Unschooling: How do I provide my kids the rich environment they need?

Posted on an online forum June 5th, 2010:
So I have a 3yr old boy and a 1yr old boy. I am in the midst of researching all the various educational avenues for my 3 year old. I know a few homeschoolers nearby and have been inspired by their experiences to the point where I feel like sending my 3 year old to a regular school would be just SUCH a disservice to him. And now in discovering the concept of unschooling, I am even further intrigued. It makes a lot of sense and fits my philosophy well… BUT… I am torn.

I feel like I can’t give my older boy the attention I would need to give him when I am with the baby… and I’m even thinking of having another baby next year if I can. I feel like there are a million things I’d love to do with my son in theory, but then I have so little energy and attention to give him during the day around it. (Especially when baby isn’t sleeping through the night…and I feel like a zombie….) I am not a single mom, but I live sort of like one, as my husband travels and is gone about 90% of the time.

I am seriously wondering how I could have another baby and still give my oldest son a “rich” experience here at home. In exploring all my options, I found a local montessori school that seemed WAY more interesting than what I can provide for him right now. Or at least, what I *think* I can provide for him. Also, he is a pretty sociable little guy, and we don’t have any neighbors with kids… so that too is a concern – how do I make sure he meets friends? Maybe I could have him go to Montessori til the babies are no longer babies?

So…my questions for you guys are… how do you give your older kids the sort of “educational attention” they need when you’re dealing with a baby or babies?

I read on here that one woman unschooled all her children, and I think she said she had 7 kids…. That sounds verrry interesting. But it has me wondering how she did it with babies and all… How do you have the energy for creative projects with a 5 year old if you’re sleep deprived from dealing with a newborn?

Trying to wrap my brain around all this… so any advice is greatly appreciated!

Many unschoolers hold the theory you don’t need to “provide” arts and crafts and science and writing lessons and all that to a passive student (as school does). Most children, given a supportive environment, take on their own interests (which include these subjects and more). They come to you with what they want or need (or you intuit it) and so unschool “planning” is not much of an issue. My children in this last week have been reading National Geographic and a set of encyclopedias, learning to skateboard, teaching themselves chess, and working on math problems of their own volition. My youngest is becoming an experienced street biker (my older already is one), and tonight my oldest helped me patch a dress of hers with bright fabrics. They love going to the library and while we’re there they pick out their own books and read, read, read at the library. I have to tear them away and they bring home books and DVDs which in turn spark more art projects and fields of “study”. In fact my kids are so independent I am often thrilled when they do come to me for something. This independence began in earnest when we began unschooling.

There’s a concept that if you don’t give your kids the “rich” environment all kids will sit on the couch and eat Chee-tohs and play video games. That just hasn’t been my experience.

Some aspects of our family life have made my kids’ autodidactic interests easier. For instance we don’t have a television set (I know many U/Sers are not at all opposed to TV but it’s not a good fit for our family; I grew up without one and loved it). We also bike a lot and being out and about on our bikes, running errands and visiting people always delivers a wonderful series of lessons and rich experiences. At home I’m mostly working on my own things (writing and sewing) as well as doing the cooking and cleaning and my children are hardly what I’d call underfoot.

As for a social life, this varies according to your values, your locale, and your willingness to organize or drive/walk/bike/bus to events. In our case our kids see tons of other children because they’re in sports programs and also the neighborhood kids are over at our house every day of the week; also many of my friends’ children come here for sleepovers because we’re so kid-friendly and my children are well-liked. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we were more isolated in our neighborhood, but given all four of us are so social I have a feeling we’d be finding those avenues.

I do not mean to sound completely clueless about how difficult life is with young children who are still in diapers and/or nursing and still need so much of us physically – I’ve been there and I too thought I’d “need” school to give myself some respite and give my children what they need (like a social life, etc). Your children are still very young and mostly just need lots of love, good food if you have it, TLC, and patience. Soon enough they will be out the door and running to the park or the corner grocery store or visiting friends on their own. I know with young children it can feel overwhelming but you will sleep again someday! (And by the way, the unschooling life is wonderful when it comes to sleep!) Find the things you love to do and try to be present with your children; that sets the best foundation for unschooling I can think of.

2 Responses