So let's talk about your fears around structure, schedules and unschooling!
So many parents come to me looking for some kind of structure or schedule to use as they begin unschooling. I get it. You want to “do this right!”
But I want to invite you to relax a little.
When Covid first arrived, the internet was full of all these beautiful hourly color-coded schedules. And these tend to pop up before school starts too - so they’ll be back.
I think, initially, the idea of it, is comforting. When we have a little fear, we want to control… SOMETHING. (Anything, right?) Those schedules may work in a school setting - but that’s because their goal is simply moving kids through the system. Their interest isn’t REALLY about the learner and giving them time to process, discover, or explore. I’m not slamming schools - it’s just an observation. All the good educational research explains how kids really do learn, and schools are not implementing it.
But we can.. We can learn more about how kids - all humans really - learn and enjoy it! And we don’t have to adopt the pieces of school that really put speed bumps on our road. A soft meandering road that doesn’t need speed bumps at all!
If you’re new to the Unschooling Mom2Mom podcast, Welcome! Be sure to subscribe and let me know in the comments if you have questions or need any help. You may get answers to your questions in the next podcast!
I’m Sue Patterson, your host here. And I come to you every week to give you a quick Unschooling PepTalk. 5-10 minutes on a topic that bothers people. A topic that prevents you from really embracing unschooling fully! My kids are all grown now - 32, 30, and 27. And I’m here to tell you that Unschooling Works.
It doesn’t take a special skill on your part, or kids that have certain temperaments or interests. It does take a little internal work to undo some of the baggage you might be carrying around with you about learning, parenting, and children.
Familiar doesn’t mean true. And we all have fears when we first start out!
So let's dive into this idea of how structure and schedules can work with unschooling.
I want you to notice if you feel pulled toward creating schedules and structure. You may even have all sorts of rationalization backing you up:
“My kids NEED structure.”
Or even “I need structure!”
Let's Start with Examining Our Fear
Notice how our urgency to get things settled and organized comes from a place of fear.
It's a place of NOT trusting your children or yourselves. You’ve had years of conditioning for that. Fear is what kept you and the kids cooperating, even when it didn’t feel right. Even when something really interesting was trying to pull you away.
Hoops to jump through, external motivations, timers, and buzzers - those are great for a production line. But not for a family. And not for a learner.
I have a lot of articles collected if you want to dive into the research end of this. If you’re not sure what educational research actually DOES say about learning, here's the link:
Familiarity is an interesting factor in all of this. Even confusing a little. On one hand, we don’t WANT the schoolish approach. We see all kinds of problems with it.
Even though it’s familiar, we try to push through our hesitation and see what options are available. And then our fear builds a little more and it nudges us back to the familiar. Little voices in our head casting doubt on our own abilities or our kids’.
Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing - it’s trying to keep us safe.
It just has a really warped idea of where the danger is.
Because there’s no danger in a day that is driven by joy and connection.
Learning happens as a natural byproduct of that!
Unschoolers know this - and you’ll see personal examples of this as you continue on the path.
You don’t have to take my word for it - you’ll see it yourself! And as you notice these things, you’ll grow your confidence and stop making choices out of fear.
Get to the Part about Structure and Schedules!
Okay, okay! You came here for me to talk more about structure and schedules, right?
I know, your fear is still wrestling you for the steering wheel!
Let me tell you that after years - decades even - of talking with families - those hourly schedules are not sustainable. Well, you may be able to point out a family or two who uses them, but if you were a fly on the wall in their home, it doesn’t necessarily go smoothly. Or without a price.
But what if you created a looser structure - a skeleton structure that allows flexibility and a natural rhythm to emerge?
What if you think about each person in your family - what would an awesome day be like for them?Why don’t you ask them?
Encourage everyone to come up with 10 things they’d love to do!
Or observe them and see what makes their eyes light up. Add that to their List of Ten.
Then, looking at your week, how could you fit those in? Write it in pencil (or dry erase markers) so they can change if suddenly the weather shifts or someone is waking up grouchy. Lean into the reality that is presenting itself. The stress really comes from trying to force your ideas, the stories you have in your head of how it’s SUPPOSED to go, on the people and the situation in your life. When they don’t cooperate, instead of modifying, we press harder. And become more frustrated, angry - and less connected.
Remember, the priority is the connection. That includes getting some pieces of your story, don’t worry. It’s not a one-way street. But you’re not calling all the shots, you’re partnering with your kids.
I can’t remember if I gave this analogy before… but we had a lot of community theater in our lives for a while. So I can’t help thinking in those terms. Our kids are the star of the show. And often the director too. We, the unschooling parents, are more like the Stage Managers. We keep the show running. We get The Star on and off the stage when they need direction. We make sure the props are handy for their performance. No one says, “Wow, the Stage Manager of Hamilton must have been AWESOME!” (But I’ll bet they were.) It’s the supporting role that unschooling parents play.
I do have a few tips that can help you. Many of them, you may have discovered on holiday breaks or summer or even Saturdays. Think about what makes THOSE days go well.
Still Need A Little More Support?
Sometimes it's easier said than done, right?
We read things like this, feel inspired, and then the next day, something shakes our resolve. We're not so confident any more. That's why you need a community!
Maybe just for one month - maybe for the whole journey! You can come get support and stay as long as you need to. I'm happy to help you!
Knowledge + Support + Unschooling Success!
And here's what the Membership offers:
- 10 group coaching calls every month
- Members-only webpages with Unschooling Guides, PDFs, Recordings
- An experienced unschooling coach walking right there beside you.
You really don't have to do this alone!
Sue’s 5 Tips for Structure and Scheduling
1. First, observe and communicate.
What do they like to do? Always start with the child. Schools force the child to conform to the schedule - we’re going to do the opposite. Or at least avoid it wherever we can.
2. Make Lists
It’s even better if you can have a couple of White Board Calendars. Butcher paper will work. I even had a client who created an IDEA WALL, where she and the kids added all kinds of fun things they’d like to remember to do. That’s cool!
- The Year - What big things are coming? Birthdays, trips, visits, holidays, etc. Put them on that calendar. This also helps kids see time in a more visual or spatial way.
- The Month - This is where you can plug in the appointments, sports practices, play dates. Put those activities with scheduled set times on the calendar first.
- The Week - This is the FUN Part! What fabulous things would you like to add to the calendar THIS week? Check the weather channel. Check in with the kids. Check in with the community - what’s really awesome this time of year? Go there! Sunday nights feel like good planning times for lots of families, but any night will do!
- Daily- Break your day up into three sections - morning, afternoon, evening. What kinds of things do you like to do for yourself after breakfast but before lunch? What about between lunch and dinner? How about the evenings? Now do the same for/with the kids. What would THEY like to do in each of these blocks of time? The mealtimes offer an easy place to make transitions from one activity to another. Take advantage of that!
3. Stay flexible
with all the options on your calendars - your family is in charge! You don’t HAVE TO do anything! When we know it’s always a choice - that helps. Modify the plans when they aren’t working out. It’s not a failed attempt - it’s more data for future decisions. Often kids say “yes” to things because they want to be agreeable and do what we want, but in the moment, it’s shifts to a “no.” Notice what the factors are and figure out what’s going on. (We could probably do another entire discussion this, so I’ll leave it at that!)
4. Don’t plan too far ahead.
This may be your fear trying to lay it out all out. We can get all wrapped up in what we think is a great idea - only no one else agreed. Then we’re not only disappointedbecause it didn’t work, but we have to overcome our own resentment about the others’ decision, the effort we may have put into it, the guilt, etc. So, lets’ skip all that!
5. Look for patterns.
Notice which kids need some breaks between active days and lay-around days? How big of a break do they need? Do you have some Night Owls and some Early Risers? You get to factor in when everyone’s “best” time of day is for various activities. This is part of that individualizing we always talk about. What do you notice about yourself and these scheduling ideas?
By the end of the week, you’ll feel pretty good about how it went. Even if it doesn’t completely follow The Plan! 😉
You CAN move toward everyone’s curiosities.
You CAN learn to trust your kids biological hard-wiring for learning.
You CAN learn to trust yourself.
It takes a little time and effort. You’ve hopped off The Conveyor Belt. But you’ll be able to create a Life that is full of connection and adventure. No one can tell you what will work for YOUR family. I can give you ideas and suggestions - road signs for the path. But you fill in the details to make it totally customized and individualized for your family. And what awesome - and empowering - modeling that is for your kids to carry with them through life!
So that’s it from me this week. Reach out if you need resources - I have plenty! Coaching resources like courses, Guides, and mrmberships are easily found at SuePatterson.com and more about unschooling is over at Unschooling Mom2Mom.com I have a FREE email list you can sign up for and get notifications when the new podcast comes out AND other unschooling resources that I know will help you!
Enjoy your kids, create some fun connections, and I’ll talk with you again next week!