Approaching Unschooling From Different Directions


My Unschooling Book Series (13)

Today, I’m sharing a few thoughts about starting unschooling which I hope to expand and polish up.

I know a lot of parents research unschooling before deciding that they’re going to give it a go with their families. Do they announce this intention to their children? “We’re going to unschool. This means you can follow your interests. You can learn about anything you want.”

And I wonder what happens. Do the children eagerly make lists of things they’d like to learn about? Or do they look blankly at their parents as if they have no idea what they’d like to do? If children don’t seem excited, are their parents disappointed? Will they think unschooling won’t work, at least not for their kids?

Perhaps children need time to adjust to a new way of doing things. After being told what to learn and how to learn it, it might be hard at first for kids to be in control. Maybe they need guidance. Parents might have to show them some of the possibilities. Make some suggestions. Strew some learning experiences in front of them. Will parents also need to get excited and be a good example of learning themselves?

Even though parents might be impatient for their children to grab the reins of their education and start doing ‘amazing’ things, maybe the goal of the early weeks of unschooling is to improve family relationships. If parents are contemplating unschooling it could be because homeschooling hasn’t been working. Relationships might be strained. Perhaps families need time together, just enjoying each other. They could do such things as watch a few movies, read some books, go on outings and picnics, relax and talk about anything and everything. Just be a family without any pressure or expectations. Once relationships are repaired, trust can begin to grow between children and parents….

… We never made a conscious decision to unschool. Unlike some parents, I didn’t announce we were going to try unschooling. We arrived at unschooling and didn’t even realise it for quite some time. So how did we get here? I knew we weren’t happy with the way we were homeschooling, so I started making changes. I threw out all the things that weren’t working for us, one by one. For example, I stopped making my children produce work that they weren’t interested in but would impress the homeschool registration visitor. I started listening to my kids rather than to (unimportant) people from outside the family. Eventually, we reached a place that felt just right for us. We lived life ‘doing our own thing’ which, I found out later, was actually unschooling. Making changes in a gradual way meant that we had lots of time to adjust. And because I wasn’t thinking about unschooling, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing: “If we’re going to unschool, we’ll have to do this… and that…” There was no danger we were going to fail.

It seems to me that there are at least two different approaches to beginning unschooling. We could try and fit our family into the unschooling framework: We’re going to try unschooling. And so this is what we have to do. Or we could do the opposite: Start with the family and eliminate, over a period of time, everything that’s preventing us from living a close, happy, and productive life together. Stop doing all the things that are causing conflict and getting in the way of us becoming the people we are meant to be. By doing this, we will probably arrive at unschooling in a natural way.

Of course, we arrived at unschooling because we made changes in our lives which were in line with the principles of unschooling. By observing our kids, and thinking carefully about what was important and what we wanted for our family, we’d worked these principles out for ourselves. If we hadn’t initially rejected the idea of unschooling, we might have done more research in order to understand it better, and then we might have followed the same path, making changes one by one as we became more comfortable and confident with the idea of unschooling. The end result would have been the same. Perhaps this is exactly what some families do.

If we take the gradual approach, do we have more chance of arriving at the place which is most appropriate for us?

So how did you arrive at unschooling? Did you dive in with both feet? Or did you take a gradual approach? Maybe you’re still letting go of old ideas as you become more comfortable with new ones? Perhaps the perfect way to start unschooling is the one that works for our family. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we get here, as long as we arrive!

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  1. Reply

    We took the gradual approach also. It started with allowing my children to skip certain lessons in their workbooks. We started doing more of what interested the kids and more projects. I was tired and having a hard time during my pregnancy(expecting my 6th) so we just enjoyed the projects instead of having a school style worksheet or writing assignment tied to them. We ran into some trouble with screen time. I think the best for us right now is no screen time until 2pm. I have lots of exceptions but we were having trouble with mindless games and a little too much Minecraft. It’s given the kids a chance to develop other interests.

    1. Reply


      Yes, sometimes it’s the circumstances around us which prompt us to make changes. I also reassessed what we were doing when we had babies in the family. Screen time is a tricky topic. Perhaps we have to do what we feel most comfortable with even if it’s not strictly unschooling. Times and children change and so do our thoughts and ideas. I guess the most important thing is to keep assessing what we’re doing to make sure our kids’ changing needs are always being met.

    • Anna
    • November 22, 2017

    We arrived through crisis. I think we feel happy to be unschooling. It’s given us breathing space, rest, fun in the midst ongoing stress.
    It feels right to be here but I worry about reporting. Jumping hoops for someone else’s expectations. People who’d know us and don’t know what we’re going through.
    We will just have to jump hoops and cross that bridge when we get to it.
    I do find myself second guessing the process but that’s because I’m still comparing what we do to what school does.
    Lovely post Sue.

    1. Reply


      Maybe unschooling gives us the strong family unit we need so that when life gets difficult, we can pull together, support and love each other and somehow manage to keep going. We have enough external battles to deal with without battling within the family over education. Of course, our kids are getting a great education while unschooling even if it doesn’t look exactly like the one the education authorities have in mind. Yes, jumping through hoops in order to satisfy registration requirements is frustrating. I hope you were able to get some good suggestions from unschoolers in your state.

      It’s good to chat. xxx

    • Anonymous
    • January 24, 2018

    What I sadly realized is that for years I have tried to force my own education interests on my kids, and in the process have set-up power struggles that have caused rifts in my relationships with my children.
    Unschooling has helped me reconnect with my family. It’s lovely. So lovely.
    I can’t tell you what a breath of fresh air your blog has been for me. I somehow doubt that you and I share similar temperaments — I yell so much and imagine you to be so calm and patient all the time. I have despaired of how quickly the years have gone, and that I don’t have much time left to model unconditional love to my family.
    But better late than never!
    Thank you again for your amazing blog.

    1. Reply


      You sound so happy to have found unschooling. So lovely? Oh yes!

      Calm and patient? Some years ago, that would never have seemed possible. I was a dragon mother who breathed fire over all her children. Maybe you’ve read some of my dragon mother stories? But I’m so grateful that I’m no longer that person. I do still have an occasional wobbly moment when I fail to be calm and patient. Yes, I’m not perfect. But that’s okay. My kids keep loving me regardless and I keep trying to be a better person. Unconditional love is so powerful, isn’t it? When my kids love me regardless of my mistakes, I just want to be the best mother in the world.

      Sometimes I wish I could go back and fix up all my mistakes. I’d have liked to have been a better mother to my older children. But, of course, we can’t go back in time. Maybe we remember those mistakes more than our children do. These days, I’m trying to show unconditional love to my adult children as well as the younger ones. I have a great relationship with them. I really enjoy their company and the way they want to include me in their lives. It’s defintely never too late!

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my blog. I’m glad you stopped by to chat. Maybe we’ll chat again another day?

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