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Toddlers and Unschooling

I have now seen posts about ‘home education’ for three to seven year-olds. And, I’m guessing that people are now calling ‘kids are home during a pandemic and the school system has mandated that learning will happen remotely via the internet’ home education instead of homeschooling and maybe that’s going to help with the confusion, but in case it’s not, indulge me in describing what homeschooling looked like for the kids here between 0 and 3.

First, it felt really weird, calling what we were doing homeschooling and even stranger still calling it unschooling, because, well, the kids were just living life. It wasn’t really ‘schooling’ at all. I constantly felt like a poser saying we were doing any kind of schooling. I mean, were we really schooling? The kids were just doing their thing while I was around.

But looking back from here, it seems to me that what we were doing was the epitome of unschooling

The kids were just doing their thing.

As infants, they were hanging out in the baby wrap. They were getting down on the ground to explore when they wanted and when I was able to take the time to roll around on the ground along with them. They were meeting people as we wandered from spot to spot, sometimes just to meet people, sometimes while running errands, almost always making friends they’d see again.. Sometimes we met new people because they’d migrated into the shared spaces we hung out in. 

A group of grad students at a national lab. 

Architecture professionals who’d transformed our school’s architecture building into a career fair.

A seagull that grabbed a hotdog and was gone.

When the kids started to toddle, they toddled away. An increase in kids’ innate sense of independence had been advertised as as a feature of baby wearing that, frankly, I hadn’t believed. I didn’t know as much about how they unschooled then because I wasn’t witness to a lot of it. The kids were frequently out of my field of view doing whatever explores or meetings they did. I know they made new friends closer to their own height. I know they climbed things. I know they started to learn to converse with other adults, if for not other reason that that the other adults sometimes brought the kids back to me, (they felt the kid had ranged too far or was climbing some playground implement that was ‘Too Dangerous’ Pooh Bear style).

Toddle-hood was when we hit one of the rote lessons of unschooling—yes rote learning does exist, or at least it occasionally did for us—the lesson of ‘don’t get squished’. I think the lesson was more rote for me than it was for the kids. They were typically in the thrall of new shiny things to see or intriguing odors to smell or furry things in motion nearby. I was the one that had the rote experience of tracking that we were near a road or near a door that went to a road. I was the one doing the over and over of “You have to look around to see the cars and trucks that could squish you. Once you’re really, really aware of what’s happening on the road you can do more, but for now, come with me.” Cuddling them, kneeling behind them, seeing the world from their new—frankly more interesting perspective than mine—cooing at them, giggling with them, then carrying them back to a place I could keep them a bit safer till I could split my attention, more working with them on yes, here, away from the cars, no, not there near the cars.

Advanced toddle-hood came with a new set of directed explores in between the kids doing what they pleased. If they needed a napkin or a glass of water or a spoon or whatever while we were out and about, they went to get it. They met more people. I suppose you could say we were working the color angle too, but really, the colors were mostly blue for recycle, brown for trash, and green for compost. Not exactly ‘activity driven learning,’ well, actually, I guess it was, but there were no assessment worksheets so, was it? Really?

And so it went. Looking back, yes, yes that was unschooling. Maybe young-kidhood is  exactly the time to explore that kind of thing.


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