Robyn Coburn on Giving Children Options

This appeared at the Unschooling Basics list and was picked up by Unschooling Highlights.
The original questioner's words are to the left. Robyn's responses are the quotes.

I have been reading more on unschooling and I keep getting "stuck" on the whole no limitations or restrictions on food, tv, video games, computer time, bedtimes, participation in chores, etc. After reading some of the opinions/interpretations of other unschoolers I have become almost leary of using the term to describe what we do. So my question....are you an unschooler if you DO have guidelines on these issues?????

Technically, Unschooling is simply "not doing school" - trusting that your children will learn all they need from living a life of engaging in their interests.

If you don't want to Radically or Whole Life Unschool, then don't - no one is going to send the goon squad over to your house to insist that you drop all restrictions, or even that you ease your restrictions gently. However, we might suggest this as a way to greater joy and partnership with your children, instead of continuing to live in an adversarial manner with them, even if it is only mildly adversarial.

I would encourage you to do more reading about living by Principles instead of rules, and especially to read at www.sandradodd.com/unschooling and http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/.

One major foundation of Unschooling is the Principle of Trust. Unschooling will never be as sparkling and joyful and transcendently brilliant while you are only prepared to trust your children as long as they are making the same choices that you would make on their behalf. What you are then depriving them and yourself of are the startlingly brilliant, extraordinary, more creative choices that they would make for themselves, when they are able to be the fully autonomous arbiters of their own learning and managers of their own time.

Whilever you are the person deciding which of their needs or interests is worthy of fulfilling, you are depriving them of the opportunity to fully know themselves.

We do alot of things together as a family because it's just what we do...we don't offer them the choice to not participate with family/household responsibilites - it's not really questioned, it's just what we do.
By relinquishing the desire to control, you help your child onto the path of living mindfully themselves, making choices and decisions mindfully and deliberately, instead of reactively.

How would you react if the lack of choice *were* to be questioned one day? Would your subsequent actions be likely to enhance or detract from your relationship with your children?

You are assuming that given the choice the children would never choose to help. The lists are full of stories of children spontaneously helping, doing unasked cleaning or tidying as gifts for their parents, doing *more* than the children with externally directed chores ever offer or do.

The tv does not stay on all day...I really haven't felt at this point like I have to RESTRICT their tv watching because there is typically something more interesting for them to do but it does go off after our rather late breakfasts. BUT if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was watch tv.....I would have a problem with that. (I can't really see that happening but...)
It happens here sometimes, and then it doesn't sometimes. I make no rules, give no directives, although I do remind her of other things that might be available in the smorgasbord of activities. My dd gets to choose what activities are of value *to her*. Sometimes that includes a lot of tv. Then she is done for a while. I trust her to know her own desires. I verbally and physically appreciate her enthusiasm and joy in her chosen love of the moment.

Switch it around a bit with different words:

"But if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was read books"...

"But if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was Dig in the garden"....

"But if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was Play their violins"...

"But if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was Ride their horse"...

"But if they did decide that ALL they wanted to do ALL day EVERY day was Swim"....

The fact is that even if it is ALL they want to do for ALL day EVERY day, it will still be temporary; EVERY day would still not last forever. It would be a temporary need being fulfilled. Discovering and facilitating the children's passions is another tentpole of Unschooling practice. A child discovering something that they *want* every day is cause for celebration.

The only way to know if your children genuinely, truly want to do the other activities is if they have the option to choose not to do them. They can only choose to switch it off when they have the option to leave it on.

The girls don't choose when they go bed. We don't have a "set" bedtime...it flexes depending on what time they got up, what we're doing the next day and how early we have to get up and how everyone is acting and feeling. Ultimately though, when it's time...it's time. Once again, it's not typically questioned because they're tired and we have a nice routine that we follow and they share a bed/bedroom so they chit chat and do shadow puppets,etc. BUT if they decided that they wanted to stay up till 11 or 12 or later....well, I don't consider that an option for a 7 and 5 year old.
Certainly there is no need to fix what isn't broken, or borrow trouble from a currently non-existent future scenario.

However what I would encourage you to think about is just how arbitrary the times are that you mention. There is nothing magical about any particular hour on the clock, especially if the next day is fluid. Some children are naturally night owls, even when they are 7 and 5. Some are going to be early rising morning people for their entire lives. What is important is understanding and facilitating everyone's needs as much as is possible. At present it seems like everyone's needs are being met. Things can change, which is one reason why Principles work better in Unschooling, than rules or dictates.

Every time you feel the urge to control a choice, you can ask yourself "why?" and begin to question the assumptions (or fears) about children, parenting, learning and living joyfully that you are holding on to.

Intentions matter. Guidance offered from the place of partnership and trust has a different feeling, avoids rebellion, and is just plain less focused on the trivial. Guidance means optional acceptance instead of mandatory compliance. Guidance means parents being safety nets, not trap doors or examiners. Guidance facilitates mindfulness. Directives shut it down, and may even foster resentment instead.

The idea of Unschooling is for parents to be the facilitators of options, the openers of doors, the creators of environments of freedom, and the guardians of choice, not the installers of roadblocks and barriers. Unschoolers are making the huge and wonderful choice to renounce our legal entitlements to be the authoritarian controllers of our children's lives, and instead choose to be their partners.

Robyn L. Coburn



More on Choice *** Options *** Respect *** Parenting