The fabric of an unschooling life


In a discussion, someone was curious about unschooling, and described what she thought should be happening. First is that quote, and then Schuyler Waynforth response (below):

I am probably totally romanticizing the idea of home or unschooling, but I imagine things like:
  • making a healthy made from scratch breakfast together in the mornings, eating at the table as a family and talking about the day to come
  • going for a hike or nature walk or working in the garden or even just going to the park and slowing down the pace enough to discover interesting bugs, rocks, flowers and other little things we so commonly don't notice
  • having instruments at home, playing music, going to concerts and performances and being exposed to a range of different styles of music from classical to modern to world music
  • going to museums and keeping up with art and scientific discoveries
  • reading books, watching movies and discussing ideas! just discussing things together would be so cool!
  • cooking dinners together and eating at the table again, together, and talking about things we enjoyed
  • finding other common interests and exploring them together, crafting, beading, birding, magic, whatever it may be...
  • meeting interesting people, going to lectures, doing workshops, trying things on for size, getting inspired to think in new ways...
of course we do a little bit of all of this (did i mention i am new here, i.e. we are not an unschooling family), so maybe it's the "school" in me that is telling me it needs to be a steady sustained effort (like a regular schedule) or else it's not "good enough," but this seems really unattainable to me.

Schuyler responded:
My life and my children's lives and my husband's life are each filled with engagements and interests and activities that we enjoy or attempt to enjoy. But they aren't necessarily huge and mostly they don't look much like your list of activities. Last night at Morris dancing practice a friend and I were making mouth music. Linnaea thought it was funny and perhaps a bit irreverent, but it was a slow moment and we were finding engagement with what we had.

I find your day's plan fascinating. It seems to be so very much a Steiner image of the world of engagement and education. It is so at odds with my day to day. I am assuming that you have younger children, maybe because what you picture seems like a still life with small children and not a life with older children. Not that at 13 and 10 Simon or Linnaea don't like walking in the woods or finding hedgehogs to fatten to get through the winter, but that it feels more like a moulded childhood. It also feels very, very scheduled.

It's 8:52 am here, now. I am sitting on the couch with the dog and Simon and Linnaea are sleeping. They probably won't be up 'til 10:30 or 11 or so. There won't be a shared and healthy breakfast. I'll have something soon and then I'll fix them things as they require them, or a bit before. Simon will probably watch videos on youtube for a bit, or work on his Minecraft world. Linnaea may play a game with me, like cribbage or bananagrams, or she may check in on her wiki group about Warrior Cats. David will get home from work today around noon and he and I or he and I and Linnaea or he and I and Linnaea and Simon will go into town to get wine ingredients and a few sewing notions I need and other little odds and ends. When we get back home it will be time to go to the nearby fen to walk the dog. Linnaea likes to come along, although she's been down with a lingering flu so may or may not. A stop at the butcher's for pet food and home again. And then we'll be in for the rest of the day. Food will happen at varying points during the day according to need. Oh and dinner. We tend to all eat dinner at the same time, even if it isn't the same food. Tonight's pizza, so I need to start the dough as soon as I'm done with this e-mail. But that's probably a pretty average day for us.

However there are a fair number of things that disappear in the list that can't be predicted reliably. There will be conversations all through the day. Jokes and ideas and information and discussions. We'll watch the IT crowd and maybe an episode of Xena in the evening. I'll practice ukulele and maybe sew up a pair of trousers and a shirt. There is a felting project I need to get around to doing to replace a scarf I mailed that never arrived. Both Simon and Linnaea played a part in the original creation so I'm hoping they'll be willing to do so with the remake. I don't know if I'll get around to that today. There will be conversations about the cats about the dog about the fish about whatever. There will be a chase around the house at some point in the day. There will be cuddles and play and connection. And tea.

As I write it out it feels of halcyon moments. Of learning all the time. When they were younger it was different, but still of the same connection and enjoyment. There was much more movement out and about and in and around. But we, each of us, tend to be more homebody than intrepid explorer. There are moments of stumbling across amazing things, like the day at the skate park where we saw ichneumon wasps mating who we'd seen in different incarnations as their larval form parasitized the ladybirds that Linnaea had collected from the front of the garden and put in our window box of cilantro. There was the time at a pond where we saw wolf spiders carrying their babies on their backs and I dropped the phone in the water. Fortunately there was a kind stranger with a net who helped me retrieve it and a few days drying seemed to bring it back. Or the glorious still told story of keeping a pond full of overly amorous mallards at bay with a couple of potato guns while the female duck with the bloodied back of her head found a place to hide.

Those moments are like comparing modern art with the art from previous generations; only the bigger and bolder pieces are writ large on your memory. The real stuff, the day to day stuff is the smaller moments. The sitting still and playing with Barbies, the learning how to play on a gameboy advance and reading every word on pokemon gold or silver, the face painting, the baths with all the toys, the hours and hours at Toys R' Us just wandering and looking and discovering what it is to enjoy patience. B'damen battles with blocks and action figures, game after game of Pokemon the board game. Lots of food, lots of drink, lots of care and comfort and love. Those moments make the bigger feeling moments more likely to happen with everybody enjoying them. Simon has never been terribly keen to go for walks. But by having his desire to stay home respected when he does decide to come along for a walk he really enjoys them.

I keep thinking a "good" curriculum to touch upon everyday could be a good tool to help create an enriched and stimulating environment, at least to start while we deschool and slowly move away from the need for structure...
Deschooling doesn't work until you let go of structure. The early days of unschooling will be about learning how to see learning in all things. If you are still looking to the structure of curricula it will be very, very difficult to grasp the fundamentals of unschooling. Having go-to ideas of things to do or engagements to offer is a good thing, but having those things be about education or a passing on of pieces of specific knowledge it won't help you to see the glorious world of unschooling. Those things are best if they are just kind of a fun thing to do in a moment of nothing much going on. Learning will happen.

Schuyler Waynforth
on Always Learning, February 2011
Edited slightly around "early days [of] unschooling," for clarity.—Sandra

An interview with Schuyler Waynforth in 2013, and more by her: Schuyler

The fabric of life (a collection of uses of that phrase)

Typical Days Substance Unschooling: Getting It