Five Daily Practices of Unstressed Unschoolers
By Holly Tellander
We live in an amazing time.
Thanks to pioneering people and constantly evolving social constructs, many
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 (free-range or life learning) as the method
most aligned with their family values, structures, and schedules.
Our family has been life
learning for two years now. Well, to be honest, we’ve been evolving in that
direction for the past two years. Because one thing I’ve learned is that
unschooling done well is a constantly changing landscape full of big responsibilities
and small victories. In deciding to unschool, I am 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 my children
means a commitment to letting everyone direct their own learning, while
also providing a constant influx of enriching opportunities to keep us all
motivated and engaged. It means not allowing complacency or boredom to rob
us of vital opportunities for authentic learning. For our family, a daily
commitment to five open-ended experiences has provided a much needed framework,
which allows us to fully relax into the blank canvas of the unschooling
1. Get your game
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 equal 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. For our family,
setting this time aside in our daily routine is what works best. We do it
after dinner, before we each go off and spend an hour or so in our own personal
free time before bed. In the summer, we try to take our games outdoors and
use big body movements; in the winter, we enjoy the huge array of amazing
board games available these days. There are so many more board games than
Monopoly and Life, although both are still great games. Since we’ve added
this to our routine, our conversations have grown more engaging and educational
and our strategies more refined.
Making a commitment to create every day has greatly enriched our unschooling
experience, while allowing us to follow our own passions. My son really
enjoys creating food and through a daily commitment to create something
edible for our family, he has built essential physical skills, practiced
reading and math, and tinkered with chemistry. My daughter leans more toward
art. We keep a big basket next to her desk and we all deposit the random
flotsam and jetsam that life generates into her basket – bottle caps, spare
buttons, toilet paper rolls, interestingly-shaped cardboard, errant game
pieces, you name it. Her daily commitment to creation not only allows her
to work on a multitude of small and fine motor skills, but also allows her
to share tangible evidence of her feelings and emotions – something that
can be difficult for some kids (and adults!). An extra bonus is that my
kids’ dedication to their own creative pursuits frees up quiet time for
me to work on my writing, something that gives me great solace. The sky
is the limit when it comes to creation. LEGO, 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.
3. Be still and silent.
Interestingly enough, this might be the hardest one of all. Our family has
decided to begin working on a meditation practice. We’ve started very small,
but are already seeing results. We began with two minutes of silence and
we are working our 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 your thoughts come and go, noticing them but not acting
on them. It was challenging at first, but a commitment to silence, even
for a short while, not only gives each of us a chance 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.
As a means of self-reflection and exploration, writing is hard to beat.
Even something as mundane as just recording the events of the day not only
can get your juices flowing, but also provide a treasured memory later on.
In true unschooling fashion, we don’t put any constraints on our writing
time. Depending on our moods, energy levels, and interests, we’ve used the
time for journaling (my personal favorite), letter writing (who doesn’t
love to get letters?), field guide making (my son is in the middle of an
epic Guide To Dragons that includes drawings, descriptions, and fabricated
skin samples…ew!). My daughter really loves to write out our daily menu
for some reason. We set aside a twenty-minute block each day (at different
times to accommodate our flexible schedule) to write what our hearts dictate.
It’s a meditative time, quiet and still. It’s not a time for perfection
or overthinking. If someone has a question about how to spell a word, I’m
happy to help them figure it out from various sources, but the emphasis
is on putting thoughts and feelings to paper in order to preserve moments
and generate ideas.
5. Go outside.
If you only take one piece of my advice, this is the one I’d suggest. Yes,
even when it’s raining. Yes, even when it’s cold. Our family has chosen
to invest in rain pants in addition to rain coats, and as long as there
isn’t lightning, one of our favorite things to do is walk in the rain. Everything
smells great and the worms are out. 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 our
health, happiness, and learning.
So there you have it. A possible
roadmap 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 perhaps 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.
is a former teacher turned life learner with two children aged six and eight.
Her family loves hiking, camping, cooking, foraging, swimming, and all things
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