is curriculum incompatible with unschooling?
» I wrote this in 2012 at the end of one of our feeble attempts at ‘traditional’ homeschooling.
I did this slightly out of my own worries, but primarily because I was afraid of what my older kids’ other parent might do if I didn’t. (Divorce and unschooling are typically a frustrating mix.)
I got divorced way back in 2007--but it took me many years....YEARS...to feel safe enough and strong enough to raise my two older children in the ways that I knew were right for them, without undue influence from their dad.
I was so afraid, for so long, that my ex would somehow interfere and make our lives hell.
I am consciously releasing that fear, and I’m grateful for how far we've come...
We are taking a much-needed respite from all things ‘schooley’.
Several weeks ago, I managed to create what *I* thought was an uncommonly good, productive, well-rounded week--but by the end, the kids were fighting, cranky, and acting like next week's ‘lessons’ were so abhorrent as to have already ruined their weekend.
Burnout had struck.
Even traditional homeschoolers need to recognize that burnout happens to kids too, not just parents.
What to do? Well, I am more mellow than I was a few years ago, and so I didn't agonize over how to get them to focus on Shakespeare or math (or worse, try to force them to do it arbitrarily).
I just quietly told the kids that it was clear to me that we all needed a break from schoolwork for awhile.
My analytical oldest child pressed me for more information:
"How long of a break? Do we still have to do math? Can we watch Netflix tomorrow?" and so on.
I didn't set an arbitrary "back to schoolwork" date. Because I’m no longer willing to conform to pressure - even from internalized fear.
Instead, I am trying to shift my focus toward joyful, cooperative living as a family, and figure we'll find our way back to books again once they no longer feel oppressive.
But, wait… Shouldn't I be cultivating a respect for authority and creating deadlines for my kids to adhere to?
What if they never want to think about math again, and gorge themselves on "junk TV" instead?
Well, first off, I think that's a load of bull, as evidenced here: "If I let that kid watch TV, he'd do it all day long."
Math is unavoidable, and sometimes pretty interesting - or just pretty...or just interesting.
I bet it's even on Netflix.
As an unschooler - nobody tells my kids they "should" be doing "math", or are "supposed to be" doing certain types or "levels" of "math" that correspond to one age or another.
Nobody says they’re doing it “wrong”, or that they need to "learn" some other thing first before doing this. So it's just another cool thing to explore in the course of life being lived.
This is what unschooling looks like. All those words above are in quotes because it's all just labels and constructs anyway.
There is no such thing as grade levels of math.
Once you're an adult, you don't "practice math", you get shit done - hopefully, with enough attention to detail to not render you broke or with too much flooring or not enough paint to finish the wall.
What harm can possibly come from trying to consciously attempt to live more joyfully?
Everything else must necessarily stem from a place of joy, or else it becomes drudgery--if not worse.
Homeschooled or not, I don't want my kids to have über math-whiz brains in exchange for even a week or two of rotten childhood memories.
Would you want that? Really?
Happiness is the priority, and as important as a good education is, our familial relationships should not suffer for it.
Arguably, time spent on learning (whatever that looks like) is about more than just facts and figures, handwriting, or memorization.
It's about the cultivation of our minds, and the growth and development of our relationships.
We are not raising children, but adults--and so when confronted with a problem, be it burnout, or something more simple or serious, I try to co-create solutions with my children, instead of imposing my way or the highway upon them.
Today, with no limits or structure imposed, my 8yr old was talking about herds of bison in pre-colonial America, and happily working in a Handwriting Without Tears book.
However - even if she chose not to do those things … it’s my job to trust that she’s still learning.
My 11yr old was playing and laughing with his little brother, and yes, we watched some Netflix.
It was surely what Charlotte Mason purists would call ‘twaddle’.
(I roll my eyes at all of you. Go indulge in some utter nonsense and ENJOY it!)
If Hello Kitty TV brings us closer as a family, I'm cool with that.
People before things.
I have come to believe that curriculum is just another tool in the wide world that we live in. You just need to release your expectations around its use.
I have a ton of “official” curriulum in my house that is not getting used. I also have a houseful of fascinating books, gadgets, toys, and tools that are just as much “educational” as the curriculum, if not moreso.
WhatEVER it is, if they’re interested in it, learning is happening - guaranteed.
Curriculum is only incompatible with unschooling when you impose it in a top-down manner, or use it as bribery or manipulation with your kids.
If you find yourself secretly hoping for more of those ‘good unschooling days’ where your kids happen to choose math worksheets … you’re still not in a place of trust - and you might be better off to shelve the curriculum, both figuratively and literally.
Courses | Services | Consults: RethinkBirth.com
If you’d like more support around unschooling and relationship-based parenting, please become a paid subscriber. Paid subscribers unlock a ton more unschooling content!
MORE ON WHAT LEARNING LOOKS LIKE...