Heather Burditt September 29, 2010

5 Things Your Unschooler Needs to Know

25 Responses

Unschoolers will often challenge the use of the words “have to”. I’ve probably driven my husband crazy by answering his, “I have to…” with a “Really? HAVE to?” with a big grin. But I’ve been caught in my own joke, annoying him on purpose has only led me to question my own beliefs… again. Yes it’s true, I am so against the grain that I challenge myself, regularly. So here is my dilemma. You know all those homeschool and school supplemental (as if we need to supplement school) books; “What your third grader needs to know” or “What your teenager needs to know”? They always get me right at the title. “No one, NEEDS, to know anything at all”, I say in my head. Yet, sometime last week, this thought of mine (mostly sarcastic and playful) came to a screeching halt and I found myself, asking myself (who else?)…

“Is there anything an Unschooler HAS TO know?”

Is there anything out there in this whole universe, so important that an Unschooler must, must, must know, no questions asked? Is there information out there, so monumental, that if an Unschooler didn’t know it, it could drastically change the course of his/her life forever? The answer is YES. There is. And if I haven’t already blown your mind, I’m going to tell you there are actually 5 things that your Unschooler NEEDS to know, MUST know, and just HAS TO know. And just like you probably guessed, I’m going to tell you what they are in no certain order.

  1. Joy: Do you know joy? Do you know what brings your child joy? Do you fill your world and theirs with things and opportunities that bring you all joy? You must! My children love being at home and free from control and coercion. They value their joy like no other child. I’m always wondering… how can I bring them even more?
  2. Trust: We live in a distrustful world. Rules, laws, regulations, and forced “guidance” tell children they aren’t trusted. Trust your child, change the world. A child who grows up trusted, becomes trustworthy and trustful. Trust your child to learn and make decisions for himself. Just make sure it’s not in spite of the fact that you don’t. Oh and most importantly, be trustworthy.
  3. Mistakes: Our society doesn’t always value mistakes. Punishment of a mistake, negates learning from it. And no I don’t mean “learning their lesson” or “learning their place”, I mean real, natural learning. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. A mistake can happen anywhere, anytime and is often unavoidable. Unschoolers should feel safe to make mistakes.
  4. Love: This knowledge isn’t the sort of knowledge you can test or measure. It isn’t the sort of information that you are requiring your child to learn and find. They can’t read it in a book, find it on the internet, or get it at school. Love actually starts with you, it should be unwavering, and it should encompass all of the other things that your child must know. Being loved, promotes loving. A child who grows up unloved or even feeling unloved, will likely have difficulty expressing or feeling love. I believe that all children need to know love.
  5. Friendship: Parents are friends. Doesn’t that go against the mainstream?! My children not only have my love, my trust, and my guidance (if they want it) but they have my friendship. I am there for them when they need me and even when they don’t. I am joyful and trustworthy. My children and I are humans, we make mistakes and I still give my love freely. When presented with a sticky situation my children know I am on their side. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that they know that. I won’t leave them physically or emotionally alone when they need me, ever. I am right where they need me to be.

It was my intention to write this piece without clear examples of how to make sure your children know these things. These five things, although highly important, should never be forced or tested. As a parent, it is your job to think about and figure out how you will make sure they know these things without actually requiring them. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, (G. I. Jooooooooe… don’t’ tell me you weren’t thinking it!).

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About Heather Burditt

My name is Heather and I’m a pro-liberty, unschooling advocate and speaker, gluten-free, artist, writer, realist, loving wife and mother. Welcome to my blog. I blog about mindful parenting, unschooling, and living a radical life. Please enjoy! Please Comment!

Previously in Swiss Army Wife

25 Responses to 5 Things Your Unschooler Needs to Know

  1. Kelly says:

    This is a great list. One thing I was thinking children need to know is Safety. You sort of covered it under Mistakes. I think many kids are SUPERVISED, but that doesn’t mean they feel safe and trusted (in fact supervision can often countermand these experiences).

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Faith says:

    Heather, I admire your clarity of thinking. This post articulates the heart of being a great parent, unschooling aside. All this things requires a person be present, with themselves and their children. Knowing these things, living these things is imparative.

  3. Pam says:

    Got to this page thru a friend’s facebook. Love some of your ideas. Love the quotes at the top of the page. Just some questions: Do you advocate unschooling for everyone? As a public school teacher, I have many students whose parents wouldn’t bother to teach them anything. I know, the child can learn on their own, but I wonder about the range of experiences available to some children.

    P.S. Don’t be too quick to put all teachers in the same basket. I like to think I encourage my students to think for themselves and question everything. Talk about joy; i have had hundreds of joyful moments with my students, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

  4. With years of professional experience, I realized that when people say “I have to” or “I should,” it is not them talking but someone else, who comfortably and secretly resides in their heads… When talking on their own behalf, people tend to say “I want to.” I learned not to tell my children what they need or had to do, but rather ask them, for example, “what do you want better, to read now even though you will be tired tomorrow at your favorite Improvisation class, or to go to bed now and finish reading tomorrow?” Sometimes it works the way I would like it to, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I never have to face those why-do-I-have-tos or I-don’t-need-anythings. Also, they know that everything they do is always their choice (and their responsibility).

    A story of one of my clients (let us call him Al) provides a powerful illustration to this point. Al is a single father who, among other issues, was concerned that he did not spend enough time with his son. He had a well-paying but demanding job at a Wall Street company, with long working hours and a long commute. Al said: “I want to spend more time with my son but we need money and I have to work much.” I asked him: “Could you say the same sentence only instead of ‘I have to’ say ‘I want.’ Al said, slowly: “I want to spend more time with my son but I also want to earn more money for us.” Then he looked at me in surprise: “It sounds now like I have a choice!” Within a year after this conversation, Al quit his job in the bank and moved to a less expensive area, farther from New York. There he found another job that pays less, but is close to his house, less demanding, and leaves him more time to be with his son.

    You cannot choose between what you want to do and what you have to do, but you can compare two things you want and choose the one you want more. I want my children to be always aware of their choices rather than simply following someone’s orders, including mine.

  5. Penny says:

    This is fantastic (Heather – I have been a big fan for a long time!) – I have linked to it on my blog – I hope that’s ok – if it isn’t please drop me a line and I’ll remove it. I didn’t know how to go about asking someone first.

  6. love this, heather. any time a person feels free, safe, and loved, they can explore the world so very happily.

  7. rin says:

    Hey there.

    Loved all the comments and it spoke to me as I am a homeschooling Mom. My husband and I combine to give our 2 boys a different learning experience that caters to their interest. I type this as they are creating a lego stop motion animation of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy using their recorded voices, the book and a digital camera. Thanks for reiterating the important things….nice to remind myself.


  8. Granola Girl says:

    I am so glad you are willing to admit that you challenge and question yourself as an adult. So many parents and educators never want to say this or even do it. Good for you!

    In the spirit of such a post/comment, I’ll do the same thing!

    When I first read your title and introduction I immediately thought of Respect. I think just about every kid, adult, person needs to know that one regardless of any other characteristic about them. However, when I was reading your list, I realized that even though the specific word wasn’t on the list all of your factors built Respect. It was in there, just not directly.

    Before this I’ve always set certain words apart (without knowing it) as stand alone. Only now, I realize every word has building blocks. If you provide Friendship, Trust, the ability to make mistakes, and you yourself possess Joy and Love you will get respect for all other people. Even if you don’t like them, you will understand how to treat them with respect. It makes me wonder what the building blocks are for some other things that I felt were intrinsically self contained are actually made up of so much more….I’m now off to ponder this a while…

    You blew my mind man :)

  9. mamapoekie says:

    Wonderful post. Added it to my next Sunday Surf.

    One thing I would add is respect. Not the ‘I’ll show you respect’ or ‘you have to respect me’ kind of respect, that’s not genuine.

    What I mean is that all humans should have known respect themselves. They should be truly respected as the authentic being they are. I think respect often goes hand in hand with Trust, because it is very difficult to respect someone you don’t trust and that’s why children are often not respected in our world. they are perceived as third range citizens with no decision making skills. They have to be taken by the hand at each step of the way. Yet this is false.

    If we respect them and allow them their choices, trust them deeply, they will turn out all right.

    And being raised by a respectable person, a person who is strong and non coercive and worth looking up to, is equally important. A person who looks inward if she/he is lost instead of lashing out.

    Well this is getting rather lengthy, I think I will save this up and think it through to post it one day

  10. Kerri says:

    Not to be a Negative Nellie, but how can you REALLY say there’s NOTHING andyone NEEDS to know? How about their address? What do to if they get lost? How to brush their teeth? Hygiene? Do you not teach these things to your children?

    I homeschool my son, even though I have a chronic illness that keeps me almost homebound, and unable to work for sure. I couldn’t send him to public school, even though it would e so much easier.

    I guess I just don’t understand the concept of unschooling correctly, because it makes no sense to me…

    • a child say its a son that watches a parent brush their teeth will see that if thats what he needs to do he will make the choice to do it with out being forced. If he makes the choice of not brushing his teeth which I sure he probably wont when he sees his mom doing it he will want to do what his mom does like wearing high heeled shoes. Lol. kids learn from good role models.

  11. Hi Heather…I just happened about your blog as I was surfing around…can’t wait to read more it looks so very interesting. Just wanted to say “hi” and that I love your list of 5!

  12. Heather says:

    Kerri – I can understand that it is difficult to comprehend what I am saying here without an understanding of the concept of unschooling. Here I am simply challenging the “have-to’s”. It is my belief that there are no “have-to’s” and instead these are choices. But it is also my belief that in order for unschooling be its most successful the things I have listed here are *musts*.

    For a better understanding of unschooling principles you could try http://www.sandradodd.com/unschooling or http://www.joyfullyrejoycing.com

    Teaching does not equal learning. Children can (and will) learn many things without being taught. Including their address and how to take care of their bodies. :-)

  13. MamaWhimsy says:

    Thank you for writing this, Heather. This puts some of my thoughts that I haven’t been able to form into words together a bit better in my mind. It also provides a challenge to me to really look at how I am doing these things (i.e. am I really trusting my children in this circumstance? How can I bring more joy to my girls’ lives? Am I really doing this for them?…)

  14. I loved learning about unschooling from Sandra Dodds video about unschooling and her dauhgter’s video also I liked THe Martins videos about unschooling There are so many sites out there to learn about

    would like to know sites where kids can go for learning about unschooling and seeing if they are making the right choices about it . I s it my childs choice to unschool or mine . What if he wants to go back to school. Some times I even hAVE doubts about unschooling for later on in life .Well I hope she will be able to do what she wants to and learn all she can about it now so she will be ready and prepared for the future . We are not supposed to plan or prepare for the future for them unless if we want to .

  15. I am a single mom sacrificing our bond our friendship our trust and we are so joyful together .It is a blessing Just a feeling we both have ,my daughter and I . Her dad passed away so she and I is all we both have ;each other.I do let her know its ok to make mistakes but to always do her best and no one is perfect.Its ok to make mistakes its ok to do really good too.always make her own choices what to do and watch and believe in. She feels safe feels loved and free.Being creative and Joyful Happy and at peace with her decision. She thinks about driving and college. but she might change her mind and drive but not go to college she might go or might not. She will still learn and be able to go to learn about plants animals home life homeeconomics what ever she decides and are her interests I think she will make the right choices for herself.

  16. AJ says:

    What about responsibility? I *think* (am open to being challenged ;) ) that we need to learn responsibility; for ourselves, our friends, our family, our lover/s, our children, our environment, etc. Most of all though, responsibility for ourselves.

  17. Linda says:

    I just happened to find this blog article from another, more recent article that someone on FB posted a link to.

    I’m not sure I agree about the first item on your list, “joy”. I don’t think I know what “joy” is. I know what I “enjoy” doing, and what my kids enjoy doing. We have been unschooling for over 8 years now, and I have always made an effort to bring my kids to places/activities that they enjoy, and let them do what they enjoy doing at home. Is that what you mean by “joy”?
    I am quite certain that we are not joyful people. My husband and I suffer from depression and chronic illness, and from constant worry and stress over financial matters (and, lately, the knowledge that we are bound to lose our home to foreclosure, sooner or later). I am partially disabled and am in constant pain, with no access to proper medical care. i live with a certain constant underlying anger at a society that lets me suffer all the time. My husband yells and rants and is somewhat given to paranoia. I am downright cheerful in comparison to him!

    So all the “joyfully rejoicing” stuff is something we have never managed to achieve. But we have managed to unschool despite all that. We treat the kids with respect, love, and trust. They have the freedom to make their own decisions, and spend their days as they choose. We provide as much enrichment as we can in their lives. We talk, read aloud together, sometimes play games together. (I guess I should be writing most of this in the past tense, as my son is in college and has moved out to an apartment, and my daughter is 17.) I was always willing to drive my kids to get together with friends, and to scout meetings, classes, social gatherings, volunteer opportunities, etc.

    But depression is hereditary, and neither of my kids is a “joyful” person. They are not as stressed and angry at the world and burned out as children raised in the typical coercive environment of school – or as my husband and I generally are; they do know themselves better than kids who are raised without choices and freedom. They are intelligent and articulate and capable. But I was wrong to think that raising them without the usual childhood stresses was going to be a cure for hereditary depression, or low self-esteem, or lethargy. Actually, I think my son has pretty good self esteem. But my daughter doesn’t. And my son does not seem like a happy person.

    Unschooling is probably the best way to avoid exacerbating an inherent tendency towards depression. But it doesn’t prevent it.

    So, a family that knows very little “joy”, with a lot of “blah”, punctuated by little moments of pleasure here and there, (and a lot of hope for a better/happier/healthier life for the kids when they grow up than the life we have now) can still unschool. And if little moments of pleasure here and there constitute “joy”, then everyone has it, and it is no more necessary to put on your list than breathing and eating. But if “joy” is a state of being, then depressed parents can no more teach it than a blind parent can teach their children to recognize red, yellow, and blue.

    • Heather says:

      I think joy presents itself in many forms and often so while doing things I “enjoy”. Maybe “enjoy” is the verb form of joy. :)

      I know that a long time ago when people threw around the word joy I was confused, because I had this vision in my head of what joy looked like. As it turns out… joy looks different for everyone.

  18. Lots of great things have come from mistakes. Post-It Notes for one. If I remember correctly, penicillin was an accidental finding as well.

    • Heather says:

      After I wrote the article I went and borrowed a book from the library. I can’t remember the name now… something about Accidental Inventions. There are tons of them! Very cool!

  19. Terrence Crank says:

    It was nice reading your article. I feel the same way. My child is home schooled and there is so much missing. Big changes ahead.
    Thank you.

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