I started off with an idea of unschooling that was largely inspired by the incredible blogs of women whose children are homeschooled in this fashion.
Appearing quite distinctly different from homeschooling, which has never appealed to me, I was completely intrigued by the freedom of it, and the emphasis placed on fun, connection and an uncompromising trust in and respect for each child’s individual development.
So I have been slowly and steadily reading more about it, talking to unschoolers, and trying to find a discernible shape to it, which is hard to do precisely because it is not concerned with specific goals or schedules, but rather in living in such a way that allows every member of a family to explore the world around them and develop their own interests.
I have no particular need to slam the public or private school system here. I think I probably loved school as much as anyone could (I cried for hours the day I left both primary and secondary school) but in retrospect I also think that beyond the idyllic scenery and friendships made, the few amazing teachers and the formative social experiences, there was actually a lot of damage done by the way I was taught. In retrospect, it seems that a far greater emphasis was placed on completely meaningless standards than on individual development. And of course, emotional and spiritual (for lack of a better word) needs were practically disregarded.
Add to that a growing sense of disillusionment with the way school systems shortchange children based on their gender, their sexuality, their age and so on, and it has led us to believe that unschooling may be the best way forward for our family, particularly if we do end up having as many children as I’d like.
As this lady, a fellow AP Mama says, homeschooling starts from birth. And whilst we may not have thought too much about schooling in those early days, I do believe the seed of it was there in many of the important parenting decisions we made. What to fill our home with and what to get rid of, what kind of toys and books might be good for Ava, what kind of food we wanted to live on, how our time should be spent each day, and so on.
And such was the beginning of our unschooling, I think. Our choices for Ava became choices for ourself. The ethical and social implications of our decisions seemed clearer than ever before. The more we read, the more we experienced as parents, the more we knew to trust ourselves completely and to trust those people who lived in such a way as we might like to, regardless of whether or not they had children.
These wintery days pass and I feel as if I am at the very tip of this particular iceberg, yet I am sure that the move to Scotland was an essential change to make in our pursuit of the lifestyle we have chosen. If I were to look further back, I can see that we have been evolving towards this idea of family that is always before us since Ava’s birth. In choosing to trust what we feel to be true for us, and being open to discovering as much as possible about ourselves, we have come across mothers and fathers and children and families who are illuminous examples of why we want to live in a certain way.
This festive period is an important milestone for us. For the first time we will be celebrating Solstice too and acknowledging the coming winter days and the draw inwards. We have chosen gifts for Ava that we feel embody our drive to keep it simple. Rather than give in to the impulse to buy, buy, buy, we have chosen to invest in fewer toys that are handmade, or naturally sourced (I *love* the big bag of beautifully shaped wooden bark blocks from Myriad)
There a few Mama-made things, a beautiful handmade Waldorf doll from Hungary and wooden buggy to accompany, and some art supplies. We are also giving Ava a range of raw silk playsilks which, in the Waldorf tradition, can be used for anything from dressing up to building forts. Then, there are a range of books from the booklist I have been building up for Ava, who has developed on her own quite a love of sitting down and flicking through her books.
(Following John Holt‘s advice, I have resisted reading to her because every time I tried she reacted with resistance and annoyance at my attempt to teach her anything. Instead, we left some carefully selected books of hers around, gave her unlimited access to our books, which naturally she preferred, recognising that these were the serious, adult, good stuff books, read a lot in her company, and watched with amazement as she began to imitate us and ‘read’ books herself.
When she started to bring books to us, to read to her, we placed her on our lap and went at her pace through the books, which usually meant skipping a page here or there or going to her favourite spots, and tried as best as possible to follow her lead. Now she has several books that she likes to look at and ‘read’ with us, and is able to use babysigning to tell the stories with us)
We have given a lot of thought to each gift as to its potential for imaginative play, its materials, how it has been made, and how it can grow with Ava.
After reading Simplicity Parenting a while ago I realised that there were just too many toys, everywhere, and when we gave away a lot of things that didn’t really fit with our feelings about play and play-things (a frightening number of toys that could plainly be labelled ‘tat’), we noticed how much more time and attention Ava gave to the one or two toys that were out at any given time.
We have done our best to carry this through Christmas, not just for Ava, but for our loved ones too, and it has been such a lovely experience making almost everything we have gifted this year. It has allowed me time to think about the person and what they might like as I make something for them, and it has felt genuinely good to put time and effort and energy into each gift.
We are determined that Ava should grow up in a household that anticipates these festivities for the warmth and closeness of friends and family, for handmade gifts and for the joy of celebration and tradition that surrounds this period of the year.
We have begun our own traditions this winter season, as simple as walks in the wood or trips to the German Market in Edinburgh for pretzels and mulled wine, but the more we do like this as a family, the more we choose in light of an idea of what family is and what it can be, the more I feel as if we are already an unschooling family, learning and unlearning all the time.