Encouraging Children So They Get Excited About Learning

We never made a conscious decision to unschool. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey kids, let’s give unschooling a go.” No, over a long period of time I gradually threw out all that wasn’t working for us until we found a way of homeschooling that felt right. We ended up ‘doing our own thing’. It was a long time before we realised other people were homeschooling in a similar way, and there was actually a name for what we were doing: unschooling.

So I guess we never had a typical transition from structured homeschooling to unschooling. For us, everything happened very gradually and naturally. But let’s imagine…

“I’ve decided we’re going to try unschooling,” I say with a bright smile. My children look at me rather blankly. Unschool? What’s that?

“You can choose what you want to learn about, follow your own interests.” More blank looks. They seem confused. “So what do you want to learn about?” I ask.

I’d been hoping everyone would rattle off a long list of things they’re desperate to know more about. I’d imagined them diving into their books, grabbing their pencils, asking questions… being excited. But this isn’t happening. I sigh.

I wonder if this scenario ever happens when homeschoolers decide to become unschoolers. Does it take kids a while to adjust to a new way of doing things? Do they need some encouragement to start following their interests? Does it take time for trust to build up between parents and children?
Unschooling really is a whole new way of looking at things. It affects the way we live our lives. What do you think? I don’t mind at all if you tell me I’ve assessed the situation wrongly.

So what can we do to make the transition from structured homeschooling to unschooling easier? Any ideas? Perhaps we can start by discussing the question: “What do you want to learn about?” (I’m sure most of us have asked our children this at some time or other.)

Could that question be too confrontational? It might sound like we are applying pressure: “Come on! You’ve got to learn something!” Maybe instead of jumping in with questions, we could begin by relaxing. We could just enjoy being with our children: watch a few movies, read some books together, play some games, go on a few outings, do some craft, take lots of  time to talk… have some fun…. concentrate on building up our relationships. I know my relationships suffered when we were doing structured homeschooling. I often put other people’s expectations ahead of my children which resulted in a lot of hurt.

Maybe we could do all those things there was never time to do when we were trying to keep up with our homeschool plans. Do you know the things I’m
talking about? All the interesting, enjoyable things we promised our children we’d get around to doing once the ‘real’ work of the day had been completed. And never did.

I’ve been talking about doing things with our kids. Could it be important that parents get excited, show they enjoy learning, share their own passions, be a great example? There will come a time when kids will want to go off and learn by themselves. But that might not happen for a while. Even after years of unschooling, my younger daughters love learning with me by their side, not because they need my help but because they enjoy sharing the learning experience.

I’m keeping this short in the hope other people will add their own ideas. By sharing we can help each other. So…

Structured homeschooling children might have got used to someone else feeding them knowledge. How do we encourage them to get excited about their own learning so they want to follow their own interests?

If you have written any blog posts on this topic, please feel welcome to add links in the comments.

Whenever we offer to watch a  movie or read a book or take our children somewhere, we are strewing. We are enriching our children’s world, showing them what is possible, giving them ideas. Of course, they might reject our offerings. This brings me to the question:

“What if my kids just choose to sit and watch TV or play computer games?”

I’m hoping someone has experience with that because I haven’t been in that situation. But I do have a few ideas…

Can we talk about that next time?

Image: Stroll down to the park. Take a camera. Feel the sunshine. Enjoy. Relax. Our kids are learning.

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  1. Reply

    We're in the transitional period now. I'm still trying to relax and let go of my (and other's) expectations to give the kids more freedom to follow their passions.
    So, what I've found important thus far is to support them in what they want to do. To recognise that unschooling, though more relaxed is not a licence for Mum to put her feet up – Mum has to be active in providing opportunities and support.
    Another thing I've learned while supporting their passions is to accept that some interests are fleeting. Once again, i have to let go of where I hoped or expected an interest to lead and recognise that interests or passions don't have to be long lasting.
    We have some problems with boredom, but I think that's the time of year as well – in Lent we don't generally have movies or video games during the week. Gemma has been really enjoying a new, fun maths game just purchased, and that is perfectly acceptable to me.
    Rather than asking "what do you want to learn" I have been asking things like "any plans for tomorrow?" and "anything you want to do today?" to at least get them thinking about having some goals.
    I'm sort of surprised, after 9 years of traditional homeschooling (for the eldest at least) how well they have transitioned. There is a much more relaxed feel in our home and I love the feeling of freedom. Yesterday the children spent most of the day planning a play that they have now started to film. I'm not allowed to have anything to do with it, as they want to stage it for us on Sunday. Costumes and props have been flying about and I've heard so many giggles behind closed doors.
    Also yesterday, after dental appointments for the girls we went shopping for craft supplies and I was aware of how we took our time, discussing in the shop what we would make and picking out new materials that inspired new ideas. Usually, I'd rush in and out, having to get back home to do schooling and everything else that needs to be done in a day. I feel so blessed that they have the time to do these things 🙂

    1. Reply


      I agree with you about mothers not being able to put their feet up. Contrary to some people's beliefs, unschooling isn't a lazy way of homeschooling. It can be hard work! Oh but so rewarding!

      Thank you so much for giving us an idea of what your days are like. I love watching children engrossed in a big project. I bet your kids are really enjoying planning their play. Children can do so many amazing things now we have the Internet and digital cameras. So many opportunities!

      It sounds like you are all enjoying your new lifestyle immensely! Thank you for sharing.

    • amy
    • March 14, 2014

    Oh this is such a good post sue! Live with our children, enjoy our children, yes. Your advice is so simple, so good. I am so grateful for you and your experiences. Xx

    1. Reply


      Simple and good… Thank you! Maybe that's the way unschooling should be. Earlier I was reading an article you wrote and posted on the Christian Unschooling website. I love it! I saw all the comments about screen time. Perhaps I could post a link to your article in my next post. It would be very relevant. Thank you for stopping by!

      • amy
      • March 14, 2014

      For sure, that would be great! And I can't wait to hear what you have to say about screens.

    2. Reply


      Thank you! I don't think I have anything new to say about screen time but it will be an interesting topic to discuss.

  2. Reply

    I always love these posts Sue. Whilst I am too scared to unschool, these posts have helped me "lighten up" and move away from some of the traditional ways of schooling and find more of a happy balance in our little homeschool. Thank you lovely friend.

    1. Reply


      I love how we can all do what we feel comfortable with and still be supportive and loving friends, despite our differences. Thank you for always making me smile. Your friendship is a gift.

    • Hwee
    • March 14, 2014

    Our transition came more from my son's need for autonomy, and hence increasing resistance to the structured homeschooling we had been doing for two years. The need for change came from him, rather than from me, so I see it as him responding to his natural way of learning (which felt unnatural to me since I was very comfortable with providing structures). I didn't let go of the structures immediately, and kept thinking and slowly applying the process of letting go, all the while observing how my son was responding and adjusting my own expectations along the way. It also helps that I grew more confident with my son's ability to acquire knowledge in a way that is unfamiliar to me and dissimilar to my way of learning. It took me about two years of very gradual transition to get to where we are now, i.e. not using any formal curriculum. Below are the links to the related posts I wrote about this during the transition period (in chronological order):
    1) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/award-for-me.html
    2) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/spicing-up-math.html
    3) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/time-to-pause-and-rethink.html
    4) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/few-things-i-have-learnt-recently.html
    5) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/unschooled-week-war-and-peace-part-1-of.html
    6) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/unschooled-week-war-and-peace-part-2-of.html
    7) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/other-side-of-story.html
    8) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-need-for-flexibility-in-education.html
    9) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/learning-to-be-free.html
    10) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/inner-learning-and-synthesis.html
    11) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/when-mum-gets-off-my-case.html
    12) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/some-things-to-think-about.html
    13) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/our-daily-schedule-or-lack-thereof.html
    14) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/when-you-give-boy-tin-geometry-set.html
    15) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/by-invitation-only.html
    16) http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/lighting-his-own-fire.html

    1. Reply


      It must have been difficult putting aside what you feel comfortable doing to ensure you are fulfilling your son's needs. Our children really do make us think and we find ourselves doing all kinds of things we never imagined we'd do. At least that's what I've experienced!

      I'd love to become better acquainted with your homeschooling story. Thank you so much for posting your 'transition to unschooling' links. I'm sure there are others who will also benefit from reading about your experience.

      • Hwee
      • March 15, 2014

      Absolutely! I often say that I wouldn't be doing half of the things that I do now if it were not for my son! 🙂

  3. Reply

    I was the mother that you just described- I still am at times. This is something I struggle with because my children and I are all so used to me being the navigator. I'm slowly learning to let go, though, and I 've written quite a bit about that. The most relevant posts are here:

    I can't wait til you bring up screen time because that's an area I've struggled with. I posted about that here

    Thank you so much of being a good example of what unschooling actually is. You really are a mentor to me.

    1. Reply


      I imagine it takes both parents and children time to adjust to a new way of life. We learn something with every struggle and move forwards gradually. I think that is exciting, despite the difficulties.

      Thank you so much for posting your links! I haven't read the first post but I do remember how popular the second one was when you posted it.

      Screen time? This seems to be one of the biggest concerns of new unschoolers. So many opinions out there about this. It should be an interesting discussion!

      I guess I'd better go and start writing the next post. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. I appreciate it very much!

  4. Reply

    Dear Sue, I have quickly read through both posts on unschooling. My comment could be as long as your post or longer… I will try to keep it short. Since we started (consiously) homeschooling I've been swaying between homeschooling and unschooling. Not knowing what is right, who to listen to. But there is one thing, I do not like labels. So where did I finally get now? I think the closest expresion I can get is to repeat your words: we are "doing our own thing". We are learning and it is becoming more real and authentic. It is a journey with no end in sight. BTW you are one of my inspirations on this journey!

    1. Reply


      Labels are difficult. When they are used to separate people by excluding them (you're not like us so you don't belong), I hate them. But they can be good when they lead us to like-minded people who can support and encourage us. We sometimes need some reassurance we aren't alone. When we were 'doing our own thing', I often felt alone and actually never talked about how we were homeschooling in case we were criticised. So saying all of that, even when we have adopted a certain label, this doesn't mean we all have to be exactly the same. Unschoolers, in particular, seem to have a big problem accepting variations in methods. Are we unschoolers? Do other people think we are? Perhaps it's best if we stay quiet and not mention we are unschooling for fear someone will tell us we are doing it all wrong. It can take courage to actually come out and say, "We're unschoolers!"

      A journey with no end in sight… Oh yes! That's what makes it so exciting. We are learning all the time.

      Thank you for your kind words. btw, I can't wait to read your book!

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