Unschooling, Time and Energy

Is Unschooling Exhausting?

Sandra Dodd:

My first thought is "compared to what?"
Is unschooling more exhausting than having a child in school?
Is unschooling more exhausting than doing school at home?
Schuyler Waynforth:
I don't know, I have no experience with having a child in school or doing school at home. I do know that pushing Simon or Linnaea to do something that they don't really want to do is exhausting. I do know that leading them places they don't want to go is exhausting. It is so much better to ride the wave that they want to go on than it is to swim against the surf. It is so much more fulfilling, more of a valuable use of time, more engaging, more entertaining.

There are awful, dismissive comments about raising children, things like raising a teenager is like trying to nail jello to a tree, or like herding cats, or, well, those sorts of things. All of them seem to be about the frustration a parent can feel trying to make their child be what they want their child to be. That's a big part of school. The idea that through repetition and required regurgation of facts and dates and opinions and ideas that someone will grow up to work well within the society they live in. With unschooling you aren't working to mold your child, you are working to nurture and to facilitate and to offer interesting engagements to them. You are strewing their path with ideas and information and experiences that they can choose to be a part of or not. Without the expenditrure of effort to redirect the attention of a child, without the need to blacken the windows so that they can't see something more interesting outside the classroom you are surely cutting down on your own energy requirements. You don't have to juggle and bounce and dance and sing to get them to pay attention to what they most want to do.

It isn't a lazy option, it does take work and attention and time, lots and lots of time. You don't get clear feedback, nothing to grade or judge or award, or at least not the same tangible things that come when you have assignments and tests and curves. But you do get children who are learning and engaging with the world in the ways that they want to. You do get children who are more likely to talk to you than not, who are more likely to hold your hand at 13 than not, who are more likely to trust your ideas than to reject them simply because you suggested them, you who had lead them down educational paths that had little to engage them before, who had forced their hands and their minds to do what you felt was best for them without regard to their own desires and interests.

I can't imagine that school is less exhausting. I don't imagine that my parents were overly restful and relaxed in the face of my hour long walk the two blocks to school at 6 or at my declining grades at 12. I can imagine that school is less energizing. I find energy when I thought I was done because of things that Simon or Linnaea want to do or explore with me. I am so amazed at the desire of my two pubertal children to hang out with me, to have my company when friends are over, to play with me. I didn't have that and maybe school doesn't preclude that, but in my life unschooling certainly nurtured it with Simon and Linnaea. And even if school is less exhausting, I wouldn't trade what I've got for a more well rested life.


My son has never been to school but the neighborhood kids all go and from talking with their parents they are exhausted, but not in a good way. They are always talking about the next fundraiser/field trip/sporting event they must attend, the hours of homework and the constant battle to get it all done each night, the arguments of clothing to be worn and the endless outlay of cash they spend for all the above mentioned. School just started last month here in my area of Florida and the parents are already tired and complaining. I'm lucky, they tell me, that I don't have to do any of the things they mentioned and it must be nice to not be exhausted from running around all day and having arguments at night.

Oh really?!?

I am exhausted! But they are right, about not having the arguments to make sure things are done on time, to get to bed, to make sure to get up when the alarm goes off every morning. We find that if there are things we want to get up and do, we get up and do them. If we have an appointment, we never seem to be late and there's no yelling about getting ready to go. If there's a project that has to be done within a certain time, it's done wilingly because we choose to do it. We are busy people too, with the normal everyday stuff and our activities which include outings, sports events and the like. But I think the big difference is that their exhaustion comes from the 'must do' while ours comes from the 'want to do'.

I like being exhausted. And happy. 🙂 Patti

photos are links


The whole of page 6 of The Big Book of Unschooling:

How much time does it take?

It depends how you look at it. If you're looking for moments of one-on-one instruction or school work, it takes none of that. If you're looking for hours of mindful living with the hope and expectation of learning, then it will take all your time.

If you come to see and understand unschooling, then the question about how much time it takes will seem like asking "How many hours a day are you alive?"

Once someone was asking how many hours she should spend with her child, or something, and I said at least as many hours as she would've been in school, counting transportation, and there was shock and surprise. The best answer might be that it should be twice as much time as she would've spent in school. Because honestly, a child shouldn't lose the mom-time she would've had at night and on weekends, should she?

The shock probably came from thinking that those hours would be teacher-style hours, of being stuck in one place doing something not too fun. That vision can only come from someone who hasn't looked into unschooling enough to know that the best unschooling hours are fun, natural, real activities. The shock can turn to excitement and joy, as a parent learns more about learning.

During proof-reading, my husband Keith wrote:

I would propose that the shock probably came from the emotional knee-jerk reaction to thinking that the person would have to go through school AGAIN and that brought up all the trauma and time-wasting she had already suffered through.
Good point. I liked school myself, and for someone who didn't, it must be doubly stressful.