How To Parent – and Teach – Along the Way (Episode 244)
The True Unschooling Parent
How do you parent - and teach - along the way? This may be very different than you may initially think. While we can label a lot of official titles for registered school options, like homeschool, roadschool, worldschooling or unschooling, the truth is that for each and every one of us who are parents, we are teaching our children. Even if your children are public school all the way, you are still teaching your children. And, quite honestly, what you're teaching them at home is way, way more important than anything they are picking up in a traditional school setting. We call ourselves unschooling parents for a reason; we are learning right alongside them, with living lessons in our daily life.
Yes, academics can be valuable. And yet, there is much, much more to humanity than knowing your multiplication tables. So let's break down how to parent - and teach along the way.
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Having a "Functional Education" mindset
Now I've hashed out a full explanation of what "functional education" means in our world. Consider it a "mind/body/soul" approach, or all-inclusive approach to learning. When I say I'm an unschooling parent, it's very much in line with this approach. Here are a few key statements that identify what this means:
- The world is my school, and everyone is my teacher.
- My learning is not confined by the walls of a classroom, a grade level, or test scores.
- I approach life with a growth mindset, seeing struggles as opportunities to learn something new and refine who I am.
- When something doesn't go how I intended, I ask, "what does this make possible?" and seek to innovate.
- Moving forward requires growth, and my learning is a lifelong pursuit.
- I will embrace a "total communication" approach - any and all methods of learning is acceptable, whether that be a person, curriculum, life experience, etc.
You're Teaching them Regardless
Whether you are intentional about it or not, your children are learning from you. And what you don't lay out can be established whether you like it or not. If you regularly walk in the house, throw your things on the floor and plop in front of the TV, you're sending a message that becomes a mantra for what is okay in the home by your kids as well. If you're constantly on your phone every time you have down time, it's a clear message that "when I need to recharge, I look at a phone to entertain me."
When we aren't intentional about what is important to us, we end up spending more of our time living in reaction and justification.
The more you ignore the little things, the more it builds up. And then, you're reacting to something because you're backed in a corner (of frustration, overwhelm, or just hitting your tipping point). Our best selves typically don't come out at this time.
Right now, pay attention to what you are tolerating in your home that isn't quite going smoothly. What can be building up and festering that doesn't need to get out of hand? Is it work ethic? Getting to bed? Time management? Food pickiness?
Get Creative with Teaching
Like the quote above, get creative with how you teach. In our home, teaching isn't just note-taking and lectures. Our best teaching is through the Socratic Method of asking questions and generally being curious. It's getting creative with how we teach, and taking the opportunities as they come.
The old adage, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear," is valid. This, my dear parents, is why teaching is always, always to be on our radar. It's not just about intentional teaching and imparting lessons. It's about being open to questions that are asked, and paying attention to those moments that your children truly are curious. It's not just sticking to an agenda that says "you will learn at 12pm". It's being opportunistic in the moments when the interest is piqued as well.
Sometimes teaching is a completely organic approach, simply unfolding from a beautiful conversation. Sometimes, it's stopping what we're doing and slowing our pace, explaining our processing as we're opening the door for them to discover something new. And sometimes, it's seeing what they are interested in and asking the questions to dig deeper than what they know, challenging them to expand beyond.
Find the Joy in Learning
There are so many things to learn. And so many ways to learn! So before we even dig into the what and the why, we have to explore the "how" that truly works for your family - every individual.
As we dig into more and more concepts around parenting and educating in the home (regardless of where your kids go to "school"), we'll break down the concept of "deschooling" more and more.
Yet ultimately, this is the goal. I believe the best way to educate your children is to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect first. And that's not a given; it's earned.
Let go of every expectation and agenda. Let go of developmental timelines and age requirements. Let go of what worked for you and how you learned.
Start by simply showing up for your child, fully present, and fully curious. Get curious about your child - truly interview them right in this moment to explore more around how their mind works and what might drive them to grow.
Ask them about what they enjoy. Ask them to share with you what elements of "school" most interests them. Talk to them about how they best listen/receive information. Ask them what they are curious about. Ask them what they are afraid of, what they wish they understood, and what they dream of doing in the future. Get to know the person your child is right now in this moment.
Is Your Home a Place of Belonging?
This week, I stumbled upon a beautiful statement by Jamie Martin below. I love how she laid out a different picture -not of crossing off all the checkpoints of education, but looking at creating a foundation so solid the ones in her home know how to make their way back to center.
Additionally, we're reading "Atlas of the Heart" by Brené Brown as a family - and we've been digging deep into this need for "belonging". In her book, Brené shares how she's even shifted from a "mission statement" to a "statement of belonging" for her company. What a powerful way to look at it - creating a statement around a community of people that instills a sense of belonging and togetherness with a common goal.
Create your Family vision - or Belonging - Statement
So this is the core of what to focus on first. What do you really want home to look and feel like? What words and feelings come to mind for your home, and what could be created into a statement of belonging, or a family vision in some way? I have a full post on how we created our family vision here. The key is not to create something so long and elaborate that it takes ten minutes to read. It's to create something that is easy enough to remember that it can be a living mantra in your home.
What you have moving forward is yours to create. If your family could create anything, what would it look like? What does the picture of a thriving, happy, connected family look like for you?
Start by dreaming together. Just think aloud and have it be part of your daily conversations. Get comfortable simply talking and dreaming together. Then, start getting crafty! Put it on paper. Draw, do a word dump, scribble out a new insight or discovery.
Keep this simple. The younger your kids are, the more basic you want to make this. How do you want to approach the world and others? How do you want to be seen in this world? These are the words to get you back to your center. When you need to course-correct, these are your "guiding lights" to lead the way back home.
Let this brew and act as a "living idea" in your home for a bit. Remember it doesn't have to be all laid out with full explanations. This is a living and breathing statement in your home, that is talked about and implemented in daily actions.
Put it up in prominent places - paint a canvas like we did. Write it out and put it up on the refrigerator door. Go onto Canva.com and make a beautiful print graphic of it. Stick it next to the toilet - I guarantee you will get some readers there! Don't create something magical to be tucked into a drawer and forgotten. Make this a living statement in your home.
Make it a point this week to sit down with each family member, 1-1, and meet them where they are. Get curious about them and find out a bit more about their hopes and desires, fears and hesitations, and what they are interested in.
Second, start dreaming together. Simply start talking about what you might want to create - together, as a family. What does your family represent in this world?
When we find community, we have things that identify us with them. What is your family all about? What can be an agreed-upon statement that shifts your family to being on the same team, and not parents vs. children? It's not "me vs. you", it's us as a collective. It's so important to take this time to explain and download together. I cannot underestimate the value of having conversations and simply talking about and sharing life with our children as we are figuring it out on our own.
Our children will determine "right and wrong" based on what they are willing to step up to and own.
I as a parent am committing to my family to show up, meet them where they are, and ask them to share their story vs. me telling them how it is.
I as a parent am commiting to be personally responsible for my impact, and to step into the consequences - both positive and negative - of my actions and reactions in life.
I as a parent am committing to work together as a family team vs. being a family "cowboy" of whipping and wrangling my kids down a pathway.
The more we can connect the dots on the how and the why for what we do, the more empowered our children are to own it. This is the "function" of our functional education piece. It's not simply forcing them through a process; it's digging in together to determine why it's important and how it relates to who we want to be in the world.
This is building a family. Build as you grow. We're going to dig into the life skills aspect next as a family. Yes, the academics will happen. And you'll find it way sweeter when you shift the focus now to the relationship you're creating, and the life skills to navigate it. Spending time dreaming and creating aloud with your family this week is a great opportunity to get to know one another in a whole new way.
Have fun dreaming with your family. Be curious about them. And remember, the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
- Creating Your Family Vision – Your Key for Family Connection
- Why I Believe In Functional Education For Our Future…and what that even is
- Home Education Resources
- The Unschooling Parent (Episode 194)
- Natural Consequences, Discipline…or Punishment
- Learning at Home The Socratic Way – Special Guest Samantha Jansky (Episode 158)