Unschooling and Trust

I have been struggling with this post for a while now, and wondering why I’m having so much trouble finding the right words. And I have decided it’s the language. I want to write a story from a personal point of view, like I normally do. And I can’t. We had such a gradual transition to unschooling, I didn’t really face the issues I want to write about. So why write about them? Shouldn’t I leave this topic to someone else? Maybe. Or I could start the conversation, share some ideas and ask you to add your experiences. Is that okay?

We have been discussing the transition from structured homeschooling to unschooling. Today I thought we might talk about trust. Now that we’re not directing our children’s learning, do we believe they will learn what they need to know in their own time, without us interfering? Do we trust our kids? Or deep down, do we still have certain expectations? Perhaps if they’re not being fulfilled we will start to doubt what we’re doing.
So what can we do? How do we learn to trust our children and let go completely?
Perhaps we have to be convinced unschooling actually ‘works’, though I hate the word ‘works’. To me unschooling isn’t about giving a child the best educational advantage we can. It’s not about getting high grades and being accepted into university. It’s not just an alternative to other homeschooling methods. Rather it’s a way of life that nurtures and respects children so they become the people they are meant to be. We don’t get to the end of unschooling and congratulate ourselves because it ‘worked’. The fact is we don’t get to the end of unschooling. It’s a life process.
Anyway, back to being convinced…  Perhaps we need to do a lot of reading of books and blogs and forums, immerse ourselves in unschooling. We can read other people’s stories, see unschooling in action, find kindred spirits who will support and encourage us. Of course there are some sites we should definitely avoid. You’ll come across lots of people who’ll tell you unschooling is an irresponsible and lazy thing to do. Just Google those words. Or perhaps not. They’re wrong but their words might creep into our heads and make us doubt.
How do I know these people are wrong? Usually they haven’t tried unschooling for themselves, or given it a fair go. They don’t really understand what it’s all about. But they think they do. They have strong opinions which they can’t back up with any practical experience. I always look at the language a writer uses. Is it factual or mere opinion, well-balanced or emotional? I try to find out a little about the author’s background. Is there a particular reason they want to convince us unschooling isn’t the way to go? (Of course no one can sell curricula to unschoolers.) More often, I just click off a negative site and go somewhere else. Because there’s plenty of good news stories elsewhere, written by people who really understand the principles of unschooling.
If we are convinced that children can be trusted, perhaps the next step is deciding whether we are being called to do it. For us homeschooling wasn’t working. We were not happy. My relationships with my children were suffering. When I look back, I am grateful we found our way to unschooling. I am guessing that most people who are transitioning to unschooling weren’t happy with their previous situation. They are looking for something better. If everything was working, why change?
But still, it’s a big step. We might feel it’s better to stay with what we know, stick with the crowd, instead of setting off into the relatively unknown. When doubts arise, structured homeschooling can look like a safer option. We can convince ourselves that all the pain and sacrifice we were experiencing were just an inevitable part of a parent’s duty. Isn’t anything worth doing, worth the pain? Don’t we have to homeschool through the tough times as well as the good? Perhaps we bailed out too early. We just have to knuckle down and do what God expects of us, right? We have no choice.
But we do have a choice. I honestly don’t think God intends for us to suffer while homeschooling. We will inevitably suffer in life but we don’t have to invite it in. We need strong joyful families in order to withstand the battles of life and remain faithful. If there is a better way for our family, maybe God wants us to choose it. Could He want us to trust?
Trust? Isn’t this what God wants everyone to do every day? We have to live in the moment, take one day at a time, do our best but leave the future to God who will always look after us. He has a plan for each and every one of us, our children included.  I think if we are doing what God wants us to do, He will ensure we are successful.
And I do believe that God wants me to unschool our children. It is such a loving, respectful and joyful way of life, in tune with every aspect of Christian life. I have learnt so much about love while we have been unschooling. And I’m still learning. The treasures are continually being revealed. I only have to pull one of my girls onto my knee and hug her tight to know I am doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. What is more important than love?
Okay, so we believe in the principles of unschooling. We feel we are being called to do it. We have knowledge and friends to support us. But occasionally the thought goes through our heads: “Are they really learning anything?” Now I hate my records book. I find it an intrusion on my day and my life in general. I don’t like recording all the learning experiences of my children. But even if I don’t need evidence my kids are learning, the educational authorities are demanding it, so the record book is here to stay.
But if I do get out my book and flip through the pages, I can definitely see my children are learning. Maybe detailed records, which we can look back on whenever we are feeling insecure, will help. And these records don’t necessarily need to contain evidence of projects and essays. We can observe so much just by looking, listening and talking to our children.

I don’t know if any of that is at all helpful. But it might start us thinking and someone else may have some better ideas.

Before I finish, I’ll list a few books which you might find interesting and helpful.
Any book by John Holt
A Little way of Homeschooling: 13 Families Discover Catholic Unschooling by Suzie Andres
I Believe in Love by Fr Jean d’Elbee

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I know there are a lot of other wonderful resources. Perhaps you can mention your own favourites in the comments.And if you have any other questions related to this conversation, I’d be happy to give it some thought and write an appropriate post.

Images: Joy and love: Isn’t that what it’s all about?


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    • Hwee
    • March 18, 2014

    Trust is a difficult one to answer. I don't think I'm in the category of being able to fully let go in terms of directing my son's education. Ours is more like, I suggest a topic and see whether my son is interested, or my son suggests something and I build it into our learning schedule. I often have period of panic when I think my son is not "keeping up" with whatever standard I happen to be affected by at that moment, e.g public school standard, the next homeschooled child, whatever. I realise that these are my own insecurities raising their heads, but realising what they are doesn't lessen my own insecurities about what I'm doing or not doing in my homeschool.

    I guess a big part of that is my somehow looking for a kind of guarantee that I'm on the right track, but of course no such guarantee exists, even in the public school system. It takes a lot of self-assurance to listen to our instincts about what's right for our children, especially when the path we're taking seems to 'off-the-beaten track'. I often wonder whether my lack of courage to follow my instincts all the way through without suffering from bouts of "panic attacks" (about my homeschooling provision) is due to my own experience of having spent too many years being over-schooled in various educational institutions.

    1. Reply


      I have found my own experiences have also shaped the way I feel about homeschooling/ unschooling. I didn't enjoy school and I remember very little of what I studied. It all seems like rather a waste of time to me. I also didn't have enough time to explore different interests. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got to the end of my school years. Not that this has much to do with trust, but it does contribute to my desire to unschool.

      It's a pity trust isn't something we can order up! I think it gradually grows but we can encourage it along, and it increases over time when we see the results of unschooling. I have a big advantage. I have 4 children who have 'graduated' from homeschooling. I know they can 'keep up' with their school peers. Unlike me, other people might be in the situation where they are wondering if it will all work out. Yes, there are no guarantees. But then again, we can usually tell we are on the right pathway if our children are happy and thriving, and there is a general atmosphere of love and joy. To me that s much more important than assessing academic achievements. Learning happens much better if the atmosphere is right.

      When I read your blog posts, Hwee, I get the impression your son is getting a brilliant education. You seem to have found a way of doing things that suits your son, even if you admit to insecurities.

      Thank you so much for sharing.

      • Hwee
      • March 19, 2014

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for your encouragment, Sue. I really appreciate it. You're right: Learning happens much better if the atmosphere is right. My son is a noticeably happy boy, so even if all else fails, at the very least I've raised him to be happy within himself. 🙂

    2. Reply


      I think that raising children so they are happy within themselves is the greatest gift we can give our children. If we do that, everything else will fall into place.

  1. Reply

    This is an AMAZING post. Well done! Thanks for your words…and love 🙂

    1. Reply


      Thank you! It was kind of you to stop by. I appreciate it.

  2. Reply

    I detest our records book, as well. I think it really devalues what my children are actually doing. The state wants everything broken down neatly into subjects, but life isn't really like that. We don't go about our day breaking things down into subjects, and having to do this for four kids (who are old enough to be registered), it's so exhausting. I love unschooling, but this aspect of it just sucks the fun out of it. Unfortunately, I don't think the authorities will ever get that.

    1. Reply


      I have always found it frustrating having to record our life as individual subjects. But it's necessary if we want to be registered as homeschoolers. My children explore life. My job is to translate that into the right words for the educational authorities. I have a post planned out about my side-bar labels. Why do I label them according to subject when we are unschoolers? Because parents have to be clever and do lots of juggling of words so our children have the freedom to learn as they want and need to. I agree that records suck the fun out of unschooling, but only for parents. I think it's possible for kids to get on with their lives if we are willing to bear the behind the scenes work. I will expand when I get a free moment to write the post!

    • Eva
    • March 19, 2014

    I thought your last two book recommendations look interesting. I will have to look them up. I am a Waldorf homeschooler at heart, but I do think that almost every homeschooler also has unschooling elements.

    1. Reply


      The last two books would be of interest to everyone whether unschooling or not. They are two of my favourite books and I return to them again and again.

      "… almost every homeschooler also has unschooling elements." Oh yes! We all learn from life regardless of the homeschooling method we have consciously chosen. I don't know much about Waldorf although we have a Waldorf school near us, and I have seen Waldorf dolls. I will have to do some research!

      • Eva
      • March 30, 2014

      I worked in a Waldorf kindergarten while studying to become a teacher. That was such a wonderful time for me.

  3. Reply


    Oh yes, sometimes God keeps on sending us the same message until we start listening. Perhaps you are indeed intended to unschool. I hope so! It's a very joyful way of living. I'd love to share unschooling with you.

    What to do? I didn't intend to unschool as you probably remember from reading my posts. I just threw out what wasn't working, bit by bit, until we arrived, I wonder if you could do the same. Could you make a list of what isn't working for you and gradually let go of each thing? For example, if your kids hate doing something in particular. Let it go. Ask them what they'd like to do instead. Nothing is ever as important as we might at first imagine. Doing nothing feels wrong. But taking a break and relaxing by watching a few movies, going on some outings, reading books together, talking… this isn't nothing. It's time well spent recovering from any stress, taking time to be with each other, time to listen and observe and just enjoy life. We won't ruin our kids lives by relaxing and giving unschooling a go for a few months.

    Talking of ruining our kids' lives, I am reminded of this post:
    Even the worst case scenario isn't as bad as we might imagine.

    Please keep coming back. I'd enjoy chatting with you. I haven't got all the answers but if you'd like to talk mother-to-mother, I am always here. I'd consider it a privilege and pleasure to be a mentor.

    Let's chat again soon!

  4. Reply

    Sue, it's funny about this post. I read it when I first came to your blog, and then I moved on and read many other things here. But now when I begin to type in the blog name in the URL, this particular post always seems to come up…it's stuck in my computer, rather than your "home" page. So I get a little frustrated when always, always pops up. Not that I don't love the smiling picture of your big boy and his little sister–I do! But you know what I mean. It isn't what I meant to grab.

    So today I came here because I do feel that unschooling is what I need to be doing…only I feel so lost in how to "do" it. I know how to plan curriculum, buy books, schedule subjects. What I don't know how to do is let go. Do I do nothing? Do I do something? What do I do? Naturally I turned to you to find out, and yet again…the smiling kids and that word "trust". Blargh! I think you're getting the point now, but it took me a while to see that maybe I always land on this page for a larger reason. Maybe I need to re-read what you said here. And so I did, and again you had just the right words. You didn't solve my problems of what do do, but you helped me see the larger picture so I can calm down and breathe. God has a good sense of humor.

    Thanks again. And I may be back tomorrow, and the next day. Maybe a few months from now I'll have forgotten this comment and will write something similar to you. I think I'll be relying on you as my virtual mentor for a while. I hope you are up to the challenge! ; )

  5. Reply

    I read the link you shared. I think this quote sums it up: "Doing something radically different with something that could affect your kid's future life means you're taking a huge risk with a potentially huge downside, right?" That is my big fear, that I'll screw up their life, their ability to get into college.

    What you said about doing nothing was well put. Right now we are on summer break, so we are doing "nothing" in some respects. We aren't doing "school" anyway. I suppose I look at what we're doing now and wonder if this is what our new school would look like? I tend to not include my kids in what I'm doing. I garden alone, I clean alone. We read together, but that often falls after the chores get done. I struggle to know how to do all these things more inclusively with my family. Doesn't that sound pathetic–I need to learn to be with my family, even though I am with them 24/7. : (

    I don't know that anything in particular isn't working, other than (as you said) our relationships are suffering. That's what's not working. We can enjoy reading and discussing the Iliad together, yet when I'm the "teacher" and making demands about studying for an Iliad exam, things go downhill.

    I keep reading and re-reading. I sometimes thing I should copy down quotes on post-it notes and stick them all over my house as reminders and reassurances. Otherwise, what I read today goes out of my head by tomorrow. I feel reassured for a moment, then find myself fretting again the next day. Thanks for your kind encouragements– mom-to-mom.

    1. Reply


      It's good to hear from you again. Mom-to-mom encourgement… yes. Homeschooling can be difficult at times. It can be good to talk things over, ponder out loud, share feelings…

      I can see you are worried about making the wrong decision. Do you feel it's a burden on your shoulders alone? I wonder if you could involve your children in the unschooling discussion, talk about the unschooling books and blogs you've been reading, ask their opinions, talk about what they hope to do in the future and how they will get there… (Perhaps they don't know and just need time and space to explore ideas.)

      You could hunt down a copy of Grace LLewellyn's book, 'The Teenage Liberation Handbook.'


      There are lots of ideas in this book to encourage teenagers to take control of their own lives and education.

      Have you tried inviting your kids to join you when you're doing something like gardening? Or perhaps you could show an interest in what they like doing. Do you have any interests the whole family enjoys doing together? I guess it takes time to get used to new ways of doing things.

      Maybe such things as Illiad exams aren't as important as your relationship with your children. Exams can spoil the enjoyment of learning. I wonder if you feel able to take off your teacher hat and become a fellow learner with your children. Just share things and concentrate on enjoying the learning for its own sake, rather than doing it for a particular purpose.

      There are some great books and articles about unschooling. Maybe you could start a journal, collecting together all those great quotes you have found, and adding your thoughts, and even your worries. You might like to jot down your observations of your own children. You could even start a blog, making it private if you aren't ready to share your unschooling journey with the world. I have always found writing helps me to process my thoughts. It's also good to look back and realise how far I've come.

      Have you read the last two books on the book list in this post? They were a great help to me when it came to trusting God and living in the moment, instead of worrying about the future.

      Lynne, I've just written a few suggestions as they've appeared in my head. Please ignore them if they aren't appropriate!

      Keep reading and trusting and most of all, loving!

    2. Reply

      I have read Abandonment to Divine Providence. It took me a long while, reading just a page or so a day, but for a year or more it was my "daily bread". I think every time I spoke I was quoting from it, that's how good it was for me. I also read a couple of others that centered on trust lately (Diary of St. Faustina, Diary of Elisabeth Leseur). So it all goes in the hatch, but it doesn't all "take" if you know what I mean. I'd love to get the other on St. Terese. I know it's one Suzy Andres recommends highly.

      No, any exams are not as important as relationships. That's why I know there must be a change. I think the process of doing things differently will just take time. Yesterday I felt I had an answer to prayer. I found some books I'm excited about reading with the kids (math books, no less). Math is one thing I think I can't quite let go of, so I'm hoping that using these books will help us stick with math, yet do it in a way that is fun and warm, learning together.

      I did ask my 10 yr old, "If you could study anything at all, what would you choose?" She found this a hard question, and gave me a look like, "What do you mean?" If someone asked me that, I suppose I'd be stumped too, at first. It's sort of too big to process in a moment. I keep thinking that maybe she'll just read her same five Nancy Drew books over and over all year long. : ) But I bet she'll find something to latch on to. For a while she's wanted piano lessons, so I'll make an effort to work that out. I also found an accordion teacher, so maybe we'll try that for kicks, too. And I also had the idea to bring in some Spanish materials. I think they'd have fun with that, done in a very casual, non-workbookish way. So maybe these are a few starting points. Much better than "nothing"!

      My library doesn't have that particular book by Grace Llewellyn, though I've read a couple of others. Maybe I'll have to request they get it on loan.

      Thank you for all your suggestions. I feel I've hogged your time. I do appreciate each response.

    3. Reply


      You haven't hogged my time at all. I enjoy chatting with you!

      If you can get a copy of the St Therese book, I know you will like it very much. There are a lot of books written about St Therese but this is my favourite. I keep rereading it. So much in it to ponder. Like you, sometimes it doesn't all 'stick', that's why I keep going back to the beginning of the book and reading it again. It is soaking in and becoming part of me, a little at a time.

      I think you are on the right track! Your excitement over the books might be picked up by your children. Yes, we have to be excited about learning!

      I understood your ten year old daughter's response completely. Yes, it's hard to come up with an answer on the spot. I'd feel under pressure too. Observing and then offering things that could be of interest may work better. It sounds like you're already doing this. An accordion teacher? Wow! That sounds like fun. Sophie has been listening to lots of cello music and asked if she can learn that instrument. I'll have to investigate. I am not musical at all but I do love seeing my children involved with their music.

      Please stop by again soon. I'd love to hear how you're going!

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