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Unschooling is not reality. How will your kids learn to do things they don't like?
The 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 goal.

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 else.

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?
There's 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!

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1998 Amy Bell

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