Structure and Unschooling?

Before I get into this topic, I have to mention that behind me, right now on my couch, sit three kids crocheting.  They are crocheting because I was making a hat, and Ben came out and said he wanted to learn how.  So I taught him how to do a chain stitch, and he’s been working on it ever since.  (I think it’s about 6 feet long now.)  Then Maya and Greta, who is spending the evening with us, came out and also wanted to learn.  So I showed them and then excused myself to write this blog entry.   And there they sit, happily making lengths of chain stitches.   (Strewing in action!)

Moving on.   Structure.  Can structure and unschooling exist together?   When I hear families talk about how their kids need structure and this is why they don’t unschool, I find myself wanting to argue.   Structure, to me, is a framework within which the kids can operate as they see fit.   As they grow older, the boundaries of that structure widen, giving them more choices.    This is not something we sit down and dictate.   It became apparent to me when Maya was very young that the ‘you’ll do this because I said so’ route was not only ineffective but made everyone miserable.    Regulating the kids’ day, including getting up, going to sleep, when to eat, when to go on the computer, when to watch TV, etc., is, in my definition,  more regimen than structure.    A regimen is about controlling a child’s actions; structure is more like strewing.   It’s presenting the realm of possibility based on the family rhythm and child’s interests, and then letting them direct those possibilities as they see fit.    I used to think that Maya needed the ‘structure’ of sitting down each morning to formal lessons from a curriculum and workbooks.   Until she started refusing to do it.   Then I paid more attention and realized what she liked was the time with me, focused on whatever she felt like doing.   Unschooling allowed us all to sigh with relief.  No more arguing over what ‘must’ be done.   Instead we started operating within the general structure of our day.  Meaning that each evening we talk about what is happening tomorrow – do we need groceries or have an appointment?   Do the kids have art or a playdate planned?    We have a general outline in mind, which can be flexible to an extent.   When the kids were smaller, going to the grocery meant a trip out for all of us.   Now they may opt to stay at home while I go out.   The boundaries have expanded.

This ‘structure’ takes a lot of letting go on the parents’ part.   And if there has always been a regimen, there may be some floundering at first, both on the part of the parent and the child, who may not be used to making their own decisions and might be suspicious of it at first.   It will pass.   Kids are truly amazing creatures if we trust them to be.  They can even surprise themselves with their accomplishments.   They will definitely surprise a parent who may have come to believe that their child is ‘out of control’ unless kept on  a tight leash.    The structure of unschooling is natural for a child.  For a parent raised in a culture of compulsory education, it is much more difficult.   But it is possible.   And the rewards extend far beyond the realm of what we think of as ‘education’ and into every aspect of life.

Leave a Comment