Do You Force Your Children To Learn? (Episode 215)
In our world of unschooling, we believe in delight-led learning, and the functional education model of learning as we live life together. So what if our kids want to just watch TV and eat chips all day? Do we allow it? Do we force our kids to step it up, or just cross our fingers and hope they muster up some work ethic on their own?
This week we discuss the video I have below. It was posted in the Unschooling Families group on FaceBook, and I loved his candid take on his first 90 days of unschooling.
This one word - force - seems to be taboo in the unschooling world, and yet...kids aren't always eager to step out of their comfort zones any more than adults are - so how do we instill drive and work ethic in our children when we're supposed to be gently letting them blossom on their own?
Maybe it's a matter of semantics. Yes, we push our children out of their comfort zones. Yet brute force? no. You can push without a power grab.
90 Days of Unschooling
A new addition to the Unschooling Families group posted a video. Now, I'm pretty open with this group and encourage people to share their insights and unschooling journeys. Clearly I want to keep tabs on what all is being shared in there, so when I saw a 20 minute video go up, I wanted to jump in right away and ensure it was going to be helpful for those in the group.
J (aka "Black Dad") shares a real and candid look at what his first 90 days of unschooling looked like in his home, and Nathan and I found ourselves nodding in agreement with him time and time again in this vlog!
One of the concerns he laid out in the video was the question of when to push your kids vs. let them do things on their own. And in his scenarios, determining if he should "force" his son to learn how to swim, or his daughter to learn how to read...I see so many parents that would completely resonate with his concerns.
J talked about the challenge of swim lessons for his son. He and his partner viewed this as vital, as they have a pool and are in South Florida. As a Florida parent myself now, I agree on the importance of our children knowing how to navigate the water. My guess is, his "forced" swim lessons were not of a child being traumatically thrown in while a teacher screams at him. It sounds like the swim teacher was patient, calm, and focused on building trust with his son as her first goal. That isn't force; that's opening a child up to something they don't have the discernment to make a decision on independently. The dad chose to enforce safety, and it required him pushing his son's comfort zone.
Instead of seeing this as force, he chose to equip that child to have more of his independence vs. him remaining limited with water wings in the shallow end.
The Semantics of "Force"
Let's look at the true definition of force:
I don't believe in threatening my kids. I surely am not violent with them. Honestly, it's not even an against-their-will situation, as my goal is to foster their own desire to move forward.
Ultimately, though, our kids don't know what they don't know. And they won't be exposed to it until they are, right? A perfect example of this was when we took Clara ice skating for the first time. She did not want to get out on the ice. She was very adamant that ice skating would NOT be fun and she wanted no part of it. Did I tell her she had no choice and throw her out on the ice? Nope. Did we give up and walk away? Where is the opportunity for her to grow there?
We'd laid a foundation of training. Sometimes our kids don't want to do the work that is necessary for their survival, so we believe in being proactive in giving them tools to navigate all they need to survive. One of those in our world was "no thank-you bites", where we require our children to have one "no thank-you bite" of new foods before they can make a decision on it. Our principle is that you cannot form an opinion on something you've never experienced/tasted. So we start with food, and, instead of forcing, we simply offer only one option. They can take it or leave it, but that is what is available for food.
What happened is, all of our children are now willing to try new things. We navigated push-back of kids not wanting to stretched themselves, and we stayed calm and persistent with only offering one next step option for them. After that first bite, we respect their decision, as oftentimes they decide they do like the food, and, if they don't, we allow them more time for tastebuds to develop, or respect the fact that it's not their favorite!
So let's get back to ice skating. Clara was convinced she would hate it, and the training we'd already done with food was a perfect opportunity. I asked Clara to give it a "no thank you bite" try. One loop around. She was willing to test it out...and three hours later, we finally got off the ice, much to Clara's disappointment, who wanted to be a professional ice skater one day because she loved it so much!
We believe it's important for our children to be educated in their decisions, and that means challenging them to try before they form it. And some decisions are made by parents, because it's necessary for their children's safety. Keep that in mind when you question if you should "force" your child. Are you forcing them against their will with no negotiation...or are you opening them up to something they aren't sure to trust just yet? That takes patience, and yes, a little pushing.
Get to the "why"
I know that it is really hard for me to do something if I'm not clear on the "why" behind it. If I can't see the merit in it, how motivated am I to do it? Well, that's true for our kids as well. Yes, unschooling parents aren't coming at their children with an agenda of all the things they need to do...however, there are life skills that are vital for their independence, and those are things your kids will need to know, regardless of whether they feel like it or not. Remember, in nature, how many animals allow their children to mooch off them and sleep on their couch their whole lives? In our natural growth and development, there comes a point where you have to stretch yourself beyond what you know in order to move forward, and sometimes that takes more push than you can do on your own.
If our child sees no merit in reading, it's hard to justify it. Yet, how often do we accommodate for our child by interpreting signs and words all over? Do we read everything to them so they never have to? The older our kids got, the less we did it for them, and the more space we gave them to step up. When they showed interest, we were all over it. When they said they didn't want to, we pulled back. Yet this right here is where many can get stuck. If you unschool, you just wait for when they want to again, right?
Well, just like strewing is setting new things out for your children to discover and learn more about, as our children grow, we gradually decrease what all we do for them. We may start by wiping their butts, carrying them and feeding them, yet ultimately they learn all of this on their own. And it's the inconvenience of not always being picked up that often pushes that child to learn to get around on their own.
We use "inconveniences" to our advantage. If our child doesn't want to read, my goal is to find what she really does want to do, and then help her discover how ridiculously inconvenient it is to not be able to read and have to rely on someone else to do it. It's not to cover for her, but to open up the door to the discomfort of not being able to do what she wants on her own. The more she recognizes what a pain it is to be in the dark until someone can explain the words, the more she takes ownership of wanting that control herself. See, I found my daughters "currency" of wanting to be in control of her life and be independent. When she saw that wouldn't fully happen without her reading on her own, she was willing to do the work.
Ensure your children know the "why" behind what you're pushing them on, so they see the merit in moving forward into an unknown.
What "Peer Potential" is out there?
On top of allowing things to be inconvenient, we allow them to see "proof of concept". We hesitated on calling this "peer pressure" because it's not about shaming or comparing our kids to others; it's simply allowing them to see others doing things with ease. It took Clara seeing her much younger cousins swimming before she determined it was time for her to learn. And it was the best friend raving about The Magic Treehouse series that finally prompted Juliet to jump into reading.
Let others be an inspiration for your kids to show them what's possible. Again, this is not about shaming and comparisons. It's about letting them see what all is possible, and how many were able to learn it to give them the confidence that they, too, can accomplish it.
What Are You Reflecting?
Our children are often mirrors of our own actions - and reactions. What are you modeling? Are you showing your own desire for personal growth and development? Are you sharing with them when you struggle, and why you choose to do it anyway?
Do your children see your own growth journey? Are you truly living life with them, or in spite of them? It takes a lot of work to have a thriving relationship - it's ongoing communication and seeking to understand one another and learn how to love each other best. There are many homes that struggle for two parents to do this, much less including their children in the process.
We talked in the podcast -and so did "Black Dad" on his video - about how unschooling seems to be more of a parenting style than an educational model. And with that concept, I'm not simply waiting for my child to be 100% excited about anything that comes their way. We're living life together, and navigating new scenarios and challenges constantly. My work as a parent is to continue to lovingly expose our kids to those crucial life skills they need for independence until they're ready to dig in deeper. Sometimes it's from true desire, interest and curiosity that just took a while to bloom. Sometimes it's because it's become such a pain to NOT learn it (like riding a bike or reading). And sometimes, they'll muscle through because of the inspiration of other kids, like our children learning how to play whiffle ball recently even though they'd never really thrown a ball with kids before.
Unschooling is not about having all the answers - it's looking at what tools you can use to move you forward, and testing your hypothesis as you go, knowing it's ever-changing.
A friend asked me this week what unschooling meant to us, and this was my definition:
We’ve been unschooling since birth, and our oldest is 14 now! Unschooling, for us, isn’t as much an educational model as it is a lifestyle. We ALL - parents included - believe the world is our school and everyone is our teacher. So we look at living life with a growth mindset, knowing learning can happen everywhere. Just like functional medicine looks at the body, mind and soul, our unschooling is “functional education” - looking at life as our learning experience and acknowledging daily interactions - that affect body/mind/soul - as our educational enrichment and how we can constantly work to be the best version of ourselves we can be.
Your Weekly Challenge:
How do you want to define unschooling in your home? Is it more of a lifestyle of living life together with your kids?
Embrace the challenges you have with your children, and allow them to be uncomfortable. Allow them to see you push through your own struggles and growth -even if it's not fun - so they can see the gain and the goal in the end.
There are so many things we can second-guess in parenting, and throwing out the structure of a curriculum model means unschooling parents are in an ocean with no boundaries - it can be a scary thing!
Yet the more we simply go back to humanity - and we give grace for our fumbling in our desire for growth and seeing our children thrive - the more we can simply live life with them, and help them learn the "why" along the way. The more in tune they are with their own internal motivation and drive, the better they will be able to work around others. And their insights and awareness of themselves so often becomes the door to open awareness of others as well, and we can help them see how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste.
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Questions or comments?
Personality styles, marriage/intimacy, parenting, education, minimalism or travel - what is pressing on your mind?
Or, hop on over to the Unschooling Families FB group and ask your question there!