Today on Penelope’s homeschooling blog, Penelope Trunk and a commenter who I know from comments at Forging Soul, Jennifer, were discussing the struggles they face with unschooling. I commented twice on that thread actually, first here, then I could not resist posting the second one–check it out if you want to take a look at the discussion.
This comment summarizes probably just about every point I have made on the topic (in other comments) over the past few months:
Jennifer, and Penelope, I see this struggle a lot in parents who are unschooling young kids. Maybe it’s universal.
Unschooling is more than the negation of a wrong–more than the usual definition we all start with as simply “not schooling.”
It is doing something right: creating a better alternative educational process. And you’re still figuring out exactly how–which is natural.
There are things I have come to believe as an unschooling parent that I must do right to fulfill my responsibilities, and to achieve the goals that motivated me to unschool in the first place. This has helped me be confident in myself as an unschooler. Here are five suggestions:
1. Support the natural learning process. Give your child room to discover the threads of interest and follow them to their passions. Create an environment of trust by being honest about the demands of life, as well as the joys. Treat your child as a human being, worthy of respect and dignity. Give them freedom to discover the world and understand themselves–in their own way.
2. Be mindful of your child’s development, and be ready to offer guidance. Make yourself available as a resource your child can draw upon as needed for help measuring progress, setting goals, making realistic plans, managing themselves, and dealing with others. These are life-lessons that you’re uniquely qualified and positioned to help with.
3. Provide materials and opportunities: Books, recordings, equipment, opportunities to see more of the world and meet people with shared interests from whom they can learn. Don’t just answer requests; offer! If it’s not immediately apparent to them why you’re offering, don’t be afraid to sell it a little. Your child’s job is to churn through what you give them along with what they find on their own. Your job is to make sure they always have new things to churn through.
4. Be involved. Children crave parental recognition, encouragement, and approval. This does not mean spending every moment with the kids or smothering them. It means taking an interest in what they are learning because they are learning it. It also means sharing your interests with them. If you try, but cannot bring yourself to endure a subject your kids have passion for, you have a responsibility to find someone who can–or hire someone who will.
5. Finally, don’t be an un-parent. As much as children need an education, they need parents more. This means cultivating a relationship where they return the trust you give them. As unschooled children, they enjoy immense freedom, but not unlimited. If you say that great literature is great, and it’s worth the learning curve, they should have long experience that you tend to be right about these things. If you say a certain amount of math will be needed in life, they will trust you as an authority on what life is all about, because of your obviously greater experience. Sometimes you have to work through the difficult part of learning to get to the more rewarding part. That is an important thing to learn. The best time for your child to discover he needed to know how to swim is not the first time he finds himself in way over his head.
Unschooling is natural, but it properly has a certain rigor, like farming or birthing or breastfeeding. It takes time to build the skills and then to build your confidence in them. Give yourself that time.
As far as I can tell the two of you are both on the right track!