There are LOTS of benefits when you unschool, but the single most obvious benefit, and the one I hold dearest, is the possibility of improvising. When your days aren’t pre-scheduled and you don’t have a set time for everything you do that opens a brand new opportunity of engaging in fun and interesting activities when you find that that is what you want to do. This is something that, for a lot of people, probably sounds like wasting time or being disorganized when in fact it is mostly about taking the time you need to do the things that are important to you.
During the time we have been unschooling I have discovered that, especially for A, but certainly for myself also, it is paramount to have time to process feelings and experiences and to have time that isn’t scheduled to do something in particular. For me this time is used to do ordinary, practical stuff that you have to do as a parent like washing dishes and cleaning and cooking or grocary shopping etc. or to do something for myself like reading something, watching some interesting news on democracynow.org, knitting, taking a foot bath or whatever else I feel I need to do. For A this time is used to engulf herself in things she has come to find interesting. Or simply doodling. Doodling helps clearing the mind of excess thoughts and random stress factors. It is almost therapeutic. I have seen A becoming more and more interested in single topics like solving a particular mathematical problem, reading something in a book, drawing a tree or something else or building something out of lego or anything else that requires your full attention. She does these things because she is interested in doing them and because they are important to her.
A can spend several hours building a cave for herself inside our house or outside in the garden. Or baking a cake on her own coming up with the ingredients herself. Or she will ask me to give her math puzzles while I’m doing the dishes or if we are going for a walk. The other day we went treasure hunting in the house. We drew our own maps and went hunting for pencils and little plastic things. We were visiting my parents and since their house is a lot bigger than ours there are hundreds of great places to hide a small treasure. The sheer pleasure of drawing your own map of the house complete with rooms, staircases, doors etc. and then having someone follow your directions is FUN. And it gives practice paying attention to details and coming up with ideas of where to hide a treasure.
I have always found the best games to be the ones you come up with because you feel the need to be creative and because its fun to have fun. Often they are spontaneously made up as you are in the middle of some other activity. The art of playing is not to be underestimated; it is in the process of the game that a great deal of learning takes place. Without playing and fun I am not sure we humans would learn much at all.
An example of having time to improvise is what happened today; today is a typical Danish day in June; cloudy, quite cool and with a bit of rain once in a while. A and I both felt the urge to go swimming. We live ten minutes by bike from the beach. So we grabbed our towels and started for the beach. The wind was really cold when we started biking so after about two minutes A proclaimed she had lost the urge to go swimming and said she thought we should spend time in our garden instead. So we did. We took the hammock and a blanket, a few teddy bears, biscuits and a bottle of water and we lay out there enjoying the rain and the dark clouds until we got too cold and decided to go inside again. After a few hours of play and other fun indoor activities we both felt like going swimming again. This time we dressed a little warmer and went to the beach. The wind had gained in strength and the waves were terrific. A was screaming with laughter and joy as we ran into the water and dived under. We pretended to be battling the waves. Some of them were too big for us and we had to dive when they came but others were smaller and we would ‘get them’ A said. On our way home we passed the local library and decided to go in there for a while. They were about to close so it was very quiet in there. A sat down to draw by a table where another girl and her father also sat. I went to get some Lonely Planet books to read about Chile, Peru and Argentina. A drew a picture of me and her swimming in an ocean full of waves and came up to me with it while I sat reading and gave it to me. She asked me what I was reading and I told her. Then she asked if Peru was the country we had talked about earlier today and I said yes. Then we talked for a little bit about Peru and looked at some pictures in the book. She then drew a picture for the girl. It was an apple tree. The girl also drew one for A, a butterfly. And, as A said, that was a sign of friendship. An instant, spontaneous little friendship at the local library. That is what unschooling will give you 🙂
But unschooling will give you so much more. It gives you the freedom to choose what you want to do with your time. It gives you the time to learn at your own pace and indulge in the things that interest you. It gives you the world to look at and taste and feel. It gives you any subject you want to explore without the pressures and expectations of the traditional educational establishment. It gives you the opportunity to live your life the way you want to live it. It gives you time to get to know your children and yourself thoroughly in all aspects of life. It gives you peace and quiet. It gives you time to reflect. It gives you the opportunity to explore the world and all that is in it, whether this is a trip to the beach, the local library, or the other side of the world. Unschooling gives you all this and more. It sets you outside the normative system where you might feel vulnerable at first but slowly, as you start to adjust to your new found freedom, you will start to feel empowered and inspired and you will never want to go back.