Recently, I read somewhere that unschooling is like the best Saturday, the one you’ve looked forward to all week whilst stuck behind a school desk, every day. And it kind of is. Not every day is a party/trip to the woods/baking/soft play/big day out extravaganza, but a lot of them are. We have fun, lots of fun, do almost all of the things the girls ask to do, and are led by their interests and enthusiasms. But there are some downsides to having a laidback Saturday lifestyle, well maybe not ‘downsides’, but things to get used to.
We Have a (ahem) ‘Lived-in’ Home
OK, reality number one, the biggie: there is pretty much zero chance of us ever having a show home.
Our floors, walls, furniture and ceiling (don’t ask) is covered in paint, glue, glitter, finger prints etc etc. Almost every available surface is covered in half-finished projects, books, crafts both begun and done, pictures and papers. Multitudes of toys are in a mid-game state and putting them away will destroy the flow of that particular storytelling adventure, so they stay where they are. Cleaning happens around all the busy-ness, but it still looks like a hurricane has passed through most days!
There are projects everywhere, including this collection of rocks in the bath. Apparently there are living creatures in them that we need to look after, feed etc. And every evening we need to unbury the kitchen table for dinner, excavating various treasures, half-finished projects and exciting finds along the way.
We Get Really Mucky
All that outdoor living and adventures means we are permanently washing. The car is covered in mud, sand, grass etc etc, the children’s clothes are filthy, and the washing machine is on all the time. Then there’s the drying, folding, putting away. Taking things from the ‘to put away pile’ to wear is a given, and don’t even mention ironing. Done for weddings, christenings and job interviews only! Thank the Lord for Bosch washers! A quick shake, hang to dry and you’re done.
Plus, when you’re all at home all week, everything else gets dirty. There are also lots and lots of dishes, including a massive bake-a-thon a couple of times a week. Cleaning in our house usually happens about 10pm!
We Don’t Live to a Timetable
Much of the time we have only the vaguest grip on what day of the week it is, let alone what the time is. We have a weekly plan to refer to for anything vital, and work time is vaguely organised, but for free time, it’s just that, completely free.
The only problem with this is that we are late at least half the time, and we often forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have a laidback southern European approach to life. Shops close, times are restrictive. When we have to engage with the old-fashioned 9 to 5 world, it’s interesting to say the least!
We Annoy Each Other
Five human beings, with different opinions, ideas and interests, living in close proximity and spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together. Of course we bug one another! The children bicker, Steve and I grumble, sometimes all of us have the most almighty humdinger rows, and that’s without even considering Lara’s unique issues. Sometimes it’s hard.
Then we hug or we laugh or we growl or we jump up and down or, best of all, we get outside in nature, and it’s all OK again. And then we remember why we chose this wonderful lifestyle, and how happy we are – most of the time.
We Make Mistakes
The learning to read programmes, the collections of books bought after an interest was sparked (then promptly discarded), the membership to a certain museum that we barely used. We’ve toyed with different approaches, often unsuccessfully, and finally found our way to our semi-structured mostly unschooled approach. Oh and my ex-teacher head worries a lot about what we ‘should’ be doing or what the girls ‘should’ know. But would I extract the extensive knowledge of Stone Age Man from Sophia’s head and replace it with early KS1 objectives? Would I heck!
We Can’t Stop Learning
Of course, this is the whole basis of an unschooling approach, but seeing it in action is incredible. Chomsky was quite right, surround them with print (we have books literally everywhere) and they will learn to read. Make maths part of the every day and it isn’t scary or difficult, it’s just life. All three girls have learnt basic fractions and shapes at around 18 months, before colours or numbers even, because they were more interesting/important, I guess.
They absorb information everywhere, from learning a bit of French to knowing all about different types of castles and recognising Parisian bridges, English aqueducts and monuments I’ve never seen. Where does it come from? Everywhere. Reading, looking at books, TV, listening to conversations, osmosis and the ether. You just can’t stop it! (Oh and play is really, really important. That’s what childhood is all about, after all.)
The REAL Reality
I’m sure there are people reading this who think it is utterly dreadful, but happy parents and happy kids would attest that it works, for us. We all love our life. Would I like the place to be tidier, and cleaner and more contained? Absolutely, I have SPD/ASD/OCD too, so yes, I would love it. BUT I love their freedom more.
And what of the future? How will the girls ever pitch up to college/university/work on time? They naturally wake around 7.30/8am, and if they need to be somewhere (Legoland at opening time!) they manage. Is a 9 to 5 existence likely to be the norm in the future anyway? Steve has a set times job, which he arrives at on time and does well; I work for myself, and have (highly) flexible but full-time hours. Our daughters are more likely to be self-employed scuba divers, weird hour archaeologists or academics, semi-flexible working writers or vicars anyway. I think they’ll do just fine, and in the meantime they have a fantastic laidback Saturday life, every day.
Are you unschoolers, or do you follow another home ed style? What challenges do you face?