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Jul 28, 2021

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On today’s show, Chris and Jenna wanted to talk about their takeaways and experiences after one full year of unschooling. Chris shares how he had expectations in the beginning that homeschool would be a replication of the schooled environment, only more customised, lively and fun. He now admits that it was a pretty silly idea. He realized that everyone learns differently and therefore we require different learning environments. It took a while to observe and understand our own family dynamics and what we each need as individuals. It took a long time for us to find the right rhythm for each of our children and we got frustrated along the way, mostly because we had our own expectations. It takes more than a few weeks of trial and error. 


Jenna says her first takeaway was that they should have spent more time deschooling. They jumped into homeschooling quickly and purchased a curriculum. Of course, that meant the learning wasn’t flexible or adaptable in any way and it was still information that “someone else” wanted their kids to learn. She says it sort of took up a lot of their time - it took them a while before they realized that a curriculum was not going to work for them. She wishes they had spent more time just being and observing their kids to see what they were into and what stimulates them. For example, they now know that their daughter needs activities outside the house regularly, whereas their son is happy at home. As an unschooling parent, it’s even difficult sometimes to provide the right environment for all your children when they have such opposing needs. Jenna says that they definitely didn’t give themselves enough time to deschool and really trust the process. She thinks that would have resulted in a much smoother transition. She remembers flip-flopping between thinking it was all working and then being scared and worried that it wasn’t. They had a lot of fear come up. She thinks it would have been best to just get to know the kids, learn more about their interests and relax together before inviting them to try new experiences like online classes, activities, or any other offerings. 


Chris says he thinks taking our time and flip-flopping was okay. He adds that it was our learning process. He says one of the things he’s really walked away from this year knowing is that we have the gift of time with unschooling. There is no hurrying through life. Taking our time to get to where we are today was not wasted. When Chris looks back on his own life, he can remember many instances in which he truly did waste his time because he was pursuing topics, careers and education that wasn’t actually relevant to him or that he didn’t want to study. He says that he rushed into university studies because of the timeline society gives us on when things ought to be completed. In homeschooling you can make mistakes because you can change course easily and without any serious repercussions. Chris says that our kids have 7-10 years (or the rest of their school years) to focus on things they’re interested in. 


Jenna challenges Chris by saying that seeing those years (as schooling years) is actually a schooled mindset and just goes to show that we still have a lot of deschooling to do. Of course, with unschooling there are no guardrails on how long you spend learning about things that interest you. The learning never really ends or begins. It’s a continuum. 


Chris laughs and adds that he basically just argued against his own point - we actually have the gift of time! There are no rules about when we are “done” or “ready.” It’s all individual. He remembers feeling very immature when he moved out and started university. He simply wasn’t ready to make a decision that would impact the rest of his life. 


Jenna says she can’t emphasize it enough that families considering homeschooling really take the time to deschool. She says she thinks her children got a bad impression of what homeschooling would be like since she herself wasn't really clear on what they were doing. She also hadn’t spent the time connecting with the kids and improving their relationships first. This is a necessary step! It’s gentle and respectful. She believes it can actually be damaging to just jump feet first into a curriculum and have expectations because this is how the kids start their journey into this lifestyle. It’s not a great first impression! She advises families to just relax, research, read about how we learn, then take another break, breathe, and really take your time. It’s very important. 


Chris talks about how we also have the luxury of time spent with our children. We get to be more involved with what they’re doing and have a better connection with them on a daily basis. He asserts that many people forget that this is also education - bonding with your children. This was actually a benefit Chris hadn’t really thought about because he was focused more on the educational/learning side of things. We only have one life with our children, so having more time with your kids is a huge gift. 


A challenge Jenna has found particularly difficult is shifting her habits. She says old habits die hard and she has struggled to eliminate specific language from her vocabulary or body language that no longer serves her. If she could go back and give herself advice, she would tell herself to take it one day at a time and to not be so hard on herself. She’d focus on changing one small thing at a time. She wishes she would have been easier on herself. Such a radical mindset shift takes time and as adults we’ve had years of conventional thoughts planted into our heads. She says she is happy with their progress, but there is still more work to do. 


Chris says that actually ties in well to his last point. He says it was to treat children like adults and what he means by that is the children have been able to take ownership over their lives and their learning. It may feel really scary and confusing for them at the beginning (when they’re coming out of public schools) because they’ve grown accustomed to having everything planned out for them up till now. Once they take ownership of their lives, it’s easy to see that children aren’t mindless robots - they do in fact have their own dreams, desires, and wishes. They deserve the exact same rights as adults do. It’s arrogant of us to think we know better than they do about what is right for them. What’s better for the adult, is not always what’s best for the kid. 


Jenna talks about how imperative it was, before offering the kids any new learning experiences or activities, to gain back their trust and respect. They have only known our recommendations for them to be attached to adult expectations, so in order for them to trust our offerings, they need to know we are presenting them without any strings attached - that we are just caring adults who truly have their best intentions at heart, not our own. Jenna also wanted to mention that she’s noticing a vast difference in unschooling experiences among families who have always unschooled vs. families who are leaving the public school system to unschool. Deschooling is not a perfect science and some kids require much longer than others. Jenna feels like their daughter, even after a year of unschooling, is still in the deschooling process. She still has a lot of schooled expectations of herself. Chris and Jenna ponder why that may be. A couple of ideas come to mind for them; their son may have more easily accepted this new lifestyle because he truly needed it. He was coming out of middle school and had a lot more stress and anxiety, which he was happy to get rid of. Their daughter on the other hand, only went to school half-day, so she may not have seen the change as a relief. An additional thing that may have lead their daughter to actually wanting to attend school again is the fact that her ideal learning environment couldn’t be offered to her last year due to the numerous lockdowns they experienced in the UK. Their daughter enjoys learning with friends, spending time with animals, and being in nature, all of which was severely limited during their first year of unschooling, sadly. Her impression of unschooling was that it is isolating, boring and unchallenging. Chris says they have the gift of time though - she can try out school and there is nothing to lose in giving her more options. 

Jenna saw another unschooling blogger say she’d never let her kids go to school because she knows how damaging and oppressive it can be. While Jenna definitely agrees that schools can be damaging and oppressive, she wonders if not letting them attend school is a controlling behavior? She thinks that not allowing her to go to school would only lead their daughter to wanting it even more. Chris says that the worst thing we can do is put pressure on our kids if they go to school. Without the pressure though, your children can have a totally different experience even if they choose to attend school at some point. He wishes he had been reassured as a kid that if he didn’t learn something he was “supposed to learn in school” it wouldn’t have ruined his life. He had grandparents who were very controlling and demanding and inflicted fear on him that if he didn’t learn something or get good grades, he’d end up with a job he didn’t want. It’s our job to take the pressure off of them, not shaming them for bad grades, and helping them understand that the things they’re required to learn in school are not essential to their wellbeing. 


Jenna feels like sending their daughter to school is hard, but she does think there are ways to do it with unschooling principles in mind. Firstly, you can be an advocate for your child when issues come up. Secondly, the school can be collaboratively decided on with the child. Third, and most important, the child has the ability at any time to leave school or choose a different environment to learn in. She says it would have been suppressive to insist her daughter stay home after requesting to go back to school. 


Chris agrees and adds that we have to see her time in school the way we would see any of her other chosen activities, whether that be online classes, sports, or an apprenticeship. With an unschooling mindset, we can see the experience as just one piece of her overall desired learning experience and remind ourselves that the rest of her time is just as important and valuable. This is a completely different way of thinking about learning and education, and immediately makes this experience different than traditionally schooled children. We can’t demonize it. As unschooling parents, we can also talk with our kids about the challenges of a school system. Unschooling parents can also talk about how their kids can advocate for themselves. 


One of Jenna’s favorite things about this year was seeing how their family relationships improved. When you treat one another with respect, conflicts are rare. It was a wonderful year of growth in that respect. The other big “aha” moment she had was in seeing how learning actually happens. As an educator she was always advised to teach children in a linear, continuous fashion where knowledge is built up over time. She says that’s not what she witnessed. It was bursts of enthusiasm and curiosity that she saw driving the learning. It was long and short bursts of interest and rabbit holes which either lead to more topics or came to an end. The skills you develop from each learning burst are then transferred to other learning endeavors. She talks about how educators always talk about the “summer slide” and how children forget what they’ve learned so we can’t let them fall behind. That’s not how learning works. People go all in when they learn about something they’re interested in. They get books, listen to podcasts, talk to other people with the same interest! It’s unstoppable. 


Chris points out that so many people do this at the university level. They go all in and decide they want to learn about a specific topic, only to realize later that they don’t actually like it as much as they thought they would. By then, they’ve spent a lot of money and time on it so they feel trapped and just stick with it, even if it’s not what they want to do anymore. Unschoolers have the gift of time. They get to explore their interests all their lives and not just when the stakes are really high and they have to commit their entire lives to a specific career.


Chris says one of his favorite things about unschooling is seeing the projects and activities that the kids are proud to share with us. It used to be that they were proud of their good grades, but that only reflected how well they listened in class or how well they prepared for a test. The real achievements come from things they accomplish on their own and from their own desire to do so. 


One last thing Jenna remembered about her unschooling experience that she’d like to share is that her kids have noticed the changes in Chris and Jenna’s parenting and even compliment them about it. They say they like how they can talk with us and we listen and that they like that we are their parents. It’s the most rewarding thing about unschooling.

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