A couple of months ago we went on our very first road trip with David, our two year old son. It was soooo much fun! While on the road I was able to listen to recordings of Eckhart Tolle and read a couple of books, one of which is called the The Unschooling Unmanual, a valuable little book generously given to me by Jan Hunt, who is the editor and contributing author. Her book has 11 essays and 8 different authors ranging from unschooling parents to philosophers, allowing you to receive a wide perspective on the subject. I knew, even before David was born, that I was going to do my own version of unschooling with him. I decided this after meeting my best friend Courtney and several other wonderful people who were unschooled as children and live very happy and fulfilled lives because of it. Unschooling, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is a style of education which allows your child to direct his/her own learning. Unschooling takes place outside of a school setting (unless the child chooses on his/her own to attend school), and differs from homeschooling because there is no set curriculum. That is the basic definition of unschooling, but in reality it is so much more. Unschooling is a way of life, a way of interacting with and thinking about children which is respectful, loving, and kind.
Bird nest we found on our land with three baby cardinals
Reading The Unschooling Unmanual really helped me to understand, in a deeper way, my reasons for choosing to unschool my child. While watching David run naked on the beach, forage wild hickory nuts near our hotel, ride a trolley in downtown Savannah, and nap in our comfy hotel room bed, I felt pure joy in the moment and excitement about our future unschooled life, filled with lots of freedom, travel, time in nature, and family fun! I truly believe unschooling is the secret ingredient to a happy childhood. Inspired by the stories and information contained in The Unschooling Unmanual, I have made a list, in true Rose Goddess style, of the top 10 reasons why…
1. Respects Basic Human Rights. Unschooling is all about respecting and trusting your child. The fact that parents conceive and give birth to their children often leads them to believe they have the right to control them. Being able to pursue our own education and interests is something we take for granted, yet many children have had this right taken away from them due to their size and age. In my opinion, the relationship between parent and child should be viewed as a partnership. We protect them and help them navigate this physical existence while they teach us the meaning of life, love, and spiritual purity. Our job as parents is not to tell them what to think, learn, or do, but to help answer their questions, obtain information, and provide a peaceful and positive environment for them. Creating a positive environment is a very important part of being an unschooling parent. If your children have free access to junk food and video games in your home, for example, then the addictive quality of these things might rule their time. However, there is still learning that can happen from these things. Like an acorn that has all the information on how to become an oak tree within it, you do not need to force your child to grow, learn, and sprout. You help him/her become all s/he can be by providing the right environment, healthy soil, sun, water, attention, and love.
David eating a tomato from our garden last year
2. The Power of Now. School may teach children many things, but one underlying principle it teaches all children is to live for the future. Children will think what they don’t want to think, sit where they don’t want to sit, read what they don’t want to read, and learn what they don’t want to learn, all in the name of preparing for some bright and happy future. The only problem is, the future does not exist. There is only NOW. When the future comes, it will also be NOW. On top of that, all this schooling doesn’t necessarily mean a child will be happy and successful in life. Look around you. How many people do you know who are truly happy? People who live with passion, joy, enthusiasm, love, and a sense of adventure? How many people do you know who wake up in the morning grateful to be alive? Not many. Most people are continuously thinking about the past and future, and as a result are missing the precious, blissful NOW. Jesus said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”(Matthew 6:34) Life is not something to prepare for. Life is to be lived. This, of course, does not mean you never set goals and take steps to achieve them. It does mean, however, that your goals and plans for the future should never prevent you from enjoying the present moment. Children who grow up with the freedom to follow their passions know how to live in the present moment. By allowing your child to live in the present moment you can be sure s/he will have a happy future, because s/he knows how to have a happy NOW.
3. Healthy Children. Most school systems are not set up to promote health. For example, children are required to eat on a set schedule instead of being able to follow their bodies’ signals for hunger (not to mention the lunch food available is mostly junk food filled with preservatives.) Children are cooped up inside for 6 hours a day instead of being outside, receiving life giving fresh air and sunshine. They need permission to go to the restroom instead of being able to follow their bodies’ cues on when to urinate and defecate. Also, children are made to get up early in the morning in order to be on time for school instead of being allowed to get a full night’s rest. This issue of sleep is way more important than some might think, especially for teenagers, whose brains release melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy) about 90 minutes later in the evening and morning than adults and prepubescents. (Yes, there is a biological reason your teenager stays up late and sleeps in.) This fact puts teenagers at risk during the drive to school and pressures them to fall asleep during first period. Learning this information convinced a few school districts to change their high school start times from 7:25 to 8:30. The results were amazing! Higher SAT scores, lower depression, and increased motivation. Despite this, changing start times is not a “convenient” thing to do for most schools so they opt to keep their early hours and sleep deprived moody teens. (NurtureShock)
Unschooling allows your children to get all the rest they require for optimum health and brain development. Your teenagers will be more of a joy to be around, as will your toddlers, who will never require to wake up early from a nap in order to pick up big brother or sister from school. Keeping your children at home also allows you to set up a beautiful, relaxing morning ritual for them. You can talk about their dreams and help them with interpretation, set intentions for the day, read a special quote or affirmation, give them a loving back rub and put on some uplifting music. This can be difficult to do if you are in a rush to get your children out the door on time.
David sleeping in the car on our road trip
Nananda Van Gestel, another contributing author to The Unschooling Unmanual writes that when her son was attending school he was coming home with one virus after another. “The whole family had trouble staying balanced because we all had to hurry, hurry, hurry just to keep up with the school schedule. And I believe that we are all more prone to illness when we’re emotionally out of balance. Now that we’re unschooling, we can set our own schedules. We’re free to listen to the subtle signals our bodies are sending us, those ‘inner voices’ that tell us how to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically fit. Illnesses like the flu and colds remind us that we need to slow down.” Nananda goes on to say “It’s natural for children to listen to the signals of their bodies and to live according to their own rhythms. If we encourage them to trust these feelings, they will be happy and healthy, and will learn in the most natural way.”
4. Strong Family Bond. John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, said “Between schooling and television, all the time children have is eaten up. That’s what has destroyed the American family.” School separates parents from their children and siblings from each other for a large chunk of time each week day. Although some parents find this enjoyable, many children do not desire such a long separation from their family, at least at first. I myself asked my mother to home school me when I was young and again asked to be home schooled when in high school. I was a very sensitive child and really desired to be with those I loved and who I knew loved me. I intuitively felt schooling did not help me focus on my emotional and spiritual growth. This was important to me, but since I had to go to school anyway I decided to focus on boys instead. Studies show that during middle childhood and adolescence, peers become a major influence in a child’s life. However, they are not as strong an influence on the child who has a close relationship with his/her family, who work and play together on a regular basis. The more time you have with your children, the more time you have to make beautiful memories together and get to know who they really are.
Unschooling helps us truly enjoy children because the way we interact with them is completely different than the way most people in our society interact with their children (not to mention that the school system is a big contributor to the problems we have with our children.) There is no need for yelling, punishing, bribing, and struggling to make them the way we think they should be. Instead, we are allowed to watch, observe, admire, and stand in awe of their brilliance.
Bryan and David exploring caves at Eisenhower State Park
5. Positive Values. Have you ever noticed that a large percentage of parents who choose to keep their children out of school do it for religious or moral reasons? In order to not offend anyone, God and prayer has been taken out of school. It is a taboo subject there (unless attending a religious or new age type of school.) Every day children are under a high degree of peer pressure to fit in and do what the “cool” kids are doing. As a parent you can never be sure what kind of values teachers are subtly conveying or the attitude they have toward your child. (I have heard some very mean comments from teachers about their students.) If children are allowed to grow up in a peaceful home environment they can focus less on pleasing their peers and fitting into the system and more on building core values and developing a strong connection to their divine nature.
David contemplating bugs and flowers
6. Love of Learning. The theory behind schooling is that children go to a specific place at a specific time to learn. Attendance is required and topics and books are selected. Frequent tests are given to determine progress. Bribes, rewards, and punishments are used to “motivate” children. This type of system is based on the belief that children need to be compelled to learn. Unschooling, on the other hand, is based on the belief that children are natural learners. Any parent who has a toddler knows how curious and fascinated they are with the world around them. Unschooling parents know that nothing special needs to happen at the age of 5 to switch on learning. They are already doing it. They are already living fully and absorbing massive amounts of information. At school children begin to learn that if it’s educational it can’t be fun and if it’s fun it can’t be educational. As Albert Einstein said, “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”
For unschoolers, learning is an integral part of life and play. Learning is fun! These children are able to retain the same enthusiasm for learning they had as toddlers. As Jan Hunt wrote, “Jason has learned much of what he knows through play, and has the same love of learning he was born with. He learned about money by playing Monopoly, about spelling by playing Scrabble, about strategies by playing chess, Clue, and video games, about our culture by watching classic and modern TV shows and films, about politics and government by watching ‘Yes, Minister’, about grammar by playing Mad Libs, about fractions by cooking, about words by playing Dictionary, and writing skills by reading P.G. Wodehouse. He learns about life through living it.”
7. Maximum Information Absorption. All of the grown unschoolers I know have a keen ability to absorb and remember large amounts of information. Their minds are not occupied with information that is meaningless to them, and they have not learned how to forget. Many children who attend school and are required to learn things they are not interested in will typically develop the habit of storing information in their head for a short period of time in order to pass a test or exam and then quickly forgetting it. This is an unproductive learning habit most unschoolers do not have. Because everything they choose to learn they are motivated to learn it is absorbed and integrated into their minds and bodies quickly and easily. Dr. silvia Bunge, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley says “When a child gets to choose, they presumably choose activities they’re motivated to do. Motivation is crucial. Motivation is experienced in the brain as the release of dopamine. It’s not released like other neurotransmitters into the synapses, but rather it’s sort of spritzed onto large areas of the brain, which enhances the signaling of neurons.” In essence, the motivated brain signals faster, operates better, and learns more. (NurtureShock)
David drinking raw coconut water and “reading” scriptures
School removes responsibility from children. They are told what to do and what to learn and are subjected to the control of someone else’s schedule and curriculum. Children who are unschooled learn to take responsibility for themselves. They are sovereign. They are motivated to learn. Instead of learning how to memorize information, unschoolers learn how to obtain information. This is a skill that will serve them throughout their entire lives.
8. Free Thinkers. In school, children are taught to think and calculate in a specific manner. These methods and ideas are often inferior and in many instances become outdated as science discovers more and more about how the universe really works. For example, Scott Flansburg, also known as “The Human Calculator,” is a math genius. He currently holds the Guinness World Record for adding the same number to itself more times in 15 seconds than a person can do using a calculator. On the day his school teacher was explaining how to add multiple digit numbers, he was not paying attention. His teacher realized this and called on him to do a math problem in front of the class. Looking at the problem he figured out the answer with a completely different method than the standard “carry the one” way children are taught. Even though he came up with the right answer, his teacher told him he didn’t do it correctly because she didn’t see him “carry the one.” Scott tells us now that he is glad he wasn’t paying attention in class that day, because it started him on the path of thinking and looking at numbers in a whole new way, a way which has made him faster than a calculator!
Unschoolers are free thinkers because they are allowed time and space to be creative and come up with their own conclusions about life. As Sal Gentile writes in a post entitled Is a liberal arts degree worth it?, “once artificially intelligent machines like Watson take over jobs in even advanced fields, like medicine, the jobs that will remain will require creativity and problem-solving, not just the rote memorization of specialized knowledge or proficiency in technical skills.” Unique thoughts stem from a well developed imagination. They stem from fantasy. Jan Hunt writes, “Fantasy requires time, and time is the most endangered commodity in our lives. Fully scheduled school hours and extracurricular activities leave little time for children to dream, to think, to invent solutions to problems, to cope with stressful experiences, or simply to fulfill the universal need for solitude and privacy”
9. True Wisdom. There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge, in essence, is information stored in our heads, mere thought forms and ideas on how life works. Wisdom, on the other hand, is a deep knowing of truth. It is felt and understood in every cell of our bodies. The way most children are taught in school involves a lot of sitting still and theorizing. They can receive knowledge this way, yes, but not wisdom. Unschoolers learn through play and hands on experience. As Einstein said, “play is the highest form of research.” It allows us to gain true wisdom.
David’s first snow man
10. Fulfilling Their Divine Mission. In my opinion, every child comes to this planet with purpose. As Florence Scovel Shinn puts it, “There is for each man, perfect self-expression. There is a place which he is to fill and no one else can fill, something which he is to do, which no one else can do; it is his destiny!” Our children come into this world fully equipped with all the information inside of them they need to activate and fulfill their divine mission. Truth is not found in school. Truth is found by looking within. Who are we to judge what they need to learn, do or think? We do not know what the world is going to be like in 20 years. Did our parents realize the important role computers would play in our lives today? Not likely. As Kahlil Gibran said, “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He Loves also the bow that is stable.”
I realize there are circumstances where parents are unable to unschool their children, even if they really desire to. If this is your situation I recommend looking into alternative holistic education for your children such as Waldorf education, the Montessori method, and forest schools. Even though I am primarily unschooling David I have looked into these modalities and am applying my favorite aspects from them to the way I raise my son.
David and I at the Rethinking Everything/Unschooling Conference in 2011
If you can and do choose to unschool your children I highly recommend surrounding yourself with positive resources and influences. Because of the society and mindset many of us grew up in, it may seem “wrong” to trust our children so much. Questions and doubts may swirl around in your mind. If I trust my child to learn on his own will he read or write? Will he be able to get a job or go to college? What about my child’s social skills? Will they be able to fit in? How will I be able to get anything done or have my own personal time? How will I handle criticism and judgement from others? These questions can be answered by reading good books on the subject, such as The Unschooling Unmanual, or visiting Jan’s education section on her website, and reading authors such as John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Grace Llewellyn, Sara McGrath, Veronika Robinson, Dayna Martin, and many more. I also recommend joining meet-up groups or forming your own group of like-minded parents. People who will support you as you upgrade your consciousness and learn one of life’s greatest lessons… To breathe and to TRUST.