being up when everyone else is asleep, and grumpiness the next day when she’s over tired, or ever oversleeps and misses an outing with the rest of the family. This way, she learns that an earlier bed time has its benefits. Well, fair enough. But not for us. In my opinion that’s a form of child abuse, frankly. I believe that children lack the ability to make certain decisions and cognitive leaps, and that’s why they have parents. Otherwise we’d all just grow up together in something like a giant, collaborative orphanage with common sense and consensus determining the way we live. I’ve read Lord of the Flies. I don’t think we’d do well left to our own devices.
Here are some of the beliefs I’m examining at the moment, as we delve deeper into this adventure:
- Children need boundaries. They need to know when an action is acceptable and when it isn’t. And sometimes words are not adequate to convey this.
- Children need direction. They may well be curious beasts with a passion for knowledge. But they also need a little guidance. If Papa Bear had never introduced me to the internet, I may never have developed an interest in it, and then I’d be doing something else for a living now. If we don’t know there are things out there to be discovered, we won’t discover them. We need to allow our children the opportunity to develop an interest in what’s out there by letting them know what’s out there.
- Not everything is fun and interesting, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant or superfluous. Just because I don’t enjoy doing a thing, or don’t feel like doing a thing, doesn’t mean I don’t need to do it. Yes, I prefer dancing to running, and running to soccer. So perhaps I’ll dance more often than I’ll chase a ball. But I need to exercise, and if the only option I have is a game of soccer, I need to accept that and get on with it. I may even find it fun. Possibly. Few people fascinatedly pursue a regimen of dental hygiene, but that doesn’t mean we can just get away with not cleaning our teeth two or three times a day. And so on. So while I am letting the girls not clean their room for a while, I am probably, at some stage, going to insist that it gets done, and that beds get made religiously. Because some things just need to be done.
- We all need to do our share. So maybe we don’t say the word “chores” anymore, and maybe (just maybe), pocket money and housework are no longer linked. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all pitch in with dishes, dog food and domestic goddessery in general.
- Work has worth, and earning a living is a life skill. I haven’t made up my mind about pocket money. I believe it is necessary, and very educational. The girls have learnt maths, the value of money, and the value of things, all through pocket money. They’ve also learned that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. So to speak. (Of course they eat, but a messy room means no pocket money, and that means no buying toys at the market – their lifeblood, you’d think!). So while I am experimenting with not insisting on a tidy room (for now), I don’t think they’ll start getting money for nothing. That can simply be a consequence of not cleaning up.
- There’s nothing wrong with being organised. Being spontaneous does not exclude being organised, and vice versa. If I work better in a structure, that could be a good thing.
- Sometimes, children need chastening. It may take various forms, but a polite and respectful “No, darling. That’s not how we behave.” simply doesn’t cut it sometimes. In those cases we need a clear, communicated and consistent way of communicating unacceptable behaviour.
At the end of the day, these children will one day be adults, and they need to be ready for that. That goes a lot further than simple fact knowledge. It’s about being equipped to deal with other people well, and being practised in making smart choices. Schools don’t teach that, families do. And must.