Misconceptions: Unschooling Children Will Choose Not to Do Difficult Things


I often run down the main fire trail that winds its way through our local bush. The track descends gently at first, but then drops away so steeply I have to take care not to lose my footing. After I have descended 57 metres from my starting elevation, I turn around, ready to make the return journey. It doesn’t take long for the muscles in my legs to start burning as I climb back up the rock-strewn sandstone track. When I get to the midpoint of the ascent, I always have the same thought: Why did I run down so far? This isn’t fun at all. I’m never doing this again. But of course I do.

I wonder why I put myself through such agony, time after time. It’s not as if there’s anyone watching me. No one would know if I cheated and didn’t descend quite so far. I could stop running at any point and it wouldn’t matter at all. So why do I choose to do something so difficult?

My daughters Imogen, Charlotte, Sophie and Gemma-Rose also run down that steep hill. I don’t make them. Like me, they just want to do it.


Hill running isn’t the only hard thing my girls choose to do. Three times a year, they write novels during the various National Novel Writing Months (NaNoWriMo).They take up the challenge of writing 50 000 words in 30 days. At the beginning of the month, the words flow easily. It’s fun. But as the days pass, writing becomes more and more difficult. There comes a time when they are tempted to give up.


“I can’t wait to do something other than writing,” Sophie says. “I want to take more photos, write some blog posts, work on something different.”


She could give up and fail the challenge. She could choose not to write another word. But she says, “I can’t not finish.” Something pushes her on.


Then there’s music. I never have to push grumbling girls towards the piano to make them practise. Their fingers fly up and down the keyboard, playing scale after scale, over and over again. A certain section of music refuses to sound right so it’s played multiple times. It can be frustrating.  But my girls choose to do it.


My daughters do a lot of things they don’t have to do. They freely choose to do them. Why?


Are my children following my example? Is it all about wanting to be part of ‘The Team’? Or could it have something to do with personality? Perhaps Elvises are just stubborn and don’t know how to give in. Or could there be something else influencing us?


Perhaps we all have an inbuilt need for a challenge. We need goals which will stretch us. We all want that wonderful satisfying feeling which results from hard work.


I think back to our non-unschooling times. In those days, I set the goals for my children. They followed my expectations which were often based on the expectations of others from outside our family. There was no need for my children to seek their own challenges. Maybe there wasn’t time. Whatever the reason, they certainly didn’t choose freely to do difficult things. They were more inclined to avoid work when the day’s learning was over.


Of course there are all kinds of difficult things. Parenting is one of them. What keeps us going when things get tough? It’s love. And children also do things because of love. Maybe love is the greatest motivator of all.


So if no one pushes unschooling children, will they choose to do only what is easy? No. My unschooling children work hard without any pressure from me. I’m sure they’re not unique. I think I can say (even though I’m not sure of the exact reason)…


Unschooling children will choose to do difficult things.


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    • Hwee
    • April 29, 2015

    This is yet another one of those things that people will understand only once they've experienced and lived it. To most, I'd imagine having the trust that their children will choose to take on challenging things on their own accord is akin to a leap of faith, which most would deem "too risky". Most people like safety in numbers, which usually means taking the well-trodden, very predictable, not necessarily the most exciting, path. 🙂

    1. Reply


      Can we let go long enough to see how unschooling children actually learn? If it doesn't happen quickly enough, we grab hold of the reins again. Yes, it's too risky to allow children to have so much freedom. Or so it can seem. Most people don't get to experience what we are talking about. I think you are right. We do need to live it to understand. I often wonder why people take the safe, well-trodden path especially when they know things aren't right or could be better. Safety in numbers? Yes, not everyone wants to be the one standing out. What if it all went wrong and people started pointing the finger. Too risky!

      Of course my questions aren't directed to you, Hwee. I'm just mulling over your words. I know you understand!

  1. Reply

    This series on homeschooling misconceptions is good. I do not comment on every chapter, but I read – avidly even, and see that I experience exactly the same things here. But Spring is around, and all the sunlit hours are spent planting or weeding, and then there's laundry and a bit of cleaning – after 6 gardening people – left for the few 🙂 dark hours. Keep it coming.

    1. Reply


      You are always busy, working and learning new things. I am not surprised the rest of your family is the same. I can just imagine you all in the garden. I bet everything is growing quickly and there's lots to do!

      Thank you so much for reading my series. I am encouraged to keep writing. I have at least 2 more misconceptions I'd like to tackle. I love how my non-homeschooling friends read my posts. Regardless of the method of education, we still have a lot we can share!

  2. Reply

    So true! My children speak eight languages (4 fluently) and have the desire to learn more. They also play the piano. Right now they are 11, 9 & 9 and people are shocked to hear that. They're self taught artist and can tell you all about paintings and the symphony. I think it's easier for them as unschoolers to learn more because they're not constantly being compaired to what "the school system" or "society" says they should be.

    1. Reply

      The Peaceful Homemaker,

      Your children speak 8 languages? Wow! That is very impressive. I'd love to know more. I wonder if you would consider writing a blog post about this. Yes, your unschoolers are certainly motivated to work hard. Maybe unschooling children keep working because they love what they are doing. And yes, they don't realise they are going far beyond what would be expected if they were in school.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your children's story.

  3. Reply

    I am also really enjoying this series. I actually think that a lot of adults try to avoid difficult things, so it's hard for them to imagine people doing them willingly. I read a study a while back looking at how the school rewards not taking chances or trying harder things that may mess up your "perfect" scores.

    I wonder if we (societally) have inadvertently discouraged people's natural desire to rise to challenges. It's such a gift to offer another way to our children.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes! Your comment is thought provoking indeed! Perfect scores… I've been reading similar things about creativity and success. People tend to take the safe, secure pathway instead of the creative one for fear of failure.

      I also think we all started with a natural desire for challenges. It's easy to see this in young children. Somewhere along the way, it does seem to disappear from many people. That's sad. A gift for our children? Yes!

  4. Reply

    Learning by example is one way that children learn, I believe. So, adult role models are very important from the beginning. They can make a difference in whether children choose to continue onward with a tough challenge or to give it up, or to take the rough road rather than the easy one. I think taking the road of unschooling is a tough, challenging one.

    1. Reply


      Imogen and I were talking about the importance of adult role models the other day. We agreed that a good example can indeed inspire children to great things. The amount of work needed to fulfil a challenge doesn't seem to matter. Unschooling does involve a lot of work (contrary to what many people believe!) but it's very rewarding and satisfying. It's a good life!

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