I think ideas are easier to wrangle with if we can nail them down, get at the
essence of them, put them into a box. Trying to get at the essence of
unschooling is like trying to get at the essence of life.
For us, unschooling *is* life. Our lives are a balance of needs and desires,
hopes and fears, love and tears, peace and upheaval - you name it, and it's
there. Learning is a part of all of it, not separate from it.
When I require something of my children, it is usually because there is an
immediate and very real *need* for it - to keep them healthy and safe, to
keep the family functioning, to respect someone else's needs or feelings,
etc. Certainly there are things I think would be useful, even essential for
them to know in order to function independently as adults. These things are
so obviously practical and useful in our everyday lives that I can't fathom
them not seeing a need to learn them at some point.
There are many, many more things that I hope they will explore, and these I
will certainly open doors to for them. But I believe that by far the most
valuable things for them to know are what they themselves find interesting
and useful. I trust them to choose and pursue what they will, and I trust
that they will become competent, capable and knowledgeable adults in the
I respect their needs, feelings and desires. I believe that young children's
needs include being shielded from the responsibility of making decisions they
do not yet have the knowledge and experience to make - things for which they
should not have to bear the consequences - and this is my job as a parent.
It is a tricky to job to balance our children's needs with their desires,
especially when they can't yet see that they are sometimes different, or when
they are diametrically opposed. I don't see it as coercion or conditional
freedom, but rather as a real-life lesson in making decisions, guidance,
parenting. From the time that they are able to understand the choices, they
are part of the process.
Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. What responsibility I take for
my children limits their own, and thus limits their freedom. They are
*dependent* upon me. As an example, before they can cook, I prepare their
food, and they eat from what I prepare. Their choices are limited to what I
supply, *though I always do my best to meet both their needs and likes*. I
in turn am limited by the household budget, and bound by my responsibility to
look after their health. When I do choose contrary to what they *desire*, I
explain my choice, and I respect their feelings about it, no matter how
As children are ready for more responsibility, they gain more freedom. They
are maturing, growing up, learning to make good decisions. This is life. It
is a process, a work in progress. Unschooling.