A Control Freaks Guide to Unschooling
I am not radical. I am not a natural unschooler at all really. One of the ways I control my shame/blame/pain is to be busy, to organise and to control. Even talking about it makes me feel a bit icky. I like timetables and structure and plans because even though school was terrible at times for me, it was safer than home. It was predictable. In fact one of the few ways my Mum who was a teacher would engage with me was with a teacher/pupil mode.
I read a lot and when I became a parent I was young and without the support of my family (I was 22) because they viewed marriage as "slavery" and having children as "a waste".
Still despite or maybe because of this I found a fierce devotion and affection to my children and this became even stronger when my youngest child died.
I understood the importance of play and that it was key to learning.
Yet school rolled around and she looked so cute in her little Doc Martins and dress.
I won't go into the fresh hell that was school from day one because I feel I have talked about it a lot.
1) Trust your child.
I don't mean with white board markers or super glue (but you might). I mean that children have an innate curiosity until it is forced out of them. Until they have to learn stuff to "pass a test". I believe that you use a different part of your brain or memory when you are studying intently to pass a test. When you turn in that paper your brain removes the files because it knows it no longer needs them. That is why most folks don't remember what they learned at school, because it simply wasn't needed after the test. When kids learn organically for themselves (the Why stage) they retain it as useful information. If it is inspiring, playful and fun the brain seems to hold onto it in more than one place. So you have to chill. You have to understand that your fears and anxieties are that YOUR fears and anxieties. If you stop your child from "messing around" on Youtube "pointlessly" watching Japanimation they might never surprise you by speaking Japanese from reading subtitles. If you want them to "be clean" or "not play with bugs" they might never tell you all about the structure of bumble bee wings. Your job is to be their supporter, their cheerleader, to facilitate and to inspire.
You might not like it.
It might feel anxious and uncomfortable. Yet if you can take a moment and let go of the scary "what if's" it works.
2) Inspire and Support
While it is not strictly "unschool" chic to do trips or go to educational places I have always liked galleries and museums. I like hiking too when I am well enough but museums and galleries give me a sense of peace in a busy city. I am a curious person. I am rather Hermione Granger, and I enjoy learning and exploring. I feel this is the biggest influence not in so much of what I study but my curiosity and genuine excitement about the world.
From Anglo-Saxon living history exhibits to Spanish painters I feel like there is something special about museums and galleries. If you have never been up close to Rembrandt sketches, or a huge Dali painting, it's hard to put into words. Being inspired and curious allows you to be an inspiration. It doesn't really matter what your passions are, so long as you educate your self and support your children's passions.
3) Be PresentIf you imagine your attention is like light, being open and present is one of the most valuable things you can ever give your child. It means putting down the phone, getting off facebook and understanding that housework and cleaning is a job that never ends.
Sitting down and connecting, talking and even just being with no distractions is more valuable than any toy, any book, and holiday you can give. This is it. This is their childhood memory of you. It will last their lifetime. They will remember. That doesn't mean you can't have rules (some unschoolers don't) or discipline (actions do have consequences). It means you have to shine your light of attention. Really listen. Be vulnerable and honest.
So many parents I know (especially ones who have kids later) seem to care more about "occupying" their child so they can "get stuff done" rather than being with their child. They fill their lives with business rather than read a book, sing a song, sit for a cuddle, join in the tea party. I can't remember where I heard it but I remember this from when my daughter was a baby.
"You invite your child into your life, be a good host."
No-one enjoys the dinner party where the host is frazzled and more worried about the "impressive" dish rather than spending time with their guests. In fact take-out and laughter is far more fun to be around.
That being said no-one wants someone to order for them, cut up their food and feed them. You have to balance distraction against the urge to do thing FOR your child. It may be irritating, slow, or "wrong" but failing is how we truly learn. Sitting on our hands and being present can be uncomfortable yet it is also the greatest joy.
A gentle "Have you thought of trying it this way?" Is much nicer than "your're doing it wrong!"
4) Research and Development
Doing your research and developing good strategies for your "wobbles" can help you manage your control freak urges so they don't get in the way of your child's learning. Websites, books, TED talks and even home education groups online and irl can be a gold mine.
These things can be challenging and uncomfortable as well as inspiring and uplifting. It is a process and it is full of failure and emotional struggle and that is how you know you are learning. So instead of trying to plan things, write timetables or freak out write a blog, journal, meditate or research. If you do have a full blown freak out, understand that it is okay.
That it was a moment and it will pass. That the joys, benefits and learning you are doing out weight the anxiety. That it will be okay.
Remember too that home education is far too important to be taken seriously.