I’m so happy to have Kim, another wonderful unschooling friend, sharing her story on the blog. I love how choosing to opt out of school for her family was all about following their instincts and listening to what their children truly needed. I hope you enjoy! You can read more from Kim at her blog ‘Just Our Joyful Life‘.
When you first become a parent, whether you ask for it or not, you will find a plethora of conflicting advice. It’s overwhelming. How is it that we need so much advice? What about our instincts? Where along the line did we stop trusting ourselves?
From the moment my first baby was born I felt an overwhelming need to comfort, nourish and protect her. There’s a reason our hearts physically hurt when our babies cry. It’s our instinct talking to us.
I first noticed the culture of motherly instincts being ignored a decade before I became a mother. I saw a reality TV show “helping” parents with their “problem” children. A mother was instructed to leave her crying baby in his cot. I could see her heart breaking as he reached his tiny arms out for her. She began to cry. Ironically, the host answered the cries of the mother and comforted her. Was the baby not worthy of the same empathy because he was a child?
How did we get here? To the belief that children must be taught how to sleep. It’s simply not true. But even with scientific research proving the negative impacts on babies, non-responsive sleep training remains a common practice.
“Terms like “it’s for his own good” are often borne out of our primal need to rationalize and justify choices that abrade our instincts. To help us justify decisions that deep down, we know just don’t feel right.” –Raised Good
What if we all just followed our instincts? We wouldn’t need research to prove what our hearts already know. My mama heart fiercely says do not leave your crying baby, ever. Pick them up. Cuddle them. Comfort them. Even if it takes all night. Sleep deprivation is hard, I know. It exacerbated my own anxiety but don’t trade your babies mental health for your own, there’s always another way.
If you respectfully parent, you already know this. You listen to your heart. You don’t leave them to cry. You know what they need and you respond respectfully.
Until you don’t. Until they turn 3 or 4 or maybe 5. Now they have to go to school, even if they don’t want to. Your instincts fight against the barrage of unsolicited advice. “It’s normal” they say, “he’ll be better in a few minutes/hours/days/weeks”, “it will get easier”, “don’t worry, she’ll be fine”.
It seems we’ve moved from sleep training to school training. Again, training ourselves to leave our babies. It begs the question, can you respectfully parent and send your kids to school?
What does our instinct tell us? Are we all just blindly following what is the norm? I have worried about which school to send my future children to since I left school myself. At the time I couldn’t articulate why I was so worried. What was it that I wanted to avoid? What did I want for them instead?
I started to answer those questions when I was pregnant with my first child. There was an interview on the radio. He was telling a story about a young girl who was “hopeless” at school. She was a dancer, “she needed to move to think”. It was an ah-ha moment for me. Sir Ken Robinson introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about education.
Alternative schools seemed to be the answer but my instinct still wasn’t satisfied. Then I discovered unschooling. I had never heard of it before. ‘Can you really do this?’, I thought. I read, I watched documentaries and TED talks. I sent link after link after link to my husband who said “I agree. Stop sending me links!” He needed far less convincing than me. My instincts said yes, this is what I want for my kids but first I had to process all of the typical doubts and worries. I had to meet families living this life to really see it was possible.
“What about socialisation?” This is the least of my worries. We have spent a year regularly socialising with an amazing group of unschoolers. All you have to do is seek them out.
“Can they go to University?” Yes, they can and many do. Whether they should is another question but I’ll leave that up to them.
“How will they get a job?” The world is an ever-changing place, we simply do not know what jobs of the future will look like. What we do know is those that have lived this free life are, for the most part, employed and “most have chosen careers that are meaningful, exciting, and joyful”.
“But they need to be prepared for the real world”; school is not the real world.
“I am not enough for them”. Yes, I am and you are too.
“Kids need time away from their parents”. Yes, absolutely, they need free play with other kids not to be put under the care of authoritative adults and forced into structured play and learning.
“How will they learn?”
“Learning is the human activity that least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity.” -Ivan Illich
From the day our babies were born we’ve witnessed the magic of them following their instincts to learn how to walk, talk, climb, problem solve (the list goes on) all in their own time. Unschooling allows them to continue this self-directed learning. It gives them the freedom to find passion in something, anything their heart desires, learn about it for as long as they desire, without the pressure of a ticking clock.
“Children do much of their learning in great bursts of passion and enthusiasm. They rarely learn on the slow, steady schedules that schools make for them. They are more likely to be insatiably curious for a while about some particular interest, and to read, write, talk and ask questions about it for hours a day and for days on end. Then suddenly they may drop that interest and turn to something completely different, or even for a while seem to have no interests at all. This usually means that for the time being they have all the information on that subject that they can digest, and need to explore the world in a different way, or perhaps simply get a firmer grip on what they already know.” -John Holt
What it really comes down to is trust. Do we trust our children?
“Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge. They need adults to trust in the inevitability of this very natural process, and to offer what assistance they can.” -Earl Stevens
“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” -John Holt
So when it came to making the biggest decision about our children’s lives, whether they should spend twelve of their years free to learn or bound by school, we found the only advice that mattered was: “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen” -Rumi