First, I want to preface this post with the disclaimer that while we are radical/whole life unschoolers, we have been unschoolers since the birth of our son. We have not had to really do the same kind of deschooling that many families coming to unschooling must do when they decide to take their child(ren) out of school in order to embark on their journey of unschooling. With that said, I do know a lot of families who have come to unschooling from very different beginnings and from different institutional/home education paths. And I want to share some of their wisdom with you.
It is not forever and it is not for everyone.
No decision you and your children make about their education is forever. You can unschool for a year or ten and then your children may decide that they want or need to be in a physical school of one kind or another. Also, if your children do not want to be home, then do not make them stay at home. Try to find them another educational arrangement that makes everyone happy. Or make your home a place where your children do want to be and yourself a person your children want to be around. This might be one of the hardest parts of the deschooling/unschooling journey for some families, as it is often hard for families who have been separated by school to be around one another so much in the beginning. And please, please, if you do not think you can be around your children all day, most days or you know that you do not want to be, then I suggest you reconsider unschooling or homeschooling of any kind. Chance are, your children will not be done any favours being home with you.
Say yes more, but not to everything and all at once.
One of the most misunderstood concepts, tenants, principles, or what-have-yous of unschooling is: Say yes! Frequently people thinking about unschooling or just starting to unschool are reading blogs of and discussions by more seasoned unschooling families where things are often very free and loose; mentions of no rules, living by principles, no bedtimes, and so on flood online support groups and it sounds all so amazing and awesome. The misconception is that things can work like this as amazingly for the new folks as it does for the seasoned families and that all that amazing can happen overnight. Newbie Family will pull their children out of school, sit them down and explain that they are unschooling now and that there are no rules, and then the children go apeshit and the parents proclaim unschooling failed and is only for wack-o-unparents. Sigh. If you have limits, rules, and punishments at your home, you can not just remove them all and all at once and expect your children to not freak the fuck out. They will push your buttons/limits and test whether or not you are serious. So, just say yes MORE. When they ask to stay up, say yes. When they ask if they can wear their pyjamas to the store, say yes. When they ask for ice cream for breakfast, say yes. When they ask for more time to play Minecraft, say yes. When they have been playing Minecraft for their usual allotted time amount and you would usually tell them to get off the computer, instead walk over, grab and seat and watch them play for another hour — you will be amazed by what they are doing and learning and they will love you more for it. If you are transitioning from using workbooks and textbooks and one of your children says they do not want to “do maths” today, say okay and ask what they would rather do and then do it with them. Eventually, you will find that you are rarely saying no and the sky is not falling.
You can not predict the specifics of the future (and if you can, I have a business proposal for you).*
You do not know what the future will be like. You do not know what our children will need to know. You do not know how radically different the worlds of education and business will be in ten years or twenty years. The best that you can do is raise children who love to learn, know how to find the answers to their questions, and who are happy. Happy people who can find out what they need to know and who are willing to learn it are the most successful people in any era. Stressed out and unhappy people who find learning to be a chore and do not know or understand how to access knowledge are not very successful people (unless everything is just handed to them). It is also important to not project your shortcomings onto your children and their futures. I am not particularly well versed in certain subjects, but I am not worried that my son will also have a limited understanding of those same subjects or other ones; I know that he will excel in the areas that he needs to excel in order to be happy and thus, be successful. Also, just because I might not have taken the time to learn a particular subject or skill does not mean he will follow suit.
* We do know that technology will play a huge part of the future of education and business; this is obvious even in the present moment. Purposely limiting our children’s access to computer literacy and social media is limiting their futures — most jobs now require more computer and Internet literacy in order to merely apply for them than what is actually needed to do the work of the job. Children who are engaged with social media and online content are immersed in an endless world of information. They can learn more from watching an hour of YouTube videos than from an entire day of typical institutionalised school/homeschool curriculum. Technology is not just limited to the usual “screen time” activities people think about, but it is also, coding and programming, editing film and photography, graphic design, music composition, and video game development to name a few. More importantly, the children who are immersed in these worlds are playing a huge part in shaping how these worlds will look five years from now and beyond.
It will not always be rainbows and kittens.
Unschoolers are humans, just like you and everyone else. We make mistakes and we have bad days. We are not always smiling and snuggling with little blue birds flying around. Some days just completely suck and we do the best we can to make due, make up, and move on. Living with other human beings is hard at times, regardless of the dynamics at play. Unschooling is no more a guarantee that your children will make the best decisions than sending them to school. Unschooled children still try drugs, have sex, get caught breaking the law, and etc.: the differences are 1) they really get to make and own those decisions 2) they will usually have a better support system when mistakes happen than the average child in school 3) their parents will be partners in helping them navigate difficult or poor decisions instead of being on their own and 4) usually the lines of communication are more open in unschooling homes, so some of the really difficult choices can be avoided altogether.
Do not suffer fools and reach out to other unschoolers — we are lovely, sparkly people.
You will find that not everyone has your back once you embark on unschooling. Not everyone will support your and your children’s decision to unschool. You might even lose friendships over the whole thing. You may have to re-evaluate your relationships with certain family members because of your and your children’s choices. You will have to decide how you answer the question: “where do your children go to school?” You will learn pretty fast that being excited to share this new way of life and learning (redundant) with everyone is not always the easiest or best thing. People will take it personally. People will feel like they are being personally challenged by your radically different approach to life and parenting. Some people, however, might be really intrigued and very interested in learning more about what you are doing. You will find that you will need other unschoolers, at least in the beginning. Internet discussion and support groups and regional conferences will factor into your new world somewhere.
Unschooling families are not all the same.
While similar principles and beliefs are shared between unschooling families, we do not all look alike. Some of us have corporate powerhouse parents, multiple cars, big houses, 2.4 children, and a dog in the suburbs. Some of us have half a dozen children travelling and hula-hooping across the nation in a veggie oil powered RV. Some of us are single parents working multiple jobs or from home while the older children are teaching the younger children during the day and we all reconnect in the evening. Some of us are living off the grid, in the woods or on a farm, and raising our own food. Some of us are parents who are teachers in public schools trying to make life a little bit sweeter for children who have to be there. Some of us live in the middle of busy cities in fancy loft apartments with artsy parents and cocktail parties. Some of us live well below the poverty line, make use of the public library for Internet access, and really value the time we spend together making life workout. Some of us are worldschooling families who have cashed it all in to travel the world together. Some of us are Queer families, multi-generational families, and some of us are military families. We all believe in educational freedom, being friends with our children and partners in their lives and educational endeavours, and that there is a different way to live, love, and learn with one another.
And that concludes some introductory wisdom from some once newbie, now seasoned unschoolers and myself. (The Man might have contributed some too.) Just try to enjoy life and take things one day at a time. Nobody “gets it” on the first day.