Children don’t need curriculum, but they do need you.

One of the most common comments I get from people when they find out we unschool is, ‘my kids would never do anything if I did that’. There is this belief that unless forced to, children would not want to learn. That maybe they would watch TV or play video games all day and certainly not get an ‘education’.

I have not found that to be the case.

My children who have never been to school are full of ideas. They have lists of things they want to get done. They have multiple projects on the go. They are spending time with friends, visiting interesting places, creating things, seeking out information, working on skills they want to get better at, and generally filling their time up with things that interest them. Along the way they are getting educated, but it sure doesn’t feel like school at all.

Children don't need curriculum, but they do need you.

Do you know what is also true? They need my help with this. I ponder this today as I have had a migraine and have not really felt like doing much at all. Today I heard lots of ‘I’m bored’, and ‘what can I do’, and general complaints. These are very rare things for me to hear.

Does this mean on normal days I am forcing them to do things and that’s why they spend their time that way? Am I telling them what to do all the time? Not at all.

It means that we are partners. All of this inspiration is inside of them, but they also need a partner! Especially at the younger ages. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes I can be busy and they get on with what they are doing anyway. But it happens often enough when we are sick or I’m otherwise not as present as usual that I’ve recognised the pattern.

Children don't need curriculum, but they do need you.

The point I want to make is that if we just sit back and wait for things to happen, if we leave it all in their hands, then it may look like a whole lot of nothing. Even for kids with numerous interests, and lots of projects they are in the middle of. Hey, they even watched a movie today. Maybe they would spend all their time in front of the TV! Joking. Of course they wouldn’t, but you catch my drift.

The magic in unschooling involves you. You’re a major ingredient. Things just don’t look the same without you. Your involvement is so crucial! You set the tone of the house, you establish a family culture.

So, what do you want that to look like?

Children don't need curriculum, but they do need you.

One thing that helps us here is to start our day together. We start with read-aloud time over breakfast. We also use this time to talk about our day. I will ask each of the girls what they plan to do that day, or what they are working on. Not as an expectation that they must be doing some kind of ‘work’ but just as a part of our routine and organising our day so that everyone gets to do the things they want to do, and I know what they need my help with. We have a family culture of creativity and inspiration! In our home we are doing things, we’re making plans, we’re discussing our interests, we’re energised, we’re having fun, we’re active participants in life and learning! Sometimes they will also say ‘I feel like taking a break from my normal stuff today actually’ and that’s ok too, and lets me know that they are confident they are able to do this and not feeling any expectation from me.

On normal days here, people are busy getting on with whatever interests them right now. I don’t believe for a second that children need to be forced to learn. In fact, quite the opposite, I can hardly keep up with all the things they want to do. But, it’s also the case that they require my active involvement in helping them with their plans, being present, problem-solving, being interested and attentive, and more.

Children don't need curriculum, but they do need you.

I suppose I share this story today for a few reasons. To highlight the fact that children don’t need to be forced to learn, but they do need parental involvement. To encourage unschooling parents and remind them of how very important they are. And to let people know that if things are not feeling quite right and you’re in a bit of a rut with unschooling (it happens!), sometimes just a little tweak in the environment or how you approach the day can make a big difference.

Children are brilliant, and unschooling is amazing, but it definitely doesn’t happen without intention.


November 22, 2022 at 10:10 pm

Thanks so much for writing this! It’s goes so far towards dispelling the myth of unschooling as uninvolved parents.
Even though the unschooling kids here are more independent every year, (a part of our culture that we inspired and facillitated in the kids), my partner and I are still very involved. As my involvement changes because of outside factors like work, I can see our unschooling flow change as well. The kids, my partner, and I are all parts of the same time trying to accomplish the same thing, and we’re all part of getting it done.
Thanks again!

Jennifer L.
November 23, 2022 at 6:04 am

I struggle with this a lot with three kids and watch in awe as you do it with four! Keeping up on the cooking/cleaning with three kids at home and all their projects keeps me from being as present as I want to be. I try to not require house keeping, and my kids do help sometimes, but it’s still a lot. As I sit here during a moment of quiet, there is a basket of snap circuits in the middle of the living room that were abandoned by my youngest while I was helping my oldest fill out an application for an exchange program. And my middle daughter is knee deep in a bracelet making business, all over the house! How do you keep up with them? And the cooking! 🤣

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