After our busy mornings attending classes, playing with friends, and doing some classic studies, the hours after lunch are a peaceful time at our house. When you call yourself an “unschooling” family, it can take on many different meanings. For us, it means allowing our kids to follow their own interests as a means for learning. We don’t have any technology time limits at our house except for five o’clock. That’s when the boys must put down their iPads and video games for the rest of the day. We also have been trying out a “no-tech” hour during the day to foster boredom. Yes, we encourage boredom in our house. Many studies have proven that boredom is essential in the development of creativity in children. I don’t really care what they do during that hour. They can lay on the floor and look at the wall if that suits them. The idea is to get them to be mindful of their thoughts, to feel comfortable with quiet contemplation.
During the afternoons the boys play video games, make movies that they post to their YouTube account, and they play basketball in the driveway. Sometimes they read a book without me even having to ask them. They also like to cook or do science experiments. They also watch TV. I let them tell me what they want to do and then I help them accomplish the tasks they want to do. I want them to understand that learning happens every day and that it happens all around them. I want them to know they are the masters of their education and that the learning never stops. That’s one reason why we “unschool” year-round.
That’s right, we don’t have a winter break or take a summer vacation. Right now, as I write this, we are deep in the woods for the summer in Northern Michigan, where I am teaching writing at a fine arts summer camp. The boys work geography projects and research the mushrooms growing outside our door with their grandmother while I teach classes. In a week, they will also be campers at the camp I am working at and that will become their “school” for the next four weeks. They will study visual arts and drama for the rest of the summer. Until then, they will explore math, work on their handwriting, explore the woods, and read lots of books. Even on weekends, there is learning to be had. It never ends.
I am not their teacher. I am their model. I show them that, even at my age of thirty-six, with three college degrees already under my belt, I still love to learn and I continue to seek out knowledge. One of the best ways to help your kids learn is to learn new things yourself! I wanted to learn Spanish, so I bought the Rosetta Stone Spanish set. Now, all three of us are learning Spanish. I have to admit, I am not the best at math. Our exploration of math is not just for the boys; I am also learning with them. Having them see me interested, engaged, and eager to learn models to them that learning is a proactive thing done by people at every age and stage of their lives. Learning is an exciting, positive, constant aspect of life when you unschool.
As evening descends upon our home, we work on dinner together, honing some of our cooking skills. Chores and life skills are something we have begun to focus on, so the boys do some light cleaning or laundry, earning some allowance money (which is a great way to learn money management). We spend almost every dinner together at the kitchen table. After dinner, I usually work in my office grading papers for the university or I work on my own writing. I want my boys to understand that my work is important and that I take my job(s) seriously, as seriously as I take helping them learn and grow. My professional life is an important part of who I am, so I keep my boys involved with my work. I take them with me to campus a few times a year when I teach college classes. I always invite them into my office at home and encourage them to ask me questions about my work and what I am writing.
At bedtime, which is usually much later than most kids go to sleep, I read out loud to them before turning off the light. Studies have shown that reading aloud to older kids and into adulthood is important. I don’t know if my boys will ever be too old to be read aloud to. I still find hearing a story read out loud to be soothing and pleasurable. We are about to begin the Harry Potter series. My excitement when beginning a new reading journey, I hope, is contagious.
It can sound scary to think of yourself as a model or a facilitator rather than the person in charge of your child’s education and learning. But, it is only scary when we continue to think of education as something our kids resist and something we have to shove down their throats. When we take a step back and trust that kids are naturally curious and that they actually like to learn, then unschooling becomes a great way to educate your kids. The biggest requirement from the parent is to be enthusiastic about learning and adopt a lifetime learning attitude for your own life as well as your kids’ lives. Love your kids, love learning, and you are already qualified to try unschooling.
You can read about A Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family: Part 1 here.