The further down this road my family travels and the more studies I devour, the more confused I get. It is so perplexing to me that people still see unschooling and respectful parenting as a bizarre fringe movement. Unattainable for some? Sure. Physically impossible for others? Ok. Without merit? Now I disagree. How did we get to the point where treating children with respect and empowering them to make choices about themselves defines me as a change-maker? When did nurturing a love of learning become an illegitimate pedagogy?
I’ve sat on this for a while. Rewritten it. Thought about what it is that I really want to share. I guess it boils down to this growing unease inside me. Simmering frustration. I want you to see that this is not just some mommy-blogger with her wack ideas about child led learning and mutual respect. There is so much out there, and it would be impossible to include everything, but this post is heavily hyperlinked to examples of the books, articles and studies I have found useful.
We live in a world with access to extraordinary minds, an incredible amount of research and an ever growing understanding about the human psyche. Over time we have begun to piece together the optimum way that humans learn and the ideal conditions for emotional development.
Being in touch and able to lean in to emotion is a hallmark trait of emotional wellbeing, resilience and healthy relationships. Basically, all the good things we want for our kids. Yet, so many children are not allowed to feel negative emotions. ‘Don’t cry’, ‘don’t be sad’, ‘why are you upset over that?’, ‘calm down or we are going home’, ‘don’t get angry at your sister’, ‘if you cry over tv, I’m turning it off!’ When children get the message that they are not allowed to feel something, or when they attach shame or distress to those feelings, those emotions get suppressed. These emotions don’t go away, and living in the subconscious, they have the potential to lead to a whole range of emotional disruption.
This post was going to be about something else, but I got carried away with storytelling and we have ended up here. Passions.
Like most parents, we want our children to follow a path that allows them to explore their passions. Radical unschooler or not, I really believe that most parents want their children to find something that makes them truly happy and for them to be able to make that a big part of their life.
There is a lot of fear out there. Do people actually believe that ‘screens’ are like heroin for kids? Apparently they do. Apparently a lot of people do.
Well, we have no limits on screen time and I am not worried about screen addiction in my home. I am assuming that the vast majority of you have found your way to this article on my blog because you are interested in respectful parenting. If that sounds like you, good news! There is a great chance you don’t need to worry either. What a relief!
I know it is difficult for a lot of people to conceptualise what unschooling ‘is’. Unschooling can seem like a pretty scary term, and for people who associate education with school, it can generate some inaccurate assumptions. You see a lot of catch phrases like ‘life learning’ and ‘child led’, maybe you see some photos and some articles featuring kids in nature or completing some project and it still doesn’t translate into ‘education’ in your mind. What is unschooling, really?
You might be surprised to know that ‘unschooling’, in essence, is a very well documented and researched method of learning which, when educators attempt to translate it into a classroom setting, is called ‘experiential learning.’
If someone asked me what I felt were the most important elements of unschooling and respectful parenting, community would be at the top of the list. Make no mistake, if you haven’t found your people, this path can feel like a lonely one. When you connect, some families ahead of you and some just starting out, what once seemed complicated and impenetrable, suddenly becomes a clear and well-trodden path, with others sharing their maps.
My six year old spent all day occupied by a ‘screen’.
We had a busy day with friends yesterday and I sensed that it was going to be a quiet day around here today. There is so much fear and judgment around the use of technology so I wanted to document what ‘spending all day on a screen’ really looks like and why I don’t care.
Here is what I saw.
I have thought about writing this post for a while, and I haven’t up until now for a variety of reasons. Firstly, each of my children have a story and it is theirs to tell. I try not to share their highs and lows, successes and vulnerabilities without their permission. The second reason is because I don’t really think there is any difference in approach to unschooling a neuroatypical child vs a neurotypical child.
My eldest child is the former. My other two children are the latter.
When we started unschooling our children, the biggest fears I had were around ‘reading’ and ‘maths’. How would they learn?!
This is not a blueprint. This is the story of my three children learning to read. I have seen unschoolers write online about much later literacy in children and also of children suddenly learning to read completely independently. That is not our story, and that’s ok. I hope our experience adds to the dialogue to show the myriad ways children can learn to read and write. And, as you will see, the way this has developed in each of my children has been quite different. My eldest two started reading at around five or six, and my youngest daughter has just started expressing an interest in some early literacy skills. She is three.
This is what it has looked like in our home.
My children love each other. Like, really love each other.
We spend our days together, every day. Not just a couple of hours in the afternoon. All day. We are unschoolers. We don’t spend days separated at home doing age level curriculum, we spend our days with interests intertwined, learning together. There is conflict and conflict resolution, a natural multi-age peer group, and endless opportunity to experiment with social skills in a safe space.