The First Step towards Unschooling is Unschooling yourself


Three sentences ring out when I think back on our five year journey of unschooling


‘Just let me live my life’

‘Mum, the best thing you could do with my reading, is leave me alone’

‘Mum, we are fine’


I used to lesson plan, I used to day plan, I used to lie awake at night thinking about what I could do with the kids the next day to broaden their learning. I made the perfect classroom, put loads of work up on the walls. I put the subjects in sections, art in one corner, science in the other, maths somewhere else. I had it all looking great. Any adult walking in would’ve thought I had this homeschooling thing cracked. I then stepped back and realised that most of the things I was putting on the wall were mine. The main thing  that wasn’t working was I was losing control of the kids, they were flopping in chairs, looking distracted, I was trying to control them, they were not interested. They wanted to lead their learning and I wanted to lead their learning. The question I had was this ‘how on earth will they learn anything if I don’t teach them?’ That’s what you do as a homeschooling parent, you teach them, coerce them, inspire them, take them to places that you know they will like, look things up that they WILL enjoy, be in control, basically, always and wait for them to respond in the way you want them to respond.


All those assumptions…


Thankfully my kids weren’t buying it, neither was my husband. So I had to take a moment to let it all go. That was a big moment. Like an avalanche of all my preconceived ideas came tumbling down on me, I was under the snow of not knowing. It was a scary place to be. I was losing control.


My whole schooled life had been precisely that, I was controlled, someone telling me what to do, how to do it, when to do it and everything that I knew was being challenged and the big question of ‘How, will, they, learn?’ was again staring me in the face.


I had to unschool myself. To stop, to listen, to breath, to have faith in them, to shift my emphasis on being a teacher to be a person living beside them and gently guiding from the sides, if they asked for it. From being the controller, who told them where we going on a day out, to the person who asked them if they would like to go out? From being in charge to democratically figuring things out. From saying ‘I think you should learn this’ to saying ‘what are you in to at the moment?’ It took time and bucket loads of patience, I have had to slow down to avoid my knee jerk old school conditioned reactions to actually listening, really listening, breathing and actually answering from a different more compassionate place in myself.


It has not always been easy and this is not to say our family is debate free, that we never disagree, for sure we do but we talk things through.


It seemed so much easier to just say ‘Oh just do it my way because I said so!’ and believe me over the years I have felt like that at times, when I am tired or when I just don’t want to debate things any more. What I am seeing now is that our kids listen to others, they also are not scared to share their voices and as for the learning, they are doing it by themselves. The girls study maths every day, they are preparing for their Italian GCSE, they read constantly and they are in the process of working on a vegan cookbook, they are taking a GCSE in performance skills at their circus class and loving the coursework, which makes me laugh as these girls have rarely put pen to paper and now that they have to, they love it!


Our son is gaming, he loves it, he travels around the world, from his room, chatting debating, learning from others. He went to a gaming convention with his Dad and from the photos he looked like the smallest one in the room and he loved it. He loved being with other gamers. He is interested in all things symmetrical that have balance in them. He loves music and dancing but that is something he may or may not want to do, we are waiting to see where it leads.


We are letting them live their lives, we are leaving them alone and they really are just fine, actually more than fine and unschooling ourselves was the hardest but best thing that we could do for them.


Lehla Eldridge is the co-author of Jump, Fall, Fly available here