I have written before on Unschooling, which is about trusting that children are born knowing how to learn and about making way for that learning instead of trying to control and manage it. I decided to write this post because a lot of people have expressed interest in Unschooling and about how it plays out when families live this way.
My family identifies as a Radical Unschooling family. Radical Unschooling means to extend freedom and trust to all areas of life for kids, not just the academic/educational parts. It is an entire paradigm shift involving the questioning and rethinking of everything to do with how we live with and interact with our children.
The philosophy of unschooling is at its basis a trusting of children. In all ways! Here is a list of some of the things that my partner and I have rejected for our family.
- Articifial consequences
- Telling off
- Arbitrary sitting at the table for meal times
- Limits on technology use
- Stigmatising of interests (such as saying “It’s time to get outside”, or “tv rots your brain”, or placing things like reading versus video games on a heirarcy of value with some things at the bottom)
- Food rules
- Forced or prompted “please”s and “thank you”s
- Forced chores
- Money or Pocket Money that is conditional on behaviour or chores
- Stigma or shaming surrounding emotions
- Imposing upon my kids’ bodies, hair, clothing; and choices surrounding those things
- Fear of interests (such as believing that advertisements will ‘brainwash’ children, or that they are ‘addicted’ to something that they love doing)
- The idea that we cannot be a friend to our kids because we “have to be the parent” (You can be both when you unschool!)
When I talk to people about unschooling, most of their questions are about academics, or comparing unschooling outcomes to school outcomes. I get a lot of people asking me questions like – How do kids learn? Don’t kids need rules? How can they learn math and reading? How will they get a job one day? I think that there is a limited understanding of what unschooling really is in its wider implications for children – because unschooling goes wider than ‘education’. It is a rejection of school, and a rejection of what we are usually told about children and how to raise them and live with them. It is a rejection of Behaviourism, a rejection that kids need to be trained, and a rejection that kids are untrusworthy or incapable of navigating their own lives and learning.
Life in a Radical Unschooling family looks drastically different to a more conventional family, because this is an entirely new paradigm of existing within. If my kids make a mess, there is no yelling, grounding, or “consequences”. There is no criticism, name calling, or threats to remove toys or other fun things. There is real emotion and honest discussion, but no shaming and control. There is problem solving, but no punishing or telling off. My kids live their lives without worrying that they will be punished, restricted, or yelled at; and without thinking about whether they are pleasing people, or will be getting a reward for something they did. I trust that my kids are learning and growing, and I trust that they are thriving with their freedom and with the emotional safety of unschooling. I trust that when I focus on connection and respect, unschooling is working.
Because the communities that most of us live within are so sure that children need controlling, these ideas about living in partnership with kids can be very shocking to people! But the way these kinds of families live would probably surprise most. For my family, life is pretty awesome. My kids have always been trusted. They are used to it and they do well with that trust. So, don’t be too quick to dismiss Radical Unschooling as idealism or as nonsensical. It is a beautiful thing to see my children growing in peace.