We finished out a full month of our unschooling experiment. I admit, it was a little tough for me to let go of my plans! So many times I wanted to sneak my own agenda back in there (and a few times I did, if we’re being honest). But I kept reading unschooling blogs, following unschooling families on instagram, and trying REALLY hard to fully embrace both the method and the philosophy.
It was a fascinating experiment.
It worked in ways I never would have predicted. Letting my children take the lead in their educations helped me understand them and what makes them tick so much more. I have a much greater understanding of their learning styles. I’m amazed by some of their interests and abilities.
My youngest son thrived. By taking the pressure of requirements off of him, he was able to explore his own interests and delve deeply into the science that he loves. He made his greatest academic progress ever, and I was astounded as I watched him learn and experiment.
The freedom and flexibility were also amazing. We did so many wonderful things that I had always wanted to make part of our homeschool. We explored topics we had never studied together, we really took our time with nature study, we enjoyed lots of great library books, we went to classes and homeschool groups, we spent whole days just playing at parks. I had more time to read my own book list. We took advantage of all the benefits of being a homeschool family. It was truly wonderful!
Despite all the good, we are not an unschooling family.
It comes down to this. The primary philosophy behind unschooling is to trust that our children will learn everything they need to know when they need to know it, and therefore to not require them to do anything. I really do understand the logic behind this, and I can agree with it to a point. But when I look at the application of this, it simply doesn’t work for one of my children.
For example, my oldest son craves sameness and routine. This is part of his special needs. The Greatest Showman is currently his favorite movie of all time, but getting him to watch it the first time was like pulling teeth, simply because it was new. He would be perfectly happy watching the same few movies and tv episodes over and over again, just as he picks the same few books off of his bookshelf every time he wants to read. But when I can get him to watch new movies, try new shows, read new books, try new foods, and go new places, he is almost always delighted. If I had never
forced encouraged him to watch The Greatest Showman, we would still be watching Sing three times a week. 😉
The same thing applies to his education. I want to support my children in exploring their interests and learning whatever they want to learn, but the reality is that my oldest needs me to require him to do things. Otherwise, he would keep his world very small and miss out on so much that brings him joy.
My youngest son thrived as an unschooler, and because of that, I have chosen to back off of formal lessons with him. He will basically continue with unschooling, with the freedom to participate as much (or as little) as he wants with me and my oldest. He proved to me that the method works brilliantly for him.
Remember all those fun things we did while we were unschooling? The truth is that I was the still one who initiated the majority of them. I did it differently than I had been. I didn’t require them to do anything, I didn’t announce it was school time. I didn’t give assignments. I just invited them to do things with me, which it turns out is a pretty effective way of getting them involved. But I was still working hard to make our days educational.
The days when I really stepped back and stayed uninvolved were days when I realized that I could never fully agree with the philosophy of unschooling. Unschooling says that if my oldest son wants to spend all day listening to Taylor Swift and playing video games then let him! He’ll figure out what he needs to know when he needs it! But really, I don’t believe that listening to Taylor Swift and playing video games all day is healthy. I really don’t. Our brains and imaginations are like muscles, they need to be exercised. I believe this for myself and for my kids, and I try to set an example for them with my own daily reading habit and interests.
I also found that I couldn’t embrace the entire parenting philosophy of radical unschooling. I read on one blog about respecting your child’s preferences, “the same way you would treat any guest in your home.” I mulled that over for a bit and realized that it simply doesn’t work for me. For example, I would never tell a guest to wipe the sink after brushing his teeth, or to not talk with his mouth full, or to wipe his pee off the toilet seat if he dribbles. But I absolutely tell my children these things because they are values in our home and I want them to learn them! My children aren’t guests in my home. They are part of our family.
As a family, we have values, habits, and expectations. And as old fashioned as it may sound, we parents are the ones who decide those.
I do give my children a level of freedom over their things, their space, and even their time. For example, my youngest son prefers to arrange his furniture in a way that drives me nuts, but hey, it’s his room! He can have his furniture in whatever crazy arrangement brings him joy. But he still has to put his clean laundry away in his drawers instead of throwing it in the floor, because that’s a household expectation.
So it really does come down to a fundamental disagreement in philosophy. However, I did see a lot of fruit from our unschooling experiment. I loved having so much flexibility and joy in our day. I learned that some of my expectations for my children were unreasonable, and that we all have a lot more fun when I stop trying to recreate what I imagine to be the “perfect” homeschool. I will absolutely continue on with a greater emphasis on interest based learning, independence, and freedom.
For now, that means that I still have my lesson plans, schedules, and “activity pages” (busywork, if we’re honest) packed away. As I mentioned earlier, it also means that I have discontinued formal lessons with my youngest.
My oldest and I spend some time with his math curriculum (Math Lessons for a Living Education) and his language arts curriculum (The Good and the Beautiful) most days. My youngest tends to sit in on these by choice, ironically enough. He hated when I was making him do his own books, but he loves to participate with my oldest, trying to beat him to the right answer.
Other than that, we do whatever sounds interesting and fun! Sometimes that means we pull out our lab kit and do science experiments for hours. Sometimes it means cuddling up on the couch with a stack of library books. Yesterday it meant spinning the globe with our eyes closed, picking a place at random, then watching youtube videos about the country.
Even if I couldn’t fully embrace unschooling, I’m really glad we took the time to try it. It was exactly what I needed to let go of what wasn’t working for us and meet my children where they are. It helped me let go of my need to be “perfect” homeschoolers. We’re having a really fun time with our more relaxed homeschool!
Heck, we even stay in our pajamas at least one day a week now. 😉