Articles about Interest-led education

What to do when your husband is freaking out about unschooling.

A partner who is freaking out is something that many home educating parents (mostly mums) face. It’s something I faced too; not just once, but many times during our 15 year unschooling journey with our two sons. There is no doubt that unschooling or self-directed learning is still considered a very unconventional, even a radical path, so it’s bound to raise some fears and concerns, not just with husbands but often with members of our extended families too.

How did it come to this?

Home educating our sons was was my idea (my sons idea, really) when my eldest was just 4 years old. I’d had the benefit of meeting other homeschooling families, seeing their children learning at home and together in groups and being able to ask the parents lots and lots of questions. My husband hadn’t had those experiences and the whole idea was completely “out of the blue” for him. Added to that, we had both been educated up to our eyeballs in the school and university system and were both then working as university lecturers. It was understandable that he had some fears about stepping away from those institutions and that familiar approach to education. Frankly, so did I.

Not only did I decide not to enroll our eldest son in school when he was 5 or 6 years old, I topped that off with heading down an “unschooling” path rather than homeschooling. Unschooling emphasises following a child’s natural curiosity and interests rather than requiring them to follow the school curriculum. In the case of both my sons, this mean they spent a great deal of their “primary school years” playing with Lego, watching Star Wars movies, wrestling, having toy sword fights and playing hours and hours of video games. My husband judged these activities negatively at times. The contrast between our son’s play-based learning and his experience of education was extreme.

I had a distinct advantage over my husband during those early years of unschooling. I had left my job at the university to stay at home with our children full time. This meant I was no longer stuck in an institution. I was free to learn alongside our sons and to actively unlearn the school mindset. There was time to read widely about home education and I had the benefit of seeing learning happen in front of me every day. I continued to find it challenging, but it was a challenge that I embraced as my children showed me what self-directed learning can look like and how surprising and joyful it can be. Meanwhile, my husband was still working hard at his teaching job at the university and having occasional, intense freak-out moments about the whole unschooling project.

How do you handle the freak-out moments?

I discovered through experience that the best thing I could do when my husband was expressing his fears, judgements and concerns about home education was to simply listen. I practiced listening to him without interrupting, without arguing and without trying to fix or defend.

He wanted his concerns to be heard and understood. If I could listen without reacting he would often blow off steam and then calm down pretty quickly.

Was this listening easy?
No!

I often found myself caught up in defending my choice to unschool or my children’s choice of activities. Or I would find myself spiraling into self-judgment or feeling like I was being attacked.

When I noticed myself experiencing stress or painful emotions it was time to switch the focus back onto what was going on within me. When I did this I would often notice that I’d been having the same types of fears as my husband. I reacted to what he was saying because deep down I was harboring my own doubts and fears and just not admitting to them.

Over time, I learned that the best way to deal with this situation was to dig in deep and investigate my own thoughts and beliefs. I made a practice of facing my fears and doubts by writing them down and questioning each of them. For example:

I sat with these questions until my deepest truth emerged. I used a process called The Work to help me find this truth. (There is an example of how I used it here.) When I faced and questioned my thoughts and allowed myself to feel the emotions that went with them, the fears and doubts started to dissolve and I grew in confidence. This was all part of the process of deschooling which I explain in more detail in this article and in The Deschooling Course.

The more my confidence grew, I was more able to listen to his freak-out moments without getting pulled into reaction and escalating the conflict. I was also able to see some practical steps I could take to address his concerns.

What practical steps can I take to help my partner relax?

Help them get more involved.

The most useful thing I did was to suggest a few ways that my husband could get more involved. I knew that he didn’t have much time to spare and was under pressure at work. He was already committed to spending time with our sons and never missed the bedtime story reading. What worked well was to find some documentaries that he could watch with them on a topic they’d all enjoy or a new science kit or board game the could check out on together on the weekends. The winning combination was something that my husband thought was cool and also “educational”: usually involving technology, science or building stuff. The more time my husband spent with these activities the more learning he observed and he got a real buzz out of it.

Encourage them to try their own ideas.

My husband also came up with his own ideas for things he’d like to teach our sons. Some of those things were well received, like learning how to use a microscope and a soldering iron, and other activities didn’t seem so popular. He discovered through trial and error that if our children weren’t self-motivated and asking to learn reading, typing or maths skills that they got involved reluctantly and didn’t learn effectively. When they did eventually ask for help to learn new skills he was happy to volunteer and the learning often happened at a cracking pace. the benefits of self-directed learning became very apparent over time.

Fill them in on the learning highlights.

It was also really helpful if I could fill him in on the learning that I had been observing during our unschooling days while he was at work. He wanted to hear about the magic learning moments instead of me just offloading at the end of the day about my frustrations and complaints. I kept all the things the children had made or took photos of what they had been up to. This was all useful for our homeschool registration, but it was even more important to keep my husband fully informed about all the activities and learning that was going on. The more I made a habit of this, the more relaxed he became.

Summarise the best books and articles for them.

I didn’t give my husband lots of books and articles to read about home education. Instead, I read them myself and gave him a quick briefing on what I had learned. There were one or two that had such an impact on me that I suggested he read them. The one book that he read from cover to cover was by Alfie Kohn called “Punished by Rewards: the trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and other Bribes”. It wasn’t even about home education, but it effectively undermined the pillars of the school system and convinced my husband that our children were better off at home.

Over time, my husbands freak-out moments became more rare and passed more quickly. Ultimately, he got to enjoy the benefits of unschooling through the trusting, close relationships he had with our sons and the delight he shared in their unique learning journey.

When someone is critical of your child do you feel mum shame?

You know the scenario: someone says something critical about your child’s dreadlocked hair, or the fact that they’ve just hit another child, or that they can’t read fluently at age 9. Your child may, or may not be upset, but you’re devastated. Crushed. Hit by a ton of mum shame.

I felt the weight of that mum shame many, many times. It’s excruciating. What made things worse was what happened after that: I felt like shit and then I projected that onto my child. I passed the criticism on down the line by making some judgmental comment to my child like: “What you did was totally unacceptable. You’ve just caused a big problem.” or “I can’t bear to be around you when you look like that. It’s awful.” or “I wish you’d try harder to learn. You should be able to read that by now.”

If my child didn’t feel awful before, they do now. They’ve got the message, loud and clear, that they are not OK; that there’s something wrong with them.

When the mum shame is active there isn’t room for compassion, empathy or acceptance.

It’s so easy to pass the burden of judgement and shame on to the next generation, just like it was passed to us. We do it unconsciously, because it’s what we’re used to. We’ve been brought up on criticism and it’s become programmed into us. We’ve internalized all the criticism we’ve heard and it’s become a voice in our heads: the inner critic.

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10 reasons not to limit screens or gaming

Worried parents are told that limiting their children’s screen time is essential.

“Experts” advise restricting access and most parents go along with this.

I understand why. There are so many scary stories going around about gaming addiction, technology that’s designed to manipulate our minds and harm done to children’s brain development. 

If you are looking around for justification for restricting screen time or gaming, you’ll certainly find it.  

So parents go ahead and take away their child’s device, ban the game play or make strict rules around screen time. 

But there’s another radical option. 

It involves having a connected, respectful, cooperative relationship with your child.

To have this kind of relationship means focusing on trust, support, encouragement and play. It also means being willing to question those scary stories about screen time.

I’m not saying limits are wrong, but I’m going to invite you to consider some different points of view. 

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Is unschooling turning out different than you hoped?

I hear people say “I see all those unschoolers with kids following their passion for art, science or writing …….. and all my son wants to do is to play video games all day.”

When I began unschooling my two sons 15 years ago, I had no idea about what I was doing or what unschooling was supposed to look like. I was completely clueless, and this turned out to be a blessing. 

When you have expectations about how home education or unschooling is going to look for your family, you run a high risk of becoming frustrated, stressed and anxious when it doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. 

When you have expectations, you have an agenda. This can feel tight, heavy or pressured – not fun to be around. 

There is also the danger of falling into painful comparisons between your family and those families who make it all look cool and easy.

It might not be video games. It might be that your child likes to watch movies on repeat or endless YouTube videos. Or they might be a daydreamer that doesn’t stick to any interest for long. Or perhaps they really like your attention and involvement in their day and they don’t seem to be “self-directed” enough for unschooling. 

Whatever the problem seems to be, I’d like to invite you to investigate further. I’m not suggesting that you try and “fix” or change your child or your own approach to unschooling. I’d like to suggest that the problem is in the way you are thinking about the situation. 

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I wouldn’t use force to teach my children – so I had to find another way.

I’m writing this in case you don’t want to force your child to do things, but you feel pressure all around you. Maybe you feel pressure to force your child to go to school or to sit down and do schoolwork at home or to take away their iPad – and it doesn’t sit well with you. In your heart you know you don’t want to force. You don’t want to nag, lie or manipulate your children either, but you’re not sure what else to do. I want you to know that you’re not alone in this and that I understand. I felt that pressure greatly at times and I didn’t like it at all. I’d like to give you some inspiration and encouragement to stay true to your desire to live peacefully and respectfully with your children. I want you to know that you can find a path forward that doesn’t require force.

Long before I thought about having children I’d developed an aversion to people using force over others. It was probably all those years I spent studying and teaching Law at university that did it; I was sickened by the many ways that people assert power over others and how the use of force is entrenched so deeply in our culture and legal system. While the use of force and punishments might seem less severe now than they did in the days when flogging and other corporal punishments were common, the society we live in is still largely built around the use of force. It shows up in conventional parenting practice all the time. Physical punishment such as smacking is still common and legal and isolation punishment such as “time out” or “grounding” is widely recommended. Punishment is just one way parents try to make their children comply with what they want.

This cultural acceptance of the use of force means that we often don’t see it clearly for what it is, and we don’t notice how our educational institutions are also built on it. I didn’t see the force used against children in the education system clearly until I had children of my own.

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What is deschooling and why does it matter?

Deschooling is not a clearly defined concept and means different things to different people. I’m going to share my own personal perspective on it after 15 years of unschooling rather than try and pull together what others have said. 

Some people use it to describe the process by which children recover from unpleasant experiences they have had at school and rediscover their natural love of learning. This is usually seen as a short term thing. I’ve also heard it used in relation to adults who want to take their education into their own hands rather than rely on universities or college. 

For others, deschooling is about parents getting out of a school mindset and actively supporting their children in a child-led or self-directed learning process. I recently saw it described like this in a post on Facebook: 

“Deschooling is an important process in the unschooling philosophy- it’s about you moving from viewing school-like activities as valuable learning through to seeing and understanding the value and connection in learning through all aspects of life.” 

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Will my unschooled child ever learn to read?

Do you have a child who is “late” to learn reading and/or writing by school standards? Do you worry about it? 

Do you try and push your child to do more reading or writing? 

Is it a source of stress or conflict in your relationship with your child? 

Are you interested in self-directed learning or unschooling? 

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, I’d like to tell you a little story. Not to brag. Just to encourage you to question your fears about your child’s learning and to trust in the process of self-directed learning (if that’s what you want to do). 

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Why I chose unschooling

I didn’t really choose unschooling – it chose me. 

It arose out of a desire for freedom. I wanted my children to have freedom in their learning and their daily life and I wanted freedom from the role of education-controller. 

When we started unschooling 15 years ago it felt like I was walking blindfolded through a forest. I was scared I’d get hurt or fail, or somehow “ruin” my children’s lives. 

I didn’t know it then, but unschooling gave my children the freedom to learn in their own way and in their own time; to explore, create and play according to their own curiosity, interest and inspiration. They were free to choose who they wanted to play with and to stay close to me for as long as they liked. Rather than conform to the school curriculum or even any agenda of mine, they were able to follow their own inner compass. 

Starting out

I didn’t know anything about unschooling when my children were very young. In fact, home education wasn’t on my radar. I’d never met a homeschooling family and I was unaware of the Australian home education community. I was led into unschooling by my eldest son and by the whispers of my heart. 

When my eldest son Jeremy was 4 years old I had a new baby and I was on maternity leave from my job as a lecturer in the law faculty of the University of Wollongong. Jeremy was attending a local “mainstream” preschool two days a week. He had resisted going to preschool since he started at the age of three, but I had persevered because I wanted to keep working. Some days he went to preschool happily and other days there was lots of crying when it was time for us to part. He had a few friends there and he was happy when he was playing with them in the preschool yard, but he didn’t like the more structured time indoors where he was told what to do more often. He often had a big meltdown when he got home from preschool, as if he was releasing a whole lot of stress that had built up during the day. 

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Just listen – even though it’s hard.

We are obsessed with trying to fix problems. Especially with our children.

Have you noticed that when your child gets upset or scared that you leap in with advice or try and fix their problem? 

Have you noticed that when YOU are upset or scared that you dislike it when someone tries to fix you?

I’m keenly aware that I would much rather someone just listen to me. When I can speak freely about my fears, anger or frustrations without someone trying to fix me it’s a precious gift. There is something very special about getting our private and troubling thoughts out in the open with someone who can simply hold the space and listen without reacting. 

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CREATE A BUBBLE OF FREEDOM FOR YOUR FAMILY

If you have sensitive, free-spirited children like I do, then you know that rules and restrictions create problems. 

If you place yourself in the role of the controlling parent whose job it is to make and enforce the rules you create a lot of conflict and emotional pain. You’re also going to be the one inflicting punishments and “consequences” and I bet you know how awful that feels. 

But what happens when you get hemmed in by rules imposed by others? 

We live in a society with law-making processes and enforcement through punishment. It’s stressful to live in fear of punishment, so I aim to follow the law or at least to find a way to live in harmony with it. 

Living in harmony with the law doesn’t have to mean the end of freedom in family life. 

For over 15 years I’ve lived with my husband and two sons in a “family bubble” of freedom, play and learning.

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My deschooling journey: how I came to love home education.

I’ve been a home educator for a long time now. At the time of writing my eldest son is 18 and my youngest son is 14 and they’d both been home educated their whole lives, until my eldest son decided to try out high school when he turned 17. It’s been a very interesting, and a times challenging, home education journey and I’ve done a lot of deschooling over the years. This article is going to be about my process of deschooling over that long period. I’ll also be sharing the tool that I used to question my thinking and to dissolve my school mindset.

Starting from the beginning……..

I have a very “schooly” background because I come from an academic family. My Dad was a university professor, my Mum taught at university and I had a university education myself. I taught at university before I had children. So it was a very academic environment. Obviously, the “academic” type or style of learning was very highly valued in my family. I had kids quite late when I already had a career teaching Law. I had my eldest son when I was 35 and he changed SO much in my life. I’d never been more in love and I’d never been more emotional and sleep deprived.

Things changed even more when my son got to four years old. That was when he dropped out of preschool. He had been enrolled in preschool two days a week and had enjoyed it, but it had always been quite stressful for him. He’d started to have really big meltdowns after preschool and to resisting going and it was getting very stressful. When he was four and a half, he just refused to go anymore. He told me he just wanted to stay at home with me and his little brother. I was left thinking, well, what do I do now? I can’t get him to go to preschool. How’s he going to fit into a school environment?

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7 reasons not to set limits with your child.

How many times have you heard someone say that you should be setting clear limits for your child, as if this was the solution to most of the difficult problems that parents face? Many parents believe that if they aren’t setting limits, or they aren’t working effectively, that they are somehow failing.

There are at least 7 reasons why setting limits may not be ideal for your family.

  1. You may have a spirited or determined child who reacts strongly to having limits imposed on them. Some children are strong-willed by nature. They resist their parent’s attempts to control or limit them. This can lead to a great deal of yelling and fighting between parent and child and lingering bad feeling and resentment. No-one knows your child as well as you do. You will intuitively know if a top-down, parent-in-authority approach is not working well in your family.
  2. You may not enjoy the role of rule-maker or authority. Even though many of us were brought up to think that this was an essential part of being a parent, you may have other goals. You may want to be a parent who doesn’t try and control children with limits, consequences and boundaries. You may want to focus on respect and co-operation and finding solutions in partnership with your children.
  3. You may want your children to learn effective problem solving skills. If parents step in and set limits and rules there are missed opportunities for involving children in a problem solving process. When children are introduced to problem solving early in life they gain skills that they can apply throughout their lives. To show your children that there is always a way to find a win-win solution in any conflict is a very precious gift to give them.
  4. Some children appear to comply with limits but then act out in other ways. They may take their frustration out on a sibling or friend, or even start to harm themselves. There are many ways that children react to having power exercised over them and some of these can take years to surface. The fact is that most children hate to be restricted and controlled by their parents. There is a high probability that they will respond by lying, hoarding, sneaking or “acting out” at some stage.
  5. You may think that you love and accept your child while you set limits, but does your child see it this way? Whether a child feels unaccepted or unloved will be a determined by their personality, sensitivity and how many of their behaviours are deemed unacceptable by their parents. Do you want to take the risk that your child ends up feeling unloved when there are other, more peaceful ways of dealing with the issue?
  6. You may question the way that you were brought up and the values behind mainstream parenting. You may even be questioning your own ideas about how children “should behave” and traditional ideas about what behaviour is “right” and “wrong”. You may want to have a more heart-centred and intuitive relationship with your children that allows space for your child to explore, make mistakes and learn from them in a safe and supportive environment.
  7. Perhaps you simply don’t know what else to do. You may have resorted to setting limits because of your own frustration, resentment and overwhelm. Maybe you were feeling controlled by your child and that your own needs were not being met. You may have fallen into the trap of accepting behaviour that you really couldn’t handle. The good news is, it isn’t true that you have to opt for either setting limits or being overly permissive. There is another way.

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How to live well and prosper: life skills that adults and children can learn together.

I am absorbed in an adventure. It is a wild, challenging, unruly adventure that takes place every day in my own home. It is an adventure in learning.

When my family of four embarked on our home education journey over ten years ago my attention was largely focused on the sort of learning that is emphasized by schools and mainstream culture. I was curious and sometimes worried about how my two boys were going to learn to read, write, calculate with numbers and absorb the vast canon of knowledge that is considered fundamental to the task of “getting on in the world.” These matters still occupy some of our time. We enjoy exploring new skills and learning facts about the world. And yet, I think about this sort of learning less and less as time goes on.

The type of learning that fascinates me now is the kind that I am engaged in at much the same level as my children. We are learning alongside each other every day. And what we are learning is far more important to us than the skills and facts of the school model. The focus of our learning is our own wellbeing and purpose in life. It is about discovering the joy of living a unique, precious human life to the very fullest.

The most important thing that we are learning about is ourselves.

We are exploring what excites and delights us most of all:
What do we desire more of in our lives?
What sparks our curiosity and urge to explore?
What can we do today that will give us enjoyment and satisfaction?
What comes easily for us?
What are the gifts that we bring to this life and to those around us? Continue Reading →

Are you worried that your child is addicted to video games?

When you think about the amount of time that your child spends playing video games do the words “obsession” and “addiction” come to mind? Do you fear for your child’s physical and mental health? Is this an issue that keeps you awake at night? This is THE hot topic among parents that I talk to. It generates a huge amount of stress for parents and conflict in families. It’s a big topic and one that is beyond the scope of one post so I am going to focus on one key issue; the fear of gaming addiction.

At the heart of this fear of addiction is the belief that there is something about gaming itself that has the capacity to overwhelm free will and draw a child into a pattern of behaviour that is genuinely harmful. This belief places the child in the role of victim and assumes that the game (or gaming in general) is inherently dangerous. This belief fits comfortably with dominant beliefs in our society about the dangers of other addictive activities and substances. We either fear the activity or substance or we fear that we have an inherent weakness (such as a genetic predisposition) that makes us susceptible to it’s dangers. Either way, if you are believing that something is inherently harmful the most common reaction is to try and control and limit it. Placing time limits on video gaming is considered a responsible practice by many parents for this reason. Some parents take the next step and ban gaming altogether.

What if gaming was not the problem, but rather part of the solution?

What if limiting gaming actually increases the likelihood of compulsive gaming and its negative side effects? Continue Reading →

Life is just so exciting

Hello Gentle Readers!

There is a whole lot happening in my life at the moment and I want to let you know about it.

The BIG news is that I have finished writing my book “Being with Children in Peace, Joy and Freedom: A Book of Skills and Resources for Parents.”

After five years of not being particularly interested in my writing project my husband has finally agreed to read the book, give me his comments and correct my hopeless grammar. Once I have made a last round of corrections I will be moving full-steam into the process of publication. I am SO excited to be this close to having a book to share with you.

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I have learned so much about myself from my children

I love to bask in the vitality and joy that my children beam out every day. I love to see how much they are enjoying life, learning and achieving their own goals. But it has not always been so rosy.

What I have seen in my children has also been confronting. There were things about them that I simply didn’t like. There were behaviours that I struggled with and dearly wished to see gone. What I have come to see clearly is that these aspects of my children that I disliked were things that I had not been able to accept in myself.

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The wisdom of gaming

I think most parents would accept that it is important for children to have time to play. In fact, many of us think that it is great for children to have lots of time to play. Things get more complicated when we start to talk about different types of play. When I was a child I spent a lot of time playing outdoors. I climbed trees, mucked around in the backyard, played games of cricket in the street with neighbours and siblings, went exploring in the bush nearby and spent hours playing with friends in the local pool. When indoors I liked to build and to make things. All of these activities were encouraged by my parents and seen as good, healthy forms of play. Flash forward to the lives of my own two children and things look a lot different.

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How will my children learn to stick at things?

I have chosen to have a relationship with my children that is free of punishment or rewards. We don’t have rules and I don’t force my children to do what I want. It might sound crazy to many people but it works wonderfully well for us. As I discussed in my last post, I don’t push my children to do things that I think will be good for them. So how do they learn to stick at things? Do they manage to master new skills that require a lot of effort? Amazingly enough, they do!

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Swimming, riding a bike, reading, piano … should I push my child to do these things?

An issue that I have discussed with friends and family many times in the last few years is whether, as parents, we should push our children to do things that we think will be beneficial for them.

Consider this scenario. I have a great plan for my son to learn to ride a bike. I just know that he will love it once he has got the hang of it. I am also really keen to get him out doing some healthy outdoor exercise. My son seems open to the idea, even excited. I go out and spend $300 dollars on a beautiful new bike for Christmas. I research the best way to teach a child to ride a bike. Off we go to the park and find a nice gentle grassy slope. My son gets on the bike while I hold it for him. I push it gently down the slope holding on at first. I let go and he starts rolling down the slope. He falls off and lands in the grass. After that he won’t get back on the bike again.

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