I adore our unschooling community. I can’t tell you how much. There are currently 35 kids, ranging in age, and the sight of them running free and enjoying life makes my heart so happy.
It took a while (and some deschooling) to work out what we wanted our group to look like. In the past, we’d tried to establish co-op’s where we focused on constantly providing experiences for the kids. As if meeting up in beautiful places and enjoying each other’s company wasn’t enough. There were many activities: sensory play, magnetism, craft projects, rocks and minerals, medical equipment, show and tell, light play, excursions, and more. Honestly, the kids couldn’t care less. They wanted to see their friends and play. At any time there were probably no more than 50% of kids actually engaging with the materials, and their interest never lasted long.
You can’t authentically provide for the interests of a large group of unique and individual kids. Isn’t that why we’d opted out of school in the first place? While children were respected and never forced or coerced, it was still a pointless exercise. Honestly, it mainly helped the adults feel like they were doing something.
We eventually realised our mistake.
There seem to be two views of what unschooling is (from people who are not living it).
- Unschooling is not educating your kids at all. Leaving them totally to their own devices and not helping or guiding them, or
- Unschooling is a more gentle and natural way of ultimately getting your kids to learn all the things you deem necessary.
Neither of these are what unschooling is about. Honestly, in the past, I have held both views. When I first heard about unschooling I probably reacted with the first opinion. Then when I initially started home educating, taking a natural learning approach, I was of the second view. I thought that it was still my job to ensure my child learned all the things that I thought necessary, but that I would do it in a less outright way. I’d now call it underhanded really. I thought I should set up activities to spark their interest in things I thought they should know about. That I should find ‘fun’ or ‘hands on’ ways of learning about things such as maths or reading. That I would use their natural interests to extend their learning.
I heard about the concept of ‘strewing’ as a technique that unschoolers use, and thought that was definitely what I needed to be doing.
I no longer hold that view.
Strewing: Deliberately and strategically leaving out items around the home for children in order to ‘spark an interest’ or encourage learning.
Unschooling is about living authentically with your children. Life is a learning environment, it doesn’t need to be artificially created.
I don’t have a problem with the concept of strewing when used authentically, but I fear that it is often not used in that way. It is not a way to secretly educate children, to try to control their interests, to influence their learning in the direction you are comfortable with, or any other means of control. Unschooling does not need any ‘techniques’ because you are not doing something ‘to’ your child.
Before you present something to your child, set up an activity, or enrol them in a class, ask yourself ‘why am I strewing that?’, ‘what is my motivation?’, ‘am I being authentic?’
Unschooling is a relationship between you and your child. The same as with you and a friend or partner. Would you do the same to them? If the answer is yes, then go for it! If the answer is no, then what is your real motivation? Do you need further deschooling?
You might surprise a partner or friend by leaving something out for them to find that you just know they will love. You might organise a trip to somewhere you know they want to go. You might buy them a book on their favourite topic and give it to them just because you know they will get pleasure from it. But would you organise a cooking class because you thought they needed to improve their skills despite their lack of interest in it? Would you be secretly looking for ways to extend their learning in the areas you thought they needed it? Would you be always trying to ‘spark new interests’ in them, or would you accept them for who they are and what they are already passionate about?
Explore new places because you are curious and enjoy each others company. Read books because you love to read together. Play board games because they’re fun, no matter if they encourage math skills or not.
Learn new things, find new opportunities, follow unique interests, read new books, do all of these things! But there’s no need to be underhanded or secretive about it. Learning happens by living life, you don’t need to be constantly trying to enrich it. Life is rich enough in itself.