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.

The cool kids. 

We all knew those cool kids. Perfect hair, always in the right clothes, walking down the hallway like they owned the place. It was a relief to say goodbye to them. 

And a joy to usher in the new wave of cool kids. 

Clothes they picked themselves, wandering a museum (often independently), little treasures traded and freely given. 

These are the kids who roam these halls, who walk freely in the city in the middle of the day, who can talk about whatever they want with whoever they want. 

These kids, these deeply cool kids, don’t have to do anything more than be themselves. They are celebrated for that, and they accept each other. They’ve achieved the sort of self confidence, empathy, and freedom   (most of the time, anyway) that many of us don’t know about till at least our mid thirties. 

These kids don’t know how cool they are. They don’t fully understand how joyful, exploratory, and full their lives are – at least when compared to being in a school setting all day. They (usually) don’t have a lot of outside pressure put on them, they have the chance to explore internal motivation, they are all in the same place but might be doing different things. 

These kids are sketching. Or looking at mummies. They are playing in the children’s area, marvelling at ores, hiding around corners to jump out and scare each other. 

They do what they do, they are who they are, and really, what could be cooler than that? 

At her own pace.

When S was a baby, she spent most of her time upside down. I think even before she was rolling – or if she was rolling, it was only to flip herself onto her back. She got around by arching her back. The only things touching the floor were the top of her head and the bottoms of her feet. She’d do this mega arch and push herself around like an upside down caterpillar.

I can’t find pics of her doing it, though I’ve got a killer video of her moving across the whole lounge, but here’s a similarly themed pic from the same era:

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Around the time of her first birthday, before she was walking, she taught herself to do a neat little flip. I accidentally called it a forward roll the other day, and she haughtily gave me a demo of a flip versus a forward roll. We knew this was a kid who would probably adore gymnastics.

I think she’d just turned three when we took her to a local(ish) gym. It. Was. Amazing. It has everything from toddler classes to training elite athletes who compete (and win) international elite competitions. One of the young people there at the moment will probably be in the next Olympics. I say all this to contrast it with my childhood experiences of gym – namely a dusty mat spread on the floor of a school hall. S and M’s gym has all the actual apparatus. They are training on the same stuff the elite adult athletes use.

It is like the world’s biggest, most best, most dangerous soft play.

After about a year in the toddler classes (and a broken arm suffered at the hands of a giant hanging rope), I mentioned the ‘big kid classes.’ Namely, the after school classes adults are not allowed to accompany children to. She went CRAZY. Insisted she would not do it.

I was confused, as this was a child who happily jumped into an eight foot pit onto a mattress without blinking. She loved the full height balance beam.

Silly me. It wasn’t about her actual athletic ability; it was about her feeling secure and confident. And those are the most important things, despite my crazy urges to push her into the older classes. I held myself back and she did another year in the toddler and parent classes. Late last autumn, she started the big kid classes. It was when she wanted to do it, and M signed up with her. A couple of months later, their best friend also joined in.

It’s been interesting. While adults aren’t allowed in the gym any longer, we are allowed to cram into a small room with smaller windows that overlooks the gym. Every week my friend and I watch S. She GRABS M and their friend and does not let go. During warm ups, if she finds herself slightly moved from their side during stretches, she quickly scootches back. When they sit on the side and get put into smaller groups, she clutches their hands and none of them volunteer, so they can all be together in the last group.

A couple of months ago M asked to do a second class of martial arts. I asked S if she wanted to, and she said she wanted a second gym class. It was established that she’d be doing it without her brother or friend, and was she really sure? She shrugged and said, ‘Yep.’

Yesterday was the first class with her flying solo. I think I was more nervous than she was. Because more than her continuing to develop her gymnastics, this class had her confidence in the palm of its hands. If she went up, I knew she’d be fine. If she didn’t, I thought it would put her off any future solo things. She said she was scared, she didn’t want to do it. But when the coach came down and announced it was time to go up, she ran and joined the group without looking back.

And she volunteered (and was selected!) to be the group leader of the first group.

She chatted a lot with the boy in her group, and afterward pragmatically said that while she’d made a friend, they might be in different groups next week. She was really proud and happy.

So was I.

What would have happened if I’d pushed her when she wasn’t ready? Made her leave her safety and forced her to do a class she would probably grow to fear and dislike?

I don’t know. But now she’s learned she can do this. She’s had the opportunity to choose when she was ready, and have this huge accomplishment of training with thirty nine strangers. And being so confident and strong she was the leader.

All those things aside, I think I’ve learned a lot more than she has. This morning over breakfast when she announced she was going to be a gymnastic Olympian, I didn’t start planning how to make that happen. I smiled at her, we kept eating, and it was simple. We are who we are, we are who and what we choose to be and do, and this upside down baby of my heart can do anything she pleases. I just want her to be happy.