Unschool growing pains

It’s been more than a year we’ve been unschooling now.


Often people will ask if we’re going to continue, how it’s going, if we still like it.  Yes, wonderful and yes are the answers!

It’s been good for the kids’ confidence, their relationships, their skill sets and their health. It’s been good for our family’s relationships, happiness, health. It’s been fun, and we’ve learned so much, so many different things about the world and ourselves. We’ve adventured and created and befriended. It’s good.

It’s been a huge shift. A shift in awareness, goals, interests, and approaches. Often when I talk to friends who we were in school with two plus years ago, I feel like we are on two sides of a cultural divide. I like our side.

Venturing into unschooling has not been without growing and learning and missteps and worries and frustrations.

Usually I like to talk about what we do and how much we love unschooling, but today I’m going into some of the other bits, that hard, scary and uncomfortable bits.


I almost never get any time alone. Now, I hesitate to write this as I have always loved spending time with my family and my kids and I love spending hour upon hour with them. I really do! I missed them awfully when they were in school. However, I do need some pieces of time to be with my own thoughts, to reconnect with the Earth, to be myself and process. I have yet to figure out how to make this happen enough and sometimes I get antsy for a few minutes solitude and sometimes I have a grumpy day and feel stuck. This is the exception, as most of the time I adore being with the kids all day. It’s better for all of us if I get a little bit of time on my own though.

But, what about…?

Occasionally I get scared about the things my kids aren’t getting. Like learning names of presidents, times tables, bibliographies and references. Then I remind myself of what they ARE getting. Like emotional space (to actually encounter, discover, name and deal with their feelings instead of the rushed distraction techniques so often used when living in the break-neck speed of school life), strong family relationships, time and energy to pursue their interests, tons of “field trips”, unstructured play, learning on their own terms, books, books, so many books, and maybe most crucial of all, that their interests, feelings and choices are important.

My parental control/coercion

Unschooling has in some ways been a process of letting go for me. We’ve always tried to give our kids choices and control of as much as we could in their lives. What is possible in this area as unschoolers is very different from what is possible as schoolers. They have a lot more choice, responsibility and freedom. They revel in it. I do too. However we’ve been running into an ongoing source of frustration for all three of us lately. We agree to go to an event outside our house that happens at a specific hour. Then we aren’t ready to leave in time. I was trying to let the kids get ready and when didn’t happen then I would remind and then watch the kids not get ready and then I would ask them again and still no forward movement until we are at that point where I either make the kids get ready by some use of willpower and control or we don’t go.

I got really upset one day and yelled at them about it and then got sad and mad at myself for yelling. And then I had a long long think about what needed to change.

There are times when I am using coercion to make things happen. When I was able to put a name to it, it helped me see things more clearly. I don’t want to be coercing my kids. I want to be talking until we reach positive, mutual consent. I mean, sure there are times when there is danger or some other reason to put my own desire in front of theirs. But otherwise, it’s not what I want to be doing with them. I want them to make choices, to take the reins and drive. Even when it’s not what I expected or planned. How and when else are they going to learn how to choose to go or not go to activities, what it takes to be on time, what happens if they make a choice they aren’t happy with.

I realized I’m still holding onto too much responsibility (control) over the kids instead of giving that responsibility (with support) to them. So I decided to work on changing that. We got them watches to wear. We got a whiteboard to write down what we’re doing and when and what needs to be accomplished first to get there. And then I’ve been giving them that responsibility. They can get ready. They can not get ready. It’s their choice. I outline what needs to happen, and talk about how much time we have and how much time things might take and then it’s up to them. As time passes, I will check in with them about what they’re choosing and how much time is left.

It’s been much better, though certainly not perfect. They are only 10 and 8 after all.

We had to figure out how to choose activities so that all three of us are alright with the choices. Often we all agree. Sometimes we don’t. When we don’t we try and talk and see if we can come to an agreement. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we take turns choosing. I’ve felt from the beginning of this journey that the kids choices are important and so are mine. So sometimes we go places someone isn’t thrilled by and if a kid really doesn’t want to go they can stay home. We are so fortunate to have Chris working at home and therefore we often have options that other parents don’t.

A kid choosing to forgo an activity we’d earlier agreed on doesn’t happen often and it’s still disappointing to me when it does but I am learning that those choices need to be respected as much as the decisions I adore. Often, it’s a good thing if it happens. They get a chance to really think about their choices, I get a chance to think about how hard a time they may be having and then we get to talk about it later on. Compromise can be hard, especially with multiple kids with different friends, interests, personalities and moods. Sometimes I get flustered by the time spent on preparing or trying to make a plan. It’s funny how I still operate at times as though the event is the only thing that matters, when in fact, the preparing, the choosing, the compromising is often more important learning and work for the kids and for me.

Friends and Community

Making new friends is hard! We’re slowing getting there. Keeping up with old friends who are still in school is even harder! I didn’t expect that. I really didn’t realize how hard it would be to get the kids time with their friends from school and how it’s all on me to make that happen. The other families have their community in place and they are settled and we are on the back burner for them. I’m not usually upset by this because I understand but it’s difficult telling the kids that we just won’t often be able to see kids they desperately miss. This has been slowly shifting toward new friends and finding ways of seeing old friends, even though it’s only occasionally. I expect it will keep getting easier.

I wonder how things will be different a year from now. I’m positive I’ll still be learning about our journey.