For my family, unschooling is about saying yes as often as we possibly can. Some weeks we do more things that look like “school” than we do during other weeks. Some weeks there are workbooks and science classes while during other weeks it’s just play dates and field trips for us. But every week my goal is to follow the lead of my children and to listen to what it is that they are telling me that they would like to experience and learn.
I look for ways to use things that interest my children to help them learn. Currently, we are learning through The Simpsons. I proposed to the kids that I could write a loose “curriculum” based on episodes of their favorite show, The Simpsons and they we excited by this prospect. Every Sunday I research two episodes of the series and create a list of things to do, videos to watch, movies on Netflix to enjoy, websites to visit, and books to read that relate to the episode. Right now, we are learning about France… French art, history, food, culture… all inspired by episode 11 from season 1: “The Crepes of Wrath.”
There is no typical day at our house. Some days we go on play dates. When the weather is warm, my daughter takes horseback riding lessons. Once a week we take little brother to story time at the library. We play outside. We explore local parks and hiking trails. We do theater. We participate in an “Exploring Feelings” group. We bake. We make up recipes. We watch television. Currently we are enjoying “How I Met Your Mother.” We attend Bible class every Sunday morning. We have friends over. We run errands. We visit grandparents. We read. We play video games. We build Lego sets. We have a weekly play date with other unschoolers.
What we don’t do is worry about grades and academic achievement. My son and daughter know that they are in the 2nd and 1st grade, respectively. But the only circumstances in their lives when this information is pertinent is during church, where they attend class with other children in their grade level. Otherwise, we do not pay attention to that label. We do not think of our days as “school days” or “learning time.” There is not more emphasis placed on learning with a workbook than on learning with a set of Legos. We do not begin or finish a school year. We simply live our lives. The children know that they have gone on to the next “grade” when they move up at church.
When our children find something that matters to them, we support and encourage them to move forward with those interests. For instance, our oldest child, Hunter, has decided that he wants to pursue an acting and modeling career. We have taken him to two professional auditions and he head shots. He has two talent agencies that are interested in representing him. Acting is something that I have personally always loved so it was easy to jump on board with Hunter’s dreams, even if they are a little outrageous or impractical. Our daughter, on the other hand, is interested in cheerleading. We have signed her up for a cheer camp that will take place this summer. I have never been interested in cheering but I have jumped on board with her interest anyway. I will support my daughter no matter what my personal interests are.
In our home, we do not punish. Our children experience natural consequences for their actions, such as needing to take a breather if they are getting angry enough to hurt or yell at someone. But they do not have things taken away from them. There is no grounding or time outs. They know that after they have removed themselves from a situation which has become potentially volatile they are invited to join the group again once they have gained control of themselves. And they make that call. It isn’t about me controlling them … it’s about their ability to control themselves.
Unschooling works really well for our family. We are having fun! We are all learning. I enjoy learning alongside my children rather than acting as a teacher or a facilitator. They teach me way more than I could ever teach them. And we are all best friends. We enjoy each other. We have relationships. Each of us has an awesome and wonderful relationship with every other person in our family. It has always been my dream to be a part of a close-knit family and I am so thankful to have that opportunity. I am happier than I have ever been before in my entire life and I believe most of the happiness is the result of living authentically and following my bliss which has led me to unschool my children. What a blessing it has been.
*Update: I thought it was only fair to disclose that since I wrote this article (about a month ago) we have determined that “How I Met Your Mother” is no longer a show that we will all watch freely together. There are still some episodes that are perfectly fine, in my opinion, and my kids look forward to me letting them know which ones they can see again. There are also some clips from the show on YouTube that they will be watching. But overall, as we watched more and more of it, it was not a show I felt comfortable letting both older children watch openly and without limits. My feelings about “The Simpsons”, however, have not changed ;).
And now for a give away! I’m so excited to be able to offer two samples of hot cocoa, a product offered by my family’s business, Ridiculous Chocolate. Our candy product is vegan, organic, low glycemic, and raw … not to mention extremely delicious and wildly popular. Recently we also added a tasty instant cocoa mix to our menu. It’s made out of cocoa powder, coconut milk, and coconut sugar. I like to add a smidgen of stevia powder and a dash of cayenne pepper to mine. This week we’d like to give away a sample of our cocoa to two different readers. Just leave a comment on this post and if you’d like to be included in the drawing, make a note of that in your comment. One of my children will draw a name the old-fashioned way (out of a hat) in 3 days, on April 14. Make sure we can get back in touch with you if we draw your name (so leave an email address in your comment, yo).