Note: I’m so happy to have Sylvia Toyama as a featured writer here at An Unschooling Life. In this, her first article, she talks about her family and why they chose whole life unschooling, and what that means.
Anyone who has spent any time at all exploring unschooling, likely knows there’s a variety of ways people define unschooling. The labels vary, depending on how far from mainstream methods a family has moved. Unschooling runs the gamut, from those who simply choose to let go of curriculum but keep more mainstream parenting methods, like bedtimes, chores, screen-time or content controls, all the way to people who have let go of all the traditional controls we’ve been told we must enforce to be responsible parents.
I’ve seen labels ranging from ‘academic unschooler’ to ‘radical unschoolers’ and, recently, even ‘rabid unschoolers‘ pop up in conversations about unschooling choices. My husband, Gary, has never liked the label radical unschooling, because for him the word radical connotes extremism, and he doesn’t feel we’re really extreme. When I use the word radical, I find myself feeling defensive about trying to explain why I’d want to be thought of as radical. So, over the years we’ve been unschooling I’ve looked for a phrase that better describes the way we live.
Although I’d prefer not to need a label for our methods, it seems we need some kind of phrase to explain it to those who ask. In recent months, I’ve begun to think of us as whole life unschoolers. I find it much more descriptive of who we are. What do I mean when I say we are whole life unschoolers? We don’t use a curriculum, have set bedtimes for our sons or assign chores. Our kids watch whatever they choose on tv, play video games of their choosing as often as they want, play whatever in-person games they wish, don’t have a curfew, eat what they want when they’re hungry.
What is it we DO? We trust, because we believe that it’s simply not possible to live even one day without learning something, that we will all learn all we need to live the life we want. Just as we trusted, and have seen happen, that our children would learn to read simply by living in a home where reading was natural and joyful, we know that they can also learn to sleep when their bodies need rest, to eat the foods their bodies need. Our boys learn how to be in relationship with others by sharing their lives with others, both in our home and in the larger world outside of it; we are their facilitators in finding their way, wherever we go. We answer questions on topics ranging from history, religion, health, science, nature, math and more. Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” which leads to searching for answers, meandering conversations and sometimes unexpected discoveries. We also share our outlook on the world, and strive to provide good examples in the way we treat other people, including children.
It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when we had limits and controls. We enforced bedtimes to fit our oldest son’s school schedule. When he was young I tried to force the ‘right’ diet, I limited tv shows (no Simpsons!); I even assigned chores. At the time I felt I had no choice but to listen to those around me, telling me what I ‘must’ do, even though in my heart I could see that it wasn’t working for us. It wasn’t just that those methods didn’t work for our children, they didn’t work for us as parents either. Imposed limits and demands make people unhappy, so of course, the same limits and demands make children unhappy. Being controlled certainly didn’t add to their happiness, and I wanted happy children. I was heartbroken at what that did to our relationship with our kids. Not only that, it made me ask why I was treating them this way, especially since I wasn’t convinced it was necessary to limit and control them.
When I found unschooling, I also found parents who had managed to create the family life I wanted; parents who weren’t frustrated by trying to control their children. They had happy children, who were kind and capable, and they had this without fighting or punishment. As I started to let go of my fears about how our boys would turn out if I ‘broke the rules’ I found we were all happier. And happier is good.
In our culture, there’s a pervasive belief that happiness will be ours someday. We grow up being told that someday we’ll be happy, when we’re adults it will be ‘our turn’ to have things our way. Why wait for that elusive someday? Why not be happy today? How can we help our children be happy today? Is it fair or loving to tell children they must wait for their turn to be happy? Why wouldn’t a parent want their child to be happy; to feel, to know deep in his soul, that he’s loved and celebrated and supported and completely free to revel in what brings him joy?
When I’m asked “Why whole-life unschooling?” my answer is because, ultimately, we can’t imagine any other way of living. It’s only natural when something brings as much joy, freedom and wonder as unschooling does, that we would want to extend that to all areas of our life.
Written by Sylvia Toyamachoice, chores, curfew, curriculum, food, freedom, history, how to unschool, inspiration, labels, learning, limits and rules, mainstream, mainstream methods, math, Mindful Parenting, nature, parenting methods, reading, responsible parents, science, unschool, unschooler, unschoolers, unschooling, unschooling encouragement, unschooling math, unschooling science, video games