There is a really, REALLY common worry about unschooling – “My kid only likes one thing, and he won’t do anything but that if I don’t push him to do other things”. Usually it’s video games, TV or Yu-Gi-Oh. But sometimes it’s skateboarding or reading or drawing…..
Among unschoolers/life learners/whatever, there are many answers to this. My answer is this – then push him! Jeez. Pushing kids to do things doesn’t mean we’re forcing them to learn, or expect them to perform for us or even expecting them to like it. There’s a cool movie, or an art festival or a interesting class, or whatever… there’s nothing wrong or un-unschooly with trying to convince a child to go.
Unschoolers don’t just sit back and go, “whatever”. We are engaged, fully, completely and wholly engaged with our kids. All kinds of homeschoolers are. But unschooling gets this rap for being “hands off” when it’s very much the opposite.
Communication is the key to learning as a family. Communication is how we know if what we are doing is working. Kids can communicate surprisingly well what they need if we are willing to sit down with them and listen to what they have to say.
Homeschooling and parenting are not about parents deciding what happens and kids follow. At, they shouldn’t be in my opinion. They are co-operative efforts. Even unschooling parents have needs, and are allowed to speak up about those needs. For example, we could say, “These are the needs I have as a parent – I need to be with you and spend time with you doing things. I like to see you learning new things and I like seeing you stretch your brain. Do you like these things too? How can we do this? How can we make our days so that you get the computer time you want, but I also get the family time I crave and I get to see you do other things?”
Another great conversation to have is to ask everyone in the family, “What do you want in life? What makes you feel successful, happy and like a full human?” It’s important to really listen. Because the answer to these questions are the basis of the unschooling curriculum. We want our kids to be successful, happy and full human beings. When they say what it takes to create that, that’s our cue to do as much as we can to give them a platform to achieve that. And, a lot of times, what they do, how they react to what we say, and the things they choose to pursue are just as good of answers to these questions.
So when we have conversations like this, we aren’t telling our kids *what* other things we want them to do. But we are being parents and a loving ones at that, by making it clear that we try to get them to do things because we like their company, we think they’ll like it, and it seems cool.
If we approach conversations and “pushing” our kids from a “I love you and I want to be a part of your life, see you thrive, and be a part of the world” and don’t put any guilt, shame, mistrust or blame into the equation, we can get excited about our kids’ lives, and be up front about why we are trying to get them involved in things other than their primary interest. The follow up to all of this, is once pushed to “give it a try”, to let them experience it in their own way, with no expectations of performance, or gratitude or any other “payback”. If we truly are pushing them to do something because we love them, we aren’t attached to the outcome of whether they like it or do well in that particular thing.
Some unschoolers would say, “So, let kids play games all day.” I’m cool with that approach too, because I’ve seen (and experienced) what happens when a person doesn’t have a time limit and can literally play as much as he likes. There’s no school looming. There’s no end in sight. It’s not like summer vacation where he knows he’s on limited time.
Eventually, he realizes that he’s spending a lot of time on something and not spending time on a lot of other things. He either gets bored or realizes that there are other things he wants to do too. Especially if the rest of the family is doing fun stuff and really engaged in life without giving him guilt trips that he’s not participating, or otherwise sending him signals that’s he’s not able to make his own decisions.
But, it’s really hard to go that route, and I understand that. So, I say if we can’t let our kids burn themselves out on their one activity – have a conversation, with everyone, and listen. Well, we all could benefit from family conversation, regardless. Using a “talking stick” is a good tool if listening isn’t a habit. And, asking each other to repeat what has been said to make sure that everyone understands each other is another way to create trust and closeness between family members.
By working together to make our days what we can all live with, it’s easier to come to an
agreement that lets everyone be heard, understood and free to choose what’s important in their own life.
Unschooling is a philosophy, not a “thing people do”. So when you people talk about unschooling in can be confusing to understand all the “whats”. It doesn’t make sense. Focusing on “why”s rather than “what”s makes it much easier to understand what unschooling is trying to accomplish. To me, it doesn’t matter if people agree or not with the philosophy behind unschooling. But knowing the “why” behind education, whatever that “why” is, allows the “what” to fall into place.