How Unschooling Changes People

Unschooling is more than just the absence of school. As we change, our perceptions change, and the perceptions of others toward us changes.

Pam Sorooshian wrote, when her children were 16, 19 and 22:
As we get older and our kids grow up, we eventually come to realize that all the big things in our lives are really the direct result of how we've handled all the little things.

Tam Palmer wrote, at Radical Unschooling Info, September 27, 2013:

My husband was on an early shift today, so went to bed early-ish in the family bed. When it was dark, I realised we needed bread and milk, so popped to the shops to pick some up. My five year old said he 'just fancied something minty' and asked if he could come and choose something, so he came along in the car and we chatted about what we had planned for the weekend. When we got back, I breastfed our nineteen month old to sleep in the family bed, and helped the five year old download a couple of iPad apps to play in bed next to us while he wound down for sleep.

Our seven year old wasn't tired and stayed up in his room watching videos and looking at the Lego website, and occasionally coming in and whispering to me something exciting he'd watched. I sent him a link on facebook about something cool I found out about a game he's doing cosplay of this weekend, and he came quietly in excited that he'd been able to read almost all of it. 🙂

At about midnight I went and joined him for a bit, and snuggled up chatting about a video he wanted to make for YouTube and putting things on his Lego wish list. He slept late this morning and sent me a funny acronym message on Facebook from upstairs when he woke up.

None of it might seem monumental, but I realised I had lovely periods of connection with them last night none of which I would have had had I not discovered radical unschooling, as they all included aspects (lateness, 'screens', etc) that I would likely have limited if I was used to focusing on what children 'should' do rather than on them as individuals in individual situations. And I realised that these little moments, more than anything, are what make up our lives together, and was pretty thankful for [Radical Unschooling Info] and Always Learning. 🙂

(the original, if it's still there)

Colleen Prieto, 9/27/13:
My husband just said, rather randomly while making coffee, "You know, it's funny how life changes you. When I was growing up I never once thought about birds."

We were out looking for birds and other wildlife at a park this afternoon, as we do many afternoons because our 10 year old is in *love* with birding. We also stroll around old cemeteries, because our son is fascinated by cemeteries and really enjoys exploring them. We go to historical sites, because he loves history. This evening, I heard rumor that there is going to be a family Mario Kart tournament in the living room. Etc, etc. None of these were things we did or were particularly interested in before we became parents, but they're things we love doing now.

Both my husband and I have, through unschooling, gotten into the wonderful habit of immersing ourselves right alongside our son, in his interests, for as long as he's interested. And we've learned and grown and enjoyed ourselves quite thoroughly in the process.

It is definitely funny, in a good way, how life changes you if you let it. 🙂 (original)

The same day as the note above was posted, Collen shared this:

 photo heronColleenPrieto.jpg

Sure enough, if you think you're alone in the woods, you're probably not. This guy startled the beejeezus out of us when we realized he was standing (completely motionless) just a few feet away from where we were walking. He, on the other hand, didn't seem remotely fazed by our close call
Diana Jenner wrote in September 2008:
I was incredibly excited about bedtimes once upon a time. I was adamant and adamantly supported in this idea of *me* time "Especially as a single mom" I'd cry and the crowd would cheer it's agreement -- and now I know it was all a fallacy of separation. I needed (& found!) someone to rouse me from the daydreams of how I wanted it to be and show me the focus of Here and Now and what IS. Without the thought "I must have X or Z will happen," life is pretty dang peaceful. I don't need to be separate to be peaceful, there is peace in the now, in the ME.

With practice, the moments of panic and fear become fewer and farther between.

So, the radical part of our unschooling experience? Totally been inside of me. I am radically awakened, I am radically evolved. The life of my kids, it's just that—"Life." Nothing radical about it at all.

Joanna Murphy:

When I stopped seeing my daughter as adversarial it changed the world for us. There are some areas in which she still has a hard time reading her body signals, although I see shifts happening rapidly as she progresses further into being a 9yo. We have developed a sweet and trusting bond where the focus is on wellbeing and learning and finding balance. It is not me drowning out her inner voice with rules, but helping her to read her own body signals. It's like a drawing out of what's developing in her. Sometimes she is very cranky with me, but I don't take it personally—she is expressing frustration with her limitations, but it's o.k. We don't always sound like a happy harmonious partnership on the outside, but it actually feels really peaceful on the inside because there is much more clarity and love in the relationship. Our connection has grown deeper now that we aren't on the continuum of me in charge or her in charge—we are working together. (And it often does sound very harmonious too. 🙂 )

Joanna Murphy, on the Always Learning list, 3/23/08 (from the bottom of that post) very slightly edited here

The kids are still the same wonderful vibrant people they've always been, just I'm not the cranky 'trying to clean' mom I used to be.
Mom to Josh (11), Breanna (9), Emily (7), Rachel (6), Sam (5), Dan (3), and Avari Rose

"Yesterday I got angry about something and I yelled at one of the kids. I shocked myself!! It sounded so horrible not to mention unnecessary. And weird. I realized it sounded weird because it isn't something I do very often and although I felt bad for yelling, it felt good to know that it was the first time in a long time."

Julie, in "Enjoying my Kids", in the typical days section

Susan, on the Unschooling Basics list:

A few days ago I noticed several mantras are running through my head daily now - find a way to say yes, what can I do to support my child in this situation, the relationship is what matters most, we aren't preparing for living in the world (we're doing it right now), just change the next interaction with your child, etc. I've made a point to bring at least one of these things up each day, roll it over in my head and talk about it with DH when we get a quiet moment.

DH and I were able to have several indepth conversations about unschooling and we read several threads together that I'd saved to share with him. He's my partner in parenting and I really want us both on the same page with unschooling & respectful parenting—he gets less "thinking" time than I do and less time to put these ideas into practice, but he's getting it and things have been clicking. I realized that it is easier for him to parent respectfully when I am doing it myself.

Anyways, what I wanted to say is THANK YOU for all the ideas you've helped me discover and the alternate perspectives I've been exposed to by being on this list. I am very grateful. We've had some very wonderful moments the past few days and I wanted to share a few of them.

We spent Thursday at the park. In the beginning everyone wanted to do something different and go in opposite directions and the situation was starting to escalate—the kids were getting upset and DH & I were feeling that urge to say something stupid like "you can't always get your way". But instead of just pulling rank and deciding to go do Activity A first and then move on to Activity B (because that seems the most efficient use of our time or some other "rational" reason) we stopped and took some time to share our ideas with each other. We took turns talking about what we wanted to do and then we made a plan everyone agreed with. The kids were really helpful and offered several suggestions on how to make our day more enjoyable. I know it probably seems like a little thing, just a baby step, especially to those of you who have been unschooling for years, but I was so happy about this! It was great to interact with the kids in this way, to validate their ideas, to empower them and take them seriously, and treat their wishes with utmost care.

Saturday we got home late from grocery shopping and as we were pulling in the driveway my daughter said, "Mom, I want to help you unload the groceries." I laughed and said, "You just want to unpack the honey we bought!" (She'd been diligent about making sure we bought honey and mentioned wanting some when we got home.) She said, "No, I don't care about the honey, really." So I replied jokingly, "Ah, you're not sleepy and want something to do." She shook her head, "Nope. You look tired and I just want to help, that's all." (A year ago I would have insisted she go straight to bed and probably thought she was just using stall tactics.) But I went with it and said I'd love to have her help if she wanted to do that. After I carried DS to bed (he'd fallen asleep in the car) she helped me unload every single bag from the car (there were a lot) and then we sorted the food together and she took charge of putting all the frozen stuff away. It was actually fun to do it together, I really enjoyed having this time with her and I think she enjoyed it to—she felt helpful and appreciated. Of course, I didn't expect her to any of this (and I wouldn't have even asked). As soon as the last bag was empty she gave me a hug and said "good night mom!" and went to bed. I just stood there for a few minutes afterwards with a big stupid, happy grin on my face and thought about what an amazing kid she is. I also realized that it *shouldn't* be surprising to me, but coming from a conventional mindset it was wonderfully refreshing to break away from that mold and trust her intentions and enjoy the moment, to find joy in putting the groceries away.

Then yesterday the kids asked if we could take a walk to our neighborhood creek. My first inclination was to say no - I had just started a rather complicated project, my mind was preoccupied and I felt pushed for time. Then two of those mantras came zooming into my head (find a way to say yes and the relationship is what matters). They clearly wanted this experience I should be honored to share it with them. I realized that there was nothing happening that I couldn't walk away from and come back to later, and that my kids were asking for my attention right now and they were certainly more important than the project I was working on. So I told them it was great idea and to give me just five minutes to put some stuff away.

When I came into the hallway I found my son waiting at the door with a backpack full of stuff and it looked pretty heavy. He said that he'd packed a blanket, a bottle of juice, three cups, some books, and a notebook for drawing. I had the urge to tell him "no" about the juice and to talk him out of taking the heavy books, for no real reason - my objections totally fell apart when I examined them more closely. Why has my first instinct been to say "no"? Anyways, it occurred to me that these things were clearly part of his plan for spending time at the creek, he felt they added something important to his adventure, and it was very thoughtful of him to anticipate what our needs might be and plan accordingly. (I find myself actually having these conversations in my head lately but at least they're helping me from blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.) He also had the dogs hooked up to their leashes. I wasn't planning to take the dogs but there really wasn't any reason not to and he wanted to walk them, so out the door we went. We had a lovely walk and enjoyed a leisurely time at the creek, where DS spread out the blanket and kept us hydrated and refreshed with juice. :)

On the way back he wanted to run so he asked if I would carry the backpack and take the dogs. I could literally hear the words of my previous mentality (echoing the words of my mother) saying, "It was your choice to bring the dogs and you insisted on carrying that backpack, so that's what you need to do." Fortunately I didn't say that! Instead I held out my hands and he handed me everything. As I watched him run ahead in that excited, joyous way children do, I felt this huge weight lift off me. In my mind's eye I could picture those awful words floating above me like a banner and then they just cracked and dissipated into little tiny specks until they were totally gone.

Moments like these just make me want them more, to do things better each day. Small things, I know. But this list has helped me become more mindful and it IS making a world of difference in our lives, slowly but surely. Thank you again!! If I could give you all a great big hug I would! Maybe in September...


Jin Burton, in a blog comment here:
Four to five years ago when I was new to unschooling and reading the lists voraciously you wrote about it only being a bad moment in an email response to someone. Wow -- what a change that brought about in my family! I used to write daily in my journal - years of simply noting down all that was wrong in my family instead of all that was right. I got so caught up in one thing going wrong and then having it ruin the next and the next etc. That comment stopped me dead in my tracks and truly began to turn things around. I recently read through much of those old journal pages and was appalled at all the negativity and sadness in there. I wanted to toss it all - DH suggested we have a ceremonial burning of it and celebrate just how far we have come. Last weekend while at a favorite camp spot we did just that. We each read some here and there and tossed each page into the fire while saying goodbye to that old life. We are still a long ways from where we hope to be but are enjoying the process now and are happily moving forward together one GOOD moment at a time.
—Jin Burton

Kerryn wrote from Australia, in June 2007:

Do you ever look back over months or years and realise how much you've changed?

I had one of those moments tonight.

My family visited another hs family tonight and shared dinner. We have eight children, they have seven, plus four adults - makes for a wonderful, fun filled evening.

After eating, my friend told the older boys to clear the dishes away ready for washing. My dh spoke up and said he didn't expect our ds to do the dishes and I agreed (all done in a gentle tone). I don't mind washing up and began to clear and run the sink water. Ds said he was happy to help stack and chatted happily with his friend. By the time the older girls had arrived (it was apparently their job to wash) I had washed the majority (because I wanted to, and I knew my oldest dd did not want to.)

My revelation? I truly did not want my children thinking that they 'had' to do dishes for 19 people. And I had a very calm attitude that had no aroma of 'martydom'. The girls asked if they could take over to tidy up the final bits, but I know mine did it with *joy* because they truly had the choice.

After this, a movie was put on and 'everyone' was told to go in and chill out. There was an immediate flow of my children imploring freedom. I was asked if I minded them watching the video, and of course, I said I didn't mind - as long as they wanted to watch it. I made some alternative suggestions like exploring the bookshelf, chilling out in bedrooms, boardgames, sitting with us. Again, I 'truly' believed they were capable of knowing what they want to do. It was a natural progression of the evening, as little people were falling asleep, that the older ones would probably pursue quieter activities.

We did have a lovely evening, and I did see some startling differences in our families' expectations of children's involvement. I enjoy working along side my children, and I enjoy preparing food for them, and keeping house to provide a 'lovely' environment for us all to live in. We left for home perhaps a little earlier than we may have at other times, not because of annoyance or anything else negative. I thoroughly enjoy my friend's company, and her forthrightness. I believe we left for the children, leaving so our children didn't feel overwhelmed by a lack of choice.

Mate! I used to play the martyr! It rears its ugly head only on rare occasions nowadays, usually when I'm tired. Tonight I have seen how my attitudes can change, a deep down change of heart and mind. Very encouraging!


Jessica Hughes, in January 2015, wrote:

I struggled ... with leaving behind the mentality that learning means a curriculum, learning means "worthwhile" pursuits, etc. I just want to share that at my wit's end, with a suddenly rebellious 12 year old and a frighteningly depressed 10 year old, I threw out the classroom mentality and gave the unschooling life six months. It was without a doubt the best decision I have ever made.

I no longer look at my kids on the computer and roll my eyes or beg them to read a book because for some bizarre reason I think words on paper are different from words on a screen. I watched my daughter effortlessly begin reading and writing from hours she insisted we watch Pokemon with the subtitles on.

I remember loving to learn as a child. I also remember having that love destroyed because everything I wanted to do or be that wasn't a doctor or lawyer or 'worthy' of my intelligence was scoffed at. I determined not only to not openly criticize their choices, but to also not quietly disapprove, because kids feel that and it has an effect. I don't like Pokemon, but I have watched at least 300 episodes of it. I have cheered. I have marveled at the incredible breadth of knowledge my daughter had compiled by age six regarding the minutiae of these imaginary creatures. I watched her invent a superhero cat and draw a comic of its adventures in space. I googled what use earthworms have when she wanted to know. Every minute of every day she is learning, and importantly she is maintaining that love.

My eldest at 15 has taken up German, French, Italian, Chinese, and Arabic. Not because I said he should but just because he was interested. It all started with online gaming, which I once believed to be the absolute greatest waste of time imaginable. He meets people from all over the world. They began discussing the differences in idioms from one language to another. He became fascinated. His favorite gift at Christmas was the most highly recommended (says he) German Grammar book. It was closely followed by two books on creating your own language from my best friend who is a linguist.

But this is not to say that the goal of unschooling is to trick your kids into the more 'academic' pursuit that my eldest has chosen. My middle child is still recovering from my control-based years. He spends most of his time gaming and that's also good. He is learning to hone computer skills, he is meeting people from multiple cultures, he is exploring what is important to him and *that* is what is important to me.

I want to close by sharing what I believe is the most emotional impact to date this change in my perspective has led to. Last week we watched The Babadook. One of their Australian friends recommended it and I was not disappointed. When it was done, this 12 year old boy (who a casual observer would say is learning nothing but video games) turned to me and expressed that he loved this movie because it was like the mother's depression was eating her up and making her into a monster who couldn't enjoy what she did have good in her life. He said he understood how that felt because he had been depressed like that before, but like her, he has learned to manage it and see the good things around him now. Understand that while I feared he was depressed, no one in this house has *ever* used that word or description with him. He is learning to understand himself, to value himself and his life, and there is nothing in the greatest academic pursuits more important than that.

Jessica Hughes
Original, in an unschooling discussion on facebook