When your child has asked for a schedule, a to-do list, or to be told what to do, how have you handled their request from an unschooling perspective?

Heather Y– My oldest liked to have a general idea of what to expect and would make her own schedules so she knew. I blame myself. When she was small I got into “Managers of Their Homes” and was ALL ABOUT the SCHEDULE. Stressed us all out. Finally figured out that schedules make me panic and need to NOT. DO. THAT.

So instead I kept a general rhythm that changed with the seasons. My husband works from home as a writer and programmer, needs tons of quiet when he is “in the zone” and tends to have his sleep change with his patterns – if he needs lots of quiet it flips so he is working at night. So as the seasons changed I would adapt so the kids and I were getting time with him when he was fully functioning. I kept patterns for myself in order to make sure I was getting things done and be predictable for my oldest. Breakfast, take pills, exercise (in season), cleaning or whatever, lunch, downtime, dinner, snack, bed. That gave the kids patterns to work around.

And during seasons when we had lots of outside activities we would work around those with predictable amounts of time we had to leave, and do things before. (A wise friend once told me “add an extra half hour to getting ready per child.”) I also had patterns for when we went shopping and things like that. When they were small I would leave the house every other day so we weren’t using so much gas as when we went out every day. Nowadays my work helps dictate the schedule. I always work the dame days so they know that I work 12 hours Sunday, am home and having downtime all day Monday, Tuesday I take grandma shopping and work 12 hr overnight, Wed I sleep to catch up and work overnight, Thursday I sleep part of the day and then start getting caught up on household stuff, Friday is Sabbath prep, Saturday is Sabbath and no work.

The kids and hubby all work around that.

Vanessa P –Before we started fully unschooling, I tried to keep a loose schedule, but I’ve never been a scheduled person, and I’ve never really liked to have a schedule. So, my kids have never really craved a schedule. My oldest does like to know what is going to happen next, but we just accomplish that by informing him if something is happening the next day or whatever.

I am the type of person who needs to catch up on sleep frequently. Hubby keeps the same sleep schedule most of the time. Very rarely does he sway from that, so on his days off he’s often up with the “littles”. As far as sleep for the kids, the younger two go to bed at the same time (8pm) but the older two go to bed about the same time we do. If we need to go to something the next morning I just tell them and have them go to bed a bit earlier.

Pam C — I LOVE lists. The rest of my family not so much. They all realize that at times a list aids in organizing, so they make them as they want them.
We have a large dry erase calendar that I fill in at the beginning of each month. Each family member has their own color so it is easy for each to see what appointments or activities they have each day/week. We add or erase as changes occur. This fits everyone well as it keeps things organized but for those who do not like creating lists… they never have to since the one who loves to gladly does it with/ for them.

Cathi D– I hate lists, so I struggle to meet my kids’ organizational requests. They know to make their own lists.

I don’t have a single child that wants to be told what to do! LOL They must have gotten that from their father. No really.

But they do come and ask what they should do with their day, because we’ve cultivated a habit of all checking in with each other to see what has to happen, what things people have been planning and really wanting to do, etc. We have a flexible framework in our house where we let them know what’s upcoming for the following day, days or week(s) as needed. This has started by example between DH and I, as we do the check-in to stay up to speed with each other’s goals and commitments.

When they were smaller, for awhile I wrote down that we’d do such-and-such when Daddy was on night shift, such-and-such on day shift, and such-and-such when he was at home, because his shift schedule changes up our household every couple of days. That helped them remember to have quiet time when he’s sleeping during the day, which they do automatically now. They quickly learned to trust that they’d have the freedom to get more rambunctious when he’s around.

This adaptability is paying off well. Although they tend to sit around in their pyjamas till noon if both their parents have been working late (I do my editing work late at night), our oldest has quite successfully held down a seasonal agricultural job with 5 a.m. starts and 12-hour days.

Patrice L — I don’t have anyone who asks for a to do list. I think that it could be because none of them have attended school, the concept just isn’t familiar to them. Well no, my oldest attended a schoolish daycare off and on until she was 4 years old, but she’s never been at a loss when it comes to ideas or interest.
I think that if anyone asked for a to do list, I’d ask why and ask for specifics, a cleaning to do list? A schoolish to do list? Then I would help them come up with one and it would be up to them to get it done or do something else.

Monica B– My eldest asked for a list of subjects to do, things she liked and was good at – spelling and I can’t recall what else because it was long ago. I forgot she asked and she never asked again.

That must have been part of her deschooling process. I felt bad I forgot but I don’t think she suffered. We did a lot of lists of the subjects we covered before unschooling. I also think she hears a lot of list/subject talk from her public school, non-unschooling friends, so to her, she needed a list. Or so she thought.

Elizabeth H– I’m reminded of the first time we tried to fully unschool – I think my older two were about 12 and 14 (who had been hsed since they were 7 and 9) – and they had a complete and total panic attack when I took away their schedule. Especially my dd(then 12) who is the one I suspect has aspergers. It’s funny now, but at the time I just wanted to lock myself in my room and cry.

Aadel B — My oldest could care less about a schedule or list so she was glad when we started unschooling. She has asked me a few times about getting “caught up” on math and she wanted to improve her writing and spelling skills so we talked about it and I helped her find resources. I asked if she wanted help remembering to use them and for math she said yes. I usually just suggest once in a while when she is wandering around – like, “hey you know you could work on some Khan if you wanted to”.

Hubby is much more into schedules and lists and so when he sees my sanity waning he sometimes goes into panic mode and institutes a “schedule”, which then I am supposed to keep the kids accountable for, and I end up resenting because it is more work for me. We’ve talked about it – he doesn’t understand quite how I don’t like rules and lists because I am a very free-flowing flighty head who hates remembering that kind of stuff. Every chore chart or incentive scheme ever attempted on me lasted a max of 2 days.

So hubby will say that the kids have to be working on a project 3 mornings a week to give me some quiet time. He expects me to come up with projects and dole out this schedule. I end up just letting the kids pick something from our bookshelf or a topic to study/research during those mornings and it seems to satisfy everyone.

I think a lot of has to do with motivation. I know people who are super motivated by incentives and schedules. I find that I am more motivated by relationships in my life (not wanting to disappoint when something is due or expected).

My middle daughter does like lists, but she makes her own. She has always unschooled. She will make a list of things she wants to look up, or accomplish in a day. She likes to be notified if some major change of plans or daily routine is coming up.

Now, when I say daily routine, I mean the flow of our house at the time. We kind of have a flow in each season of life. Right now, we stay home most days unless I need to run errands or we have planned a park day or outing (which we have to plan b/c we use public transportation, walk, etc.) Saturdays some of us or all of us play at the USO. Sundays are family day and Sabbath rest – we might do something fun as a family or stay home and catch up with each other and listen to worship music, sermon, Bible audio, etc.

Mariellen M — I’m a list-maker. Schedules stress me out but lists are awesome for me. I make lists for myself, not for my kids. But the kids have picked up on it and do occasionally ask for help with list-making. Usually of the “I have this big thing I want to do and don’t know how to make it manageable” variety. So I work with them to break their big project down into bite-size pieces and they list it all out and that’s the end of it. It’s THEIR list and it’s up to them what to do with it. I don’t mean that in an uncaring way but more in an “I refuse to hold them ‘accountable’ for their goals” way. For one, once the list is written it tends to vanish but she works through what was on the list from her head. For the other the list usually ends up on a whiteboard somewhere in her room and she crosses things off faithfully. But it’s about what suits them, not me. I’ve never had one ask for a schedule and might have a panic attack if they did because, like I said, schedules cause me tremendous stress.

As far as when they ask to be told what to do, it usually stems from them feeling overwhelmed and looking for help. They don’t want me to tell them what to do, per say, just to help them figure out what to do. Sometimes because they’re overwhelmed they may word it awkwardly so I always try to dig in and figure out exactly what they’re wanting then I do my best to help them out. But I’m not so good at telling people what to do anyway so it’s probably a good thing that’s never been what they wanted.

I have one right now that’s at a loose end while waiting for a huge download to finish (Steam is awesome for buying and managing games but downloading modern video games on a 3 Mbps connection blows chunks). She’s mentioned not having anything to do. But she hasn’t asked for advice or suggestions and she’s filling that “empty” time pretty admirably without my help so I’m leaving it alone.

Elizabeth H — In my case, right from the beginning, my goal was to help my dd learn to create her own checklists and schedule. We realize now that she likely has aspergers, so I’m glad I didn’t force her to quit cold turkey when I was ready to unschool and she wasn’t. This ABSOLUTELY wasn’t needed for my other two, and after I regrouped and we unschooled the second time it didn’t take ds long to deschool at all.

What I ended up doing with her is to slowly let go of little bits at a time. As a high school freshman, she was choosing all of her classes, helping pick out what books and/or curriculum to use, and I was writing out a weekly checklist. Basketball controlled her schedule very tightly for the majority of the traditional school year, so outside of our usual breakfast-rooms-outside chores I didn’t need to do any daily schedule for her.

At first the checklist was very specific for what “school” to do each day, but eventually I loosened it up until it was a list of what she should do for the month, and then her last year of high school she had to do all the scheduling herself. I also didn’t give her any input what to study her senior year, or even offer what most colleges “require”. That year, planned everything herself with only a little help from me choosing a chemistry curriculum (I never did wean her off of her dependence on “real” classes.) While all of that wasn’t without growing pains, I *know* that she couldn’t have gone to college without me if I wouldn’t have helped her become more independent.

Throughout high school, though, even though I *gave* her the schedule, I never said anything if a list wasn’t finished. During her senior year, she had a VERY low couple of months and didn’t do much at all. I remember her telling me, “You need to yell at me when I don’t do my school work!” And I told her she needed to learn how to prioritize what was important to her, and if school work wasn’t the most important thing at that time, I was okay with it.

You should see the color-coded planner she uses for college! I love lists, but that much gives even me hives. But I’m glad that she’s found what works best for her without fueling her anxiety.

I see that this dd has a lot of trouble seeing/feeling her own rhythms and she very easily succumbs to other people’s. I think the most important thing she learned in high school was how to find that within herself. Maybe I’m way off base, but sometimes I think that public schools and their emphasis on rigid scheduling and consequences for kids with aspergers isn’t at all what they need. Sure, the OCD rigidness can comfort girls like my dd, but it’s not doing anything to help them learn to function on their own. Better to let her work it out on her own during high school and be there to catch her when the anxiety would get too much.

Rebecca T — None of my children have ever asked for a schedule or to-do list. Not once.

Reminders? Help with time management and accountability? Definitely.

Becky O– When my kids ask, I help them compile lists, schedules, etc. I see unschooling as being responsive to my children’s wants and needs – whether that looks like school and structured stuff or not.

Pam C I think we sometimes get lists and schedules too intertwined. Lists and schedules can go together, but they can also be about very different things. I’m a list maker because I like organization (even though I am not always organized), because I want to remember things and the world is full of too many things for me to remember.

Unless your child is either 1. born with a love of list making or 2. programmed into believing they are important by someone else who likes/relies on them, they might really just care less. So if any of us think we should be concerned about whether or not our kids participate in such things, let it go! If/when they find them of interest, they will either run with it on their own, or ask for help in one way or another.

If you as an adult/parent think some form or list making and/or organizational tools are important – first think about your why on that. Is it because it was “the way things should be” or because it fits into something good/helpful in your life that brings something nice into your day.

Then, once you know what your why is, and how it would be beneficial to you if that is the case, then look into the bazillion different options out there. Do you want/need a multi purpose something, or do you simply want a tablet for writing those lists. Do you want to use something for menu planning and/or shopping lists? Do you want it in paper form, or electronic? What fits you? Your personality? Your ease with technology? Your artistic or no-nonsense bent? What will assist you in being a kinder, more patient person? What will get you all tied up in knots if it doesn’t work easily? What will interfere with the lives of those around you? What might help you focus in tidbits so that you have more free time for your children, your spouse? What will get you too focused on what is working best for others and spending time on searching through options better suited for another than for you and the needs of your family?

And if it keeps you in a schoolish mindset, step away from the whole darn deal and get in the midst of your kids and use your energy on connecting more with them, in each moment.

Traci P– I do have a child who wants a routine. He does things like personal care and helping out within our family community in routine fashion. Because of it I try to do some of the same. We don’t schedule anything but I make sure that I do certain things in the morning, keep brunch at an expected time of day, etc. It’s encouraging to him and I can tell it makes him happy that I accommodate his preferences.

He also likes lists and he will usually think of a handful of things he wants to do the next day, write himself a list on the white board, and work through it. I don’t enforce him doing any of it, but I will high-five him when he’s excited about getting something done.

When he was still finding his own personality he would ask me to make him a list. I would oblige, putting all sorts of stuff on it. Then he’d pick stuff off the list to do. Eventually he just came to the point where he doesn’t ask me for ideas any more.

I don’t really question how it fits into unschooling anymore because I don’t like labeling something as unschooling or not unschooling. If lists are what he likes, then lists are what he uses. He’s just the sort of person that likes to face the day with a written plan of action. Even if that plan of action refers to model planes or mud pies, reading or math. It’s my job to encourage him in whatever helps him become a lifelong learner and I’m good with whatever organizational tools he finds useful.

Carma P– When my kids want a schedule or list, we discuss all the options to figure out exactly what they want and why and how best to achieve it, then I help them do whatever it is they want to do. They are fully aware that this is not a schedule/list/rule I am forcing on them, but that I am willing to help by reminding them of their own goals if that is what they want.

Traci P — I want to add that my kids have never done school or been graded so they look at things a little differently.

I also wanted to add that some personalities stress over a list being an obligation or being representative of an expectation. My oldest has almost a different anxiety. He stresses when he thinks that unexpected events could happen. I think this is why he likes to make a plan for his day. He likes to know what comes next.

My biggest challenge has been keeping a balance for my other two kids who care nothing about plans.

Jennifer M — I think that a schedule, a to-do list, and being told what to do are three very separate and distinct things. None of my four kids have ever asked to be told what to do

Tegan, who’s six, went through a period of time about 6 months ago that she decided she wanted to “do school.” I took her very seriously, and asked how I could help make that happen. I printed a bunch of worksheets for her, and I wrote the schedule she dictated to me up on the whiteboard (It went something like: Story time, math, recess, writing, art, recess, etc) She announced to everyone that she was going to do school, and was adamant that we start on time, and switch to the next activity at the proper interval. It lasted for exactly one day. That’s the closest any of my kids have come to asking for a schedule, although they’ve all become accustomed to following the calendar in terms of knowing what’s coming up when (park days, play dates, gymnastics, karate, etc)

As for lists, I tend to think you’re either a person who likes them, or a person who doesn’t. I am a big list fan. Huge. So far, none of my kids have shown any big interest in to-do lists, which is fine, although they’ve all used one, or asked for help with one, at various times for various reasons.

Vanessa P Since we have always unschooled my kids have never asked for a schedule. They have asked to do certain activities and classes.. For instance they want very much to go to Sunday school every Sunday and church on Wednesday nights. We discuss with them the schedule changes that will need to happen to make that possible ( earlier to bed on sat night) and they usually agree readily because it’s what they want.

Other than that my oldest has asked sometimes for me to remember him of things but usually remembers himself (such as plans to Skype with friends the following day). Our family has always relished in not having a set schedule as we can be quite spontaneous with our plans.

Cait B– We now have 3 people in the house with PTSD, one of whom has diabetes, one on the autistic spectrum, and one (me) who is very hyperactive (ADHD or PTSD related, who knows). A bit of routine is good to help limit surprises. We each have appts related to our challenges. SO works early mornings, I work afternoons. Other area hs families help get M(12) to weekly park days, biweekly teen night, etc. I try to keep a loose idea of what’s coming up, at least for the next week.

When M asks what he can do (never asks to be *told* what to do, thanks to his PDA), I tell him some of the things around the house that need to be done and some other more “fun” options, then it’s his choice what to do.