We have been homeschooling for 12 years, unschooling for close to 11. My kids have been unschooling since birth, though. I am the one who needed to catch up to what they instinctively knew to be true, which is:
Learning happens ALL THE TIME even without adult involvement, control or meddling.
Below are three things I sort of/kind of regret. I say sort of/kind of because I believe all our experiences teach us something. Even the failures–especially the failures. So, do I REALLY regret the following? Not necessarily. I mostly mourn the time I lost worrying and comparing.
The upside, however, is by sharing my experiences in those early days you may be able to avoid the hole of worry that I fell into, and instead, dive right into the wonderful opportunities unschooling offers your children and your family.
1. Allowing naysayers to get into my head.
When you choose to do something different than the masses, there is a tendency for the masses to confidently let you know how different your choice is. From outright saying “you’re crazy” to quietly dismissing you at the dinner table (or quizzing your kids on the spot) when the topic of school comes up, the message is received: You are going against the grain and we think you are making a mistake. As if homeschooling wasn’t different enough, add in the term unschooling and heads spin.
I have had plenty of years to process those early days and I know I was sensitive to other people’s opinions and I sought approval more than I’d like to admit. Thankfully, with time, comes a glorious perspective and confidence. I let go of the worry and celebrated my children’s joy, wonder, and vibrancy. I took the energy I was spending on hand-wringing and proving myself to others and poured it into my children in the form of adventure, play, rest, and simply enjoying the wildly creative, busy, and all too fast years.
Unschooling felt right for our family early on and it remains right for our family today. I now view naysayers as just people who haven’t been converted..yet.
2. Not trusting the natural learning process out the gate.
I grew up in public school. I went on to get a college degree then a master’s in education. I was programmed to view schooling as education. Part of this belief system involved mistaking curriculum guides and teachers as the authorities on what kids need to know. The overarching idea is that children must be taught in order to be educated.
Of course, this is absolutely bogus.
Kids are quite competent and capable of determining exactly what it is they need to learn. What they require are engaging environments and consistent people who are willing and able to connect them to a variety of resources and support their inquisitive natures.
Learning is as natural to a human as walking and talking. It is not something that needs to be forced onto a child. Furthermore, learning is not something you can stop, even if you tried.
It took me a good year after we declared our homeschooling status to get to this point. Clouded by my own “expertise” and schooling, I falsely believed that if I did not assign things to my son, he would not learn. I falsely believed that if we did not set aside time for worksheets or reading or math, he would never pick up important skills. Needless to say, he taught me a thing or two about respecting the individualized and unique process of learning.
I backed off considerably and humbly put away my teacher hat. Instead of seeing my child as a vessel to be filled with knowledge and ideas *I* deemed worthy, I followed his lead and have learned a considerable amount from observing and trusting him. Because of the early missteps I took with my son, my daughter has experienced a 100% unschooling journey.
3. Judging activities and interests through the narrow school lens of success.
K-12 school—college—“honorable” degree choice—“good” job.
This is the pathway our culture has overwhelmingly embraced as the route to success. Within this pathway, there are additional measures used to determine whether or not a child is heading towards a successful life. Is he enrolled in advanced or AP classes? Is she on the honor roll? How are his SAT scores? What books is she reading? What colleges did she get into? What program is he studying? Has she had any job offers?
Even though I knew to trust the natural learning process, and even though I knew unschooling naysayers are people who do not fully understand that going to school is not the same thing as being educated, from time to time, I still judged and rank-ordered the interests and activities my children chose. Is the learning they are doing on Minecraft good enough? Are they just wasting away their lives watching all those YouTube videos or gaming? Shouldn’t they do a worksheet or project so I can fill up a file with all their work? Can all this play really be “the highest form of research”? We need to sign up for some classes right now!
What I came to see so clearly is that the school culture version of success is about output, competition, and external recognition. If you happen to have enjoyed some learning along the way, well that’s a bonus. But your enjoyment of learning was certainly not the primary focus. The focus is to get through the curriculum, learning objectives, and a school year.
Unschooling, on the other hand, has allowed my kids a chance to find activities and topics they are personally interested in. They are able to stick with topics as long as they desire and in many cases, become very knowledgeable, young experts, if you will. There is no need to wait on others to catch up or for others to wait on them. They flow through information at a unique pace, revisiting as often as they desire. There is no such thing as “being behind” in unschooling.
Success, then, is a personal endeavor measured in incremental steps along the way. Each child improving on a timeline that matches his or her needs and goals. Unschooling allows kids to truly live out one of Dr. Peterson’s 12 rules for life:
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.