Learning To Trust Yourself and Your Kids on Your Unschooling Adventure: Personal Stories
Have you made the decision to pursue education at home?
Or maybe you are still on the fence and are working through the myriad fears and concerns about living a life without school?
Parenting is challenging enough already, but throw in the desire to explore a life outside of societal norms, and you are in for an emotional ride.
Hosted by Galileo moms, this discussion was real, honest, and open as they explored important topics such as screen time and gaming.
Mickelle, Julie, Elizabeth, and Nadine candidly shared their experiences with unschooling as they gave us a glimpse into the world of self-directed education.
They aren't experts or educators, but rather parents who have shared the challenges and triumphs of unschooling as their kids have grown older.
That makes their stories invaluable, as they are the stories of ordinary families living extraordinary lives of learning freedom.
Talking Gaming, Screen Time, and Parental Guilt
Screen time is a hot topic amongst parents today, and for unschooling families who have more self-directed time, it can be a cause for concern.
We live in a world dominated by technology, and our kids are constantly surrounded by it. They use screens in their everyday lives, and many kids will spend hours gaming.
As parents, the amount of time our kids spend in a virtual world can seem problematic, and trying to find a balance can be tricky.
But it's not all bad, and these moms shared how gaming has been instrumental in how their kids learn.
"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 to shape them artistically, socially, and how its ignited different passions in them" - Julie.
Gaming is So much More than Fun: It Has Academic and Social Benefits Too
Julie says that her daughter was extremely introverted but that gaming has helped her come out of her shell, and Mickelle says her son can spend 3 hours or more gaming "when he's having a tough day because it really rejuvenates him."
Elizabeth shared that games like Minecraft, Satisfactory, and Roblox helped her kids learn to read, and Mickelle said, "kids get motivated to not only learn to read but also to learn to write because of communication needs during an online video game."
For worldschooling families, the internet is a vital form of learning and connection, but the appeal can seem a bit foreign for many parents.
So, why not try playing games with your kids?
When you can immerse yourself in a world they love, you will be able to see the appeal as well as the benefits it can bring to your child's learning.
Julie said, "the other thing I didn't really expect, and that was a great surprise, is now that my kids are a little bit older, their concepts of budgeting money have come from playing The Sims."
Many games teach real-world skills in a fun way that kids can easily understand, and as adults, we often underestimate the power of gamification for learning.
The evidence of play-based, interest-led learning is extensive, so it should be no surprise that our kids can transfer online skills to a real-world setting.
"That 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 games" - Mickelle.
But What About Socialization?
The question of socialization when you are educating your child at home is a frequent one and probably the most common concern for outsiders.
Elizabeth is a learning coach at Galileo, and she has seen first-hand the incredible way gaming brings kids together.
"I get to 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" - Elizabeth.
Unschooling and homeschooling are choices that families make for various reasons, but there has undoubtedly been an increase in families seeking learning alternatives since Covid came around.
Nadine was a parent who discovered self-directed education when their country went into lockdown. Gaming was a vital point of connection for her family when they were isolated from friends and family.
"We normally have children in and out of our house, and many days during our lockdowns, I could just hear all these children playing and interacting and connecting, and often I'd look over the balcony to see if they were actually in the house, but they weren't, they were playing in this virtual world. And I think it was something that helped my children get through and was just positive for their mental health when they weren't able to connect with people" - Nadine.
Will Connection to the Online World Cause a Disconnect in the Family?
Unless you are a gamer who understands the important role it can play, it can be challenging to relate to your child's love of gaming.
Finding a balance between real-world connections and an online community can be tricky, particularly when you are trying to offer your kids freedom and autonomy.
Some games might seem utterly meaningless to you, but Mickelle says your kids enjoy those games because "that's where they are developmentally. So, there is something they are getting out of it, and it's a form of play. Peter Gray actually talks a lot about that. When kids can deeply explore an interest, and sometimes we think it's meaningless, they are actually getting something deeply meaningful out of it.'
If gaming is such an essential part of your child's life, then why not make an effort to get more involved with it?
As unschooling parents, taking note of the things that bring our kids joy and spark their curiosity is vital. It allows us to offer them resources and experiences that support that interest.
More importantly, though, self-directed learning allows us to get to know our kids, share in their excitement and interests, and watch them discover their passions.
Can Gaming Really Help Your Child Discover Their Passions?
"Over the years, we've realized that our son, every time there is a Plants vs. Zombies update, he notices every little bit, and then we realized he was doing that on other games too, to the point where he gets so excited about updates because he can look to find these nuances on whether the helmet looks different or the lighting looks different. So I think it might be a path forward for his career someday. Like maybe he's going into UI. Maybe he's going to start on how a person actually uses a device which would be so fantastic. Years ago, he wanted to be a white-hat hacker, but now he's going in this direction, and so I think it's fascinating for me to have seen this develop. This tiny, nuanced thing that 4 or 5 years later I realized might be his passion in life" - Mickelle.
Nadine had a similar story of watching her daughter find a path she was passionate about. She had always battled with learning, and the traditional education setting wasn't a good fit for her. After discovering self-directed learning, her daughter became involved in gaming and wanted to learn more. So Nadine found an instructor who could teach her what she needed to know. "But it evolved, and he came in, and what transpired was instead of live streaming and YouTubing, she developed a passion for film editing. And that came from recording her in the games but then turning them into music clips and doing all sorts of other stuff."
Gaming can add such value to the learning experience, and as parents, we need to be attuned to the things that get our kids excited, which very often is gaming.
Not to mention that the demand for online skills is growing and the chances of our kids making a career out of an online passion is relatively high.
Mickelle summed it up by saying, "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 new technology is because it's just intuitive to them."
Julie, a professional artist, mentioned that art is no longer just pen and paper as digital animation is quickly becoming a sought-after skill.
Would You Change Anything About your Unschooling Journey?
Leslie Jones-Sessler, an unschooling mom herself, asked the ladies if there was anything they would change about their choice to home educate.
Mickelle and Nadine both said that they wished they had started sooner. Each experience is part of the learning journey, but both moms have discovered a way of life that allows their kids to thrive in an environment of exploration, respect, and learning.
Julie shared some wise advice saying, "we cannot discount the importance of when they're trying on all these things, and they decide they don't like them. They are learning that it is 100% okay to change your mind".
It can be difficult when your kids jump from interest to interest, not to mention expensive.
But not every avenue explored will lead to their life's passion.
In fact, most probably won't.
But as everyone agreed, "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."
Knowing who you are and being brave enough to change your mind and stand up for your decisions is a vital skill that many adults today don't have.
"So sometimes it's a sacrifice, and sometimes it doesn't end up with the outcome that you're hoping for. It's more about 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" - Stacey.
Educating Your Child at Home is Well Worth the Challenge
It's all good and well to read the science behind self-directed education and hear from the experts about the benefits of unschooling.
But sometimes, you just need to hear from a parent that is doing, living it, and loving it.
Every family's unschooling journey looks different because it is a learning alternative that is customized to suit the unique needs of each parent and child.
It is also a path that changes and evolves as your kids get older.
The decision to unschool could be just what you and your family need, so why not give it a try?
If this inspired you, then share it and keep the conversation going.