We live in an amazing time. Thanks to pioneering people and constantly evolving social constructs, most of us can not only legally educate our children in our own homes, but we can do it in most any way we see fit. Increasingly families are turning to the concept of ‘unschooling’, or free-range learning, as the method most aligned with their family values, structures and schedules.
In deciding to unschool we are committing to trust that we are all capable of learning what we need to learn when we need to learn it, despite unending societal messages to the contrary. Unschooling means a commitment to letting everyone direct their own learning, while also providing a constant influx of enriching opportunities to keep everyone motivated and engaged. It means not allowing complacency or boredom to rob us of vital opportunities for authentic learning. One way to strike the balance is through a daily commitment to five open-ended practices. These practices have the potential to provide a comforting framework which can help families fully relax into the blank canvas of the unschooling life.
- Get your game on. Not only will you get increased family connections by making a daily commitment to play a game, you will have the opportunity to teach and model so many other concepts in real time: math, reading, logic, problem solving, and of course the ability to lose graciously. Engagement is the key to authentic and powerful learning and connections = engagement. Setting aside a small block of time to play a game with your kids, giving them your full and undivided attention, is time well spent, and the payoff far exceeds the investment. Board games, card games, games that need no equipment – the opportunities for learning are limitless and easily found. Find what works best in your family, try to set this time aside in your daily routine. Maybe after dinner, before each person gets to go off and spend an hour or so in our own personal free time before bed. In the summer, take the games outdoors and use big body movements. In winter take advantage of the huge array of amazing board games available these days – there are so many more than Monopoly and Life – though both are still great games! A daily commitment to game playing will support engaging conversations and create multiple opportunities to model more refined strategic planning.
- Create. Making a commitment to create every day can greatly enrich the unschooling experience, while also allowing each person to follow their own passions. Someone who really enjoys creating food has an opportunity to build essential safety skills, practice reading and math, and tinker with chemistry. Art lovers will find concrete ways to share their feelings and emotions, practice a multitude of gross and fine motor skills, and honor and practice intrapersonal skills. And don’t forget to take time to create for yourself as well! It’s important that children see their caregivers making time for and honoring their own creative process, which looks different for every person, but brings solace and comfort to all. Modeling is a powerful teaching and learning tool. The sky is the limit when it comes to creation. Legos, Minecraft, paper dolls from magazines. Visit a retirement home and create some joy. Break out the tools and create a birdhouse. If you can dream it, you can create it. And if you can create it, you can learn from it.
- Be still and silent. Interestingly enough, this might be the hardest one of all. However, there are no shortage of studies to suggest adding a mindfulness/meditation practice to your day is extremely beneficial. It may be necessary to start very small, but results will show up quickly with dedication. Begin with two minutes of silence and work your way up. One easy way to get started is to take one silent car ride per day. No music, no talking, just looking out at the changing scenery and letting thoughts come and go, noticing them but not acting on them. It will be challenging at first, but a commitment to silence, even for a short while, not only creates a wonderful opportunity to hear our own inner wisdom, it also gives us a powerful tool that we can come back to in times of overwhelm and upset.
- Write. As a means of self-reflection and exploration, it’s hard to beat writing. Even something as mundane as simply recording the events of the day can not only get your juices flowing, but also provide a treasured memory later on. It doesn’t matter what you write. Depending on the mood, energy level and interests of the day, the time could be used for journaling, letter writing, field guide making, or writing up a daily menu. Set aside a 10-20 minute block each day to write what your hearts dictate. It’s a meditative time, quiet and still. It’s not a time for perfection or overthinking. The emphasis is on putting thoughts and feelings to paper in order to preserve moments and generate ideas.
- Go outside. If you only take one piece of advice, this is the one. Go outside, even when it’s raining, even when it’s cold. Invest in rain pants, good dry boots and other necessary gear. On days when all you want to do is sit, tell yourself that you will step outside for five minutes only. On some days five minutes may be enough, but on others you may find yourself wanting more. The fresh air clears our minds and Mother Nature soothes our spirits when we forget the simple things. Exercise gets our blood pumping and exploration inspires our souls. Honoring outdoor time is a critical component to health, happiness and learning.
The above guidelines present just one of many possible roadmaps for unschoolers that honors both the slow and easy pace of a self-directed life, while still providing daily opportunities for growth and inspiration. Maybe these five practices don’t resonate with your family, and that’s fine. But taking the time to define three or four or five core values and making a commitment to including them in your daily life will help your family flesh out a routine that soothes the spirit and excites the mind.