As home educators, we have the powerful, adaptable, important task of helping create and support the lives of the awesome autonomous children in our care.
What could be more empowering than realising that we can make our lives intricately designed to meet the needs, interests and wants of our family and the unique individuals in it?!
We get to curate a life that makes our children flourish and thrive! We have the power to make the choices with them that help them know more about the world and themselves. They get to live a childhood where they are free to be their inspired, playful, joyful selves!
It’s important not to make the mistake of relying on others to make this happen for you, or to try to mimic someone else’s truth. Be inspired, not comparative, by what works for others. Authentically, wholeheartedly follow your children and what lights them up.
If things aren’t working, you are not powerless in this. You are the curator and co-curator of life in your family!
So how exactly do we do this? I’m here to share some of the things I have found helpful in creating a family culture that nurtures my children and their interests.
Truly knowing your children is one of the highlights of unschooling in my opinion. I often just assume that I know (through observation and conversations) what my children are interested in. But I’ve found that having specific deliberate conversations where I ask them questions, I am able to get a much clearer insight into how to best support them.
I typically ask these one-on-one, every few months and even Ava (four this month) is included.
The questions are:
- What are you interested in learning more about?
- What do you want to learn about that specifically?
- What projects have you been thinking about doing?
- What would you like to create?
- What skills would you like to improve on?
This all starts a great conversation with more clarification and ideas. I record everything in my planner and use the lists to help me find experiences, Outschool classes, books, videos, resources, etc to support these interests.
This has served us so well since I’ve started doing it. Last time I created posters for the wall with their interests, projects and skills and it was a great reminder each time we did project time.
Let your children see your passions. Ponder things aloud. Let them see YOU light up with your interests, ideas and skills you are trying to master.
Similarly, let them see you ‘fail’, make mistakes and be unsure. Too often children are surrounded by adults who seem so capable. Obviously, it’s not about sharing adult concerns but about sharing your struggles as a learner is helpful for children to see. In particular, sharing how you process failure and mistakes is so important!
One of the best gifts we can give our children is a passionate, inspired parent who shares their enthusiasm as a learner.
I’m always trying to ensure that I speak aloud about the things I love, the things I find interesting and that my children see me pursuing what makes me light up.
For me, I’m a collector of knowledge and always reading and researching. I’m one of those people who could be a professional student – I like to learn for the sake of knowing and understanding alone (not always to use said knowledge).
I asked my eldest Cameron (age 10) what he would guess my favourite things to learn about are and he said: unschooling and education, nature, sciences, psychology “and that thing that Socrates was.. the one about learning about thinking?” (philosophy). Pretty spot on.
But you know what my children have taught me? The magic of learning through the passion of another learner. My children’s interests have lead me to learn many things I would not have pursued on my own!
Learning alongside them is certainly beneficial for us all and connects us. What interesting things have you learned with your children?
“You want to build a family culture that celebrates and supports meaningful work.
This is much more than saying the right thing — this is creating a lifestyle, a set of articulated beliefs, and a daily routine that encourage and sustain the life you want for your family.
Building a family culture means being purposeful with your choices. What you say you value pales in importance next to the way you live from day to day, the choices you make, big and small.
Consider the unspoken messages you send about your family’s priorities and values. How do you spend most of your time together? Where do you spend it?
If someone came into your home right now and walked around, looking at your walls and tables and shelves, seeing what’s on display, what would they see? Do your surroundings reflect your priorities? Does your home tell the story of your family and what you value?
Now think about what messages your home, your routine, and your choices send to your child. If your physical space says “explore, ask, make, share, create,” but your underlying beliefs whisper “follow, obey, please me, don’t make a mess,” which message wins? Which will your child prioritize? Does one cancel the other out?
If you say to your child, “You are capable,” but your space requires him to come to you for help setting up materials, cleaning up, finding tools, etc., then the environment is contradicting your words. It’s sending a message of weakness, dependency, and inadequacy.
It’s not just your physical environment that can help or hinder your goals. Think about the unspoken messages that your schedule, habits, daily rituals, and rules send. These messages will be heard loud and clear by your child. If they conflict with your words, your words will fade away.
Building a strong family culture that supports self-directed learning means aligning what you say with what you do and how you live. Be sure that your choices support your beliefs and your values.” – Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling
Value their interests
We show our children how we value their interests through all of our choices – how we listen to them discuss their passions, how we support their interests, how we show up for them with their activities, how seriously we take their ideas, how their environment reflects their interests and passions.
We can send the message that we value their interests without even saying so. Although I would recommend saying so too!
“Your attention creates a dynamic that attracts your child and shows her the value of her own work. She responds by doing more of what you pay attention to — your attention to what matters becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating more of what matters. By defining and prioritizing what you value, you create a way of living that automatically nurtures and encourages it.
Attention works on every level of this approach. When you make your child’s workspace a priority — helping him create a clean, organized, attractive place to draw, write, build — and when you give him beautiful materials to work with, you make a place that draws him in and encourages his creativity without having to say a word.
When you honor his work with your attention — taking photographs and notes, listening, responding — he is drawn to doing more of what earns that attention. By focusing on what he cares about most, you help him spend more time on what’s important to him.
When your home, your routine, and your commitment are focused on your child’s work, he won’t need to hear you say you think it’s important — he’ll know it is.
Rather than using praise or coercion, you are simply choosing where to put your focus, what to feed with your attention. Therefore, you must be careful and deliberate about how you use this power. Remember the goals of project-based homeschooling: to help your child direct and manage his own learning, to help him make his ideas happen. Put your focus there.” Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling.
One disclaimer: it’s okay to not being equally enthused about EVERY interest they have when it isn’t authentically interesting to you. Children aren’t silly, they know when you aren’t truly fascinated in what they’re talking about. However, ensure they know you value their interest even though you do not share the same level of enthusiasm for it.
Also, find someone who does! For example, Cameron lives and breathes football. I myself am not a fan of most sports and I really couldn’t care less about watching any soccer game unless my son is playing in it! But his Dad LOVES football as much as him so he can fill his cup with all the soccer geekery to his hearts content with his Dad. I’ll be there for many other areas but he knows I’m not going to understand the significance of his team winning or losing.
Know your jam
“A quality homeschool experience is grounded in passion, joy, and competence – yours. Lean in to what makes YOU amazing and watch your homeschool flourish.” – Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner.
That sets the stage well for my next point – know your jam!
What are your strengths as a person, parent and home educator? What comes easily to you? What makes you light up? What do you do well (which you likely undervalue!)
We all need to do more of that which brings us joy with our children. This is why no homeschool family looks the same. Every parent and child processes the world is different. Meeting the needs of our children is so much simpler when we use our superpowers.
I don’t know about other people but at some point along our unschooling journey, I lost sight of my power and was fighting against myself in a sense. All under the guise of needing more deschooling – but it wasn’t deschooling that I needed (although deschooling is a life long process in my opinion!)
I think this was a struggle for me in particular because I am naturally academic and so much in unschooling circles is about valuing learning and creativity beyond academia (which I agree with valuing ALL learning and learning styles equally!)
For me personally, my children know their mama will get super animated and passionate discussing plants, gardening, writing, biology, philosophy, education, parenting, social justice, frogs, chickens and books.
Get clear about what is meaningful for you and brings you joy and share that with your children. Watch as magic unfolds!
Embracing who I am, what I am good at and how I best function was so crucial though in how incredibly my family has blossomed. I think sometimes we look to others for guidance when we cannot find what will work for us unless we look inwards.
“Identify the kind of family you are. If you’re inclined to Shakespeare, film, and ballet, perhaps your basement needs to be transformed into a media center. If your family is great at gardening, get a home with a big yard or sign up for a community garden. Gardening with your kids will allow you to live your best homeschooling life because that’s what you love.
Whatever your family’s personality and culture, pass it on to your kids, using your home to do it. If your house can’t support it, find a place in your town that does and plug in. Too often, a family idealizes some other family’s strengths and assumes that they should adopt those behaviors to “be good homeschoolers.” Let that go. Ask yourself: What are we good at? What are we into? What do we want to feature in our homeschool? Use the house you have as best you can, and supplement with excursions for whatever else you need.” Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner.
Work out how your child learns!
It’s really powerful when children understand how they learn – how they best acquire the information that matters to them.
Observe how they typically acquire and process information with ease. Is it through visuals? audio? books? a mentor? through doing? or a combination? What comes naturally to them? Help them to understand this and to know where to look for resources that suit their needs.
For example, Cameron learns well through conversation, mentorship and audio. He struggles to gain information quickly through text and certainly doesn’t see much value in writing any of what he knows down. However, ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you he is always sharing what he knows through conversation. “Did you know?” is constantly coming out of his mouth to anyone who will listen. I relate to him with that!
Lucy on the other hand (8 years old) is a very very visual learner and is also drawn to hands on learning. If I tried to support them both in the same way, it certainly wouldn’t work. This is the power of knowing how your children learn!
Autonomous children already know what, when and why they want to learn but understanding how and where to look is transformative. Suddenly they can find their own answers if they have a supportive adult who helps them have the resources and experiences that fit their ways of learning and acquiring knowledge.
“Children feel empowered when they have companions on the journey. There’s a difference between struggle that leads to frustration, and satisfying effort that leads to success. Our task as parents is to facilitate the latter. What enables children to make progress, to problem solve, to overcome obstacles? A troubleshooting partner, that’s what! When parents collaborate, kids learn.” – Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner.
In schools there’s far more emphasis on listening and reading/written learning and so many children are disconnected from their natural learning process. How they best learn is dismissed in favour of mass education. As unschoolers, we can help assist them to learn their own means of answering their own questions.
Surround your family with other inspired families
I can not emphasise the importance of this enough. Surrounding yourself with like minded inspired children has such a snow-ball effect. They inspire one another and this compounds over time. They can share interests and explore together. They can learn about things that they perhaps wouldn’t usually have come across.
We are the company we keep and so it just makes sense that surrounding yourself with other families with similar values can help protect and nurture these qualities!
I suggest reaching out to people who have children (and mentors!) with similar interests, even if only virtually. Join groups, attend classes, host project days, read books together in a book club, the possibilities are endless!
When it comes to community, you get out what you put in so be brave and put yourself out there. You never know the power of that connection where children can share a passion!
This one seems obvious but sometimes some home educators shy away from offering too much as they think the ideas are best to come from the child themselves. While this is great too, I believe that these need not be mutually exclusive!
Part of unschooling is offering opportunities for new experiences. This doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to say yes or that there are any expectations, but simply that they know what is available.
We know more about what is available and how to access information, classes, resources, books, mentors and so on. Do not shy away from offering experiences.
“Whether or not you discover your talents and passions is partly a matter of opportunity. If you’ve never been sailing, or picked up an instrument, or tried to teach or to write fiction, how would you know if you had a talent for these things?” Ken Robinson
Be a resource
We are a powerful resource for our children. One that can not be underestimated.
I’ve shared briefly before about our role as parents and educators in unschooling. One of partnership, empowerment, resource finding, question asking and answering, supporting, environment curating, community nurturing, listening, co-learning, joy seeking, deeply involved facilitating and cheerleading.
“At the beginning, your child might need you to model how to wonder aloud, ask questions, consider alternatives. He looks to you as an example of how to approach learning as a researcher and investigator. As times goes on, this approach to learning becomes second nature to him. He is accustomed to asking questions, seeking out experts, collecting research materials, investigating first-hand, and creating original work. He looks automatically for ways to share what he learns with others.” – Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling.
Sometimes this means helping a child see they are capable, helping them understand what an opportunity is providing and why that is significant, helping them stick to goals and practice things that are meaningful to them.
This isn’t about force or external expectations. This is about supporting their own aspirations and wants! Time management and understanding the steps to reach their goals isn’t something children inherently know – and we can help with that.
Sometimes they need to hear our confidence in them too. Sometimes they fear failure and we have to help them understanding mistakes are part of learning. Sometimes their excitement can raise their own expectations inside and we have to help them manage their feelings.
I am sharing these examples because I want any mamas like past-me to understand their power and step into it. Trusting and accepting our children doesn’t happen in a vacuum absent of our support.
Our role isn’t a hinderance to autonomy, we are a powerful resource for our children!
Our role as parents and educators in unschooling is to be a partner, ally, empowerer, resource finder, question asker and answerer, supporter, environment curator, community nurturer, listener, co-learner, and a joy seeker. Not a bystander nor an enforcer… but a deeply involved facilitator and cheerleader!
“Family culture is the manifestation of your priorities – not what you say, not what you wish were true, but what you actually do on a daily basis. You create your family culture with your choices.” – Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling.
Ultimately, how we create a family culture that nurtures inspired learners is through valuing their interests and how they learn as well as prioritising your own life long learning journey.
I hope you found this helpful! I would love to hear from you!
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Love that word ‘curate’, seeing ourselves as environment-curators, and such a powerful reminder that we ‘…get to curate a life that makes our children flourish and thrive…’ Illustrates the sentiment of your post beautifully.
And I’m so with you and Erin on the knowing your jam, I needed that too.
You’ve given me much to think about today, especially the part about community. Putting yourself out there, now that’s my challenge, and I appreciate the nudge. An inspiring read, thanks Rachel :)
Really, really wonderful thoughts and ideas here:). I particularly perked up at the “Know your jam” section. Academic interests, whether the child’s, or shared information/food for thought by the parent, are just as valuable as other interests … not more than, but just as:). Thank you for that.
Thank you so much for reading! It was such a helpful realisation for me too!