My decision to unschool arose, not from an idea I superimposed onto our life, but out of a fundamental shift in my worldview. I put my faith not in any external system, but in the ability of my child to know her own needs. This mindset permeates everything about how I interact with my daughter, including how I potty her and how I unschool her, even at age three.
The way our culture treats education is similar to the way we teach potty training. We suppose babies are incapable of controlling their bowels until they reach a certain age, and then we expect them to use muscles they have never been allowed to control.
Most cultures around the world potty their children as newborns. (I first learned about the practice of infant pottying from Dr Sarah J. Buckley’s book “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.” You can read an excerpt on the section about infant pottying here.) Because most cultures potty their children at birth, most cultures presuppose that:
- Babies are capable of bowel and bladder control from birth.
- Babies prefer to be clean; it is only through desensitization that they come to accept sitting in a dirty diaper.
- Babies give cues to let you know when they need to relieve themselves. These cues can be reinforced by parents so that they become a form of communication.
- Parents, in turn, can establish cues to let the baby know they understand the baby’s potty needs and that help is on the way.
Raising a child with an unschooling mindset follows similar assumptions:
- Children are capable of learning from birth.
- Children prefer to learn; it is only through desensitization that they come to accept public school and what amounts to merely babysitting.
- Children let us know what they are interested in. These interests can be reinforced by homeschooling parents who assist children in self-directed learning.
- Parents, in turn, can guide children and broaden their awareness of the world around them.
In our home, we started communicating with Phoebe about her potty needs at birth by using cueing noises and by 11 months old, she kept her diapers dry at night and during outings. Supporting her in this way was fundamental to building trust and communication with her. However, pottying wasn’t just about avoiding dirty diapers. It was about encouraging Phoebe to take ownership of her own life. She was a curious, engaged, empathetic baby, and now she is flourishing as a three-year-old.
When given freedom and parental support, children will naturally make choices that are best for them. When a child is given the ability to control one area of her life, she naturally gains confidence that will help her with future development. This is why I believe the principles of unschooling start long before a child reaches an arbitrary “school age.”