While unschooling is already the extreme end of the spectrum, it is not a thin line. There is a lot of variance. What seems like unschooling for one may still feel like home schooling for another. So it’s all relative. How deep you want to go is all up to you. Consider this for example, some unschooling parents find any kind of books or toys to be a hindrance to creativity and learning. They prefer a fertile playground for children that is devoid of any man-made objects so children can learn the natural way. They prefer nature with trees and river and all the natural things one would find before the inventions and technology. While others may say books give knowledge while toys help in creativity. It is extremely hard to clearly demarcate where home schooling ends and unschooling begins in these cases.
What you believe to be unschooling may in fact still be some sort of teaching to another. These are some of the things we too have to tackle on a day to day basis. Some unschooling parents believe we are spoiling the kid with toys and books. While others think we are not giving enough attention. There is always this constant turmoil in our minds too. My suggestion is to go with what one is comfortable with.
Don’t worry about what others think. Everybody’s experience is different and they will offer their suggestions and beliefs thinking they have made the rational decision. But remember, we are not rational, we are actually rationalizing beings. We always rationalize and support any thing we do. So even when I am saying we are are unschooling and it is good, we are trying to justify our decision to be the right one. Whether you should follow or not is completely your choice and it is the correct decision for you.
What is our stance
In our case, I feel that toys and books are very useful. My life partner feels books are mildly useful and toys are useless. We are usually in a happy medium between our extremes. And these difference arise because of our experiences. For me, toys ignited the curiosity and books helped me answer the curious questions.
Toys and books relation in my life
When I was a kid, I used to open every single toy, although never was able to put them back. If there is a screw, it had to be unscrewed and opened to check how the toy works. While I had no understanding of inertia or how energy is stored, I understood that the flywheel in the toy car is what causes the car to go so far after a few spins of the wheel. After reading about inertia and rotational energy in books, I could connect the dots to the flywheel.
A toy that I prized the most is a toy train that ran on tracks. You can layout the tracks in a few different configurations and watch the battery operated train as it goes around it. But that got boring pretty quickly. So I opened the motor from the train, pushed it into a plastic cup and attached a pencil sharpener blade to the motor. Then I connected the motor wires to batteries to make my own home made mixer grinder. I used to grind sugar crystals to make sugar powder for fun. It would not grind anything else ;). I once tried with rice but failed.
The story does not end there. I did not like the small number of tracks so I went ahead and designed more out coconut broom sticks. I also wanted to build an electric train where there would be +ve and -ve wires on top of the tracks and the train would source energy from them. That way I could reduce the battery weight in the engine and have it drag more instead. I also wanted to add railroad switching, but did not have the understanding to do it. Later when I read “How things work” book, I understood how trains switch tracks.
So I always had a wonderful relation with toys and books and consider them to be great tools for kids. I am where I am because of all those experiences. But what if the events turned out differently? I would have experienced life differently, in one of the many possible multiverses. May be if I did not have those toys and books, I would have been more creative? Who knows?
What are we doing?
The toys and books are just a couple of examples of the shades of gray involved in unschooling. There are many other issues that fall in the gray area. The way we went about resolving the issue around books and toys is by providing them but not actively using them. That is, we place books and toys in our kids room, but we leave it to her to pick a book or toy or whatever else she wants to do. We don’t suggest that we will read this story book or play that board game etc, which we used to do earlier. Like I said, this unschooling thing is a constant learning experience, a journey for us and we don’t seem to be able to find the destination.
We have a bunch of toys including all the usual suspects such as lego blocks, cars, dolls and board games. We also have the nature toys most unschoolers talk about such as shells. But the toys my daughter enjoys the most is playing in mud and water. She can go endless hours playing with them. The other toy she enjoys most is her tablet. While many parents will frown upon this aspect, we took a more relaxed approach. Our though process is that she anyway has to live with the technology, so why not. See I told you, we can rationalize anything really.
We have all kinds of books too, ranging from story books to science books for kids. We read for her when she asks. Otherwise she is on her own. She can pick and read any book she wants at any time or let them rot.
No matter how you slice and dice it, unschooling doesn’t mean the same to everyone. You have to figure out what you feel is correct for your kid given your experience, knowledge and circumstances and take a step. Whether it is the right step or not is not important. You just have to take the step. Eventually the dots will connect. Don’t wonder if you had connected the dots differently your kid might end up better.
Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.Rumi