Thursday, March 09, 2006

How Unschooling Looks with Little Ones

by Tracy Million Simmons

This was part of a conversation involving new unschoolers with very young children. The questions being asked were “How much direction should be provided?” and the discussion centered on how unschooling “looks” in a household with young children. I had a three-year old and a six-month old at the time. (1999)

What do you do with your time? When children are young, they may not be so proficient at “directing” themselves, and they are fully welcome and expected to participate in MY activities. I’ll try for an example to clarify my position.

From the beginning I have been careful to include my children in my daily activities. As small babies, they nestled in a sling while I washed dishes or swept the floor. As they grew older, they sat right in the middle of the clean laundry as I folded it around them. When I was on the computer, they sat on my lap and as they grew older they held their hands over mine.

My daughter, now three, is starting to involve herself in her own activities, but she is still just as likely to be found helping me with mine. Even when doing her own thing, she is often mimicking something that I do or am doing. If I go to the garden, I invite her to come. Sometimes she helps me plant, sometimes she digs in the dirt on her own, and sometimes she ends up going back in the house to do other things. The key, for me, is that I don’t force her participation. I just remain active myself and she participates in the manner she chooses. I imagine as she gets older, she will do more of her own thing.

What I see a lot of people do is exclude their children from daily life tasks. They send them out to play so that they can clean house. They put the babies into playpens with mindless toys or sit them in front of the television for hours. I believe if you want a child to be self-directed, you must first model that behavior. Show your child how your day involves everything from the mundane to the fun and amusing. If you aren’t exploring anything yourself, now is the time to start.

Start with a trip to the library. Explore the stacks together. Check out a ton of books on anything and everything that looks interesting. Go sit in your yard and watch the ants. See if you can follow a trail from the hill to a food source. Take out some bread crumbs and watch the little buggers struggle to carry them away. See how long it takes your child to come see what it is you are doing. Show interest when she does similar things.

When I start trying to describe my approach, people often stop me and say, “but I was asking about unschooling.” I don’t define schooling apart from life. I don’t separate chores from play. I don’t categorize mundane tasks as separate from learning opportunities. They are all one to me, and I believe in being interactive with children in every aspect of my day. Until your child begins to focus on their own passions, share your own. And once they do begin to focus, let them do it at their own speed, their own way. Don’t expect them to fulfill your expectations – let them create their own.