Unschooling: The Good, the Bad and the Awesome (A Day in the Life)
I decided I wanted to write a day in the life post because I love unschooling. We do *so* much, have amazing experiences, and witness everyday life kind of awesomeness that wouldn't be seen sitting at a desk. *And* we do it when we decide we're ready *and* we stop when we're done! Doesn't that sound perfect?! Well, nothing can be perfect all the time but at the end of the day I can usually reflect on the crappy moments and learn something, or at least laugh a little. It's not for everyone, being with your kids 24 hours a day most days can be hard. Unschooling doesn't mean everyone is happy all the time but the rough times pass (think: you're in the grocery store and your kids are acting like you're actually at the playground) and the hard work does pay off. So here's a look at what a typical "home" day is like for our family of 6. On other days we do fun stuff like hang out with friends from our local unschooling group, and go to parks, pools, or museums.
- 9:00 AM- Two year old Sage and I begin to wake up in the king sized bed we share with her dad and once in a while one or two of the big kids. Since we are all about taking our time with everything, we nurse, snuggle, and chat quietly for a while. Sometimes my husband is up already and Sage will go downstairs to help make coffee and hang out with her dad (its their special quiet time together). He tries to keep a flexible work schedule so that he can be with the family as much as possible when we're home. Since we go to bed and wake up late, he tries to stick to that schedule too. The kids and I have always fallen into the same sleep patterns, (no matter how hard I try to change them). Our bodies just want to go to bed around 11:00, so we roll with it! We have had lots of awesomely creative stuff happen late at night!
- 9:30- Sage and I get up and get ready to go downstairs. She *has* to get new clothes even if she already has a full outfit on that she insisted on wearing to bed the night before. Getting dressed is such a big deal for Sage. Everything has to look and feel a certain way (unfortunately, she and I don't usually share the same criteria) and she often changes several times before getting it right. That combined with "I do it"... it's a major patience test. I do my best to listen to her and stay attentive to how she's feeling so we can get through it without either of us getting upset.
- 10:00- We go outside to water the garden and Sage promptly instructs me to spray her (and her clothes that took a half hour to get on). We take turns watering while talking about everything from the "baby plants" to dog poop. I know she's hungry so I try to shuffle her past the swing but most days I have to give her a few big pushes before she'll agree to go inside. At her age unschooling is pretty much hardcore attachment parenting, i.e. she's with me every second following, watching, imitating. I try my best to make what she sees positive and help her get what she wants.
Because we aren't rushing at all, each thing we do probably lasts longer than "normal". Breakfast might take an hour and a half with all the "help" but its an important part of our day and full of learning moments. Since we are home, our children have a lot more time than kids in school who have a certain amount of time set for learning.
- 10:30- My older kids (7,7, and 10 years old) start meandering down stairs. They haven't mastered the art of relaxing in bed yet so they're usually half asleep and sit on the couch like zombies for a bit. This morning they asked what we were doing today and were glad to hear that we would be staying home. After a few days of outings they are happy to have a relaxing day. Hopefully Sage and I are cooking some breakfast by this point but you never know because there could be another clothes picking session first! We talk about breakfast and what everyone wants. Sometimes it's eggs and a green smoothie. Sometimes it's organic ice cream. Once in a while its even candy, but most of the time they make good choices. They all love to cook, and reading recipes and measuring ingredients are great opportunities for real life learning. Pearl and Fern (our 7 year old twin girls) are smoothie masters lately so we start with that. They love to pick greens from our backyard and add different combinations of fruits. Today was kale, spinach, banana, and strawberry. Kaya (our 10 year old) made some fried eggs on top of garlic toast, one of his favorite things.
Today Pearl and Fern have new Pet Shop toys that they got in goody bags at a birthday party. Pet Shops have been one of their favorite things for a while. They set up houses with furniture, accessories, and sometimes even real food. All the animals have their own characters and personalities that continue to develop with each game. Today is gorgeous and cool and they all played forest Pet Shops outside. They set up a stage to make a video of the animals doing a cooking show. Kaya got in on this Pet Shop session also and asked to get out the sewing machine to make some accessories for the game. After making some tiny pillows and blankets, he made some food with sculpting clay. The Pet Shops thought it was fabulous :) Kaya is the sweetest kid. He loves his sisters and is super helpful with Sage. He also really likes animals and recently has been getting jobs in our neighborhood taking care of people's pets. He likes making some money but he also loves caring for animals and always remembers when it's time to check on them. This morning he has already fed and walked the neighbors dog and taken care of our friend's beardie that's staying with us, plus his own bearded dragon, and our cat and dog. After Pet Shops, I found Kaya watching a YouTube series about the history and story behind the game titles of Skyrim (a fantasy game with an interact-able world and story). This particular game has actual books of intricate story behind it. Kaya has always loved reading, especially magical mythical stories. He's a pro at making up his own video games with the stories behind them. He wants to get into programming and design someday but for now he just likes learning about any game he can find. Sage is all about water these days and playing in her splash pad is a very common place to find her during day. She also *needs* to do whatever I do, literally, like playing with babies, cooking in her kitchen, taking out all the cloth napkins and re-folding them, etc. She's mostly an easy-going girl but she can easily get frustrated trying to do something or interacting with her siblings, so I stay close by to help. I've already diffused a few potentially crazy moments with Sage today. I try to remember that when it seems like she's randomly messing up stuff or hurting someone it's always because she's frustrated or not being heard. One important unschooling idea (that I adore) is that kids are born full of love. Love for life, learning, and people. Babies don't cry to make you mad, toddlers don't misbehave just to be annoying, and older kids don't scoff school because they don't want to learn. They're always trying to tell us something and sometimes it's hard to figure out. Sometimes they just need us parents to stop and listen. For example, today Sage kept smacking Pearl and the computer that Pearl was using. The first two times I was exasperated with her and said something unhelpful like, "Stop hitting Pearl! What are you doing?!" Then I reminded myself that Sage loves her sister and is probably upset and doesn't know how to communicate what is bothering her. I picked her up, hugged her and asked if she was mad. She said she was and that she wanted Pearl to play with her. Ahh, so Pearl was a little engrossed in a show and wasn't hearing Sage ask to play. We talked about it with Pearl, she agreed to play, and Sage was content.
- 12:00- Time for play! What we do is always different depending on what everyone's excited about at the time. Whatever it is, it almost always looks like playing. But if you look deeper into anything, there's always learning. I choose to not keep track of every little thing but instead to focus on making sure everyone is happily following their interests.
- 3:00 - Whenever everyone's hungry, we take a food break. Everyone was busy with important stuff and not wanting to stop so I put out a tray of finger foods that they could grab. Today it was rolled up turkey, peanut butter and apples, carrots, broccoli, almonds with chocolate chips, and hardboiled eggs. With lots of options no one complains and they all eat a little of everything.
- 4:00- Pearl decides she wants to sew since the machine is out. She's working on a patchwork stripe skirt for Fern, which is pretty much the cutest thing ever! She's getting pretty good at working the sewing machine with just a little help and all the math involved in the planning is a plus too. While monitoring her progress I'm also distracting Sage from poking the sewing machine and helping Fern and Kaya get the sprinkler set up. They played in the sprinkler and watered the flowers that they planted. In the process they found a toad that they suspect lives in the flowers and decided to make it a house. They used rocks, leaves, flowers, and other bits of nature from the yard to make a perfect little toad house.
- 6:00- We start thinking about dinner and decide to take a quick trip to the store. I want to walk since it's right down the street. Pearl refuses to walk. Fern refuses to drive. Kaya doesn't want to go at all. Sage wants to magically be there *now* so she can ride the penny horses. This is a fairly common scenario for our family of 6; everyone wants to do something different and it's mine and my husband's job to sort it all out before anyone gets too mad. After negotiating, arguing about what we're actually getting at the store, and nursing Sage for a while, I drive to the store with all the girls, and Kaya stays home with dad.
The second we get in, Sage sees what moms everywhere dread: the car carts. They are impossible to push and you feel like a three ring circus smashing into things left and right while the kid-less shoppers roll their eyes at you. Anyway, we got on with it and succumbed to the car cart, and I let Sage know when we needed something so she could help. She also picked out a few things (bright colored tupperware and some beans) that I put back when she wasn't looking (luckily she doesn't notice that yet). Pearl and Fern were pretty helpful and we collected all the taco salad ingredients in a reasonable amount of time with very little drama. The best part about our super close little grocery store is that it has mechanical horses you can ride for a penny. Sage is always excited to get in line and pay because her brother or sisters take her to ride while I check out. Every store should have a penny ride!
- 7:00- Being at the store with Sage is a challenge, and she knows I can't contain her in the Boba carrier anymore. She wants to walk! She wants to buy things! Gum! Cookies! It's like toddler heaven, and I need to be super on top of it to make it out with all our dignity in tact. I want to help Sage get what she wants without buying every random thing in the store. I take a deep breath and vow not to take to heart the looks of grumpy people who inevitably think my kids are too loud, bratty (I hate that word) or happy. You can't please everyone.
- 8:00- Our dinners have been hectic and a little rushed lately because Sage has stopped taking naps. By 8:00 she can be a bit of a terror. Tonight her helping was in the 1% range, the other 99% being messing stuff up. She clearly needed some one on one attention to get her through until bedtime so she read books and played catch with her Dad until dinner was ready. Fern was a great help cutting up veggies for our tacos. Pearl set the table, I didn't ask her to but she enjoys doing it and making it look nice. Taco salad is a popular meal for us because everyone can customize their own bowl so easily.
- 9:30- After finishing and cleaning up dinner (once again, everyone helps a little bit without being forced but just because that is what we do). Sage badly needed to go to bed. I brought her upstairs and nursed her to sleep in our bed. The only time she has not nursed to sleep was when she was sick last winter and couldn't breathe. Pearl and Fern nursed to sleep until they were almost 4 and transitioned beautifully to falling asleep with me after weaning. Bedtime is a peaceful time for Sage. I've never made her to go to bed when she doesn't want to so she is happy to go when she is tired. She recognizes her body's signs and associates bed and sleeping with warm mommy snuggles. Now at two, she mostly sleeps 'til dawn. Then she will wake up and nurse every hour or so until we get up.
I can't wait to snuggle up with Sage, the perfect end to a busy yet not too busy day. She is probably my last baby and I try to savor every moment with her from the midnight nursing sessions to the meltdowns. I try to do the same with all of them, even though the older kids aren't quite as squishy anymore. I take in one last look at their sweet sleeping faces and set off to bed. ------------ Interested to learn more about unschooling? Here are a few links you may find helpful:
- 10:30- The big kids are ready to start winding down. Sometimes we watch a movie together or read books. Tonight, both are on the menu. We read a few chapters of "Warriors", a series about clans of wild cats, before all laying in bed together to watch the new Wizard of Oz movie. Pearl, Fern, and Danny fell asleep in the middle but Kaya stuck it out with me - we both enjoy some good fantasy.