I can’t unschool, my child needs structure

I can't unschool, my child needs structure

Allow me to let you in on a little secret… unschooling doesn’t mean you can’t have structure in your life!

At the very heart of unschooling is the belief that education should be individual and unique. There is no one size fits all model, as school would have us believe.

So that means, if a child desires structure, that doesn’t mean unschooling is not for them.

Who needs structure? You or them?

Firstly, it wise to have a think about where the need for structure is coming from. Some questions to consider…

What makes you think your child needs structure?
Have they expressed this to you? In words or behaviour?
What kind of structure do they enjoy? How much?
Do you have an idea in your mind of how your days should look?

I can't unschool, my child needs structure

Structure can be comforting to the schooled parent, can’t it? You know things are getting DONE! There is a time for everything. Learning is happening! Without the structure we became accustomed to in our childhood we can feel a little out of control. So, it’s really worth considering if the need for structure is genuine, or a sign that you have some more deschooling to do.

And if you are the one who feels better with a little more structure in your days then go ahead and create that for yourself!

Is school the answer?

I can't unschool, my child needs structure

Say you’ve done some investigation into your motivation for wanting to introduce structure, you’ve deschooled, and yes it seems that some more structure is a genuine need for your child. Do you send them straight off to school?

Hell no.

Let’s think about it. What kind of structure does school provide? A very rigid, detached, impersonal one. The kind of structure that leaves no room for individual needs, interests, or feelings. A structure imposed by someone else, which you are unable to opt-out of without punishment. A structure that removes your rights and autonomy.

Is that a healthy kind of structure? No. Not at all.

What’s the alternative?

I can't unschool, my child needs structure
Beautiful rainbow silk from HERE.

Creating an authentic child-led structure that meets their needs! Now doesn’t that sound so much better?

How do you do that? Ask or observe your child to find out what they need/want!

Do they like detailed plans? Do they like a loose rhythm to the day? Do they like to do the same things every day? Or have set days for certain things? What fits with your life and commitments? What are the needs of other family members?

You might sit back and observe and note the rhythm of your family naturally unfolding. Or you might actively ask your children about it if you are feeling like there are some needs not being met and more communication needed. There’s no need to jump in and do anything. Talk together! Problem solve, hear everyone’s opinions and suggestions, work out what you want to change or not.

Start with rituals

I can't unschool, my child needs structure

A great place to start when more predictability and rhythm are needed, is with mealtimes, and bedtime. Create daily and weekly rituals around these everyday events. You probably already have some! Maybe you always read stories before bed, maybe you all eat breakfast together and talk about your day, maybe you eat ice-cream sundae’s on Sunday’s (we do!). These daily and weekly events that children can predict deepen connection, belonging, and create a feeling of safety. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed in terms of ‘structure’, something they can rely on.

What does structure look like for unschooled children?

That’s a hard question! No two children are the same, because humans are wonderfully unique. I can only share the experiences of my family, which are similar to others I know too.

The structure of our days has changed a lot over the years, forming naturally, according to their ages and needs. What I have noticed is that the older they get, the more structure comes into their learning. That doesn’t mean it looks like school. There is no timetable they must stick to or tasks they have to complete. But, they are more likely now to make a plan for things they want to do, set some time aside to do it, and work towards goals.

Everyone has different needs and some of my children enjoy more structure than others. They are free to create that! If one child likes more structure than another, that’s ok! Unschooling means flexibility and room for everyone’s needs.

Miss 10 in particular is a planner. She has lists and ideas and is often talking about what she plans to do and when. She creates structure that is meaningful to her. Forcing structure created by someone else on her because she ‘likes’ it would put a stop to her ability to be able to come up with her own ideas, plan them, dedicate time to working on them, and reach her own goals. That’s not to say I can’t help her or offer suggestions, but consent is key in unschooling.

Right now we have quite a list of things that occur weekly and provide the amount of structure that everyone is happy with!

I can't unschool, my child needs structure
Book club with friends. Rainbow silk from Sarah’s Silks.

Two days a week you will find us spending time in nature with friends. This can be exclusively free play, or there might be an activity happening. The older kids in the group have shown interest in the past year in some more structured activities like book club, poetry teatime, project fair, experiments, etc. You can read more about that here.

On days when we’re at home we all enjoy some project time together in whatever way is meaningful to them. This always happens in the morning after breakfast and we spend a couple of hours where I help them with their current interests or projects.

The older girls enjoy searching for Outschool classes relating to their interests and currently do at least one a week.

I can't unschool, my child needs structure

All of the girls do dancing and we are at the studio five days a week. Miss 8 also does Netball.

And then there are the daily rituals of eating together, sharing our thoughts and experiences over dinner, reading time, and more.

Unschooling doesn’t mean we have no structure. It just means we are free to change our days to suit our needs whenever we want. The ‘structure’ that we do have is authentic and welcome. School can’t provide that.


June 4, 2019 at 9:43 am

Thank you; this is very helpful to see how another unschooling family has some structure to their days! I feel a little bit stuck/frustrated/overwhelmed by my desire to allow my kids and our family freedom and spontaneity, my desire to see and do new things, which takes mega planning with four young kids (as you well know!), and my own need for structure to feel like I’m staying on top of things (feeding and clothing everyone, and working from home). On days out, I feel like nothing gets done around the house, and on days in, I feel like the TV is on all day while I’m trying to catch up. I don’t know what structure would help that, but it is freeing to have “permission” for consensual structure 😊

    June 7, 2019 at 9:58 pm

    It is also okay to ask your kids for help around the house. The home belongs to all of you, and YOU are also unschooling. When we’re away too long, or for too many days, and the house chores overwhelm me, I ask the kids – a 6yo girl and 8yo boy – to help out too. Even 10 minutes of their time tidies two extra spaces and makes me feel less exasperated. That leads to better interactions for all of us, and then I can work in peace.

August 20, 2019 at 6:34 am

This is very interesting. I find your activities very interesting. Please share with us more projects and activity ideas for children
Keep going!!

Kristie A
August 27, 2019 at 2:44 pm

I’m very new to unschooling/homeschooling and I also have not started yet. I have a 7 yr old son and a 5 year old son. I want to unschool. My 7 year old loves public school so far though and I feel afraid to take him out and attempt this. Since I know no one who does this, my ideas of it are naive. Can I do this? Would it be the right thing to do? How will I teach them or guide them correctly? Will they thrive? Thank you for all of the info you provide. I am still reading and learning.

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