Building an Unschooling Nest

December is a cozy time of year! Instead of stressing about the holiday gifts and get-togethers, let’s lean into the idea of building a lovely nest for our families. Nest-building can happen any time of the year! And for those who choose to unschool, having a wonderful place to return to may be exactly what your family needs most from you!

People often want descriptions of an unschooler’s home life. They want to be able to visualize what the world looks like from our vantage point.  One of the things that was really important for me and for our family, was that I wanted our home to be like a cozy nest – a soft spot to land when they returned from their adventures out in the world or somewhere they could feel nourished as they daydreamed and played and enjoyed their life. When I look back at what our home was like – even though we moved frequently, some things continued from one location to the next.  In trying to describe what it was like, I often start with the five senses. If you’re like me, you’d consider how it looks, sounds, smells, feels and even tastes! If you’re the type who’s been fretting over planning, this might be a good project for you! Plan The Nest!

Now that my husband and I are retired, our nest looks a little different. But during the height of our unschooling days, here’s what you would have found:

At the front door….

I grew a lot of plants in the front garden beds. It kept them right under my nose, so I wouldn’t forget to water! You could brush against lavender or rosemary and the smell would just travel with you up to the door. We had a wonderful music teacher in Davis, CA, who had a gauzy curtain at her front door. The music would waft out through the doorway, her garden was lush and right up to the porch – a lovely inspiration for me.

Going Inside…

You probably WOULD hear music when you entered my house. But it would be a cacophony of sound! World of Warcraft or some video game blasting away, maybe some old-school rock and roll. You’d hear broadway show tunes playing upstairs with Katie belting them out right alongside. You’d hear the sound of jumping and stomping as Alyssa was dancing along to Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Of course, this gives you an idea of our time period… but it’s all shiftable to now.

You might hear Katie playing songs on the piano singing along with them. Back then, lots of Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Or maybe they were all piled onto the couch for a raucous game of Mario Kart.

Something was always cooking, so you’d smell food when you walked in. Usually garlic and onions, because… well, we love them. But also baking and/or yummy-smelling candles.

Visually, it would look messy to most people. “The Lived-In Look” is what we called it. But we always wanted to do something else INSTEAD OF cleaning. Some adventure always seemed to pull at us harder than the housework. Maybe you can relate? I had a friend say, “No flat surface is safe in your house.” So true. Projects all over the place. Back then, we also had a video camera almost always up on a tripod, ready to record. We did that a lot. So many people worry about having a clean house. Our cleaning tended to happen because we needed a surface to begin another project. My husband used to kid me that we needed to have people over more often, just because we tended to clean more when we had guests. “Guests” were the infrequent visitors. The friends that came often knew that housekeeping wasn’t my strong suit. And most unschooling families I knew had similarly somewhat messy homes. The activity and the relationships were the priority.

Texturally, the sofas and chairs were comfy. Squishy pillows and soft blankets were always around for people who wanted to cuddle up and read. Oh yeah… reading. Bookshelves in every room. Every. Room. TVs in every room too. Sometimes on without sound…NatGeo or Discovery in the background, ready to be turned up if something caught our eye. But all kinds of other tv too, whenever someone wanted it. Back before DVDs we would record hours and hours of Magic Schoolbus, Gullah Gullah Island, or Kratt’s Creatures on VHS. Remember Wishbone and Carmen Sandiego? We had years where PBS was ALWAYS on! Eventually, that moved to Disney Kids and Cartoon Network, sitcoms, movies, documentaries. We took advantage of everything available!

We were definitely a Pet Family. Dogs, cats, birds (people used to tell me that it sounded like a jungle when they called. For a few years, the kids raised cockatiels as a pet biz.) Guinea pigs, fish tanks. At one point, circumstances allowed our quite suburban familiy to try our hand at ranch life.  During that time, our love of animals had no limits! We had horses and cows, a bull, a donkey (did you know they have the softest noses?), goats, chickens, a turtle. If we had had a pear tree, I’m sure we’d have had a partridge just for the fun of it – instead we had a guinea in a mesquite tree! Fa-la-la-la!

We had lots of extra people too. Staying for dinner, picking someone up to go somewhere, hanging out to chat. Easy non-judgey nests tend to attract others too.

We didn’t have places that were designated for children or adults-only, no rooms were off-limits or dedicated to solely learning. It was all mixed in together – learning happened everywhere! Staying flexible to accommodate whatever the kids’ interests are is the key. No place is more important than the people in it.


Knowing you can create anything you want, realizing that you can change it again when life changes – that’s so awesome! Right??

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