We have just returned from one of New Zealand’s brilliant unschooling camps. One of the conversations we had there was about how, as soon as your kid hits five, everyone asks them “What school do you go to?” It’s nice, you know, people just want to strike up a conversation with kids and this is the go to. Ramona is the kind of staunch kid who just puffs out her chest and says “I learn my own self!” but we were having a little laugh about the fun your kids could have with this, if you were to rename your home…
“What school do you go to, dear?”
“The School of Rainbow Laughter!”
“Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”
“The School of Awesome”
(Guess you had to be there.)
I have only ever done a few personal sharing posts on unschooling, describing the very beginnings of our unschool journey and that sort of thing. And have never specifically said “Why not consider unschooling?” to readers. It seemed to me like a fairly extreme thing to do, something I just knew wasn’t for everyone.
But this current climate of diabolical education policy, appalling testing, and a real dis-ease with the schooling system is begging for an alternative. Millions of parents sense that kids should all get the chance to just be kids, and some of the best, passionate teachers are throwing in the towel. It might be time to ask:
Why not consider unschooling?
The more you do it, the less extreme it is. The more people you know doing it the more you think “why isn’t everyone doing this!”
I honestly think that unschooling could be for far more people than just the radical few. And I think that if more people were to do it then small, informal unschooling collectives could be formed, where neighbourhood families could get together and foster an awesome creative environment together.
Here’s a few things you need to know about unschooling.
What is unschooling?
So I guess the first thing you need to know is what unschooling is. HA. It is not gonna be this basic all the way though, promise. In fact, I’m not even gonna count this as one of the things. This is just a little bonus.
I made this video at the recent unschooling retreat and I think it pretty much covers it all! Unschooling is about freedom, about enjoying life with our kids, about stepping back, about learning in nature, learning without the confines of structure, without a curriculum, learning anywhere, anyhow, anytime. It is about supporting our children to follow their passions, delving into curiosity, about having fun, about everyone living the life they love.
I talk more about what unschooling is for us here.
But, like, who are these people that do this crazy unschooling biz?
More like, who is NOT unschooling? ha! Oh, like, millions of people. Oh yeah. Okay Whatevs. Look, my point is that the unschooling paradigm is one that floats across all sectors of society. Turn up at an unschooling camp and you will find wealthy ones, feminists, hippies, doctors, families on the bones of their bums, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lefties, farmers.
Unschooling Curriculum is all around you.
It’s scrawled in graffiti on the walls of the city, it sounds like birdsong floating on the breeze, it’s in code in the Minecraft app…
Unschooling families don’t use curriculums but instead are directed by our child’s interest and inspired by the world around us. We see the spark of of curiosity in our child and then open all the doors and say “Peek in here and see if you like it!” Ramona has loved horses for years so over the last few months she has begun taking lessons in natural horsepersonship. We read all the books we can, and if she so wanted could potentially use her love of horses to incorporate history (how have horses been used in the past?), cultural studies (where have horses come from? How are horses valued in different societies?) plus the sciences (let’s check out the inner workings of a horse and watch some vet videos) – this way not only is our kid learning a WHOLE heap of stuff but it all comes from a place of fascination so it is fun and it is sticking and it provides a whole platform for leaping off into other interests.
Also, some days, you just laze around in the sun, learning about being present and falling in love with nature. (Which is worth an equal amount to all that brain stuff, when it comes to a life of happiness.)
Easy like Sunday mornings…. every morning.
My goodness gracious. Here is something I never banked on. Mornings are quite nice! We just hang around in our pyjamas eating breakfast one, two and three, with cups of tea dotted inbetween. Playing games and sitting around and with nothing to go to until 10:30 or until the mood takes us.
For a while last year Ramona went to Kindy and I got a brief chomp at the School Run three times a week. While I was in it I didn’t resent it, it just became the new normal. But since we have moved and we have found other ways of Ramona getting all her extrovert, social party animal needs met, I have realised how much that frantic rush around packing lunches and spare clothes and cramming everyone in the car to get to a certain place before nine o clock, how much it Wore. Me. Down.
Sometimes we go a whole day and we are still in our pyjamas and we have had the absolute best day ever. It is like Sunday Mornings all day every day.
More time with your kids when they are “at their best”
This is entirely anecdotal, but something I notice on Social Media is that unschooling parents generally have a lot of fun with their kids, while nonunschooling (??!) parents write things like “Staring Down The Barrel Of Six Weeks of Summer Holidays” alot.
Now, I don’t think unschooling parents are better people. No way. They loose their shiz too. And have anxiety and get bored and all that. But I do think they know how to enjoy their kids more.
And I think a lot of that is to do with spending a lot of time with their kids and seeing them in all their awesomeness. Whereas a lot of families get an hour of pre-9am stress together and then get their kid spat back at them after a long, arduous day at school when their kid is hungry and tired and fed up with following someone elses rules and has tomorrow’s homework hanging over them. Moreoever there isn’t enough time in the day for the kid to indulge their passions and hobbies so they seem a bit, well, lifeless. No one can enjoy each other’s company under those conditions.
So then summer hols come round and parents think “Ugh. I don’t really wanna hang out with my kid who is grumpier and more boring than me.”
Highly self-motivated and self directed adults
One of the things that first got me onto unschooling was wanting my children to be far less externally motivated than my husband and I! Very early on in our parenting journey I became aware that our kids have these deep down primal urges and that quite a lot of their development came down to giving them chance to follow up those urges.
I don’t really care about success, I just care about happiness and I feel like happiness lies in following your heart. Peter Gray and Gina Riley surveyed adults who were unschooled as children and seventy percent of them said that being unschooled led them to become highly self motivated and self directed adults. This is pretty much the main thing I would like to see in my kids. It is a really interesting piece of research, read it here.
Unschooling is about support
One of the myths I want to address is that unschooling leaves kids floundering. I have heard it said that unschooling, because of the value of freedom, is about letting your kids go feral/ get away with anything. I would say nope, nope, not at all. Unschooling IS about freedom, about granting autonomy over life and learning, but is about doing this in a spirit of support and connection. This point is dear to me because I think one of the best things for our parent child relationship is maintaining our connection. Over on Rethinking Parenting Emma describes this as a partnership paradigm:
“An unschooling parent grows to know their child and has a relationship based on trust and understanding their child’s individual needs and personal preferences.
The relationship between parent and child has been described as like a dance:
“Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each others’ little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other”. Pam Sorooshian” “
Unschooled children will be the ones with a deep connection with their parents, the ones who are resilient and emotionally healthy because of this robust attachment.
And, yeah, feral isn’t quite the word but they might be wearing pyjamas at the museum.
Whole Life Unschooling or Radical Unschooling will hunt you down
Radical unschooling or whole life unschooling is often where unschoolers end up. It is the realisation that freedom over learning processes is just the START of things! And that actually we can grant freedom over all those things that we are scared of. We can do this because we are connected and we are in a supportive, creative environment.
It took me a long time to become radicalised in my unschooling. I was so indoctrinated into control style parenting that I hung on tightly to some of those boundaries.
But eventually my desire to uphold child rights in the home, my ambitions to respect my children and my attempts to unschool them (and myself) all ganged up together and beat the control paradigm out of me! And when I pulled myself out of those badlands I discovered I was on my way to being a radical unschooler. (Or just an unschooler. Depending on where you are at.)
Ha. Every day is a learning journey though, every day I try to be better and fail and then discover the next day I am actually a little better at being a mama than the day before. (Read here for a day in the life of a family tackling adultism for a glimpse at that!)
*Please note: easing slowly into unschooling is a GREAT IDEA. Wise. Letting go of control, stopping our teaching habits, giving freedom over things you’ve been afraid of, all these things need to be done gradually so we don’t leave our children (and ourselves) in the lurch. If you are currently not unschooling and think you might please read this about gradual change and start by saying yes a little more.*
There are so many resources out there to help us think outside the box about how children learn, and about life with children. I’d love to point you in the direction of some people I have found inspiring….
Rethinking Parenting Fairly new blog with lots of food for thought on unschooling life
Sophie Christophy Another quite new blog covering unschooling in the context of the patriarchy – and other goodness!
Our Muddy Boots– I love this radical, free family life blog.
Sandra Dodd– one of the very first people who ever put into words my instinct for unschooling
Joyfully rejoicing– be challenged and get excited about all the potential!
Unschoolery.com – short snippets of inspo
Unschooling Books I have enjoyed:
Natural Born Learners by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko – my favourite book. Little essays by unschooly peeps, covering the whole miltary-industrial complex our school system has roots in, to the everyday life of unschoolers.
Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune – a nice little book to download, very practical.
How Children Learn by John Holt (anything by John Holt. He is often deemed the founder of unschooling and he has written a lot of books advocating for children.)
Free to Learn by Peter Gray. TOO GOOD.
Unschooling on Youtube
There is absolutely loads of amazing Unschooling resources on youtube. Use my Unschooling playlist as a spring board – filled with unschooled kids and Professors and inspiration:
Do you unschool? What is one thing you think people need to know? And, if you don’t unschool, do you have a question you’ve wanted answering? I have in mind to do an Unschooling FAQ…