This is the third part of a series I started a year ago, at which point I wasn’t quite sure what to write next, so I moved on to other things. But after writing about our Unschooling life for the past year, I think it’s time to pick up where I left off. So far I’ve offered a definition of Unschooling, and wrote about how self-motivation is at the heart of successful learning. Today I’d like to offer an overview of how to Unschool your children.
Step One: Unlearn What You Have Learned
Sorry for the Star Wars references, but I just couldn’t help myself. It’s also an accurate statement to begin with, because the first step to Unschooling really is unlearning. For Unschooling to work, you need to let go of the preconceived notions you likely have about education. In our society we’re taught to accept education as a structured, regimented process that requires standards and curricula to tell children what they need to learn. Let this all go, and focus on the fact that your children are natural learners. This is actually the hardest step for many people, but once you really accept this basic philosophy of Unschooling every other step becomes much easier.
Step Two: Pursue Your Passions
Children are natural learners, but to really understand the value of following their passions and dreams, they need to see you doing the same. You can’t allow different rules to apply for you and for them. So find things you enjoy learning yourself and pursue them, as I’ve written about before. Let them see you following your passions and they will be all the more willing to do the same thing as they grow. Indeed, that’s part of why I write this blog, to show my children that I’m not about to give up on my dream of becoming a writer. It’s also why I participate in NaNoWriMo for a dedicated month of working on my writing, why I’ve played my clarinet in local concert bands, and why I spend time working on photography.
Step Three: Support Them
Perhaps this goes without saying, but give your children whatever support they need. Do they love reading? Buy them books, read to them, take them to the library as often as they want and even attend book signings together. Do they love music? Get them instruments, listen to music, and go to concerts. Do they love art? Supply them with endless stacks of paper and art supplies, take them to museums, and talk about art. Do they love history? Read to them, take them to museums, tell them true stories. Do they love the outdoors? Get outside and hike and camp and explore together. Does photography fascinate them? Give them their own camera and turn them lose with it. Do they love cooking and baking? Let them join you when it’s time to make food. This paragraph could go on near endlessly just with more examples from my own family. The point is to find as many ways as possible to help them explore their interests.
Step Four: Strew
Strewing is the art of inspiring your children subtly. Fill your home and your lives with ideas, objects, documentaries, books and whatever else comes to mind that just might inspire your children to become interested in something new. It won’t always work, and that’s fine, but keep doing it anyway. One of the joys of Unschooling is how quickly kids take to new ideas when one catches their interest. Even if it seems like something they might not be interested in, there’s a good chance that they’ll surprise you and take off in some new and exciting direction.
Step Five: Patience
Sometimes your children won’t be interested in things that are extremely important to you. Sometimes they’ll pass on skills that seem vitally important, like math, or reading for example. Be patient. This can be in some cases the hardest part of Unschooling, because it can be very difficult to wait for your children to be willing to learn something genuinely amazing, especially when you care deeply about it yourself. At times I’ve struggled a lot waiting for my children to decide to become readers, in part because I’m a voracious reader myself, and it’s taken a lot of work to not interfere in their process. And when they do decide to master something like reading on their own schedule, it’s remarkable to see how quickly they leap into it.
Step Six: Learn Alongside Them
Invariably your children will become interested in something that has never particularly held much interest to you. Rather than turning up your nose, join them in learning about it. It will inspire them to pursue it more deeply, and you’ll likely have lot more fun that you expect. I’ve learned a lot more about Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, and Selachimorpha that I ever knew I wanted to, just because those are some of my children’s favorite animals. We read books, watch documentaries and talk about them frequently, and in the process I learn almost as much as they do. This process of learning together is one of the best parts of Unschooling, and I highly recommend it.
Step Seven: Enjoy Life
Unschooling isn’t about trying to learn everything into a learning experience, but rather letting the learning happen naturally as you go about your life. So have fun. Do fun things with your children and go to places that you enjoy. Don’t stress about what they have or haven’t learned and instead enjoy their childhood alongside them. The learning will happen on their schedule and in their own ways just as long as you step back and let it.
At the end of the day this list isn’t comprehensive. Yours will likely look different in some respects, as Unschooling takes a unique route for every family and individual. There are times when it’s difficult, because life itself is difficult, and making the mental changes to really devote yourself to Unschooling takes significant work and is unlikely to take hold over night. But I do know that if you don’t force your children to learn and instead let it happen organically, it will have unexpected and wonderful results.
Check out past installments of The Dad Hatter’s Unschooling Primer: