Saturday, October 29, 2011

So... what? : Unschooling

Evidently it's time again for one of those, "So what do you do?" posts again.  I'm not feeling particularly philosophical or intuitive or spiritual about it (read: mushy), and I'm not feeling the need for justification... just maybe an explanation of the ideas and thoughts behind the Play of our everydays.

I was thinking yesterday as Trev was reading and playing Godzilla that his play was just as valuable to me as anything else he could be doing.
Some people might not understand that.  Anything that he's learning isn't obviously valuable or tangible, after all.
He may not even be learning anything at all!  And I have absolutely no problem with that.
He's playing.
He's using his imagination.
He's exploring his knowledge of facts and figures that he's collected inside his head, making up stories (or repeating them in whatever accurate way he may choose, according to his research), creating, expressing, and being comfortable with who he is and his interests.

But would this do for every minute of every day?
And what's my job, then?
My job is to make sure that things stay interesting.
My job is to assess my own personal needs, to present them to the family, and see if they'll come along. And yes, I say Needs, for they are sometimes mad cravings that I get, and it feels imperative to Living.  I need to get into the woods!  I  need a big adventure!  Can we go exploring?, I need to tromp around and do something really, really cool!  Like visit a real-life paleontology site.  Or a ghost town - I get those pretty often.  Or even a favorite museum.
My job is to make sure that everyone else is getting their needs met, as well.  And to help them figure out why and what those needs are.
My job is to pay keen attention to what the babes are up to (over all, not invading their every minute), and to make sure they're thriving.
Thriving is definitely the objective of this way of life.

So.  Does thriving happen on its own?
Not really.  Not consistently and always, without being inspired or prompted.  (I do not mean being forced or coerced, but mean inspiring things like season changes, karate classes, play with friends, going Out, a new game, library visits...)
Can't sitting-at-the-table lessons ensure thriving?  Sure, for whomever that works.  If parents and children feel so happy in their studies that they're ready to spin off the planet, or if in study they find immense satisfaction and great personal purpose. (And I mean sincere personal purpose, here, as in "this feeds my soul", not "this feeds my need to make my children seem superior" or "this feeds my need to have an Honor Role bumper sticker on my car for the sake of my own ego."  Although, even those are among your choices, if you choose to live life that way.)
The way to best see it happening in my own home is to just make sure my children are lively and interested.  Interested in life--curious about the world, and the way it works.  As I've said many times: thinking, discovering, exploring, and creating.

So isn't constant Play (even playing with the Godzilla collection -however impressive and grand :) ) a worry?  Harmful?
Well- that's the thing.  It isn't.  Because thriving is the goal, remember?  And I'm paying attention.  Assessing.  Evaluating.  Asking questions.  Checking in.

But doesn't Play just take over?  Doesn't watching television take over?  Doesn't computer play Take Over?!?
No.  It doesn't.  Because there are lots of other things to do.
Here's the thing-- when life is interesting, we have lots of interesting options.  And we have lots of interests.  True, sometimes a particular theme will run the show for a while.  But not forever.  And not solely, which we'll notice if we keep our eyes wide open to all the other things that are actually going on while The One Thing is happening.

The dreaded and be-damned Screen Time is a huge worry for a lot of people.  But -amazingly!!- some of us don't limit screen time. At all.  AND we still play outside.  AND we take walks in the woods.  AND we play math games and watch math videos (Khan!), and we read The Wind In the Willows and Little House and poetry, and we attend performances at the children's theater on occasion, and we visit museums and we paint and do science experiments and take the dog for a walk and go roller-skating and play at the beach and sculpt with clay and we have conversations about politics, cultures, life and death and God.

I am not saying that people should live their lives as we do.  Hardly.  This family of mine are the only ones that can or should live this life we're living.  (Though some look similar to ours, certainly.)

I'm just laying out plainly a few Things I Know For Sure.

That I'm pretty good at ensuring our minds, bodies, and hearts are in good working order: ie healthful energy flowing into and out of them.
Things like Imaginations make me happy.
Like that I feel quite comfortable in both, equally, the roles of Leading and Following. (And sometimes even stayin' put.  :) )
That seeking Joy, genuinely and authentically, goes a long way toward ensuring that the souls in this family are doing well.
And like that I can be trusted (trusted by my Self) to pay attention to my children, to make sure they thrive.
You know.

So that's what I do--what we do.
We make shiny, happy people.
And we play.


  1. Thank you for this post. Love how we can include screen-time in a nurturing child-space. We don't limit screen time, either. And we get lots of outside-time, creating, and imaginary play, too.

    My daughter is in a very creative charter school, but I keep unschooling as an option if she gets too stressed.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. Your vision of life blows me away. It makes me so happy to see such a beautiful family, such creative and human people. Thank you so much for sharing it :)

  3. Great post! Play is so important and it's what my children are doing when I look upon them and feel happy.

  4. I had a discussion about just this last weekend. I, too, see no more value in one thing than the next. Even *gasp* video games *gasp again*!!

    For some it is so very hard to understand. But it is what it is... and it is awesome :)

    And another thing, we must get these boyz together to discuss Godzillas :)

  5. HRMJ - Most of the time! :) I have my moments. But really, as long as I'm keeping my mind and heart open, and know that we're healthy (and not to overuse, but thriving), it's all good! :)

    Meredith - looking upon children and being happy is a fine, fine thing! :)

    Thanks so much, Amber. What a lovely compliment.

    You're welcome, Lenka, thank you!

  6. I suppose you already know I love you, but I figure it's worth repeating.

    I love you.

    And your shiny, happy family.

  7. Thanks so much, sweet Jessica.
    Love you, too.

  8. Ah yes...Shiny, Happy, People. It's really the bottom line, isn't it?

    No limited screen time here either and yet we get outside, we play (non-stop...all day) and we bake and we discuss real life issues (and when you are 5...they are all Real. Life. Issues.), we laugh and snuggle and connect and learn from all that is around us. It's an awesome privilege to watch these littles grow up.

    Thanks for sharing how it works in your home. I always love reading about it. You inspire me SO much. xoxo Love you. xoxo

  9. I love this. It took me a looooong time to let go, and stop limiting screen time.

    Now I'm here, and it feels so good!

  10. Happy dance! Offer everything, promote joy and reflection, play, ply, play--everyone in the family. Makes for a sweet life--as you so beautifully document every day. Thank you!

  11. Thank you Debbie - your gentle spirit inspires me as well.
    Love you, too.

    Kelly - it's certainly a more peaceful place to be in!
    When we're fixated on something like that (he ALWAYS wants to do that! she NEVER wants to do anything else...) we're not keeping an open (and fair) mind, we're bringing our own judgments and fear into it, and can't see it clearly (objectively). So much more loving and fun to watch our babes and think "Wow! What a fantastic human!" :) We can see very clearly that lots of (interesting) things are going on if we aren't angry or fearful about it. (And are offering lots of interesting things/places/experiences as well, of course!) :)

    Jen - you're always such a vibrant cheerleader. I so appreciate that!

  12. What timing! I have a draft in progress about this very topic. I've recently had an influx of questions asking about our "homeschooling" and "teaching" style. (Mind you, Layla is newly five and Aelyn only two.) I am trying to describe what we do rather than focus on the not-dos of radical unschooling in our home. Perhaps I should just send a link to your beautiful post instead. As always, I am inspired by your eloquence. :o)

  13. For what it's worth, my oldest son, 13, just started public school in the middle of last year for sixth grade. He had been unschooled his whole life, and he's doing just fine in school. His spelling was behind the class; his math was far beyond. His reading scores were 12th-grade level; his math scores were 10th grade. SOMEHOW, he was learning all the stuff you'd expect.
    I hate to use school as the standard, of course, because I don't think it is. But if anyone is worried about how your kids "compare to schoolkids," I'd say it's a safe bet that they'd compare just fine, too.


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!