Fall is in full swing around here and it's hard not to notice the changes. Friends and neighbors that we played with all summer have long disappeared back into school rooms. Well meaning adults in the community are constantly asking my kids why they're not in school. Even though we live in a place where homeschooling is not necessarily an unusual choice, we are reminded daily of our unique choice to live life without school.
Fall doesn't mean back to school or back to homeschool classes for us. As unschoolers, we make choices based on what suits our family's interests, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. But I do find at this time of year, that it is comforting to remind myself of why we do what we do. Explaining this to the clerk at the grocery store or the volunteer at the library refreshes my memory and helps me to stay clear as I navigate this unschooling life with my children.
All of this reflecting and pondering made me think about what it was like to be a new unschooler. One thing I wish I had been given was a checklist. Something to hang onto and refer to when fear and self-doubt were looming large. The outside world and mainstream culture don't usually offer much comfort. It's helpful to have some back up when you really need it. So, here goes:
My Checklist for the New Unschooler
1. Remove the word "educational" from your vocabulary. Resist the urge to ask yourself whether or not the games, videos, comic books or activities your children choose are worthwhile. It's all worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. If you just can't let go of the need to have a hand in what they choose, simply leave interesting things "laying around" the house (with no expectations, of course): a new library book or a deck of cards on the coffee table, a roll of stamps and some stationery on the kitchen table, you get the idea.
2. Slow down and relax. Don't feel the need to fill up your days with loads of activity. Leave room for spontaneity and just hanging out, with no agenda. Don't over schedule. The beauty of an unschooling life is that there are no musts. If life gets busy and overwhelming, stop. Breathe. Take a moment to decide how to proceed in a way that will align with your values. Try to ignore the belief that more is better. Take advantage of the time you have just being together as a family and see what happens. Creativity and wonder creep in easily when you're not racing around and busy all the time.
3. Make sure that cool stuff is within reach. This means games, puzzles, art supplies, kitchen staples, books, maps, notebooks, pens, staplers, duct tape, hole punches, envelopes, address books, dice, clay and anything else that your kids like to get their hands on. Keeping items within reach makes it a whole lot easier for your kids to be independent and get creative on their own terms.
4. Make time for the things you enjoy. If you love to garden, paint, swim, read, sing, cook, ride your bike, hike in the forest, browse book stores, or make jewelry, then be sure to do it! Your children will notice that you do what you love, and they'll be freed up to do the same. Passion and creativity are contagious. They may even join you!
5. Have fun. It's what children do best, and with some luck, we adults can follow their lead. If there's one thing our children have to teach us, it's how to stay fully in the moment. Anything is more fun when you're focused and free of worry and fear. The laundry and the dishes will still be there when you're through. Go have some fun.
6. Don't be afraid of being called a flake. Unschoolers are notorious for dabbling, which to schoolish folks appears flaky. Choose your activities carefully and don't be shy about speaking up when some thing's not a good fit. The beauty of life without school is that there is no need for compulsory anything.....anything! If you or your child can't remember why you've decided to do something and the joy is gone (or never existed in the first place) it's time to reevaluate. Your sanity and quality of life are more important than someone else's idea of following through.
7. Allow yourself to be imperfect. We're all human. We all screw up and snap at our kids or say the wrong thing. Spending more time with your kids means a higher likelihood of losing your cool. Don't sweat it. Learn to say you're sorry and move on. It'll be okay. If nothing else, you'll be giving your children permission to do the same. Children (and adults) who are allowed to feel their feelings (all of them) and take responsibility for them, end up being emotionally healthy people.
8. Remember that what other people think of you is none of your business. Chances are, if you're chosen unschooling, you stand out a bit in the crowd. Not everyone understands why we do what we do, and that's a good sign. It means you're challenging mainstream beliefs about kids and adults and families. You know what works for you, and that's all that matters. Spend time with parents who interact with their kids the way you do (or the way you'd like to). Limit your time with people who challenge your self esteem, especially in the beginning. Surround yourself with allies in person and otherwise, if necessary (read unschooling blogs, books, e lists, and magazines), to counteract that little voice questioning your every move.
9. Chose the relationship over your need to be right. Preserving your relationship with your child will prove to be the high road when it comes to petty arguments and power struggles. Try, "I'm sorry." , or "You might be right." instead. Unschooling as a parenting style means choosing to spend more time with your child than the average parent. Use that extra time to strengthen your relationship rather than break it down.
10. Trust your children. Completely. Wholly. Unconditionally. It will be scary. You will wonder, at times, if you've gone completely bonkers. You won't, however, be sorry. Before questioning or second guessing your child's intuition, ask yourself if you would respond in the same way to an adult. If not, think twice before speaking up. Children treated with respect and trust are more equipped to reflect that back to the world around them.
Well, there you have it. Just ten steps. Good luck.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 12, Macy, 10 and Charley, 7) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a passionate and radical transportation activist and is starting a non-profit carsharing organization in her town. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at ashlandcarshare@gmailcom.