Other families always want to know – what does unschooling look like? What is our every day?
Let me show you!
Our week started off with beautiful weather and a fun outing. We were invited by a friend to a ‘mama haircut day’ where all us mums were going to take turns getting our haircut while the others supervised the children and prepared lunch. These friends have a very cool backyard with a kid-sized zipline between trees, a flourishing veggie patch and a gorgeous group of chooks. Although we’ve never had chickens as pets, several friends of ours do and one friend in particular has hens that are very friendly and tame and Hannah has enjoyed cuddling them in the past. So after collecting the eggs with her friends, Hannah assumed that these chooks were just as friendly as the ones she is used to, and proceeded to try to pick them up and give them a gentle hug. I call her my “chicken whisperer” as she honestly has the touch!
Two out of the four chooks were happy to be patted, held and talked to by her even though the family who owns them doesn’t generally engage with them like that. Hannah was truly in love and in her element. She explained to the smaller kids how to pick up and hold the hens gently and made sure they were all safe and comfortable. Us mamas kept an eye on the chickens and when they started getting a bit hot and tired we asked the kids to put them back in their coop which they happily did.
When it was my turn to get a haircut, Hannah asked if she could get ‘just a little’ haircut first. We worked out that she wanted a trim and after a chat with the hairdresser about her preferences, she sat down for her cut. I was really surprised she chose to do that as she hadn’t said anything beforehand, but Blake had had a haircut on the weekend so maybe she had been considering it already. I love when I see that my children are comfortable making choices like this about their bodies of their own accord. I think that’s a really important lesson to learn.
As I was talking to Bob who volunteers at the farm and is an amazing guide and additonal influence with the children, I noticed something moving in the grass. At first I thought it was a snake but then I saw the little legs and the striking blue tongue.
It was a Blue Tongue Lizard! Of-course we kept out of the way but it walked around the perimiter of the childrens area for about 10 minutes enabaling us to get a great look. I haven’t seen one in the wild since I was a child and Bob mentioned he hadn’t seen one at the farm before either so we very very lucky to see one! We talked a little about what the lizard might eat, where it might be going and wondered why it has a blue tongue. Such a gentle and interesting creature. I tried hard to take a photo of it with the blue tongue sticking out but it was near impossible!
That afternoon we headed to my parents house as usual. Grandpa was setting up the train that circles the Christmas tree so Hannah and Blake asked to help out. They needed to work out how to fit the batteries to make the motor work by matching the + and – and then there was some trouble with the track layout so they needed to fix that as well. It was interesting watching them try to solve the problems and develop solutions and they were so proud of themselves once they figured it out.
My sister then pulled out the craft box for Hannah and Blake and using the materials in the box and their imagination, they made these gorgeous snowmen. This was fabulous as I hadn’t added a Christmas craft to their advent calendar that day! I found some letter cards in the craft box and picked out the ones for Snowman. I then brought them out all mixed up and then Hannah and I sounded out the letter sounds to make the word together.
Next, Hannah began work on a special painting. About a month ago at a friends place, Hannah drew a picture of a mango tree and I had an idea. Brian’s Nanna (the children’s great-grandmother) who we will be visiting for Christmas, has a mango tree in the backyard that has been the centrepiece of many family memories and his Granddads ashes are scattered around the base. I asked Hannah if she would like to do a painting of the mango tree, based on her drawing, to gift to Nanna for Christmas and she agreed. I later suggested she ask for my sisters guidance with the project as she is an artist and works with canvas and acrylic paints frequently. My sister agreed and Hannah learned a few new skills about painting while also creating a memory that we hope Nanna will love and treasure.
That night we had to stay at my parents house because I had locked my keys in our house that morning. Brian was away for the week for work and he has the spare set! Lucky I always keep some spare clothes for the kids at my parents house and I am the same size as my sister!!! Hannah and Blake thought it was great of-course and reveled in the extra treats and staying up late.
On Wednesday we headed to a friends house for a playdate where there was a lot of glitter crafts for the kids and much discussion and play about their mutual love of the movie Frozen! We also received some stunningly thoughtful Christmas gifts from our friends and were sad we couldn’t give ours to them as they were locked safely in our house!
In the afternoon Hannah, Blake and Daisy all helped my parents in the garden with varying degrees of actual helpfullness by Daisy darling…
Hannah was then inspired to do a quick painting of Grandmas garden.
And you can see in the background of the above photo a couple of pine-cones painted with yellow paint which I started doing while we chatted and then Hannah chose to make her own and decorate it with petals from the garden.
We decided to do some op-shopping on Thursday morning with my sister (so handy now that she is finished school and has plenty of time to hang out with me and my kids!) and managed to get to a few before things started to fall apart.
Blake always finds it quite hard when Brian is away and his emotions were hitting their peak. We cut the op-shopping short and then Brian called me to tell me he had made it back home a little earlier than planned which was music to my sore, tired, worn out ears!
Brian and I also celebrated our 12 year anniversary since we became a couple on Thursday and he bought me these gorgeous blooms! I love yellow, and I feel like it’s a bit of a theme colour this week!
It was late night shopping and I really wanted to get our Wishing Tree gifts organised so we all went to the shops together to choose a few gifts. This was a complete disaster as everyone was in meltdown mode, and in hindsight wasn’t the wisest choice to make. I took time that night to really re-centre myself and remind myself of the type of parent I wanted to be, rather than the one I had been at times during this stressful week.
When Daddy came home from work we all walked to the park. We took the time to notice our neighbours beautiful Frangipani tree flowering and I mentioned to Hannah and Blake that like the Poinciana that we saw last week, this tree also blooms in December and is a nice way to recognise Christmas is on the way. Last year Hannah was quite distressed to realise that we would never have snow to enjoy during Christmas time, so I researched what seasonal guideposts there were in this state of long summers and little variation from month to month. Frangipanis were just one of the flowers I found that flowered this time of year and as we collectively love trees, this was a lovely way to introduce the local changes we’ll see every December.
At the park, Blake decided to re-attempt swinging himself on a swing and was filled with pride when he was able to coordinate it. You can see he is concentrating especially hard in this photo!
On the walk back home we collected some fallen gum-nuts to use for a Christmas craft activity I have planned for next week.
On Saturday it was time to celebrate St Nicholas Day! This is a lovely tradition my family did all through my childhood as we are European. We totally forgot about asking the children to put their boots out the night before but luckily I had put a few little treasures away earlier last week, that I quickly wrapped up for Hannah, Blake and Daisy.
The kids were so excited to receive these little gifts and after they had had a little play we took the time to talk about what the story of St Nicholas means to us and how we admire and choose to emulate his kind and generous spirit every Christmas by giving to those less fortunate than ourselves. So we jumped into the car to put our lovely gifts under the Kmart Wishing Tree.
Blake felt a little sad that he couldn’t give his gift to his chosen child personally as he didn’t quite understand this year that it was almost an anonymous process. He wrote his name on the card and we reminded him that the child who receives his gift at Christmas would surely send a lot of love to Blake in his heart.
Back at home Daisy and Blake had a long nap, so Brian and Hannah indulged in some Kinetic Sand play.
Thank you for joining me here once again and sharing in our week! If you have any questions or thoughts feel free to leave them in the comments, I love to hear from you!
Our unschooling journey is ours – it’s a representation of how we live and therefore, how we learn. Our children have the freedom to question, wonder, experiment, play, create and explore at will. The photos and words in these weekly excerpts are just an overview and based on the memory I have of the weeks events. There will have been more learning than I could possibly cover here happening in the minds of each of my children every day. And there is a lot of ‘real life’ that happens in our weeks too – lots of negotiation, compromise, frustration and tantrums – because all of that is a part of living and learning, together.
In January this year when most children Hannah’s age were donning their uniforms and backpacks and heading off to their first day of school, Hannah slept until 8am and then we headed to our local city farm to explore, learn and hang out with our friends. We had the most amazing day and as I watched my 5 year old running around in her dress-up tutu and painting with clay, I knew we had been right in making the decision to unschool our children.
During my pregnancy with Hannah I became obsessed not just with preparing for birth but for everything related to parenting, and this eventually took me down the path to Alternative Education. I began to use little bits of all the different philosophies and methods I had read about, in our day to day life. I love so much about the Montessori approach and our home is designed to be very child friendly and is influenced by many Monetssori principles. Some aspects of the philosophy were missing for me and so I adopted what could easily be termed Steiner ideas into our home as well.
As Hannah grew though, and as we watched her take her first plunge into ‘academic’ learning just after she turned 2 by learning to write the letter ‘H’ we – well, mostly I! – felt a little lightbulb go off that quietly said ‘She is learning, not by force or compulsion, but naturally‘. And so I did what I have always felt was right and I followed my child.
As Hannah grew, we watched her learn. She learned from the moment she woke up to the time her eyes closed at night and we were even speculating that she was learning in her sleep (which is actually true!). As I watched this process happen I started to question everything I had known or read or accepted about education. I began to see that children are born to learn. I mean, everyone knows that, but I began to see this for what it really is – a completely natural state for a child. A state of constant inquisition with the driving force being a need to learn how to grow into a competent adult in the society they have been born into.
When Brian and I sat down and discussed what we wanted for our children in the future, we decided we wanted to find a way where our children could learn with joy, with desire and with a thirst for knowledge. Where we could be there next to them as a companion that could answer questions when asked, supply materials if needed and offer different perspectives when required. We wanted to be the person who could offer inspiration and varied experiences and then leave them to learn for themselves like we knew they could. We knew this because we had watched them learn since the day they were born.
No one taught my baby to crawl or babble or reach for a toy or touch her toes. She noticed the toy and felt the desire to touch it so she strived to reach that goal until she did. It was an insatiable need and she wasn’t going to be satisfied until that toy was in her grasp. And how did she feel when she held that toy and moved it to her lips to finally begin to recognise exactly what it was that she had been looking at that whole time? Absolute delight! And satisfaction. And then she moved onto the next thing, the previous knowledge safely tucked away to be used in the future. She never did anything before she was ready and never until the learning was meaningful to her.
Everything my children have learned happened in the right way, in the right order and at the right time. For them.
And we trusted it to happen that way.
We expected it.
And it did. They learned. And they have never stopped.
And you know what?
I still see that same delight in their eyes when they reach a new learning goal – whether it be climbing a tree or writing a word – that I saw when they were just babies. Their desire for knowledge has never been disapproved of or feared. We have always welcomed it with open arms even when it seemed frightening to us. We knew they were ready to learn it because they wanted to try. We trust that they will want to learn the things Brian and I know – such as reading and writing – because they see us use these skills in every day life. We trust that when those skills become important to them that they will become interested in learning them and we have no doubt they will.
And so in the last 5.5 years, Brian and I have been witness to something spectacular – our children learning all about life, through life itself. It really is a beautiful thing to watch. To see the opportunities that are created every hour to learn and to watch children take on the challenge with an enthusiasm that is essentially unremarkable because it is their everyday. That is the true beauty of this approach to learning, to life. When we began to look very closely into our childrens world we began to see that learning is everywhere and in every thing and this is what makes us confident in our decision to unschool our children.
I won’t go too much into what unschooling is as a philosophy as there are many other sources of that information elsewhere. But basically it is all about what I described above. This is a quote from a blog called The Path Less Taken that sums up unschooling really well – “Unschooling is a philosophy that allows that given a rich, interesting environment, and attentive, supportive parents, that learning will happen naturally. To believe in unschooling is to believe that true learning happens best when it arises from the experiences and interests of the learner, not from an imposed curriculum or a teacher or a parent. As unschooling parents, we don’t act as teachers, but as facilitators and partners. We do not separate the day into subjects, or into school time, or play time, or learning time. We live as if school does not exist. We live our lives and we learn from it.“
Our life is what it is, we made this decision knowing that it felt right for us and our family. We know why schools exist, and we don’t feel that they will need to be a necessary part of our childrens lives. We feel that learning cannot be contained or explained or tested. It cannot be trained or directed or controlled. It is a personal, individual and unique experience that every person travels through themselves. Learning doesn’t only last for 12 years! It should continue for a lifetime.
As an example – which was prompted after hearing Dayna Martin speak at the Conscious Parenting and Natural Learning Conference we attended in 2012 – I realised just how much time and effort I had put into learning about pregnancy, labour and birth. I knew almost as much as a midwife and yet I wasn’t going to be be tested on this information. I was reading, researching and memorising because I desired to do so. I had a goal and I was meeting it. It was entirely self-initiated and therefore it was self-activated. My satisfaction came from the learning itself. I was educating myself because the learning was meaningful to me. This is the key to unschooling. It is learning from living.
This realisation affirmed for me how much I wanted my children to keep that love of learning burning in their hearts. I wanted them to feel that if they wanted to know about something that all they had to do was follow that desire and seek the required knowledge. Learning without school makes sense to us. We are living in the real world and our children will learn from living every day, following their passions, experimenting, asking questions, travelling and experiencing new things. We don’t need to teach our children how to learn. That is an oxymoron. They have been learning since they took their first breath and we know all we need to do is step back and let them live life. And for us, that just happens to mean life without school.
I will be blogging more of our unschooling journey in our Week In Review, so just click on the Our Unschooling Journey tab above to read more. I also post more real-life updates on Instagram via ‘andrea__sunshine’, check out the #ourunschoolingjourney hashtag to get a comprehensive view of how we do unschooling.