Steps into Unschooling

What is unschooling?
It's learning through living life as my ten year old likes to say. 
Unschooling will not look the same in every home. It should and will look different for everyone. That is so important to remember and to keep in mind. 

I love this quote that Sandra Dodd shared recently on 7/14/12, so I decided to add it here. It's from unschooling Mom Rachel Marie:

"Unschooling looks different for everyone and that's why you are having trouble nailing it down, I felt the same when I started. It's nearly impossible to describe because every kid is different and since unschooling is about focusing on your child as an individual, then it's going to be different for everyone. If I were to say unschooling looks like laying on a quilt at night, looking at the stars and talking about constellations or it looks like taking long car drives just for the sole purpose of having long winded discussions about every single US war in history, there would be 30 people who popped in and said that's not what it looks like at all, because their kids aren't interested in those things. Unschooling isn't about where or how you learn something, it isn't about doing what everyone else is doing. It's about creating a rich environment for your naturally curious child to learn things that spark their interest. If you can do that, you'll be headed in the right direction."

There is no set blueprint or rule book to follow to make the transition to unschooling. It'd be fantastic if there was a checklist, but it's just not that easy and it doesn't work that way. Having made the transition myself, I have found some "steps" that may lend themselves well to the transition process for someone else who would like to pursue unschooling. I have been led to radical unschooling which is not exclusive to the homeschooling portion of the day but every faucet of the family. While unschooling will look different for everyone, it is important to remember that there are things that lend themselves well to getting you to unschooling and things that will not. 

Unschooling is not child led learning (this is an interesting article). I've often seen it described as child led, but sometimes maybe that gives the impression that the parents are hands off and the child takes the lead. How it's working for us is that it's more a team verses my sitting back and being passive. A former misconception I had about unschooling is that parents are hands off, which is completely opposite of the reality. Unschooling requires parent involvement, more than anything else we've used for homeschooling in the past. 

Step 1   
Read any of the following: 

  • Connection Parenting by Pam Leo.
  • Unconditional Parenting by Alphie Kohn.
  • Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Gordon. This one is excellent. They are all great, but this one I personally really felt gave concrete steps to change my parenting in attainable and easy to follow ways.  
  • This is a great book and it's a free ebook: 
  • Parenting Wild Things by Jessica Bowman
  • Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting through the Ages and Stages by R.L. Knost (added 4/7/13) 
  • Winning Parent Winning Child by Jane Fortune
Reading these books will really make it so much easier to understand a lot of what radical unschooling is all about. The true first step really starts with your parenting.
I read all the unschooling books first but it didn't really click for me until I read the parenting philosophy which really is the glue that makes up the fabric of unschooling.

While you are doing this reading, let your kids have essentially a type of "summer vacation" from your schooling.
While they are enjoying this vacation, be with your kids as much as possible, doing things with them. Really take the time and make it a priority to be in the trenches having fun with them. It's different from any other homeschooling style. It takes more time to really be present and be with the kids verses handing them  a school schedule, a workbox, or a math page to work through. Do things with them you enjoy. Introduce them to your hobbies and interests or things you liked as a child. Have your husband do the same. Ask them what they'd like to do, read about, watch, talk about, etc. Think of things you wish your parents had done with or for you and do them with or for your kids.
Lay on your bed watching TV and chatting, play board games, cook meals, take nature walks without making it a nature "lesson", play video games together, just be together. Do things that are fun for your family. Rough house play with them as much as they like. I like to play the sea witch and try to get the kids with my tentacles. And dance party. I spin them, dip them, boogie on down with them.  Bry likes to play a game called Baby Machine Gun. This is where he uses the youngest as a machine gun and chases the other kids with her while she giggles like crazy and he makes machine gun sounds, and the other kids all giggle like mad while he runs after them. And then there is mud monster where he is on the ground trying to pull the kids into his muddy home. And of course the great classic hide and seek.
Here are some great games to play with kids in case ideas are needed. We found some great ones on here that we never knew about before.

Respect is really an essential step. If you've read any of the books above I'm sure you've tossed aside, time outs and spanking. And have begun to replace it with gentle parenting. If you're still not sure. Read my page on spanking
Talk to your child like a valued friend. Look them in the eyes. Touch them kindly and with love. Don't yell. Don't punish. Don't threaten or take their treasured items away. Don't be a bossy Betsy or a Miss Grumpy pants (as my children used to call it when I was grumpy). 

And if you do those things, apologize and mean it. Admitting when we are wrong means a lot. Don't pretend to be perfect and above mistakes. We are merely human and mistakes are just a part of our lives. How we handle them is what matters. 

Step away from the computer screen when they ask for your time and even when they don't. Turn the water off at the sink and do the dishes later. Try to avoid saying "in a minute" or "just a second". Don't put off now the joy they are waiting to have with you. Put off the computer and the dishes instead. When you are an old woman or old man laying in your bed, you will never say, I wish I talked more online, or spent more time cleaning my house, or that I worked more, you will say I wish I'd spent more time with my family. Live like that now, so you won't have any regrets.

Say "yes" more. Here is a quote from Joyce Fetteroll at Joyfully Rejoycing (a great unschooling site): Don't drop all your parenting rules at once. Just say "Yes!" more.
One of the biggest mistakes made is after reading how conventional rule-based parenting feels and looks to kids and then declare: there are no more rules: eat whatever you want, stay up as late as you want ... The result is kids feel tossed into the middle of a storm tossed ocean without support and chaos ensues. While it works great to declare vacation from school and just plunge into unschooling, it works better to ease into applying the unschooling principles to parenting.
Here are some links on Sandra Dodd's page about saying yes:

Step 2:  
Read some books on unschooling. My personal favorites are:
Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream 
Unschooling A Lifestyle of Learning by Sara McGrath
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith
Free to Learn and Free to Live by Pam Laricchia  
(Pam also has a great free email series on unschooling I highly encourage signing up for.)

 And if you are coming from a Traditional school mindset the first on the unschooling reading list I'd say to go for would be 101 Reasons I'm an Unschooler by PS Pirro.

I took notes, wrote in margins and highlighted things that answered questions I had, or that I felt really drawn to implementing in my family. Of course the easiest changes to make are the ones that feel natural and comfortable. But be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. It's important to be open to change. 
While I wasn't trying to follow a specific "formula" that worked well for a seasoned unschooler before me, reading about unschoolers who did it well is a vital step.  Reading how others do it and their motivation is a huge help in getting your own vision going.  Reading typical, or not so typical days of others is always fun. But will not look the same for anyone else because each family has different interests, so don't use them as a model, just an inspiration. 
***If you are reading about someone's kids who have no manners, are running all over them, and a house of chaos, that's not unschooling done well. 

And in case you wonder if a family who likes being at home more than out and about can unschool. Here is a great read for anyone who has a family who enjoys spending time at home. You don't have to be on the go to enjoy unschooling. Some of the typical days look quite busy going from place to place but don't let that be a deterrent. 

Step 3:

Read the wealth of great info on Joyce Fetteroll's site and Sandra Dodd's site (Sandra also has a book called The Big Book of Unschooling). The reason I didn't list her book in the booklist above was because I think for a newer person coming to unschooling, it can be information overload.  Read on my friend Karen's blog here at a Radical path and at my friend Jenn's blog here at The Path Less Taken (both of these blogs are fantastic for unschooling information and also written by fellow Christians). 
If you didn't do it already. Sign up for Pam Laricchia's free email series mentioned above in the unschooling booklist). 

If it's your cup of tea, join to read on some online yahoo unschooling groups or facebook groups. If you think of a question you have not seen answered in books or blogs, chances are someone has asked it before you in an online group, so the archives are great. 

Don't get overwhelmed by advice that you've read given to others. It's all about baby steps. If you change to much to fast you will get discouraged and overwhelmed. 
Take time, let things sink in. Understand what you are doing. 

Step 4: 
Deschool yourself and your kids for as long as you need it. This really starts, when you understand the parenting aspect of unschooling as well as what unschooling is not.
If you are looking at the things the kids are doing through schoolish glasses then take longer to deschool. Be willing to let it take as long as it needs to take for you.
Don't judge how your kids spend their deschooling time. Maybe it's with TV, maybe video games, and you don't feel right about that. Don't let your issues be theirs. The scare tactics about limiting video games and TV are just that. If you've limited them they might gorge a bit for awhile. But relax. Let them enjoy it. Play the games with them, watch the shows with them, be in the room with them enjoying the time together. Being with them is really important. If it feels good to you to do so, journal your days. When you see all the kids do each day you will quickly begin to drop those schoolish glasses (and the journaling too because so much is being covered each day, it gets to be a lot to keep up with). 

Step 5: 
If you belong to traditional homeschool groups online, forums, yahoo groups, etc. and there are no other unschoolers, you might not wish to continue there any longer. I've felt that in some groups where I'd been for a long time. It was time to move on because there was a lack of common ground and some aggressive attitudes because I had opted to go another way then many there. Beyond that, there is simply far less time to chat with other homeschooling parents online once we made this shift. Much more time is spent with the kids verses talking about what to use for this or that for schooling the kids. 

Step 6: 
Stop making your kids do chores. Why you might ask? Because forcing kids to do chores is not kind, respectful or loving. How would you feel your husband forced you to do something he placed a paramount priority on and gave you no option or opinion on your participation in the matter?

I use the word "force" because even when parents say "I ask for them to help", if they can't decline and say no, then you are forcing them either in a passive aggressive way or with straight out threats/punishments or rewards for doing said chores.

It's possible that you can sit with your kids and list out the very important things that simply have to be done in your home. This is not your "in a perfect world" dream chore list, but what you need for your home to be okay. Possibly your children may be willing and happy to take on some of those jobs or maybe they won't, or maybe in time they will.

What you can do instead of assigning chores is invite them to help you tidy up. Enjoy it. Make it fun and they may want to help out, most of the time they do. But if they don't want to help in that moment at that time, don't lose your cool. Use Motivated Moms or Flylady for you, not for them. Get yourself some routines to make your house run for you to stay on top of things. Keep the chores down to what you feel is a must for yourself, but be realistic, you should be spending time having fun with your family. Possibly have a day that you and your husband tackle your household duties together. That would be what, an hour a week to accomplish it all? Just do a few things daily, to keep the house tidy until that weekly cleaning hour. But don't force chores on the kids. And do your household tasks with a cheerful heart. Think of how you bless your family by keeping a clean house. I prefer to have a cleaning day when my husband is at work. Thursday or Friday are the days I do my "big" cleaning, "big" being a relative term here because honestly it's still a quick clean but also contains sheet changing and cleaning the bathrooms. Bry works out of the home so I feel it's the least I can do for him, having him come home and not have to help me clean the house. 
Here is a link on Sandra Dodd's site about chores. Joyce's response is really a great read.

Here is some good reading for the Dads, since often times it's the Moms who are reading and discovering the homeschooling path.

Enjoy the ride and the journey with your children. It feels wonderful when all the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. You can feel the change in you. Feel it in your home, see it in your children.  It's just such a peaceful feeling. The loud happiness, the cuddles and special times.

Remember don't change everything at once. One thing at a time. Pretty soon you will be right where you want to be and loving every minute of it. 

Happy Unschooling! 
And many blessings to you and yours. 

Photo credit: Holly Mathis Interiors