Unschool Parenting 101

It’s August.  School is either about to start or has already started where you are.  If you’re unschooling, life doesn’t change much except for the reappearance of school buses and back-to-school sales.

You may be here because you’re curious about unschooling, or know someone who is.  Today’s post includes some thoughts on what’s required as an unschooling parent.   Whatever brings you here, maybe some of these tips will be helpful.  These are my own opinions and I’m no expert, just a mom with 18-plus years of unschooling experience, so take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

First, you need to know your state regulations regarding homeschooling.  It’s legal in all 50 states, but each state has different rules.  Here in Texas for example, homeschoolers are considered private schools and so are not subject to the state education code.  As long as our kids are “pursuing in a bona fide manner a curriculum consisting of books, workbooks, or written materials…designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship” we are in compliance.  It’s a very homeschool- (and unschool) friendly state.  Some states have registration, attendance, testing or evaluation requirements, so it’s vital that you research and know what is required where you live.

Once you know your requirements, don’t worry if you’re not an expert educator.  Your big job is to bring your children an awareness of the possibilities around them.  Show them the world they live in from the local flora and fauna right their door to far-flung people, places and natural spaces.  You don’t have to travel—although this is one of the best learning tools available—you can use books, stories and technology to bring the world to you.  Expose them to ideas, beliefs and philosophies, both those you espouse and those you don’t.  Assume they can and will choose what is right for them, even if that means they choose something different from you.  Think of yourself as temporary caretakers rather than owners.  Your job isn’t to make a carbon copy of you, but the best version of your child possible.

Give them lots of practice making decisions, those that are appropriate for their age and time.  Expect self-sufficiency, respect and responsibility.  When it’s not always there, model love, respect and forgiveness and gently help with course corrections.  Be aware of their interests, skills and talents.  You can put things in their path that you think might expand or develop these, but be careful not to apply pressure to “produce”.  Young minds need protection to grow and develop.  It’s important for them to feel free to explore so that they can add or drop things without judgment at any time.  This freedom will allow them to be authentic to themselves rather than trying to please you or anyone else.

They’ll need your help with some things that they may be too young to do for themselves yet.  For example, they’ll need you to help find or establish a local network of friends to play and interact with.  Ideally, these families will serve as a touchstone for you as well.  They may need you to find resources to help them learn things that you don’t feel qualified or interested to coach: specialized areas like music, art or sports, or subjects beyond your skill set such as robotics, calculus or creative writing.  Share your process along the way.  This will equip them to find their own resources someday.

They may need your interpersonal skills for times when friendships falter, feelings get hurt or misunderstandings occur.  Talk about these feelings in that learning lab you call home.  Share your honest feelings with them and the process you go through when the same things happen to you.  They’ll be helped by understanding that relationship struggles happen to all of us, even throughout life.  Your honest sharing not only helps you work things out, but it exposes them to more communication tools.  The more comfortable they are discussing feelings when they are young, the fewer emotional wounds they will have to unwind and heal later as adults.

It will help to make a list of the character traits you want for your child as an adult and then model those traits to the best of your ability.  This may be the hardest job of all because it’s the most personal and the most relentless.  Your kids are eagle-eying you all the time to figure out how the world works.  They’re watching all adults really, but you’re going to be the one they’re around the most, so you’ll have the most influence by far.  You can’t really expect things of them that you aren’t willing to do yourself.  If you want them to be lifelong learners, then pursue your own interests enthusiastically.  If you want them to be good writers, then read good literature to and around them.  If you want them to be confident, show them your own courage in the face of your fears.  If you want them to be fit, model your own commitment to healthy foods and consistent exercise.  If you want them to give back, let them see you volunteering in ways that you find fulfilling and enjoyable.  Practice good self-care and let them see you doing that as well.   If you’re not taking care of yourself you will burn out and grind to a halt.  Taking personal responsibility for the time and resources you need to stay refueled and refreshed isn’t widely valued in the mainstream, which can make it extra challenging, but it’s critical.

So, there you have it, a few of my thoughts on self-directed learning or unschooling.  It’s not rocket science, but it takes commitment.  It’s the greatest job ever because you get to be with full-on with your amazing kids: learning along with them, watching and participating in their lives.  It’s also the hardest job you’ll ever take on, because it’s full-on, it’s real, it’s 24/7 and you will have periodic, if not constant, doubts that you’re doing the right thing.   Stay open and keep questioning, that’s the syllabus.


© Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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