I put the word “teachers” in quotation marks because most unschooling parents do not consider themselves their child’s teacher. Which perhaps should be number one on the list of what makes them great. However, they do a lot to encourage, facilitate and inspire learning, so for the purpose of this post, I will call them teachers.
Unschooling parents respect their kids. They acknowledge and respect that children are fully human, just not fully grown. They respect that not all children will like the same things and that they are not mini versions of their parents. (god forbid!) Unschooling parents respect that their children’s interests often differ from their own and may change over time, whether that time is a few weeks, months, or years.
Adults as a whole do not trust children. They don’t trust them to take care of themselves, to be responsible or to learn. Unschooling parents are radical in the amount of trust they place in their children. They do their best to be good role models and lead by example, rather than by laying out random and punitive rules that only erode trust. They also trust that kids know what they need to learn at any given time, and with encouragement and support will succeed far beyond any adult’s expectations.
The best leaders do not demand to be followed (that’s not leadership but dictatorship). Unschooling parents lead by example, by being fully present and interested in their own lives, as well as their kids lives. They do not feign excitement over subjects they find uninteresting – kids see through that from about a mile away – but display their honest enthusiasm over things which interest them. Understanding, of course, that their kids’ interests may differ completely. Which is fine. The point is not to sway the kids to your own way of thinking, but to model joy and interest in things, in life. That is what defines true leaders – they convey their passion and encourage others to do the same.
Unschooling parents are great observers. They do not offer unwanted “help”, but observe the things that spark their kids’ interests, and then find ways to facilitate those interests, or at least provide opportunities that the kids may follow, if they so choose. They also know what things or situations cause their kids’ eyes to glaze over with disinterest. Unschooling parents know that these things will be different for each and every child.
Unschooling parents are like the ultimate tour guides. They present information, or make it available, or plan outings in alignment with their kids’ interests…and they do it all without being invested in the outcome. Plan a trip to the museum and the only thing of interest is the cafe? Oh well. Walk down the street and find your kids fascinated by the guy doing sidewalk art? Cool! The post office (or wherever you were headed) can wait a few minutes. Sometimes things are planned, sometimes they happen by accident. A good guide can ad lib and go with the flow.
6. There is no box
Rather than thinking outside the box, unschooling parents have done away with the box completely. There simply is no box. Unschoolers say the world is their classroom, and this is true; the world and everything in it. Books, magazines, youtube, TV, radio, travel, computers, woods, neighbors, store owners, bus drivers, a kitchen, food, farms, cars…. literally EVERYTHING and ANYONE can facilitate learning. Life is a constant state of learning, and true learning cannot be divided into specific subjects that are kept separate from each other.
7. Happiness, not status
Unschooling parents know that happiness in life is not found by getting into the best schools, getting the highest degree or making the most money. Happiness is found by doing what you love, whether that is starting your own bakery or becoming a doctor. Therefore if an unschooled child has no interest in Shakespeare but loves gardening the parent encourages that and doesn’t tell them they “need to” read Shakespeare. No one needs to read Shakespeare if they don’t want to. The same goes for things like Calculus & Chemistry.
Unschooling parents are wildly imperfect! (At least I am.) We know that perfection is not necessary or even desirable. A perfect human makes a terrible role model; no one can possibly live up to them. Failure is part of unschooling, even for the parents. Days when we lose our temper over stupid things, or panic because “What about MATH!?” Failure is part of life and nothing to fear. For kids failure is a crucial part of learning (and nothing to fear). Unschooled kids don’t see failure as something to be avoided or think that they are lesser people for it. Only through failure do we learn and grow.
Of course, these eight things can be part of any learning environment, but usually aren’t. The push for grades and high test scores undermines almost every single one of the eight items on this list. Only through unschooling, or in democratic or free schools or perhaps the soon to come but not yet realized open learning centers that would replace the current compulsory system are these eight things the norm.
If all teachers could model unschooling parents, we’d be well on our way to a better world.
This post is for all those amazing unschooling parents who have been my teachers as well. Thank you for your infinite patience and guidance and wisdom. My world is definitely a better place with you in it!