10 Challenges of Unschooling

Since yesterday's post seemed to be so popular I thought today I'd talk about what some are of the hardest parts of unschooling.

The biggest challenges of unschooling: 

Most of these are things I struggle with on at least a weekly basis, if not daily!

I've developed ten little mantras to repeat to myself.

Here are my mantras and what they mean:

1.  Don't panic!  Believe it or not this happens to me a lot (and yes, I know if you read my blog you do realize this!).  These two words have sort of become my internal mantra-- "Don't Panic!"  Earlier this morning I was sitting here thinking; "jeez, we haven't done anything in a while.  How can they possibly be learning?!"

I struggled with this when we homeschooled actual lessons and I really struggle with this now that we're unschooling.  I

You can't see all the learning that happens all the time and it's hard for me, in the moment, to sit back and say relax, it will come in time.

We have time.  (as I sit writing this blog Ian asked to make some play dough out of Kool- Aid; Kitchen science!... see it takes time.. if I take the time they eventually show me the way and the panic subsides).

Homeschooling and Unschooling can be nerve wracking.  It takes faith; faith in yourself, faith in your child and faith that the relationship, memories, and experiences you create together will last a lifetime.  It can be hard but it's oh so rewarding too. 

2.  Don't compare!  Being a teacher, I am so used to state set standards it's very hard for me not to think about all that they don't yet know that they should.  Of course, there is a lot that they do know that they wouldn't have yet learned if they had stayed in school.

Learning is not always linear either; Alec doesn't know all his addition facts yet but he does know some multiplication facts and can add and subtract large sums of money from all the Monopoly and Life games we play. 

I constantly need to remind myself not to compare them to anyone else.

Every child in every public school is  different, they know different things and learn differently too.  I need to remind myself that my boys  know what they know and they'll continue to learn what they don't yet know.   But I struggle with that one so much!

3.  Don't rush to Fix! As parents we naturally rush to our child's aid when they're hurt, when they're upset or when they're disappointed.  But we're so quick to offer an immediate fix for whatever is going on in their lives that we've become what specialists are calling helicopter parents.  We hover, watch, and swoop in at a moments notice of any problem.

Without realizing it, we often deny them of the opportunity to learn.   How can they learn to be independent if we never let them try to work out problems on their own. 

Sometimes it's OK for them to get a little frustrated, sometimes it's OK for them to be disappointed.  Sometimes it's better to ask questions and let them come up with the answers.

It's not easy but it's necessary.  

4.  Live in the moment/ Don't sweat the small stuff/ tomorrow is another day.  I combined these  mantras because they go together so well that I often repeat them in that order over and over again in my head!

I often forget to live in the moment.  I'm always thinking ahead, where do I need to be next?, how am I going to get this stuff done?, how can I keep the house clean?, is it time to start dinner yet?, etc, that I often forget to enjoy each day as much as possible.

 Live in the moment.

Watch the world through the eyes of my children.

 Don't sweat it that the house isn't as clean as it could be, don't worry about the laundry, the dishes, or the errands; there's always tomorrow and tomorrow is another day.   It's a huge part of the reason why we find time to homeschool.  I put the boys and their needs first 80% of the time.

As I'm typing this Evan came over with a book; just to ask me a question about it, but I stopped typing, pulled him onto my lap and started to read it out loud.  Alec joined us and then they went to get another book.

Self- guided learning forces me to live in the moment; if you say "wait" every time they ask something they'll stop asking and I loose those moments that mean so much more than making sure there aren't dirty dishes in the sink. 

5.  Stop, Look and Listen.  It's easy to get caught up in what I'm doing or spend time away from the kids when I'm  planning, blogging, cleaning, etc. that I don't always remember to stop what I'm doing, and really observe my kids at play.

I love listening to them from a far.  It's when I learn the most about them; what they're interested in, what they've learned, what they're dealing with at the moment. 

 Sometimes I'll join them, ask questions and play alongside but mostly I like to sit back and quietly observe.

It helps me to find the joy in parenting as well as allowing them to gain independence.  I learn the most when I stop what I'm doing and focus on watching them and listening to them. The vocabulary, imaginations and interpersonal skills can be astounding!   I also need to practice this when they're trying to tell me a story or ask me a question.  If I stop and give them my undivided attention they'll learn to do the same. 

watching Evan bust out his dance moves
6.  This too shall pass.  When we have days that go bad, when bickering and fighting at are at all time high or when cabin fever is getting the best of us and I have to step back and remember it will pass.  Life will not always be this stressful.

When they're obsessed with something and talking about it constantly  to the point that I want to scream, I have to remember that they will move on to other topics.  Our lives won't always revolve around Pokemon.  I try to grin and bear it as best I can, knowing it will pass and I'll look back on these days with fondness when they're older.

  NO matter what our struggles may be they will pass and we will all be stronger for having surmounted any difficulties.

7.  What are we going to do today?  Unlike homeschooling where I had activities planned, we don't have a plan most days.  The kids often turn to me and say "I'm bored" or " What are we going to do today?"  We're new to unschooling so they're still very uncertain as to what to do with all their free time.

I try not to get discouraged that they don't have these big elaborate plans for their day like other unschoolers I've read about.

I know it takes time for children to explore, create, and decide-- I've been warned it can take up to a year for them to start to find their way.

 I try to have suggestions on hand and give them a rapid- fire list of suggestions so they can run with an idea that sparks them, but sometimes I let them be bored; after all what better way to motivate them to learn to occupy themselves?  But it can be trying to hear after a while.

So my first thought most day is What are we going to do today?  or What can I suggest for them to do today? 

 Most days I am content to let them lead though.  Usually that is when we have our best days.

8. Just say no! To screen time that is.  

For me dealing with the constant battle of screen time is very unsettling.  I've read tons on the subject of screens.  Many unschoolers allow screens (TV/ computer/ video games, etc) whenever and for however long the children want them and they swear that given the choice the kids will eventually get bored and choose other options.

Perhaps I'm not nearly trusting of my kids enough, but I don't see my middle child in particular EVER getting bored with screens and choosing something else.  We've experimented off and on but my kids never choose anything else when screens are an option.

So for now the rule is on a school day screens aren't allowed until dinner.  

But, like all rules the kids try to bend them, argue them and in general find a way around them.  I admit I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be and so this battle of screens is one of my daily challenges.  I try to remember to just say no.  Without discussions, yelling, or cajoling them.  They know why we have this rule and really "no" is all I need to say. 

9.  Easier isn't always better.  I have to remind myself that while it may be easier to do things for the kids, that isn't teaching them anything.

They need to learn responsibilities like cleaning their rooms, making their beds, making breakfast/ lunch, setting and clearing the table, etc.  Chores became a battle a long time ago and no matter how many times I explain that having them homeschool creates more work for me so I need more help, it usually falls on deaf ears.

 I'm not nearly as good at making them help out when I can just do it and get it done quicker and faster without the battle.  But that's what's easiest; not what's best.

I also try to make myself encourage their help when doing other things around the house that I might prefer to do alone like cooking, painting, or organizing.  If I don't ask them to help, how will they ever learn to do these jobs?  I find myself not asking sometimes for fear that they'll want to help and I have to remember that I should and ultimately do want their help.

  In the moment it may be easier to do it myself, but in the long run helping them develop household and life skills will benefit us all! 

10.  I'm only human.  Sometimes I am way to hard on myself:

  • I wish I did more with my kids
  • I wish I didn't yell so much
  • I wish I had all the patience in the world to answer each and every question they ask without getting frustrated
I wish I were... well perfect.

  • I wish my house was spotless.  
  • I wish the laundry was always clean and folded.
  • I wish I always had the energy to cook  healthy, wholesome meals.
  • I wish I were more physically active. 
 I want to show my kids how to grow up healthy, happy and grateful for all they have but I don't always model that.  Sometimes I'm jealous we don't have all the money in the world to travel with, sometimes I find myself griping about all that we don't have, instead of focusing on how lucky we are and all that we do together. 

I know I'm not perfect.    I'm human, I make mistakes. 

I forget to say simple things like please, thank you, and I'm sorry.  I'm not always the role model I wish I was and I have to learn to cut myself some slack.  My kids know I love them, I want what's best for them and I'm trying my best.  We're all human, no one is perfect (even if they seem like they are) and that's OK. I am enough and I am doing a good job.


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