Question from a Reader: My wife and I have become increasing convinced that unschooling is the right path for our boys (grades K, 1, and 2). I love the idea of giving our kids the freedom, time, space and trust to learn by following their curiosity. At the same time, we think it’s important for them to pick up a physical activity and a second language and music. I don’t think their natural curiosity will lead them to do any of those things. (We know we’ve tried.)

From your posts, I know that you deal with your kids wanting to quit violin and thinking that learning Hebrew is stupid and with putting them in swim class twice a week.

So, two questions:

How do we balance the child-directed nature of unschooling with our own convictions about helping our kids attain mastery over things that aren’t easy and learn things that we find important to our family like language and religion?

What’s the best way to search persistently for what each kid both loves and has a talent for, and then focus on developing those areas, while at the same time giving them time and space to develop interests on their own?

Answer: You don’t need your kids to achieve mastery over things that are important to you like language and religion. Your kids just need to have a basic understanding, which they will develop, just from living with you. If it’s important to you, it exists all over your life so your kids will get exposure from being with you all the time. If it’s important to you and it does not exist throughout your life, then consider achieving mastery yourself instead of pushing your kids to fill your dreams for yourself.

The mastery will come when your kids find something that’s important to them. Your kids see the value of mastery by witnessing your process for mastery – in whatever arena that might be for you. Your kids find what’s important to them by you leaving them alone to explore the world. If you tell them what to explore or how to explore, then you limit them to only the stuff you can think of. 

Also, at time I have offered to let the kids quit violin, hebrew, swimming, and everything else as well. The kids quit swimming. As long as they swim well enough to jump into a lake, I was fine with quitting.