2 January 2012

unschool monday :: redefining

Paper houses

So we've begun a new year and we're in the middle of our long languid summer... Our days have found a new rhythm. One that's free and floaty in the only way being on holidays can be. We're eating when we feel hungry, sleeping when we are tired. We've lost track of days and time... Big Owlet, however has started wearing a watch and settles down to table work with regularity. She's wanting some structure. Some reassurance. When I look back at last year, we've been largely without structure and it's taken me until now to sit down and figure out what our rhythm might be, if we indeed have/had one.

I've documented well our journey with screens and bedtimes and food. We've spent the last six months letting go of limits on everything. Radical Unschooling is generally what life like this is defined as. Life without limits... The owlets went to bed when they wanted to, ate what they wanted and when, and watched whatever they liked. They became overtired because they didn't go to bed when they were tired, much the same way that I don't when I'm squeezing the last few minutes of kid-free time out of the day. They watched television and played on screens ALL DAY LONG whenever we were home. Downtime most certainly, but we lost our connection and family rhythm. For months I didn't see much of them or have time to connect because they were glued to a screen. And when they weren't they became violent and rude because they couldn't control the energy in their growing bodies. They reacted to foods in ways that affected their behaviour and health. We were continuously sick for six months, one virus/cold/bug after another. Our credit card debt spiralled as we attempted to meet our owlets ever increasing needs... And, Huz and I lost ourselves a little. Saying yes to everything, removing limits, meant we compromised our own.

I've been a member of online facebook groups and lists where it seems there's one right way to unschool. Radical unschooling is often seen as the pinnacle and there's an understanding that this means removing all limits, including limits on food, video games and tv, playing with weapons and barbie dolls, using course language, staying up 'til you crash out on the floor... If you don't embrace it, you must need help letting go or evolving. It seems there are lots of rules to living this limitless life and there is no room for a grey area... Actually, I found it extremely limiting to myself as a human being and my own set of values and the set of values I'd like my children to find. Our approach is very family centred and for us, radical unschooling meant our centre shifted. Although it works brilliantly for a great number of our friends, for us, this kind of letting go was not the answer to family harmony.

Crazy hair

Big Owlet has actively requested more structure for this year. She's asked us to make some decisions on things for her. Asked us to tell her what to do at certain times. Asked for guidance. As has Little Owlet. As unschoolers, we have to listen to that. While we know they've been learning lots, they've not been doing the kind of stuff they like when we are more attentive and we may have become a little slack in that area. So this year sees us working on some themes, sharing ideas more, organising activities and the odd 'lesson' where I introduce a new concept for them to work through. We've reintroduced a gentle bedtime rhythm where owlets wander to bed to read until they are sleepy. They eat family meals and as chief cook, I reserve the right to choose what food we eat. And we give them a nudge when their screen time leans towards excessive. Instead of yes, it's a negotiation. A discussion. And everyone's voice is heard. Sometimes we make decisions on their behalf in the interests of family harmony and health and that's working well. Lots of talking and listening and honesty and loving....

So it seems lately that our approach to unschooling falls a little off the radical register and if it leans towards anything, it'd be Waldorf/Steiner, as it always has. I can hear the radical unschoolers nodding their heads... Waldorf seems to be the anti radical unschooling among those in the radical community... We sit comfortably between the two and can see how they work harmoniously. It doesn't need to be all or nothing as there isn't one type of education that works for everyone. Actually, I think there are as many different approaches to education as there are families. And I don't think creating labels is helpful for anyone. I find judgement creep in and we stop seeing ourselves as individuals. Sets of rules and dogma for particular learning styles is something I find particularly unhelpful when it comes to children learning. Nurturing, loving, security, listening and comfort. These are things children need to learn and live. And however they are provided, doesn't really matter. Whatever you call yourself or your way of life has no meaning really. We're all just living...


And living is what we intend to do. I'm dropping labels from my children's learning experience where I can and just doing what works for us and getting into it head first. A fresh start with lots of new exciting projects on our horizon, listening to their needs. Although I've enjoyed Unschool Mondays and meeting so many wonderful families and finding out about how they're learning and living, I've found that dedicating a day each week to unschooling a little restrictive. Initially I began dedicating a day of the week to unschooling so that this didn't become an unschooling blog, but as learning happens everyday and is really just living anyway, it's impossible to divide it up like that... So I'm letting Unschool Mondays go. They've been a wonderful place for me to define what it is we do and how. But now is time to just get on with it and write about what we are doing whenever and regardless of definition. I'm excited for that. I'll be providing some unschooling resources here and creating an Unschool Monday archive and leaving it at that. From now on, you'll see us living and learning and travelling along with our owlets and enjoying the ride. I hope you'll enjoy it with us. xx


  1. Wow, that was an awesome post! I really like what you said, mostly because it's how I feel too!
    Happy new year to you and your family!

  2. Great post.
    Have a wonderful family loving and learning year.X Ange

  3. As my littles have chosen formal school over homeschooling (for the moment) I really struggle with labels!
    Thanks for reminding me that rhythm and some structure at home is going to be helpful for both them as learners and our family unit.
    Looking forward to following you learning adventures.

  4. Couldn't agree more. I left the RU label behind years ago and for pretty much the same reasons. While I found that the years we spent deschooling as RUers were absolutely necessary and incredibly valuable at the time, I found that it's chief value was in giving me the confidence to let go of other people's definitions and expectations and focus on what works for us as a family, in harmony with my ethics and values.

    I do find very tiresome the mantra that if unregulated screentime or sleep or food etc doesn't work for you it's because you aren't letting go enough or trusting enough. It may work for some families but it doesn't for everyone and the idea that you just have to try harder rather than reassess whether it's actually a good fit for your particular circumstances is not always the most productive, I think.

  5. I understand so much of what you say, and have felt similar even back when we first started homeschooling.
    I've always felt there is no room for labels, found them too restricting. As far as I am concerned when it comes to learning, every one of us dances to the beat of our own drum.
    Enjoy 2012 and finding the rhythm for each one of you, and also the family as a whole :)

  6. "If you don't embrace it, you must need help letting go or evolving. It seems there are lots of rules to living this limitless life and there is no room for a grey area..."
    Yep!! Have seen so much of this and I find it so frustrating - the implication that other people know better than you what your family needs, ugh!

    I define us merely as home schooling/educating, because it is such a large umbrella term under which you can shove anything :)

    I look forward to reading along as you all find the unique rhythm that fits your unique family xox

  7. Nodding along in understanding, you were one of the catalysts to our change to a school free life and we've had two long luxurious years of it. Like you, this year, the children have requested structure and rhythm. Looking forward to sharing anything but labels with you this year, unless we're making jam.

  8. Very interesting post. We've home educated for almost 18 years and in that time I've probably used all the available 'labels' !! None of which lasted long - not the label or the style!
    So now we are home educators with an eclectic approach i.e. we do what suits us and only us. At the moment we are learning with a loose Steiner approach but who knows? much as we love it, that may change too!
    All the best in your endeavours for 2012

  9. WOW you have just articulated the elephant in my room...thank-you...I was beginning to feel quite alone and like there was something wrong...(elated) sigh xx

  10. Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, it seems lots of us have similar ones :)
    I look forward to reading along with your families journey again this year :)

  11. I'm sure anything you write will be awesome, has been fascinating reading about your unschooled joys.

  12. I've got to admit, I kinda see the term unschooling as a bit of an aggressive one - a term to use when you want people to shut up and leave you alone, and natural learning has always appealed more in it's focus...that being said, I suspect there's no label that would fit our mob and our approach either. I've always balked at the no limits and no boundary concept in radical unschooling too. In my experience, kids really like boundaries, cause they realise that if you protect them in the little ways, it probably means that you'll protect them in the big ways too, and then they can relax and know that you're looking out for them. I like to think of myself as an animal mammal mother:) Animal mums are looking out for the safety of the kids, indulgent when they're in a good mood and well fed, and snappy when they're not or just get pissed off with the younguns tugging on thier skin too much. Showing a good healthy range of human animal emotions, reactions, and needs all at the same time, which is essential when you realise that through what we show them, we're teaching them as possibilites and realities of an adult life. Just my take on it anyway:) Bravo you beautiful woman for being unschooled enough to just find your own way and drop all labels!! Afterall, isn't following the pack a very passe thing to do when you're trying to let go of the need for one?

  13. I had a feeling this was coming, the end of unschool Monday I mean... I found it hard as a participant to come up with unschooling specific posts once a week, it was all just living to me and I found myself looking for the learning instead of just trusting it was happening anyway. I applaud your ability to come up with new posts every week for such a long time. Thanks for hosting, it was fun. I'm looking forward to a more label-less blog from you in future xx

  14. I actually just recently started following your blog, and I found it b/c of Unschooling Mondays, but I'm so glad you wrote this post!!! What you described is so our family, and I've been feeling as if I'm stuck in this strange limbo of "are we or aren't we unschoolers". I know, without a doubt, that radical unschooling will not work for me and my family, but so much of how we learn is through our day to day living (ie, unschooling). This post really has been refreshing for me. I guess I forgot that we don't NEED a label. Thank you for reminding me!

  15. sometimes I think we're an unschooling family with structure. If such a thing could exist... I love that your girls asked for more structure and guidance. That rocks. Hope your new direction continues to be rewarding for you all.

  16. A wonderful post! Yes we fall quite a bit short of the "labels" too :)
    We balance waldorf with unschooling and the limits and boundaries that suit the personalities in our family best!

  17. Big nods of the head here too. We like "unstructured" learning - following the kids interests, chasing great ideas. But they kind of want (need?) and request boundaries - I think that is the best kind - where they request them.

    I'm sure I'll still love your blog, thoughtful words and beautiful pics.

  18. Loved reading that post as I think it's a really great topic, especially in Australia, to be discussing. I consider myself a radical unschooler - if I would label myself as something. But I think it can get very confused with 'free for all' parenting. RU is so new in Australia and we so lack the role models of older, wiser familis who have lived an RU lifestyle. I think if we had more of the Sandra Dodd's around us then we'd be able to be clear as to what RU is. Reading on a group list is so not the full story of how people actually live their lives.

    It would be totally failing our kids and ourselves if we never ever said no or we made family life totally about the kids. That's not unschooling but more permissive parenting, in my opinion. I think people who are new to the RU concept get burnt out and upset when they allow their children's lives to be child-centred rather than family-centred. It's so OK as an RU parent to encourage less screen time when we can see, as a responsible parent, that our children are struggling behaviour/mood wise. It's so OK for us to encourage healthy eating and good bed times. That's not anti-unshooling but responsible parenting. Where the difference lies, I think, is how we discuss those things.If we demand them and force them and our children are miserable because of that then I think a problem sets in. But what I've found with my own child is that he is really open to my thought and opinions and generally respects them because he knows I'm not trying to force him to do something he doesn't want to do but rather helping him to feel better/be healthier etc. I also have to give a lot, of course. But then I'm not always a perfect decision maker either so it's a fluid, ever changing thing. I have found som families who have a whacky take on RU where kids turn out to be rude, unruly bratty types. I really don't think those parents are RUing though, I think they are mis-understanding the philosophy big time. I've seen that behaviour in kids of parents who are ultra strict too. same thing - disconnection. I'd rather talk about parenting and living as a family in terms of connection and what it is to connect well with one another and help each other live comfortably and contentedly together. Giving and taking all the time.
    Sorry, I've blabbed on abit too much. It's a topic that I could talk about til the cows come home;)
    Enjoy your kids learning in 2012. We will really miss Unschool Monday. xx

  19. Wow! Looks like you hit a chord!! I will miss the 'unschool mondays' posts, but like another commenter said, I found it hard to join in because learning just interweaves with everyday life. I did, however, love the window into your experiences 'unschooling'. I am also relieved to hear that it's not all sunshine and roses as far as food and screen time etc go - I still doubt whether I would be able to let go enough to give my Smalls unlimited screentime - but as my oldest turns four on Monday, I feel like I have a year or two until I would even consider trying it. Anyway - thank you for the unschool mondays theme - it was ace - and it's nice that you can put it to bed now that you feel it has done its dash...
    Happy New Year!

  20. What a fascinating insight in your journey. I'm reasonably new to the idea of unschooling and this post has been an introduction into the concept of radical unschooling. I find that labels can easily create division as well as connection. Thank you for sharing your journeys

  21. We home educate (home school, unschool-ish or whatever you want to call it!) our 13 year old son (for the past year and a half). It has been a joy, a blessing, a learning journey for our family, but it can also be a cross to bear.

    We don't follow any particular schedule except those of my son's many outside activities- Scouts, Army cadets, rugby, gymnastics, kayaking, weaving class, swimming and camping with the Scouts and cadets as well as friends. These outside activities are all his interests, accumulated over the years, slowly building to his present busy-ness.

    Sometimes we will insist on some Math work or 'report' on a particular subject, but mostly we are led by my son's interests or a passing topic of conversation, or a news or documentary, or a magazine or book, or a place we've been to, etc. Pretty much we learn from the world. It has amazed us how much 'learning' is presented in daily life if a person is open to the possibilities. We are also very lucky to have a child whom is interested in the outside world, various topics, and who will pick up a book or will research a subject without being told to do so.

    However, one of the problems we have encountered is other people's expectations of what THEY consider education (be they home schooling or schooled) and trying to apply that to us. Your learning journey is your family's, no one elses. Do what suits you and your situation, your family, your life schedule and your children. Be Happy.

  22. so what happened? why did you start it back up again?

  23. Hi Megan, I suppose I came to a place of peace with it all. Some of the judgement I'd felt within radical unschooling circles didn't seem as oppressive when I removed myself from it... We are still just living, but sometimes it helps to have a name to describe how you go about what you do, so you can identify people who are living similarly. Especially when you are outside the mainstream. I've enjoyed bringing Unschool Monday back because I missed those people I met up with along the way. It helps to share the journey, I think. xx

  24. I adore this post. Honestly, I don't even remember how I got here...but I'm glad to have found you. We're moving from unschooling back to "child-led," relaxed homeschooling because my seven-year-old only child is utterly bored having so much unstructured time. We're both excited to have 'plans' again and I'm making zero apologies. :)


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