Unschooling is so far removed from societal norms that it’s hard to comprehend unless you are doing it.
It’s impossible to comprehend unschooling unless you are doing it. I will take that a step further and say it is not possible to understand unschooling unless you have been doing it for a long time.
People try to understand. Some try to understand to be a good friend or family member. Others try because they want to critique it. Some people try to understand unschooling because they want the result that comes from unschooling well but want it right now.
Unschooling doesn’t work that way. (Click here to learn about unschooling). It can take years and years for some (like me) to fully grasp unschooling.
Though very few people will ever understand unschooling there are a few things that are worth knowing if you have someone in your life who is unschooling. Here are some:
1 Unschooling is a way of living as though school does not exist. This includes the idea that people can be taught, that people need to learn certain pieces of information at certain ages, and that it’s acceptable for one individual, or group of individuals, to decide what another individual, or group of individuals “knows”.
You will not be able to think in anything other than schooly thoughts and terms. That’s okay. We understand. Please understand though that you don’t understand. We have put an incredible amount of personal work, time, and resources into learning how to create the ultimate learning environment for our children. Our lives are full. It is not a good use of our time to try to help you fully understand unschooling.
We can give you peeks into our world, if we feel like it, but it is highly unlikely that you want to put in the work required to grasp unschooling. So rather than trying to understand it, just observe it. Don’t try to teach anybody anything. Follow the parents’ lead.
2 We really, really, really like our kids. Like, really. No we do not need a break from them. No, we are not going to bad mouth them. No, we are not going to throw them under the bus to try to make a new friend through feigned shared misery. Yes, we are really, really, really kind to our kids. And sweet. It’s our goal. It’s what we strive for. It’s okay if you think it’s coddling or spoiling them. If that’s what you think, we probably won’t see much of each other anyway.
3 Our goal is not for our kids to learn particular things at particular ages, or particular things at all. We understand that there are infinite things in this world to learn and that most of what we parents (and teachers) know will be outdated by the time our kids are adults.
Our job in life is to create an environment where our kids have what they need to explore the things that intrigue them. That includes a peaceful home, full access to the world through computers, phones, tablets, and anything else that makes information quickly and easily accessible, plenty of food, comfortable clothes, and rest when needed, among other things. We understand that it is in this environment that real learning happens.
4 We understand that life is not separated into subjects and that by teaching our kids that it is we are not only putting them at a disadvantage, but preventing them from living in the real world.
We understand that art involves math, science involves history, and music involves movement. We know that the world from past to present right into the future is one hundred percent connected and every thing that has ever happened is relevant to every thing that ever will.
5 We are forward thinking and know that there are infinite things to learn and love. We are parenting for the future, not the past. Our goal is that our kids get to spend the first 18 years of their lives exploring as many of those things as they want instead of waiting until 18 or 22 or 30 to have time to figure out who they are and what they love. We know that to be truly happy and productive people need to spend their lives doing something they love and are interested in. We know that technology and information change. We understand that by allowing our kids to live in the real world, with access to real and current technology, we are preparing them for the future.
6 We do not test our kids. Ever. Our kids might have to take a test to meet legalities, but these are strictly a formality for us and have no bearing whatsoever on how we live our lives with our kids. The results are reported where they need to be reported and responsibly forgotten. We tell our kids that they mean nothing and most often turn them into a silly game- because that is what tests are.
7 We are smart. We know that some parents do not parent their children and call it unschooling. This is tragic and breaks our hearts. We call it unparenting. Please do not mix up unparenting and unschooling.
We also understand what helicopter parenting is. Helicopter parenting, micromanaging, and controlling are also not unschooling.
8 Unschooling an incredibly connected and involved kind of parenting. I don’t know of a way of parenting that is more connected or involved. It is being together nearly around the clock. It involves us parents paying attention to what resources our kids need, their mental and emotional well being, and keeping a harmonious and peaceful home life. It is helping them figure out how to do something, what they are looking for, and navigating all sorts of complex and challenging situations from relationships to music. It is using our whole lives for this.
9 Unschooling is understanding that when people live in a peaceful and enriching environment, with access to all sorts of tools, resources and experiences, they will learn everything they need to know. Yes, that’s right. Without being taught, they will learn everything they need to learn to live the life they want. We see this day in and day out and it is the absolute coolest thing.
Our kids are not left to their own devices. They are not living their lives alone. Nor do they have parents who chase after them or fawn over them in a pathetic, unhealthy, or codependent way.
As most of us are products of traditional schooling ourselves, we frequently stare at our child in awe wondering how they know the thing they just said. Whether it’s a complex math problem that we couldn’t grasp as students ourselves, or perspective on a geopolitical situation that seems too far advanced for their age, we marvel that they have never had a formal lesson in their lives.
When we ask how they know the thing they just said, they look at us with the same dumbfounded expression we just gave them and say something like “Um, because I’m a human living on Earth?”
9 We do not sit around our kitchen table doing lessons. Ever. We do not designate certain times for learning. We understand that learning happens literally all the time and that when we try to teach something we are interrupting the natural learning that is already happening- that we are making our children’s learning about us instead of their learning.
Yes, this includes video games, TV, time with friends, and movies, but it also includes books, museums, plays, travel, documentaries and loads and loads of other stuff.
10 We have no interest in dumbing our children down by thinking we know what they are capable of. People are generally capable of far more than their superiors believe them to be. This is also true for children which is why we know the role of “teacher” is a disservice.
11 Unschooling is not something we are passionate about. It is the way we live our lives. It encompasses every second of every single day of our lives. Every corner. Every nook and cranny. We finish our homes for unschooling. We learn boundaries for unschooling. Our entire minds and life shift to focusing on creating an unschooling environment for our family. Every single part of our lives, without exception- literally without exception– is crafted for unschooling. There is not a single part of our lives that are untouched by unschooling.
12 We don’t think we are better than those who choose a different life. We do think this is a far better choice for our families. It’s why we choose it and invest everything in it and trust that you feel the same way about your choice.
13 Our kids know a lot. Like, a lot. They are also typically loaded with self-worth, emotional intelligence and situational awareness. So if you try to quiz them, or incorrectly correct them, they might let your ignorance slide out of kindness or reserving their own emotional energy. Be on guard though- these kids are a total package and you would be shocked to hear what they see.
14 We parents learn to critically think in order to unschool well. For us, parenting on myth or out of fear has no place. We are not willing to create an artificial block for our children based on hearsay- no matter how many people are saying it. We will not put our childrens’ intelligence, self worth, or our relationship with them in jeopardy based on someone else’s unproven fear. We seek the truth in the interest of giving our children access to more of the world.
14 We tell our children the truth. Not in a cruel or brutal way but we do not lie to our kids. Sometimes we tell them the truth might be disturbing and ask if they want to know it. Sometimes we say we don’t think this is a good time to answer the question. But we do not lie. We invest in being a trusted resource for them as they learn to make their way in this complex world.
This builds a trust that eliminates a lot of the problems people think homeschooling brings. Because we always tell the truth there is less fighting and disagreeing. We don’t need to fight about bedtimes or food or screens or social obligations. It allows us to have conversations and generally come to a win-win solution.
15 Ultimately, we do not want our children to wait until they are twenty something to start living in the real world. We want them to live in the real world for the whole of their lives. We want to be with them as they learn how to navigate this world. Yes, the information and tools that are available to them, and also the nuance, formalities, information, relationships, bullshit, fragility, and many, many other parts of life that are unexpected or shocking.
We understand how difficult this is to understand and that it likely brings up lots of disagreement because it bucks most of what is societally accepted. We assure you- we know. There is not a concern, topic, or question you could bring up that we have not explored and feel confident with the answer. This does not mean we owe you an explanation.
We are one hundred percent focused on our family- on making it the happiest, most fulfilling, and wonderful place it can be. We are reserving all of our energy for this right now.
If you are really desperate to understand, just write down your concern and bring it to us when our kids are grown. Then we might miss them enough that we won’t mind reliving it all by answering your question.
Until then, just hang out with us. Play. Be curious. Have fun. This is the way we learn.
Not just kids. All of us.Thank you so much for reading! Follow Pondering Jen on social or sign up for our newsletter to stay connected!