Q & A – Unschooling Basics

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Every Tuesday, I’ll choose a handful of questions to answer here on my blog, as long as the questions last. Want to ask me about unschooling or parenting or anything else I write about (which is, uh, pretty much everything)? Send them here, or post on my Facebook page.  

This week, it’s all about unschooling!  Next week, I’ll focus on some parenting questions.

What does an average day at your house look like?

This is always a hard question to answer, because so much of it depends on the time of year, the season, what everyone’s interested in at the time, if people are wanting to be out and about or are more inclined to stay home, etc.  One of the really great things about unschooling – and homeschooling in general – is that it largely allows you to follow your family’s natural rhythms, rather than being confined to someone else’s schedule.

Lately, things have been… crazy.  So for the most part, the kids and I are appreciating the downtime when we get it. Spencer, who’s 17, and setting the groundwork for a lawn care and small engine repair business, will spend a lot of the day in the garage working on his engines, outside testing out weed-whackers, studying for his next test, or playing games on the computer with his friends (he runs his own Minecraft server.) Paxton, who’s 14 and by far the biggest introvert of the bunch, is the one I have to make sure I connect with or I’d never see him.  🙂 He spends his time on his computer fairly exclusively. Everett is 10 and busy busy busy.  He loves the computer like his brothers, and he also loves animals, science, karate, experimenting, moving around, and accompanying his mom on errands.  He’s always got some sort of project going on.  Currently, it’s a triops he hatched about a week ago.  Tegan, at 6, seems to have one foot still in “little girlhood”, and another foot confidently exploring her independence.  She loves to play games with me, of all kinds.  Loves to bake.  Loves to play with her friends. Loves music and dance.  Loves her TV shows.  She’s recently begun playing Minecraft, and has a brand-new little Skype buddy.  🙂  My role in all of it?  To be here, in whatever ways they need.  I pursue my own interests too (and at the present time, am busy working on conference planning), but my first priority is them:  Getting them what they need, bringing them where they need to go, answering questions, playing, talking, listening, helping, showing.  And Googling.  Always lots and lots of Googling.

What activities do your children do that are run by others e.g ballet etc?  And do you find that these activities are enough for your kids to make friends?

What’s interesting to me about this question is that it’s one I would have asked myself 15 years ago.  I too thought that my kids would make their friends through “extracurriculars.”  And they’ve done a LOT of them too. Between the four of them over the years we’ve had basketball, baseball, karate, gymnastics, fencing, Cub Scouts, ballet, and likely many more that I’m forgetting.  The older two don’t really have any outside activities at the moment, and the younger two are down to two activities each (gymnastics and ballet for Tegan;  gymnastics and karate for Everett).  They’ve enjoyed all the activities they’ve done, and they have made friends – or at least been friendly with – other kids in their classes….. but that’s not really where they’ve made their good friends.  Most of their best friends (and they certainly have no shortage of friends) are either fellow unschoolers/homeschoolers that they’ve met and connected with through homeschool groups, field trips, etc, or met on their own through mutual friends, OR met on the internet through shared interests.   The friendships that they’ve formed inspire me.  They are true and long-lasting.  In just a couple of weeks, Paxton (14) is going to get on airplane to stay with a friend in Michigan for a couple of weeks.  They’re going to fly back together in time for the conference, then his friend is going to stay with us a couple of weeks as well.  I realize that people can and do still visit with friends when they’re in school…  but generally not when school’s actually in session, and generally not for a month at a time.  I’m excited for him that he gets this opportunity.

What kind of things do you do to provide a learning environment for your children and how does it work if you have more than one?

LIFE is the ultimate learning environment.  I know, I know.  It sounds corny.  But it’s true.  I think the best thing parents can do to provide a learning environment for their kids is to just be involved in their lives, and let them be involved in yours.   We’re a family, so we do life together. Beyond that though, just practically speaking, it’s important to have interesting things to play/read/explore/discover, both in and outside the house.  Books, games, toys, puzzles, movies, an internet connection, Netflix, computers, art supplies, science kits, a zoo membership, a Science Center membership, interesting people, interesting places… the list goes on.   When they have a specific interest, I do everything I can to help them explore it (a recent example is here), and as long as money or practicality is not a factor, I support spur-of-the-moment wishes too (that’s how Everett ended up with his Triops)

As for having more than one child…. I think the most honest thing I can say is that you find a way to work it out. My kids are all about 3.5 years apart, so I’m going to have had a very different experience in that regard than my friend who has 5 children 10 and under, including a set of twins.  There are seasons that are more difficult than others (for example, when one child is going through a period when they need all of mom’s attention, all of the time, and doesn’t want to share), but overall, you find your groove.  🙂  You do things together, you do things separately, you take some one on one with each child… it works.

Do you have a routine/structure at all? 

Other than that opposed by outside activities (ie:  we have gymnastics on Tuesday afternoons, karate and ballet on Saturday mornings, church on Saturday night), probably not in the way you’d ordinarily think of “structure”, no. We do however have a rhythm to our days, and again it depends on what’s going on at the time. I always hesitate a bit with this question, because I think that the misconception will be that if there’s no routine, the house is chaos, and it’s not the case.  It is…. free-flowing…. but not chaotic.   If we have nowhere to be, we sleep until we’re rested.  The kids all get up at different times, so they eat when they get up. Our day may then take us to any number of different activities, either at home or away…. and we all come together to eat dinner when my husband gets home from work.  We wind down in the evenings, and go to bed when we’re tired (with a resulting “bedtime” that looks very different than the mainstream, particularly for the 14 and 10 year old who are currently on vampire schedules and stay up most of the night.)

But it works.  And when it doesn’t… when there are kinks, or someone’s not happy, or someone’s not getting needs met… we fix it.


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