Eight months ago, we started unschooling. Our routines instantly loosened without the ever-impending loom of school clock, and bedtimes and meal times became suggestions rather than the rule. Since our decision coincided with Japanese summer (August), it felt normal to ditch the clock and eat shaved ice for lunch, swim until 7p, and stay up late looking at stars or playing around in the dirt. But then as Jones’s peers began tromping off to school again, I wondered what this would mean for us: should we go back to the clock? Should we live as if school still existed, or as if it didn’t? I started asking a lot of questions about the “norms” of everyday routines and life with children. We started rethinking food choices, chores, how kids learn, sleep, self-regulation, emotions… everything. We edged a little closer to the ‘radical’ side of unschooling.
Even still, it wasn’t until we unleashed the freedom of gaming, TV, and movies in our home that I became more comfortable with calling our family ‘radical unschoolers’. Then I started learning and questioning MORE. Why do we have rules? What are they for? What is the difference between rules and principles? How can I best guide my children? How can I help them live from the heart, and not from a fear of getting in trouble? How can I nurture their interests and curiosities, even if they don’t match mine and I don’t understand them? How do I not get ‘in the way’ of their development, but rather, come alongside them?
Fast forward to now: we are radical unschoolers, and are more and more comfortable with the thought. This fits us well. Quite well, in fact. But in the midst of my questioning, I feel as if I’ve had to throw out most of my previous assumptions in order to start fresh and build a home life that truly reflects our values, desires, and respective interests. Currently, I am trying to understand how to do that. What is the purpose of routine? And how loosely or strictly can one define ‘routine’? What about meals and sitting down together? Right now, this is a snippet of what our homelife looks like — a peek into this crazy, cross-cultural, radical unschooling family.. for this season:
- We all wake up… whenever. But usually Bryan is up first, takes Iggy on a walk, and ‘puts on the kettle’ for coffee. It’s a toss up whether Harper, Ezra, or myself will walk down the stairs next, though I’m currently taking steps toward making that person ME. (I like having a little quiet before they come down.) The dog attacks us in his big, goofy, friendly way. Bryan makes coffee, and we drink together or seperately, depending on the day. Sometimes I read my Bible. Sometimes I watch Peppa Pig with Harper and Ezra. Sometimes they take turns with the iPad, or color, or talk with us at the table. They typically have a small snack or a banana, because I don’t cook until my coffee is finished. Jones comes down last, just as I’m getting ready for the day. Bryan leaves, or cooks breakfast, depending on the day. Or I cook breakfast. I tell the kids it’s ready, and they come when they find a stopping point in whatever they are doing.
- After breakfast, I typically do some sort of ‘clean up’ thing, which Harper always wants to help with. We wash dishes, start the laundry, vacuum. Then I feel as if I spend hours in 10-minute increments, going between child and activity and question and my own interests — I play kitchen with one, fold a blanket that’s on the ground, look up a question on google, discuss said question, play Mario for 3 rounds, help dissolve an iPad squabble, follow one kid outside, decide to go to nearby park, call in to other kids, fill up a water bottle, remember the laundry and throw it in the drier, go to park, give one kid an underdog, watch the other kid on the slide, play tag with the one who wants to play tag and say, “Please wait” to the one who wants to go home to get the soccer ball, go home to get the soccer ball, see forgotten water bottle and take it back to park, play a made-up game which only one kid wants to play, answer a text message on my iPhone, look up the book title I wanted to find, get called into a *new* game, convince one kid to leave when they other two decide they want to go home, promise to read a book to one kid in 15 minutes after helping another kid ride on the scooter, etc, etc, etc. This can be quite exhausting, balancing the interests and personalities of these kiddos.
- We eat something. Sometimes I just set out a variety of snacky foods, and they eat as they want. Popcorn, carrot sticks, cookies, apple slices with peanut butter, edamame, crackers, cucumbers, grapes, cheese cubes, etc. After at least Harper and I have eaten, we sit on the couch for an afternoon movie and rest — the boys either join us or play upstairs. Sometimes Harper and I both take a snooze, sometimes I read next to her while she watches, sometimes we both watch. I’ll pause the movie and make myself a cup of coffee when I feel the need. During this time, I take a break from answering the beck-and-call of the boys, unless they really need me. I say, “When the movie’s over, I will be happy to (look that up, help you, play with you, etc).” If they want to be with me, they can come be with us in the living room, so they know I’m physically available — but a movie gives some sort of timeline to them that they understand. They know what it’s like to be involved in a plot and not want to stop, so they are pretty understanding of my desire to stay put while the movie is on, even if I’m reading instead of watching it. I LIKE THIS BREAK. And I also like that my almost-three-year-old, who is pretty chatty all day, usually just snuggles quietly with me.
- After the “movie rest” is more of the morning time: 10-minute increments of giving myself to the beings in the house, dog included. Even Iggy won’t let me off the hook and puts his nose on my cheek or sits on my book (!) if I ignore him too long.
- Evening consists of daddy coming home, usually some Zelda for the boys in the family, and cooking dinner. Harper chops bits of vegetables with her special kid knife, sets the table, and keeps sneaky boy hands from stealing food before dinner time. (She is scarier than I am!) We eat and play “The Animal game,” where you must describe an animal, and everyone guesses who you are. Harper is always, ALWAYS a dolphin. Ezra has been coming out with Mario characters lately, and Jones has surprised us with his strange animal knowledge (usually acquired from either Phineas & Ferb or Curious George). By far, Bryan’s are the best — the animal game is not where my parenting most shines. Sometimes we take baths and showers after dinner, sometimes before. Right now, the boys are exercising their freedom to wait as long as possible between ‘cleanings’. I imagine this won’t change for some time. 😉
- Harper and Ezzy go to bed around the same time, and we read books and cuddle. Jones stays up later, getting some one-on-one time. We usually head upstairs together, and he does whatever in his room until sleep overcomes him, and I read, or talk with Bryan, or we watch something on the laptop in bed.