March 10, 2010

Unschooling 101

Someone who stumbled upon my blog recently e-mailed me with some questions about unschooling. She said my response was really helpful and gave her a lot to think about, so I thought I'd turn the e-mail into a blog post. She would like to start unschooling but has some doubts. This is what I told her:

On watching television

To be honest, my son spends way more time in front of a screen than I would like. The best way I've found to look at the situation is to imagine that instead of spending time watching TV, for example, he is reading (something I value over TV watching). That usually changes my feelings. Also, I try to remind myself that he may be getting something that I'm not even aware of by watching a cartoon or playing a game. And it may end up being a big plus if he ends up in the animation business or if he ends up designing video games (which is what he wants to do). I do try to draw him into other occupations, but in the end if he wants to watch TV or play a video game I respect that. And I do my best to look for the good in the choices he makes.

You can find plenty of studies that rail against television but there are some that don't find it to have a negative effect. Read some of those and see what you think. Just open your mind a little more. I always remind myself that when rock 'n' roll first came out people thought it was really bad for kids. In fact, I think of video games as the rock 'n' roll of our time. :)

On valuing your child's interest vs. allowing
You should always strive toward valuing. Because that implies acceptance and even a certain amount of joy. Allow implies restrictions. It feels a little negative. But sometimes you're going to have negative feeling about things your kids are into. There's no getting around it--especially in the beginning! I'd say just to ask yourself why you have those negative feelings (and really dig deep!) and see if they make sense.

On sleep & arbitrary limits
Jerry has been setting his own bedtime for almost three years now (started at 12, I think) and he's just started staying up really late. It bugs my husband (a lot) and I'm not crazy about it because I see a lot less of him, but as long as Jerry can still do the things he needs to do during the day I'm trying to let it be (though I don't always succeed).

One thing I would say is to make sure, when you do set limits or make rules (on anything--not just bed time), that they are not arbitrary. Really ask yourself "why?" And if you find your answer is "because it's just not done" or something along those lines, dig a little deeper and ask a few more questions. You may find that the things you thought were important are actually kind of arbitrary. If we had to be someplace early in the morning I would probably feel getting to bed at a certain time is not arbitrary, but for now Jerry doesn't have to be anywhere until 1 so he can go to bed at 2 or even 4 and still get a full night's sleep.

On the importance of commitment, discipline and structure
I guess the question to ask yourself is who is making the commitment and are they doing it because it's important to them or because it's important to someone else. And, I think discipline comes with a real interest in something. Sure, you need to discipline yourself to wash your dishes and put your clothes away, but if you're interested in eating off a clean dish or having clean unwrinkled clothes you'll muster up the discipline when you need it. So, I don't really think discipline needs to be taught or a structure needs to be imposed.

On starting to unschool
If you're thinking you want to ease into unschooling, but you're unsure, I'd suggest that you just start saying yes more. That's all you need to do for now. Just see how it goes from there.

Required reading for beginners
I really like Tammy Takahshi's book Deschooling Gently. She's an unschooler but she's pretty middle of the road and she blazes her own trail. She's not caught up in trying to unschool the "right" way. She's doing what works for her family and encourages others to do the same. Her approach is a good way to ease into unschooling and it may or may not lead you to radical unschooling. So, that would be a good place to start. And, of course, read Sandra Dodd's web site and the Joyfully Rejoicing site.

The main thing (or things)
The main thing is to avoid arbitrary limits. And say yes as much as possible. And look for the joy in everything. And treat your kids the way you would treat any other adult. But allow yourself to take baby steps. It's a big paradigm shift--this whole unschooling thing. But once the shift has happened you'll never go back!

What if it doesn't take?
Even if you find unschooling isn't right for your family in the end, you'll still be much better off than you were by virtue of the fact that you will have asked yourself questions and really thought about the way you treat your children, the limits you set and whether or not they make any sense. So you might as well give it a try!


Shady Lady said...

Great post!! As you know I've had my challenges with radical unschooling. We seem to have found our rhythm now and it is a wonderful thing. Thanks!! :)

Deb(bie Debbie Doo) said...

love this post - especially that ending bit about saying yes a little more and you'll be a better family no matter where you end up - love that loving sense of acceptance for all types of life implied there!

Sheri said...

You know I love these posts. Such awesome reminders of why we're doing what we're doing.

I agree that the best place to start is to just say yes more often and really dig deep when your first reaction is to say no. It's made such a difference for us.

Melissia said...

My sister in law reminded me recently that some classical composers way back in the day had riots at their opening performances. Their music was seen as too edgy, too rebellious for their time. Now we call it classical and people play it to their babies in the womb :)

sgaissert said...

Wow, you're very wise. and you expressed these principles beautifully. Would you consider submitting this to the next carnival of Unschooled Life?


Sara said...

Well said!

Lisa said...

Thanks for the great post! I really enjoy your blog.

I've been lurking for a while, but I really wanted to ask you something: How does your husband handle unschooling now that you've been doing it for a while? My husband is somewhat less (to put it mildly) than supportive, and it really bothers me. I've read some of your past posts on this topic, but how have things changed over time, if they have?

Colleen said...

Hi Lisa. Last night I had a chat with my husband about his feelings toward unschooling. I'm going to write a post about it for you, but the gist was that he is still pretty much on the fence, but recognizes that since I'm the one at home with Jerry, it makes sense to let me do things my way. He says he feels that it might be best for Jerry to be in school, but he knows that will never happen so he's just kind of going along with things. So that probably doesn't really help you, but I'll write in more detail about it tomorrow or Wednesday. I would say that I think going to an unschooling conference definitely helped. Also, have you read the doubting dads page on the Parenting Pit?

lisafer said...

It sounds a lot like your husband and mine are on the same page. Wanting to trust, but a little wary. :)

I'll look forward to reading your post and I'll check out the Parenting Pit in the meantime!