Unschooling is not reality. How will your kids learn to do things they don't like?
idea that unschooling is not reality is another common criticism.
I guess we all have different versions of reality. Here our
reality is that if there is something we are interested in, we
should pursue it. We learn that if we have goals, we find out
what we need to do to attain them; then proceed. We learn that
sometimes we do things we don't really care for in the pursuit of a
I think this is a really common worry. "If we don't make them do
things, how will they ever learn to do things they don't like?"
My first answer is that you can only become self-motivated by
yourself. Nobody can "give" you self-motivation.
My second answer is that children generally have very little power in
their lives to begin with, so it doesn't make much sense to me to take
even that away just to prove a point. They don't get to decide
where to live, what financial conditions exist, who will be in their
classes at school/church/Scouts/whatever, when to move, etc.
Hardships like moving, illness, deaths, tragedies--these are all
difficult events that children must endure right along with everyone
The third answer is more practical than theoretical. My children
persevere through difficult tasks because they *really* want to
accomplish things. For a simple example, consider learning to
skate or ride a bike. Most kids persist in falling down, scraping
knees and elbows, and sometimes even breaking bones because they want
to learn to skate or ride. If they give up for a time, they may
return to it later when it becomes more important to them. If not,
maybe it just isn't that important after all. In the long-term
scheme of things, will it really matter? Children also learn from
watching their parents. What is our example teaching?
Unschoolers generally believe that there is no timetable for learning,
so a late reader (12 or older) might cause us some worry, but we
wouldn't force the issue. We think that there is no subject a child--or
any person--has to learn at a particular time. We think there are fun,
interesting ways to learn everything, but that a child may not be
interested when his/her parents are.
How long does it take to figure out unschooling?
a metaphysical question! Again, it would depend on your
situation, your children, your state, your needs, whether or not your
kids have been in school, etc.
It may take a lifetime, or you may find a rhythm tomorrow that suits
you. Unschooling comes down to relaxing and letting go of your
expectations. It's simple, but it's certainly not easy. The
difficult part is, no one can really tell you how to do it for your
family. Unschooling doesn't come in a box; it doesn't include
instructions; and it can be a bear to prepare for!
If you can bring yourself to do it, make a one-year experiment.
Don't make anybody do any schoolwork. Of course, you go
interesting places and do interesting things. You read. You
write letters and journals. You sing, you dance, you go to plays,
you investigate nature (hiking, fishing, birdwatching,
gardening). You run in the park. Older children can
volunteer (intern) at businesses they think they might be interested in.
At the end of the year, you evaluate what you feel you missed out on by
not enforcing a schedule or a curriculum (besides the arguing).
Then try adjusting until you're all comfortable.
Now before anybody jumps on me, I know many people won't/can't take a
year. The reason I suggest that length of time is that it gives
families--both parents and children--a chance to heal and recover from
other (perhaps unhappy) learning experiences. A child who has
been in school for years is probably not going to decide tomorrow that
he wants to learn to program computers or study French. But a
child who has had complete freedom from imposed academics for a year
will likely have found at least one interest to motivate himself.
A parent who is consumed by upcoming tests or outside pressures to
"achieve" at homeschooling is probably not going to create a love of
learning. If you can tell yourself and others that you've decided
to spend a year being a family--call it a social experience, or a
back-to-basics thing, research or whatever would most impress them and
get them to leave you alone--you take all the pressure off.
If that's too extreme, try letting go of one or two subjects at a
time. Let the child choose what/when/how much to read. If
someone is interested, let him/her take over balancing the checkbook
(with assistance, if needed). Let them entirely forgo one subject
of their choice for six months--or whatever you can stand. Then
try letting them choose the resource or curriculum with which to
re-start the subject. Include them in the "real life" experiences
that most kids miss out on because they just aren't around all day.
Unschooling doesn't mean just sitting around the house watching tv and playing on the computer (although some days it can
mean that ). It means allowing your child's interests to set the
pace and direction. It means you do everything within your power
to include exciting, interesting people, resources, and experiences in
your family's life. You may find that you're so busy, you don't
have time to worry!
back to Unschooling FAQ
on to SECTION THREE
© 1998 Amy Bell
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