How to Screw Up Unschooling

A list created on the AlwaysLearning list, with items contributed by Marji/gaiawolf, Sandra Dodd, swissarmy_wife/heatherbean, Schuyler Waynforth, Cameron Parham, Alex Polikowsky, Katherine Anderson, Robin Bentley, Melissa Dietrick, Clarissa Fetrow, Angela Shaw, Jules Adler, Jenny C (jenstarc4), Liam Zintz-Kunkle (13), Jill Parmer, Emmy Tofa, Amanda Horein, De/sanguinegirl, Nancy Machaj, Joylyn, Deborah Cunefare, Jae (Adam's mom)
  • Don't talk to your kids.
  • Tell your kids to leave you alone.
  • Tell your kids they ask too many questions.
  • Don't let your kids explore the house; they have their own rooms, they can stay in there.
  • Be critical and belittling of your kids' passions and interests and shoot down their ideas in the name of reality and practicality.
  • Place no value on their opinions because they are only kids afterall!
  • Responses:
    • Set your default response to "no." **
    • Come prepared with no; only occasionally say yes.
    • When asked the reason you said "no", respond with "because I said so".
  • Punish first, ask questions later.
  • If you do talk to your kids, be sure to talk down to them.
  • If it seems you've talked too long, talk some more.
  • Don't trust your kids.
  • Spank them.
  • Make them do a math curriculum.
  • Insult them.
  • Remind them of mistakes they've made in the past. Frequently.
  • When your kid asks for anything, always say: "maybe later", "in a little while", "next time", "I'm busy."
  • Always compare them to other children—siblings, relatives, schooled kid neighbors...etc.
  • Don't let them watch TV.
  • "Interests":
    • Don't show any interest in their interests.
    • Dismiss their interests as trivial or too much trouble for not enough gain.
  • Have preconceived notions about television and food that you are unwilling to explore.
  • Live a very routine life. Don't look for new experiences, new ideas, new people, new places. Do the things you know.
  • Don't allow a mess, or always make kids clean up
  • Look for who's to blame when things get stressful
  • Tell kids how their experiments will turn out
  • Project the future from small daily events
  • Micromanage so things turn out the way the parent 'knows' is best
  • Assign life experiences a different 'learning value' and steer kids "subtly" towards what you see as more valuable
  • Compare your children to other children.
  • Be unavailable most of the time doing other "more important" tasks than being with them and doing things they want to do with you.
  • Tell them they can't do or have something until they're old enough or have earned it or attained some other achievement first.
  • See your income as strictly yours and not belonging to anyone else in the family.
  • See other items belonging to you as strictly yours and not to be touched especially by sticky careless kid fingers.
  • Be sure to point out all the watermarks on the furniture.
  • Keep in mind that if you don't complain, children might think you don't care.
  • Limit their computer time.
  • Only buy them games that are "educational."
  • Only give them food you approve of/think is healthy.
  • Make them do chores (especially for money for things they want) and withhold payment if they don't do them.
  • Lay guilt trips on them or shame them if they don't act as you think they "should."
  • Don't ever talk to them about situations that could be handled better the next time.
  • Decide it's too much trouble to help them get what they want or need.
  • Don't provide information that might be important to them and let them muddle through alone because *you* are too embarrrassed (thinking body science/sexuality/drugs).
  • Believe that they will never (read/add/brush their hair/get a job/ whatever) because they are "old enough to know this by now."
  • Indicate (with subtlety, of course) that one kind of interest is more valuable than another - i.e. reading, writing, algebra, board games are better than, for instance, tv watching, playing with stuffed animals, making up puns, handheld or online gaming etc. Make sure that the interest you favor for them is one that you prefer yourself.
  • Make sure you really figure out your child so well that you can give him a label (shy, slow, lazy, oppositional, good, troublesome and on...)
  • Make sure you let your children know the label (or labels) you've given them, preferably daily.
  • When you child says he likes or dislikes something, make sure that comment becomes written in stone: if he doesn't like broccoli tonight, make sure you never offer broccoli again, and if you do, make sure everyone knows he doesn't like broccoli.
  • Be sure children use items for their originally intended purpose only. Insist that one toy be put away before another is taken out.
  • Insist they read aloud to you daily.
  • When your children ask you to read a word, make them "sound it out."
  • Put books on a pedestal above all other sources of information.
  • Don't allow them to reread books or rewatch movies. If they ask you to retell a story, say, "I already told you!"
  • When they ask you about something, say, "You know where the encyclopedia is." or "Go look it up yourself." or "You know how to use a dictionary." (A Radical Thought)
  • Only allow them age-appropriate activities.
  • Don't let unexpected opportunities disrupt your plans.
  • Worry.
  • Focus on how your kids will "turn out" instead of enjoying who they are right now.
  • Think your children not smart or wise enough, so therefore you must make the decisions for them.
  • Believe that life is divided into school subjects and worry "how will my kids ever learn x".
  • Don't collaborate.***
    • "Unparent"—give kids "free rein" without talking to them re: appropriateness of their actions (affecting others and others' property).
    • Don't help your kid understand the ways of the world and boundaries and what's right and what's wrong.
    • When they have a disagreement, let them work things out themselves with no input from you.
    • Do not prepare them ahead of time for anything new they may encounter. Let them deal with it on their own.
    • Have the idea that unschooling is just allowing your kids to walk all over others because they feel like it and well you don't want to run their lives!
  • Set lots of rules, boundaries, and limitations.
  • When children fight, punish them both, no question
  • Make kids clean up their own messes, especially after a particularly messy project (or worse, just don't let them make a mess because you don't want to clean it up afterward).
  • Listen to others over your children ( this applies to conversations and "expert" advice given).
  • Hide all matches and knives because they are dangerous
  • Make your children clean their plates.
  • Restrict all food that you, the parent, deem as unhealthy.
  • Don't offer to help (this pretty much applies to anything).
  • Say "I am not your maid/servant" when they ask you for something.
  • Don't include your kids in important family decisions.
  • Stop free learning, exploration, activity jumping at a certain age, because 'they need more structure now'.
  • Don't buy funky, specialized, unusual items from the grocery store, because 'it's expensive', 'we'll never cook with it', 'it's just the same as blah blah blah'. (Thinking of all the cool pasta shapes here.)
  • Don't travel, stay in one place all the time.
  • Proclaim museums as boring.
    • Or worse, proclaim museums as only for adults and don't take your children. This is doubly so for those art museums, kids can't handle and won't like art museums.
  • Practice censorship in what your children read, not taking into account anything other than age.
  • Worry, worry, worry.
  • Make sure your children hear you complaining about them to the other mothers at park day.
  • Rush everywhere. Make sure you don't have time to stop and watch the water tower being dismantled, the gas station tanks going into the ground, the street being repaved.
  • The world is a dangerous place. Don't allow them out into it alone until they're old enough to drive.
  • The world is a dangerous place. No climbing, running, jumping or exploring allowed.
  • What your neighbors, relatives, and friends think is much more important than what your child thinks.
  • Be Boring. Dont follow your own passions. Have no hobbies.
  • Focus on keeping the house clean and the laundry done.
  • Never be spontaneous. Plan everything.
  • Put yourself last, all the time.
  • Don't question yourself. Don't question others.
  • Make your kids earn their keep with chores and jobs.
  • Remind your kids often of how much you do for them.
  • Prevent him from turning everything that he wants to do or learn into a game.
  • Call your child's interests "crap" or "stupid." (You don't think a mother would do that? Look.)
EVEN IF one claims to be unschooling...
In August, 2011, Sylvia Toyama wrote:

In my experience, learning how to create a home for my family where unschooling will thrive, where children will grow with passion and a sense of wonder, and where we will all continue to learn and grow is absolutely a skillset. I've met a few parents calling themselves unschoolers, who talked a good game and clearly felt they had the mindset of an unschooler. But when it came time to actually walk the walk by spending time truly with their child—not just in the same room or house, but truly present in their child's life—they were simply all talk, and it showed in their kids' unhappiness and inability to get along with others.


Cameron wrote:
In my family we have long called this the "Automatic NO Button." The kids and I knew about this even before we started unschooling, from their grandmother and other kids' parents mostly. I have seen that many overwhelmed mothers have a very strong automatic no button. It's especially bad in those who also think that once you say no you must never back down or change your mind. I so much hated the automatic no button as a child that I had already developed the theory that overwhelmed/overtired people say "No!" immediately because they can't imagine one more thing/idea/job to deal with. Maybe they are also emotionally overloaded. This is so common in our culture. Some of the women I work with have been open to learning to watch for their tendency to automatically say NO if I lead into the discussion with understanding that they are overwhelmed, and the term "automatic no button" lends some humor to the discussion to help them stay open. My Mom has even learned to wait if I preface a discussion during one of her visits with, "Watch out, Mom. This may hit the automatic no button!" So real.

Nancy Wooten responded:
I was in Borders Books yesterday where I observed two little girls trying to convince their mom to buy them a -- Book! The mom was looking at -- Books! but then told the girls she wasn't buying them anything, that they want a book every time they come to the bookstore, they'd have to wait until Christmas, yada yada. The girls tried to make a case for the book, tried to show mom how cool it was... no dice. Mom bought something for herself later, as she was behind me in line, though it was something other than a book.

When I was a kid, my mom had a standing "yes" policy with books, but toys had a "wait until birthday/Christmas" rule, which was hard because my birthday is Nov. 24. But if I wanted a book, I got it. That's a tradition I've carried forward :-)


*** "Counsel" and "advice" were discussed, as a heading for this section. We don't want to say "counsel them" or "don't counsel them" either one, though, so it can't be set up as though those are opposites. "Don't advise" was tried and rejected. Other considerations:
Don't collaborate.
Don't share information.
Don't be helpful.
Don't give/share information.
"Guiding" or "Guidance" or even "Counsel"?
Neglect disguised as freedom
The problem is that some of the most rules-wielding, "just do it" parents believe they're helpfully sharing information.

Now Calm Yourselves!

After reading all that sad negativity up there, how about a soothing song?


The Best Page for new unschoolers

Cheery Neglect (not a good thing)