Living the Self-Directed Way: Moms vs. Dads on Unschooling and Learning Freedom
Are you and your partner on the same page about living a life without school?
A parent's approach to education is informed by their own education and learning experiences. It can be challenging to accept that learning is a natural process and trust our kids to take their learning into their own hands.
Self-directed learning and home education are ideas that many families are showing an interest in and Galileo moms and dads shared their insights into unschooling at an inspirEd Clubhouse event.
The challenges and concerns about being a homeschooling parent were different for moms and dads but at the heart of the conversations was a deep-seated need to connect with their kids as they discovered the wonder of learning.
Fatherhood and a Natural Learning Philosophy
Many parents find relinquishing control to their children difficult, but moms and dads seem to experience the pressure of hands-off learning differently.
Daniel Prince, a worldschooling dad, said that leaving school behind is often driven by mothers and certainly was in his case. He was living in Singapore with his family, and the schooling system was rigid and restrictive and negatively impacted the children and family.
"So we were in a position where my wife could see this, but I couldn't. I was blind to it because I was in the office all day. The external push that came for me to make a real effort to get out of the business I found myself in and make the decision to start looking into this whole weird world of alternative education was Sir Ken Robinson's talk 'Do School's Kill Creativity?'" - Daniel Prince.
It is often the case that fathers are so busy working to provide for their families that they don't see that the classroom is not the best fit for their children. It can be challenging to imagine a different way of doing things and as adults, being brave enough to pursue an unschooling approach is a bold step.
But Daniel says, "when you get exposed, and you see how they learn and what they're learning and how quickly they're learning, it's really difficult to even consider putting them back in."
Unschooling is a Choice for Many Reasons
Nathan Day explained that his family started homeschooling because they wanted to travel with their young children, but he said it was challenging to begin with.
"The Galileo option really opened up this as a long-term possibility for us because it meant that as parents, we weren't taking the full burden of the educational responsibility." - Nathan Day.
And isn't that the anxiety that many unschooling families feel? The weight of being responsible for educating your children?
Ken Weary explained that his own education helped him overcome the stress of being a parent and a teacher.
"Reflecting on my education, the freedom that grew from my own self-directed aspects in woodshop and other classes like it really gave me the confidence to say what's working traditionally isn't what's working best for my kids and my family." - Ken Weary.
Gerry Kirk said, "we had different reasons and motivators. Initially, it was more her idea than mine, but I just approached it with a state of open-mindedness and curiosity."
Unschooling is a Family Affair
A life without school doesn't only allow children to explore their interests. As Ken said, "it's not just about the kids, it's us as adults too. It gives us so many learning opportunities and experiences both from an educational, intellectual, and personal networking perspective."
These dads were all interested in how the unschooling style of learning could equip their children with the knowledge and resources to be successful adults.
"One of the things I love about Galileo is when I look at the tools that my kids use on a regular basis, they're using tools that I use in the start-up I work for. They're using Miro, Trello, Notion, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Google Docs. Everything that we use to run a modern-day business." - Ken Weary.
Unschooling encourages out-the-box thinking and equips children with the skills they need to forge their own paths in the workplace.
Can Unschooling Work for Your Family?
As parents, we all want to make the best decision for our kids. For some families, that is a teacher and a curriculum, but for countless others, it is the opportunity to play, explore, and cater to the needs of each individual child.
Unschooling and homeschooling make more sense when families tell their stories and share their knowledge. As Daniel said, "people have this information on tap, and the kind of psychology built into human beings is that you're always looking for social proof. If you find that social proof, you can leverage that. There is so much more now, and it's great to have these conversations and have people up here that are actually doing it and can share their experiences."
Homeschoolers and unschoolers pursue joy. They seek knowledge through experiences, interests, and ideas. Students are given the freedom to pursue their passions and discover their place in the world. Ken says, "the most important thing is for them to be motivated to learn and grow, and so finding an educational environment that continues to inspire and motivate them is the answer for me."
What Do Parents Need to Make the Leap into Unschooling?
It's not lesson plans. It's not a curriculum. It's not school at home.
Parents need to trust that their children will learn what they need to know without being taught. Trust that you know your child better than any teachers could and trust that your child will pursue knowledge in an interest-driven way. You don't need to teach your child. In fact, if you give them space and freedom to explore their interests and write their own story, they will teach themselves.
Teachers should be facilitators that support each child as they grow into young people who can think for themselves. Daniel says, "this breeds confidence, breeds accountability, and breeds self-dependency and critical thinking."
Nathan explains that parents should have a 'try before you buy' approach to homeschooling and unschooling. But, he says, "now, in the 21st century, things are moving fast. With homeschooling and Galileo, new courses are coming online every month, and they reflect reality today." Students and parents have the chance to get their toes wet and see if unschooling or homeschooling is for them.
Learn With Your Children and Explore Unschooling
Many resources are available for students and parents that explain what life can be like without school.
Ken says, "there's an element of risk that parents do have to be comfortable with," and a lot of that risk is related to social norms and living a life outside them.
Although homeschooling and unschooling are becoming more mainstream, there is still this idea that industrial schooling is best. The traditional school model of a teacher following a strict curriculum based on tests and grades is not the best fit for many children. Stepping outside of that system and creating a life of exploration and curiosity is rewarding but full of challenges.
Gerry had some good advice for those parents trying to get partners or family members on board with homeschooling or unschooling. Ask them about their reservations and what they are curious about. Ask them about their resistance, fears, and concerns.
"You've got to get them in front of a homeschooled kid. You're blown away when you've met one of these kids." Homeschool kids have had the opportunity to grow in confidence outside of a school setting, "so when you do meet these kids that are full of life, full of energy, full of questions and are very confident and can look you in the eye and can introduce themselves, well, that's addictive." - Daniel Prince
Motherhood and Unschooling
For the Galileo dads, the conversation centered on their journey into unschooling and what the future of self-directed education looks like. But, on the other hand, the moms were concerned about how much screen time their unschoolers had and how gaming has helped their children learn and discover their passions. They spoke about the process of being a mother and living life without school.
Julie said, "a few years ago, I definitely worried about their screen time, but now that we have been doing this for quite a few years, I see how it really helped shape them artistically and socially. So I see how it's ignited different passions in them."
Children are natural-born learners, but it can be challenging to trust that process and lean into becoming homeschoolers as parents. Julie and Mickelle have been worldschooling for years, so they are seasoned unschoolers who have seen the benefit of unschooling for their children.
Following the Spark
Elizabeth said her son learned to read by playing Minecraft. Mickelle explained that "kids get motivated to learn to read and write because of communication needs during an online video game."
You don't need a prescriptive curriculum to be homeschoolers, but you do need time and space as your children discover what sparks their curiosity.
Nadine explained how her daughter battled with learning, but "she's developed a passion for film editing" through gaming. She says her biggest regret is that she hadn't discovered unschooling sooner.
"I think when you are an unschooling parent, our biggest responsibility is to always be aware of those little sparks." - Mickelle Weary.
Unschoolers and Technology
Like the Galileo dads, the moms agreed that technology is a crucial part of modern life and that gaming helped prepare their kids for an ever-changing world.
"Computers are one of the most useful tools in modern society for our kids. They completely changed our lives when we were children, and today they are just leading the way. And part of the reason kids learn this technology is that it's intuitive to them." - Mickelle Weary.
Julie suggests playing with your children, so you understand what they are doing and what they are learning. She said she didn't realize how much her daughter was learning, saying, "I really had no idea that her knowledge and her vocab were this extensive, but it all came from gaming."
Mickelle explained that "the whole idea that children are forced to think about how best to use their resources to accomplish their goals is something that parents share over and over again as one of the positive benefits of kids learning to play."
What About Social Skills?
"We normally have children in and out of our house. So many days during lockdown, I could hear all these children playing and interacting and connecting, and often I would look over the balcony to see if the kids were actually in the house, but they weren't. They were playing in this virtual world, and I think it helped my children get through and was just positive for their mental health when they weren't able to connect with people." - Nadine Zigeldorf.
Elizabeth is a learning coach at Galileo, and she says, "I got see socially how these kids navigate problems with each other and not just problems but how they learn to respect each other and take turns. There's a lot of social benefits to gaming and being able to navigate groups of people."
Relationships are at the Heart of Unschooling
When you keep your child's interests at the center of your homeschool, you give them the chance to experiment and explore as they discover themselves and their interests. This teaches them that it's okay to try different things and change their minds.
According to Mickelle, self-directed learning shows kids that "it's okay for mistakes, it's okay for them to fail, it's okay for them to think they're interested in something or not because now we know more about who they are as a person."
Stacey Piercey summed the conversation up beautifully, saying, "it's more the engaging and the relationship that you're building with your child. I would say that is absolutely key. It's all about your relationship with your kids that makes unschooling really shine."
Moms and Dads Want the Best for their Unschoolers
Choosing an alternative education path is life-changing for the whole family, and it could be the best decision you ever make.
The Galileo parents all experienced doubt and societal pressure, but all agreed that becoming unschoolers was precisely what their family needed.