This is a guest post by Lehla Eldridge. Her blog is Unschooling the Kids. She lives with her husband and three kids in Italy.

Our son is nine and he has decided he wants to be able to read and write. He is frustrated that he can’t do either very well yet.

So I say, “How do you want to do that?”

And for a long time he has been saying, “The computer can teach me.”

It has taught him a lot. It has been fantastic, but it cannot gently place a pencil between his fingers. Nor can it whisper encouraging words and tell him he is doing great. Putting a pen between his fingers has not been something our son has wanted to do much, when it has come to writing.

But he does want to do it now.

I say, “How about we do ten minutes a day and we put the timer on?”

He says, “OK.”

I say, “What do you want to write about?”

He goes blank.

I say, “Shall I suggest some things and if you like one of the suggestions then you can do that?”

He nods.

I suggest these things:

  1. Write a quick letter to a friend
  2. Write out some interesting questions
  3. Write a few words that would be really good to know, to help with you reading
  4. Write a shopping list, as we do need to go shopping

He chooses a shopping list and goes to the fridge to assess what we needs and shouts things out to me.

I write them.

He looks at my list and copies out the words. Only when his pencil hits the paper am I allowed to start the timer. I start. He pauses, then says “Stop the timer, I am not ready.” I stop it. He puts pencil to paper and says, “Go!” He writes out the list in seven minutes—we have three minutes left. I write buttocks, bum, bottom and butt and he reads them and laughs. The timer goes off, he does dance moves to the alarm sound.

When kids are out of the system it seems that some of them tend to learn much later than schooled kids; the pressure is not on them so there is no right time to be writing. I haven’t bored him to tears by making him write out words. If he doesn’t want to do it he stops. He is leading the process. He is choosing to learn and I am not making him. It is a good feeling to know that he is wanting to write.

I feel that we are setting out on a journey together. We have been on the platform for a while and now we are on the train which I feel is tentatively leaving the station and it seems like he is the one who is buying the tickets and plotting his destination and I am merely a fellow traveler.

I asked my son if he would like to take a photograph about writing and he came up with a picture he worked up on on the tablet. He asked me to write the words for him. I had to stop myself from saying, “You write it!” He didn’t want to write, that is why he asked me to do it. So I did and he took a photograph.



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17 replies
  1. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I feel like Unschooling requires a massive amount of self confidence because it’s very difficult to try to be connected to a community and be separated from that almost-demand that we prove ourselves to be right by going counter cultural.

    What if kids are behind the schedule of the system? So what? As parents as have to say “I trust my kid is okay.”

    For example, there are all kinds of rules about eating for families and toddlers, for adults who want to be healthy and want to be fit. I continually research this because my intuition and my fears from the outside noise contradict each other.

    My toddler doesn’t want to eat much. He looks healthy. He’s growing taller. But he eats the same things over and over. I worry about nutrition and his immune system. I also think it’s not real that we must eat a variety of food. Humans haven’t had that opportunity for millennia and yet they were fine. But I google things. Like, how a toddler should eat for health. I come across information by doctors saying toddlers should eat a few teaspoons of healthy oils such as tub margarine. I close the browser. That’s enough. I could spend all night researching au Naseum or I can trust my gut. I believe in real food and real fats and I think I have a deep well of knowledge and a hefty dose of skepticism to trust myself. But more importantly trust my soon. Trust that he’ll eat as much as he needs of what he needs. Trust that he’ll reach for food and water when he needs.

    Everything feels really good and him and I are on the same page and I’m happy and confident. Then the outside well intentioned advice butts in and I start to question myself and be worried for a sec. Then I remember I know how to be confident and I know how to trust my son and the process he choose to figure out what’s best for himself and what feels good. I’m providing a good and safe environment and as little as he is I can trust his wisdom and his choices. I just have to keep it that way. Free of outside noise.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      “I feel like Unschooling requires a massive amount of self confidence because it’s very difficult to try to be connected to a community and be separated from that almost-demand that we prove ourselves to be right by going counter cultural.”

      That sums up how I feel all the time. I’m a former public school teacher whose views on education have shifted radically the past two years. I homeschool my two daughters, and when we made that decision our families were thoroughly confused and initially unsupportive. That’s changed somewhat only because my daughters learned to read at an early age and somehow that made home education an okay thing in their eyes. We don’t unschool, although this year has definitely moved in that direction. The only reason we don’t unschool is probably for the reason you stated Karelys. I believe more and more everyday that self-directed learning is the right path for children, but I just can’t block out the noise. As more and more take the home education path and begin unschooling, it will get easier and we will become part of the noise. Places like this blog help a lot.

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        Kevin I’m a firm believer than Unschooling is not just the kid directing the learning path. I think it’s about the entire family journeying together. This blog has touched on the point that the beginning of Unschooling is unlearning everything we’ve been taught for decades and learning to listen to our intuition. And maybe whatever you’re doing is just right for all of you at the moment because it’s not about following another dogma. It’s about finding the rhythm that’s best for your family.

        If it’s of any comfort, many adults who never go to school take classes on their own and catch up quickly. My dad is a prime example. Because of poverty he never went to school until I was in first grade. Then he finish grade 1-9 in six months. He worked in the fields and during the off season when there’s no work for fruit pickers he’d go back to Mexico to be with us. During that time he did nothing but study, play music, and be with us.

        I never understood how he learned to play music (by ear I guess) and do math (after all he earned money and paid money, built a house himself, fixed cars, etc. all skills that need math) and learned a second language without having school in the first place. He didn’t know how to read and write but he knew how to avail himself of good help to navigate the legalization process (which is difficult and confusing) and positioned himself for citizenship 7 years later which immediately gave us dual citizenship.

        It just goes to show that if you guys figure out that academics is too important then your kid can catch up in no time if you so desire. So you can give no curriculum a try without fear that there won’t be turning back.

    • cheryl
      cheryl says:

      Karelys, we also trust our small daughter to eat what she needs. That was easiest when she ate everything we put in front of her. Now that she’s narrowing her choices, it’s harder to be confident moment by moment.

      Two things make it easier for us:

      1) Our amazing family doctor has assured us that humans evolved to make their food choices for safety at a time when one could only get so many foods that wouldn’t poison you.

      2) We decided early on that we never wanted to make food a fight so that she might actually develop for herself a healthy relationship with food. No negotiating about “one more bite of broccoli,” no food-related punishment, no comparing what she eats with what her friends eat.

      I never thought about this as an unschooling approach. Your comment reveals to me that it is. Thank you!

      And your thoughts on self-confidence related to the post ring true to me, too.

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        Cheryl, I see myself and my husband on your point #2. We’re not about to turn everything into a fight. There’re plenty of opportunities for that (put your shoes on! We’re going to the store now! Okay I’m putting them on…no crying!”) and I’m not going to pick a fight on just about everything because of a ridiculous need to make myself feel good as a parent.

        im recovering from two things that made me feel crippled. Back pain and depression. It has been a time of choosing only the outmost important things. It has also let me realize that parenthood is hard because as adults we have an agenda that we truly believe must be fulfilled and when our kids and our spouse and our neighbors and everyone were in a relationship with don’t conform to it we lose it.

        Maybe we really need to see that our problems are not problems at all. They’re the tension between a deeply rooted belief that we must do things a certain way. But if it’s not that way it’s okay. It’s perfectly fine. Our children have shelter and food. Why get in fights that don’t have to do with safety issues? We’ll fight about buckling the car seat belts but I won’t fight about bath time and I won’t fight about getting out of the bath if there’s no need, because peace and rest and an intact back are more important.

        I’m hoping I don’t need another bout of being almost crippled to remember in the future that there’s no need to fight about reading or math or chores or whatever the heck the years may bring.

        Having things done my way is not more important than peace and harmony in our house because there’s plenty of meanness and contradiction and judgement right outside our doors. I think, as I type on my phone, I want my house to be a sanctuary from people’s pressures. And that’s probably why Unschooling is perfect for us.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        My toddler (now 24 YO) lived an entire year on canned tuna, frozen peas, and peanut butter sandwiches. The next year he stopped being picky and never looked back. He was also plenty healthy.

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          Anna, your toddler and I may be kindred spirits because that’s all I want to eat as of late!

  2. Lehla
    Lehla says:

    I find it really interesting to hear you both speak about self confidence. That it takes self confidence as a parent to unschool. I am mulling on this and am wondering if it is more about having faith in the child than in yourself but maybe it is both. A deep knowing that kids learn and learn well when they self direct their learning. It is a leap that I constantly have to take. As I myself was in a schooling system where everything that I was taught came from a teacher who told me what to do. So I have had to teach myself to step back and to not listen to those inner negative voices. It is our kids that ultimately let me know I am on the right track by the fact that they are happy and blossoming and enjoying their lives. I am also like Kevin hugely inspired by other people and when I have moments when I need inspiration I look to a big list which I have written and put on my fridge. And I see the names of all the other interesting people out there in the world who are taking or forging different roads around education.

    • Teryn
      Teryn says:

      I think unschooling requires both confidence in yourself and your child. Self confidence helps me interact with the world and all it’s opposing ideas. One of the dads on my sons soccer team told me that he was home schooled and he would “never do that to a child.” He said it half joking but meant it. I just laughed it off because I have no idea what his environment was growing up but I know that my son is engaged, having fun and learning a lot. Then there is my middle son who is only 5. He is self motivated but not by academics and that is a struggle for me. I worry that he will turn 18 and be an expert in Minecraft but not know how to write a paragraph. I think “Can unschooling be successful for him in helping him actually leave my house someday and have a career?” I’m not really doubting myself but if my child will learn what he needs to in order to be an independent adult.

  3. Lisa Nalbone
    Lisa Nalbone says:

    I think the challenge to trust ourselves and our children, and be able to meet our challenges with courage even though we are fearful and in spite of the noise is all part of the journey and one of the wonderful things we get to model for our children. I went from public school to unschooling. It got better and better as we let go of the outside expectations and got more clear on our goals. The fear and worry will rear their heads again and again, focus on love not fear. If you care for stories from someone whose child is out of the nest, you can read about our journey at my site, and you can see the results with my son trying to spread the joy he had with unschooling through UnCollege.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          some material sounds interesting – although there is a near exclusive focus on soft skills. They are certainly necessary but not sufficient for many professions. However, what surprised me was the diatribe against tuition for colleges and then the price for 10 week course at Unschool College is a whopping 16k$????? That is the same as a semester (about 14 weeks) of tuition and board at a State School.

    • Lehla
      Lehla says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Am looking at your site, it is always great to read about people who have gone through the unschooling journey and have older kids. Yep, ‘focus on the love’ I love that.

  4. Brynn
    Brynn says:

    I think I schooling also requires you to know your kid. My son is risk-adverse. He is extremely cautious and if he thinks something to be overwhelming he pulls away. He then self loathes for not accomplishing his goal. There have been anxiety issues co morbid with his gifted spectrum since he was about two. At ten it is getting SO MUCH BETTER! However, it took me really trusting the pediatric psychologist about nudging my son. I do really, truly need to ask him what he wants to accomplish, watch him begin, and be there to nudge him firmly when he gets derailed. It is not a demand, but it is a persistence that initially had me uncomfortable as a person wholly believing in unschooling and child directed living. Once nudged, the smile explodes on my son’s face and he is off and running again. My need to do this is lessening with age, but still vital to his success. As a formally unschooled high schooler, a teacher, and now a homeschooling mom, I think this is a very important part of the dynamic which gets left out.

    • Lehla
      Lehla says:

      It is interesting reading your comment about nudging Brynn, I guess I nudge our son to a degree. I am nudging him to do his ten minutes of writing a day and I still question myself as to if this actually the right thing to do. But as a parents and as parents we all follow our instincts. He set up the ten minutes so he has taken the lead and I do notice that he seems to have a sense of achievement and in writing, he can look back and see how his writing has changed, already he can see that. So yes, you are right it is about knowing your child and I suppose when my nudging becomes a chore for him then I would step back. As I think when he closes down and stops having fun he is no longer learning. I also know that one day I will look back and he will be able to write and this will be just a memory in a book and it will be something that we did together. Me the gentle nudger he the writer…

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