Unschooling in adults.

I know a man who exemplifies what unschooling looks like when you’re an adult. My friend’s husband is someone I think of when I think about how my life isn’t ‘unschooling my children’ – I’m not doing something to them, I’m providing space and facilitation for them to do it themselves. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the framework and ideals of unschooling aren’t just great for kids, but for adults, too.

This guy I know? He sort of throws himself into trying things out and learning new ways to do stuff. He follows his interests and consequently is a very interesting person. I’ve not hung out with him loads, but I’m always impressed when I do. He doesn’t hesitate to grab any child’s hands to help them learn to roller skate. He brims over with enthusiasm and will talk to anyone of any age about mutual interests. He does what brings him joy, without seeming to care much what others think of him.

I hope these are some of the things I’m helping to instill in my children. The joy of following your curiosity, to not be afraid of being a beginner, the inner resources to know how to find outer support and knowledge.

I hope when they are my age they are excited about life and all the possibilities still open to them. I hope they are willing to try, even if they feel exposed and afraid and silly. I hope my children continue to have such a strong inner compass and the courage to follow where the needle leads, especially when the poles seem to switch places.

If only we all embodied these ideals, what a fascinating place the world will be. We all have our stories, and it’s great to try to enrich your own story….and to take the time to hear someone else’s.

Embracing the unknown is a tall task, but what better opportunity to learn what that feels like than right here and now? What have you wanted to try that you’ve put off? Who are the people you want around you when you do it? What can you do today to answer a question you’ve had, experience something you’ve always wanted to try, figure out a way to make a first step?

Mine was as simple as finding the right tool for the job. I spent £11 on a wireless keyboard and finding a lightweight, cheap way to write (using my phone as the computer) is filling up holes that were so big I thought I just had to learn to live with them.

In case you need to hear it: I believe in you.

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Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

Thunderstorm at the end of summer.

It’s after bath time, and he creeps into my room, silent and steady. He notices a flash outside the window, so we both sit up. He leans in, excited body and quickened breath. ‘This is awesome!’ he stage whispers, the sky filling with bright flashes of light.

He sister and mummy come in, stay awhile, then leave. He looks at me.

‘It’s just me and my Mama,’ he says. ‘This is awesome.’

Not sure if he means me or the lightening, which he says he’s never seen before, I ask, ‘Do you want to come outside with me and watch it from there?’ His eye widen. He nods.

We slink down the stairs; I wrap him in a big orange sarong, I fling a green one around my waist. We sit on the front step. Rain drips down the magnolia tree, the sky steadily performs, and then we hear the first rumble of thunder. I put my arm around him, I catch glimpses of his joyful face in the inky darkness, we look for streaks of lightening.

I tell him about how you can tell how close the storm is. Wait for the lightning, then count until you hear thunder. We whisper about the fighter jet we saw that goes faster than the speed of light, and I think about how his childhood is doing the same thing. But not tonight.

Tonight our bodies are dry, but our feet get wet if we stretch them out. We say hello to the thunder, the lightning; we sit out here so silently among the gradual increase of rumbles and rolling sound.

I didn’t have to say yes tonight, because it was my idea. He thought it was amazing to watch lightning through a window. I showed him what it was like to watch lightning under the sky.

This was our night.

And it was awesome.

Just say yes – and then watch what happens.

‘Yes’ is the most powerful message you can give to your children. Some things are direct requests.

Can we sleep outside?

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Can we go see that horse?

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Can we play Twister before bed?

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Sometimes your child makes a decision to try something that is new, or seems interesting or worthwhile. You don’t need to say anything, then. You just stand back and watch….and sometimes, you fetch whatever they need to help complete their scheme.

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‘Yes’ really means:

You are capable of making good decisions.

You can choose things based on what you find exciting or are curious about.

I trust you.

Sometimes it is a small yes. Sure, we can make cookies. We can pick up endless sticks and rocks while we walk. We can opt to skip going to gymnastics to stay home and all watch a movie together in my bed.

Often it’s bigger – and means having to stand back while they assess risk, solve problems, or get incredibly messy.

We are lucky in that we have lots of time. Nothing is so pressing that we cannot explore things along the way. We have lots of space to just be, to choose what to do as we go along. So that makes things easier for us, but not impossible for people with busier schedules, or school, or …well, whatever, really.

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So try it. When your child asks to do something, or just goes ahead and does it – and your natural inclination is to say no or hurry them along – just pause. Do you have five minutes to let them do this thing? Are they safe? Then say yes.

Have that wild dance party in the kitchen. Watch them collect fifty conkers and spend ages ‘washing’ them in a stream. Laugh to yourself as they wear costumes out of the house.

And this is the most important part: look at their face. Really pay attention to those moments when a child is learning about joy, about passion, about curiosity.

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