Should Unschooled Kids Live Balanced Lives?

My Unschooling Book Series (16)

Although the topic of balance often surfaces in unschooling conversations, I haven’t written anything about it in my unschooling book. Or maybe I have if we’re talking about balance in terms of what our kids learn and how long they spend on one activity. But can balance mean more than that? Today, I’m attempting to put a few thoughts into words. I don’t know if I’ve got this all worked out so I’d appreciate your input!

I often hear stories about parents who are concerned because their kids don’t seem to be living balanced lives. “My child wants to play on the computer all day. She spends hours doing only one thing. I’d like her life to be more balanced.”

Usually, unschoolers are reassuring: Balance is a parent idea, maybe even a school one. Slicing our days up into sections so we can fit in a bit of this and a bit of that is artificial. That’s not how life is. Kids know what they need and want to do. They know how much time they need to do it all. They should be allowed to immerse themselves in their interests and passions without being interrupted.

And I agree. It can be frustrating having to leave an activity just because someone decides you need to do something else. We shouldn’t make kids swap activities when they’re working deeply on something. It breaks their concentration. They don’t need to do a variety of things each day. They can stick with one thing all day if they like. All week, or even all month if that’s what they want to do. I have found that over time, my kids learn about an enormous amount of things. It just doesn’t happen evenly. Interests come and go and then return and then disappear again. Kids learn the skills they need. They just do it in their way and in their time. They don’t need their learning to be timetabled. Yes, we don’t need to worry about balance.

However, perhaps we can think about balance in a different kind of way. To be healthy and productive, I know I need balance in all areas of my life: family, work, health, recreation, spiritual. When one of these is out of balance, I get into a mess. I end up doing nothing properly and I don’t feel very peaceful either.  And maybe it’s the same for our kids.

So how do I encourage my children to live balanced lives?

I can’t say, “Go outside and exercise!” I’ve tried that. It results in a sullen child who digs in her heels and thinks it’s no business of mine whether she exercises or not.

I can’t insist my kids pray with me.

I can’t make them relax and have quiet times, maybe go to bed early if they need to catch up with their sleep.

I can’t make them swap the digital noise of the Internet for the beauty and quiet of nature.

But I do want my kids to be healthy, physically and mentally. I don’t want them to feel stressed and overwhelmed. I’d like all parts of their lives to work together so that they are happy and productive people

So what can I do? I can live a balanced life myself. Be a good example. Exercise. Delight in nature. Have quiet times. Go early to bed when I need to. Turn off my computer. Let my actions reflect what I think is important, and hope what’s important to me will become important to my children. This might happen if we remain connected. Perhaps I can also talk about these things, share what I discover, and invite. And create a general atmosphere of balance in our home.

Maybe when we’re concerned that our kids are living unbalanced lives, we should first examine ourselves. Perhaps we need to be prepared to make some changes in our lives too.

Should we encourage our unschooled children to live balanced lives? Yes, if it’s the right kind of balance. And how do we do it?

I’d love to hear your ideas!

I think this topic leads straight into a discussion about screen time which I was talking about not so long ago. You might remember, my online and offline lives became very unbalanced. I became unsettled and unproductive and unhappy. I knew I had to make some changes. One of those changes was deleting my Facebook account. That was several months ago. Do I regret getting rid of Facebook or did it solve my problems? I might write a post called ‘Life After Facebook’ and tell you more!

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    • Alison
    • November 18, 2017

    This is really helpful, Sue! I think this is an important issue to discuss as it is connected to the (over) management of children’s lives, which is part of a schoolish mindset. I still find myself occasionally getting antsy over the amount of time my girls are involved in an activity and I think it’s time they get up and exercise or at least do something different, though I know this means I have more deschooling to go through!

    I think it is key for us to provide an example and model to follow, as well as keeping connected in two-way conversation and discussion about how we use our time, as you said.

    I would love to know what life after Facebook has been like for you. 🙂

  1. Reply

    “The theory of waves” is what I call this in my own mind. Things – be it life or mindset or time or sunshine or … – are not balanced if you look at a short enough span of time. But over time it will mostly be so. One of my jobs as a parent, being older and wiser (I hope) is to “say when” if somebody is making choices that can ruin life or health.
    In truth it is deeply frustrating to have to stop doing something. The older we get, the easier it becomes. And doing this is considered a virtue by many, the monk is supposed to drop what he is at and go to the chapel and pray or go and eat etc.
    The idea of being a model is fine. Educate yourself and the children will follow. Especially if you discuss your choices and the reasoning with your family.
    We have very few set rules. Meals are compulsory. No mobile devices allowed. Mass is compulsory. Bedtime is set – internet connexion closes down when we go to bed. Of course these rules can be broken but seldom.
    I agree, tell us about life post-fb.

  2. Reply

    I am more and more aware of how different my kids are to me. When I allow them space to explore, wonderful unexpected things abound. But they are not people who skim the surface…I wonder where that comes from? In that we are alike! So they regularly “overdo” it and have to reinstate balance. But over time by see sawing back and forth, they find what works best for them.
    If I tried to impose it, they wouldn’t get it. It would just be a rule.
    Of course much discussion is imperative, and if anything is highly dangerous we step in as a safety net. Often as they age we can let go the reins a little more.
    This is really the work of the teen years. One of mine is deep in this at nearly 16, and one at 12 is just about to start!

  3. Reply

    Alison, Jack and Charlotte, I love all your thoughts! I’ve been trying to find time to chat with you properly but I’m failing. Today, we’re celebrating a birthday and so my online time is limited. Although I’ve managed to write and publish today’s book post, I haven’t had time to reply to comments. I’m sorry! Please know that I value all your input. It’s very helpful!

    • Nancy
    • November 22, 2017

    I sometimes worry that my son is spending too much time in front of his computer. But then I feel at ease when he regularly comes out to tell me new things, ideas, or concepts he has learned, “just from playing a historical video game”. Or many other types for that matter. We go on regular nature walks that he often initiates and that he and I both love. When we pulled him out of the special ed in our counties public school system, we feared if he would still learn, particularly because of his special needs……… we had NOTHING to fear!

    1. Reply


      Your stories of your son are so inspiring. It sounds like he is really happy and thriving. And it sounds like you receive so much joy from being with him, observing and learning together. It’s strange how we can worry so much and then discover we had nothing to fear!

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