If you want unschooling to work just
because you stick the curriculum under the couch,
it won't! Get the world swirling around you
(first) and your children (second) so there are
sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures for
them to process and build their internal model of
the universe from. GET MOVING, mentally and
Just Add Light and Stir
Sandra Dodd, February 2002
In response to: How did you get comfortable with not racing around and
"providing" entertainment for your children?
I still provide entertainment for my children (and they provide things for
the rest of the family too, because (shhh...) they think that's just how
people in families are! They don't associate it with unschooling directly.
He's only interested in
standing them up and already I'm thinking of chess tournaments.
Find a diagram of the board set up and leave it available. He can copy that
pattern or not, but he'll realize there is a pattern.
And it's cool when the chess pieces on the chart don't look exactly like his
Maybe check out a book on chess pieces or history of game boards. Not on
chess strategy at all, but on gaming history so he can see the history of
pieces and the different forms. Or if you're near a games shop, wander by
and look at different chess sets on display. it will be like a teeny chess
It doesn't have to be done at any one moment, just incorporate his interest
in chess pieces into your daily considerations until the time when he knows
more about it than you do (unless you're a whiz, and then sorry for the
assumption that you weren't).
One way for moms who love to checklist their days to provide without
is to go afield of verbal presentation. Go through a list of the senses.
And if each day you try to provide something interesting to taste, touch,
hear, see and smell, his day will be more full than flat. Too many families
stop at things to hear and see. (Because school stops there, I guess.)
But you don't have to do this until he's 17. You can do it until you're
confident that he's filled with experiences to cross-reference at his own
leisure (in dreams, in fantasies, in future incidents which remind him of
those, etc.) and you feel satisfied that you're not a slacker.
If just "the five senses" seems a lame checklist and you want four
instead of three, maybe each day work into conversation something about the
past and something about the future. (I can hardly imagine a day without
those coming up naturally in my own family, but in case you're not really
talkative or something, it's something for the checklist.) If it comes up
naturally in conversation you could say "They didn't even have chainsaws
until... [whenever little gasoline engines were common, or whatever the
seminal technological feature is] and would have had to do all this with a
hand saw, or an axe." (That's if you cut firewood with a chainsaw, not if
you're sitting around working a jigsaw puzzle of tiger cubs in the forest.)
Or you could say "How long do you think we will have these dishes? When too
many are broken, what kind should we get next?" (if you have a girl with
those sorts of interests). Various kinds of mind-casting conversations into
the past (personal past or technological past or cultural past or planetary
past) or into the future (tomorrow, next year, next century) help kids build
their internal model of the universe. I know I've used that phrase half a
dozen times talking about unschooling, but I think it's one of the coolest
At school, there is a model of knowledge they're hoping to insert into
each child's head. And it has things that are dumb and arbitrary, like
the history of England is way more important than the history of China (in
English speaking countries, there's a lot of justification for that, but
still, let me run my imperfect little thang here), and that there are some
authors EVERYBODY has to know, and others that are TOTALLY optional,
marginal, don't even brag if you've read them. And that some historical
cultures are hugely more important than others. And some science is FACT
some is marginal "whatever," not appearing in this book.
School kids don't know the world is a million times bigger than school's
version of it.
Unschooled kids are also making a model of the universe inside them, but
they're making it their own way, and they're not valuing the school-bits
the bits that their model has which are unique to them and their own
interests and experiences.
That's the main reason I think that an unschooler's checklist should look
more like the five senses and past/future than like "science, history,
language, math, maybe-music-art-physical education." Because that model is
prescriptive and limiting. And the other is descriptive and unlimited.
2013 note: Up above, and eleven years ago, I wrote "dumb and arbitrary." That might be the last time I used the word "dumb." I have continued to become more positive in my word choices.
That writing grew into this:
As often happens, though, the original writing had a liveliness of its own that didn't transfer.