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From Attachment to Unschooling!


There certainly is a strong representation of 'Attachment Parenting' families in the homeschooling/ home educating/ unschooling world!


Makes sense right? If ‘attachment parenting’ is about listening to your child’s cue’s, what could be more connected than following their lead when it comes to their education?


We always knew we wanted to do many things differently to our parents. On the other hand, there were plenty of fabulous things about both of our childhoods (and we really like our parents!). One thing we were resolute on though, was that we wouldn’t just make decisions FOR our children. We would seek consent as much as possible, give reasons when things couldn’t be how they wanted them AND try to say YES as often as we could.


It just so happens that we then went on to have four children who really don’t take ‘NO’ for an answer so the joke was on us! Literally it was like they were born to negotiate - mostly UP.


I remember my mum saying to me once, ‘you don’t always have to give a reason you know’. But I really REALLY felt like I did - and I still do. The wonderful thing about deciding that I would always explain myself to my kids, is that it holds me accountable to those ‘attachment’ foundations. Following the child’s lead.


Which doesn’t, by the way, mean that the child ALWAYS get’s what they want (although they often do) - but it DOES mean that as much as is possible, they get what they NEED (and obviously we all know that for a child there’s not much difference!) AND they always deserve an explanation and a conversation which is the important bit because there is nowhere to hide in open dialogue and it’s where my children call me out!


I didn’t understand Attachment Parenting (sometimes called ‘Continuum Parenting) initially - it seemed like there were too many rules. And I hate rules. But once I realised that it was all about listening to my children, following their cues based on close observation and connection and serving them with my mothers heart, I realised it was exactly the foundation I had envisioned.


Listening to my children. Consent. Values over rules. Connection.


Which also happen to be the core principles of Unschooling. So if you practive AP/ Conscious Parenting/ Continuum Parenting etc, you’re more than half way to a Life Without School - congratulations!


Here’s where it gets good.


When my second born child became a ‘school refuser’ ( that’s a whole post in itself!) I realised I had two choices.


1. Listen to my child. Obtain consent. Dig into my values. Connect…..or

2. Ignore the foundations I’d been building for several years


See what I did there?


So really, the primary reason so many attachment parents choose to live outside of the school system, is because the very motivation for placing connection and attachment at the forefront of the parent/child relationship in infancy, only strengthens the older the child gets. It makes literally no sense to build those deep foundations of trust and relationship, only to send a child into a system that sets about eroding them.


Of course there are some home educated children who choose to go into school at some point (it’s not uncommon for teens, for example,to seek more structured learning in order to take a pathway into tertiary education) and anecdotally, these kids do really well BECAUSE they have excellent foundations of relationship and consent that sets them up very well for confidence and self advocacy.


But I’m getting ahead of myself!


What about when your kids are just school age? Or pre-school. How does one take the leap from parenting in the early years, to homeschooling (you’ll notice I’m using a few terms interchangeably and I’ll add a piece at the end about that!)?


Well, it’s not really a LEAP is my point.


If you’re already listening to your children to understand (and not control); following their lead in terms of what they’re interested in and how they are in the world; you place relationship over rules, then you are very well prepared for a Life Without School! Trust me!


It’s really not so different.


As an ‘unschooling’ parent, you are the facilitator mostly - perhaps you pay for them to join a zoo or take a trip to a specific museum or event. Maybe they love parkour and you organise weekly lessons. They might ask to buy a particular online program or game that fits in with their passions. Pretty similar to when they showed an interest in Duplo at the local library when they were 2 so you bought them some for home. Or when they loved watching Disney movies and you found a second hand princess costume in the local charity shop.


Possibly the interests get more complex (and they can certainly get more expensive!) but the way you are guided by the things your child loves to engage with, is the same.


The way you notice how they interact with the world….


The way you listen to their thoughts and feelings when they are struggling….


The way you take an interest in the things they love to do….


The way you validate them as individuals….


And the most important thing: just as you held your infant without a thought for how long the physical intense need would last; just as you fed your baby all night long despite how exhausted you were and surrendered to that moment; just as you sat on the floor with your tantruming two year old while they flailed about and screamed, THE most freeing thing you can do as an unschooling parent, is to see your child as they are right now, and to be the parent they need in that moment.


Addendum: I tend to use several terms interchangeably. Partly because I often find semantics irritating but mostly because in Australia, we use the term ‘homeschooling’ for any kind of education or learning outside of the school system. In a homeschooling community, there will always be a wide variety of styles such as conventional homeschooling with a curriculum, eclectic homeschooling, Waldorf or nature based homeschooling and of course, the increasingly popular ‘unschooling’. As an unschooling family, that’s the term I tend to use the most BUT recently I’ve spoken to a number of parents who started unschooling and then moved to something more structured - they tend to have been through all of the shifts that I speak about and so whether or not they use curriculum, teacher led lessons or tutors, seems irrelevent to me because really they are still ‘unschoolers’ even if they don’t fit the strict definition of ‘self directed learning’. In the UK, where my family is currently based, Home Education is used. People often think of ‘homeschooling’ as a more structured ‘school like’ form of learning outside of school. In the US, ‘homeschooling’ tends to be used similarly to in Australia. ‘Unschooling’ is really another term for ‘Self Directed Education’ where the child is in charge of their learning and the parent is a facilitator rather than a teacher. Often, this philosophy spills over into the rest of life and so we also have ‘radical unschooling’, a term most popular in the US. Most of what I share here in this blog and on social media, would fit the definition of Radical Unschooling, although I don’t often use that term myself. Probably a decade ago, ‘Natural Learning’ was more commonly used in Australia to descibe how an unschooled child learns and we might often also use the term ‘child led learning’. More recently I’ve been using ‘Life Without School’ because many of the same challenges face all families living outside of the school system, regardless of which educational philosophy they use.


Clear as mud?! You’re welcome!


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