Is Schooling Like Religion? (Episode 185)
How do you navigate the muddy post-covid waters of the educational world? How has homeschooling become like religion, nuanced and personal while also trying to be labeled and identified?
In this post and episode, we hash out three big questions about unschooling and share a bit more about why de-schooling is so, so important.
With kids in and out of schools and virtual options resulting in sitting in front of zoom calls all day long, many are looking at homeschooling - or even unschooling - as a better solution for their family, but there is a lot of fear around it.
What if my children fall behind?
What if I don’t know the answers?
How much do I let them lead versus me?
How will they get any socialization?
These are just a few of the concerns I’ve heard over the years. So let’s dig in.
Every Child has a genius within them - have you asked them questions to uncover - or discover - it?
Alternative Schooling Options
There are many alternative schooling options out there. At one point, the lines were pretty clear. Public, private, or homeschool. Now we have all of those, plus magnet schools, charter schools, umbrella schools and co-ops, as well as wildschooling, worldschooling, roadschooling, radical unschooling, forest learning and more.
There are so many different options, and, as parents are scrambling to make sense of it all, we can get stuck on this definition. What is our label? Exactly what type of schooling are you doing?
For some of you, you’ve landed on this page, or are listening to this podcast considering something you never imagined before.
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You thought you had your children’s schooling all planned out, and 2020 threw that out the window. Maybe your child is spending a ridiculous amount of time on screens for zoom school right now and you’re looking for another way. Maybe, with more time at home, you’ve seen a shift you want to move toward, seeing another path as an option for the first time. So how do you make sense of it all?
Schooling is Like Religion
If you think in terms of religion, for example, the dominant religion in the USA of Christianity, you can break it down pretty easily. For me, growing up in the “buckle of the Bible Belt”, there was pretty much a church on every corner. Not only were there tons of different churches, each one was slightly different. Some were a strict denomination. Some were non-denominational but had a specific vibe or focus as a church community. Just like there is so much variety and nuance, with each denomination being different, and each individual church-goer being different, there is just as much when it comes to your child’s schooling options when you open the door to alternative schooling.
Is your educational label your comfort zone of dogma?
Maybe you’re Episcopalian - does that mean you’re there every week observing the Eucharist, or just showing up for Christmas Eve and the “required” times? Or maybe you love to dance and sing for praise and worship, and you come alive with a theatrical non-denominational church. There are many ways in which religion is practiced and carried out, and our opinion is that schooling is the same way.
If you drop the formalities and labels, it’s looking at how you show up to education and what ways your child learns best. Just like religion, at its ultimate goal, is whatever gets you close to your Creator (or you pass that ultimate test of life to get into the next realm).
The educational journey is going to be unique to what you respond to, what you’re internally motivated by, and how you're led.
Your belief systems, family environment, location and more will have an impact on what you’re doing. And, just like faith and religion isn’t a one-and-done “Now I’ve been Jesus-ed”, neither is our schooling. It’s a lifelong journey of growth and understanding.
We believe our schooling is going on right along with our children. Our education doesn’t stop. Just like the journey of your spiritual walk, it will continue as long as your spirit inhabits this body. Just like we will need to continue to eat to nourish our bodies every day, learning nourishes our brains and keeps us moving forward.
So what is our definition of unschooling? For us, it means this:
Unschooling is a lifelong approach to learning. It isn’t confined by the walls of a classroom, a grade level, or a test score. It’s living life and seeing the opportunity to learn from anyone and everything around us. Unschooling is more about critical thinking to discover a solution vs. memorizing an answer, and looking for natural curiosity and delight-led learning as the main fuel for retaining knowledge.
Unschooling is an ongoing path of learning for as long as you’re willing to grow (for us, that’s for life). In our definition of schooling, there is a lot of flexibility for how we learn. We aren’t anti- any tool that may be helpful for us to grow. Sometimes that means a curriculum, a class or course one of us wants to take. We want to fuel our educational journey, and show the variety of ways we can support that through any means possible. And, quite honestly, there are times we need help - a subject that’s over our heads, etc - and getting additional support is the best way to truly learn a concept.
The Ebb and Flow of Comfort Zone
It’s not that you’ll always have it all together. I have my moments of doubt and hesitation, or feeling like we’ve gotten really off track. There are stretches where we’re in a major growth spurt - not just physically, but in stretching our minds and growing together - and then at other times, we’ve hit a slump and there is more aimless staring than focused on anything going on.
And at those times, I have to pull back and remember the unique personality styles of each child and whether or not this down-time is productive. While I may be a “doer”, my daughter needs to just chill sometimes. And I have to pay attention to whether it’s been weeks of nothing, or a down day is right after we’ve done something like a 23 mile bike ride or just completed an epic book on Audible. We might have a full day of writing letters and creating a care package for family (plenty of educational moments in this), and then the next day we don’t do much. That’s okay. When you make your own schedule, learning happens anytime.
The "Right" way to do Schooling
Guess what - the right way is THE RIGHT WAY FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILD. It is different for each of us! Instead of trying to find the right box to fit into, pull back from what you need to label it and simply get to know your child. That's why "de-schooling" is such an important process.
Pull away from all you think you know school "should" be, and start creating a growth-mindset relationship with your child as the solid foundation.
Get to know what motivates your child. What fuels them and helps to keep them interested in learning. Sometimes this process can be brutal. In allowing our children to learn and grow on their own, we have to allow them to sit with not learning. They need to experience being bored to the point of desiring anything to stimulate their mind.
It’s hard for a do-er to observe a child staring blankly at a wall, however, keep in mind there is plenty going on. Your child is learning their own limitations as well as how to move forward when no one is forcing them to. Crazy enough, in their desire to keep up, the majority of time children will step up to the task, albeit in their own way as their limitations become a hindrance. (For example, not being able to read gets more and more inconvenient the older they get - and the more maturity they have to notice it, the more motivation they have to learn).
To the right, here is an example of "unschooling" for us - we created a life skills game that is similar to allowance and chores, but we approach it differently and add in some real life aspects they will be navigating as adults. This took a lot of our focus for a while - yet what a robust education they got in learning all it takes to run and maintain a household! And you better believe they had to do math, reading and writing in order to make this work!
Binge Learning is Okay
On top of navigating the down days, we’ve found that we do tend to binge with our learning. Just like Netflix now lets us go through a whole season at once, we tend to do this with school as well. Like, for example, our daughter Juliet blasting through all of Kindergarten and First Grade on Kahn Academy in the span of a month. Or we lose Clara to two days of research on a new species of snake, or learning medical terminology or taking a course. We can spend a day at a state park learning all about the history and the biology around the area, and then enjoy some playtime simply being in it for a few days. Even on those “down days”, so much learning can still happen.
Growing in chunks vs. daily bites is totally a personal preference.
Getting kids into the habit of daily routines is definitely important and helpful. That being said, sometimes binging and diving deep into something can be powerful. We use both - we look for basic anchors that are needed - like getting dressed for the day, cleaning up, knocking out a lesson in Kahn...but then we allow for a lot of space for serendipity.
Sometimes that time is spent just playing - and other times, it’s digging deep into something else. I’ve found that, even in their playtimes, elaborate pulley-systems are created for tree swings, crazy banking systems are created, and oftentimes their imaginative play ends up being the most educational thing I could have asked them to do all day...and yet it was all led by them.
Boredom Is Okay
It’s okay to be bored. We want our children to be bored, and learn how to move past that to fuel their own creativity. We used to have this printed off and put up at our house:
When we have children aimlessly looking over our shoulders to see what our lives are like, we can nudge them in a direction and give them suggestions on maybe a good idea to grab a book, do some Kahn Academy, go for a walk, clean up the yard, mop up the floors, do the dishes, etc.
If you have a child who knows how to take care of themselves and live on their own, that’s a win. So if our kids are completely stuck in their boredom and need help, our first default is a life skill - something they will need to know as an adult anyway. Do the laundry. Cook a meal. Clean up the house.
I don't care if my kids can recite the first fifteen presidents. But I do care if they know how to budget accordingly and get a grocery list or assess what foods need to be gotten. I want them to know how to walk into a room and determine if the room is clean, or if they have messes all over the place - to know how to declutter and sort and tackle a big mess or task. I want our kids to know how to face something overwhelming and break it down into manageable bites with a step-by-step process. So they can actually work through things that seem overwhelming and intimidating. And then when they get worn out of all of that, they figure out how to create a life they want to live here.
And then, they use those critical thinking skills and those life skills that they have learned to learn the things that they need to learn, to apply to whatever profession it is they want to do.
But What About Socialization?
We have had all kinds of activity in our Unschooling Families Facebook group! School is heavy on people's minds; as things are shifting, but not shifting fast enough. We're not going back to the way things used to be. And not everyone is excited about alternative schooling options. Here are some of the questions we've been addressing:
My question is, how do you prevent children from being too isolated in an unschool environment? I have a child who is not an athlete, and have struggled to find ways to connect him with peers. Betsy
This has a whole new connotation post COVID. So how in the world do you navigate socialization now? Keep in mind that, before you determine how to socialize, determine what socialization your child actually needs! Your child may actually thrive with only 2-3 close friends and enjoy being more of a homebody.
We have a child like this, who could care less about being the center of attention and having a million friends. We have to socialize in life - we are interacting with people as we learn on a daily basis. She’s always encouraged to speak up and engage with us, so just in living life, she experiences interacting with people of all ages. And we don’t have the need for contrived play-dates to get her socialization quota.
I have friends that are my age and older who are exactly like Clara. They aren’t running out and joining groups to socialize. So instead of me forcing her into social settings that she hates, I'm going to challenge her without making her something she isn’t. I'm going to push her to step up and respond to people clearly and to look at conversations and how we can interact with others. She learns how to carry on a conversation through writing letters and doing emails. She learns it because she's a mini adult that loves to sit in on grown-up conversations.
She's learning to interact by the fact that we're living life and allowing her to be there with us and everybody we're interacting with.
A lot of times, your children will find and attract people and friends that they need to be connected to. It is important to get out there and be a part of the world, but trying to force it and manipulate and create a situation where their social agendas are perfect can be unrealistic and stressful, especially when you have a mixed group of introvert and extrovert children.
When you are schooling at home in any format, the parameters are different. Your children aren’t surrounded by peers their age and grade level that live in a certain school zone. Their social world has expanded to be anyone at any time. Take a look at this reframing of socialization and how it works for an unschooler.
Finding Your Flow
I would like to know how you find your flow in an unschooled schedule. How much do you let your kids lead vs. how much do you lead? Techie
When we see reeling boredom, we may point them down a few paths and let them choose, or eliminate the choice dilemma and give them a task that helps someone else. If a child doesn’t have their own direction, ask them to help someone that does have clear direction. Getting out of their own boredom and pointing their thoughts toward another can instill more of that helping mindset in them for the next time they are bored.
You have to give a good month or two things just to kind of shake out and for people to get their zone in their flow. What we have found is, while we have helped our younger two often with what to do, our oldest child was very natural in organizing her curiosity throughout the day. Our other two would just play and flutter, so we learned to flow with their natural randomness.
If there was a flower, they would run to it. So we learned it was a lot easier for us to plant a garden of flowers and have them go there for a period of time vs. plop them down to stare at a flower picture for an hour and write about it. We went for a full-body kinesthetic learning approach that met them where they were, and continue to look for things along the path they are already going that will pique their interest vs. a challenge/task to be checked off a list.
There are times where we will pull back and let them lead and flow. And there are other times we need to course-correct. We’ve found a great flow for our family is to create “anchors” - so we have a framework around our day, yet plenty of room for flexibility.
Guideposts and Guardrails
As parents, we are guideposts and guardrails for our children. A guidepost may illuminate the way a bit more because they can't see for the immature fog they live in. A guardrail may help because they're starting to slip a little bit and they're losing themselves.
And parents, this isn’t a quick-assessment. Determining when to be a guidepost or guardrail may require observing for a while. Especially in light of COVID, political upheaval, everything going on with all the different controversies that might be out there, recognize that taking an emotional/mental vacation, taking a bit of a break from all of the pressures and just focusing on mental and emotional health is just as critical.
There have been times, especially this past year, where our whole family needed a brain break. We watched more TV than what we had. We watched more random feel-good movies. We introduced our kids to sitcoms, and watched Andy Griffith, Fuller House, and Boy Meets World. We needed to just laugh and chill.
So it's okay to lose a day. It's okay to lose a week. It's okay to lose some of this educational agenda to rebuild relationships, to heal hurt souls, to reconnect and to build trust, because those are going to be the most lasting things. And when you have a secure foundation in your relationship, that's when true learning really does open up.
Here is an example of our "anchors" clock - giving a framework with ideas for the day, but not completely boxed into how our days will flow:
Beyond My Knowledge
Here is the last question we addressed in this episode of the podcast:
What happens if your kids want to learn about something you know nothing about? Do you find them a course or a professional in that field to talk to you? I'm just a little confused about how the learning will happen, unless a lot of it is online. Danielle
Yes, first off, there is such a plethora of information that can be found online, and in such a variety of ways. Reading articles, watching YouTube videos, interacting with others via social media, games, courses, etc - there is a lot in the online arena to cover what you don’t know. And we absolutely love when a child comes to us with something we don’t know - they get to take a front seat to how we figure out an answer!
In the podcast episode, I share about two examples with my oldest, Clara, that were off-screen where she learned beyond my capabilities. The cliff’s notes version is that I couldn’t teach her to tie her shoes, as I am a lefty and she’s right-handed. So not only did she youtube it to learn herself, but then she went off-screen and she was the one to teach her sisters!
And, when she was curious about being a veterinarian, I called up a local vet to go in and interview her. It’s amazing what doors open up just by asking. People are often very eager to share their area of expertise with a truly interested person.
Pay It Forward
Pay it forward with learning - this is such a great reinforcer - if a child learns a concept, have them turn around and teach it back to you, or to someone else. It’s incredible how that not only spread the knowledge, but really reinforces it within themselves.
You don't want to have the responsibility of having to answer every single question in your child's life for the rest of their lives, or to be their only point of knowledge and wisdom. Let them know that there are a lot of sources out there for them. And oftentimes there will be the beginning surfaces of a concept we may know, and we may set them out on their own to research, and then ask them to come back and teach the rest of us about it.
Be The Change You Wish To See
A powerful shift for us is when we started to simply learn with our kids through life. We have the tools, the time, and the access to learn, so it’s an anytime opportunity we can model as much as we want to enforce.
We all have so much inside of us to uncover and learn about, along with exploring the world beyond our own reality. We are constantly digging into more about ourselves and our children as we live life with them. And as we dig, we uncover these little rivers that start to flow. When we find the flow they enjoy, we can get out of the way and let the flow happen. When it starts to dry, we dig again, we pivot, we reassess, and we see where more flow can happen.
Pay attention to other people that are out there. Recognize that a break in the norm can be highly valued. You don’t have to have all your children lumped together all the time. Give them opportunities for 1-1 with other people. Allow your children to learn from different people, perspectives, and in different styles. Empower others to speak into your child’s life; not just you.
Some additional resources for you
- The Big List of Educational Resources
- The Socratic Method at Home with Samantha Jansky (Episode 158)
- Learn More About the Socratic Method on the Acton Platform
- Real Talk with Two Homeschooling Mamas (Episode 156)
- What To Do About School In 2020 (Episode 155)
- Why Are Snakes In Our House (Episode 154)
- What is Functional Education? (Video)
- My Child Will Never Read
- Learn more about DISC Personality Styles
- Life Long Learners Come In All Personality Styles
- How can I be both teacher and student? Reach for the sun yourself! (Episode 74)
- Homeschool Rebuttals (Episode 61)
- History in a Distillery and other opportunities for learning (Episode 47)
- What is your internal motivation? (Episode 44)
- Your Credibility as Lead Explorer, Not A Teacher (Episode 42)
- What Type Of Thinker Are You? (Episode 43)
- Embrace The Struggle (Episode 41)
- Are You A Different Drummer? (Episode 39)
- Deschooling and the Myths of Education (Episode 40)
Your Weekly Challenge:
Think outside the box on this, and the wide variety of learning that is out there. Remember living life is learning. And that also means, if you're living life absolutely fried, they're learning. If you're living fried all the time, that's what they're learning. Make sure in this process that you are adding in down times to recharge, to play, and to simply be.
Recognize this is a unique and individual journey. It can be intimidating when it comes to education, but recognize that the traditional education model that we have landed on for teaching our children has only been around a short amount of time. It's not like it was always there, and yet we can find brilliant minds all throughout history. Think of all of the innovations, inventions and creations that have happened from people that never went to school, were dropouts, or were told they were failures. Learning is living life. So live life well with your children. And remember that uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
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