It’s inevitable that we’d make mistakes along the way in unschooling in our new adventure. It’s part of the learning process. It’s part of good design thinking and iterative design. It’s how you make something better. You rarely get anything right the first time, after all. Still, knowing all of this, I walked right in on this mistake.
Now, I’m sure it wasn’t really my first mistake; I’m sure I’ve made a bunch along the way. Those were probably so quickly or easily corrected that we didn’t dwell on them. This one was in the end still fairly easy to correct, actually. I still dwell on it though. I think it’s because it never would have happened if I had actually listened to myself…or even read my own blog 🙂
The young adults had just completed their awesome 28 page paper comparing Diablo III and Borderlands. That was a “quest” and a sort of warm-up to unschooling. We were now ready to really dig in and start getting into the meat of unschooling. As I had written before, we had already done our prep work to begin unschooling. I had had Vie and Aidan think about and write down 10 things they were interested in. I was starting with their interests and needs, which were different. We’d build a set of projects from that. This part started well. That’s where the learning from my mistake also started.
I had good intentions. I wanted to provide a bit of daily structure for our young adults in their unschooling path, especially because it was new to all of us. We had decided to try about 4 hours per day as a target for unschooling work. Deb had read that kids on average need only about 2-3 hours per day to cover a traditional daily school curriculum and we figured that if we kept to about 4 hours, we could accomplish all of our goals and the kids would still have more time. I suggested that Vie and Aidan get up at 10 am and be ready to start by 10:30 am. There wasn’t anything magic about 10 am though really. It also happened to be convenient for me and gave me a few hours to get my stuff done and look for inspiring material for them before we started. That should have been a clue.
In comparison, last year, Vie had to be at middle school by 7:30 am and Aidan had to be there by 8:45 am. We knew that teenagers’ body clocks aren’t ready for school at that time (and yet that seems to be when they get a lot of tests). I figured 10 am was a good start. It seemed to work well during their paper quest. I even told them that the time before 10:30 am was theirs to do what they want – sleep, watch videos, etc.
I thought I was doing pretty well until Wednesday this week. We had pretty slow starts on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, I got frustrated. I guess it had been building. Vie would get up at 10 but then snooze on the couch until 10:30 am and still be sleepy. Aidan would get up about 9 am and then watch videos until 10:30 am. On Wednesday, I was excited to start but I got a luke-warm reception from both of them. Vie was still sleepy and not really into it and Aidan had been ready for awhile but now got engaged in something else and didn’t really want to switch. I felt like I had to play the role of “unschooling cop”, which I disliked. We were all frustrated.
I felt like I was pushing rope. I’m sure Aidan and Vie felt like they were back in school with lots of rules. No one was happy. With some help from Deb, I realized that I wasn’t following my (our) own intent. And then I had the “aha” moment I needed.
I was trying hard to help Aidan and Vie really drive their own unschooling with their interests. It is one of the core tenets of unschooling. They should be responsible for their learning. My misstep was not taking that all the way to how we structured the days. They are different people with different needs and rhythms and yet I was putting this schedule on them that wasn’t working for either. More importantly, I wasn’t really giving them responsibility for it, as we said we’d do. I wasn’t listening to their needs and I wasn’t iterating when it wasn’t working. I didn’t even think of the 10 am start as a prototype that would not be correct in its first version. The “aha” moment was actually a “duh” moment.
I changed several things after that. Aidan and Vie don’t have to start at the same time. Aidan is usually up earlier and ready to go. He takes more breaks. Vie gets up later but works continuously. I told them they were responsible for their schedule but we still wanted to unschool for an average of about 20 hours per week (4 hours a day or so). They didn’t need to even work the same schedule every day unless they wanted to. The real point was that they have a goal to work toward and that there are many flexible ways to get there.
Things got a lot better. And as a reflection, today Vie, Deb and I had a great conversation about it. Vie volunteers for a few hours Friday through Sunday and mentioned that there really isn’t a day “off” between school and volunteer work. It was a good observation. We all brainstormed ways that Vie could get a “day off”, settling on taking Monday off and unschooling Tuesday-Friday, working a bit more on average each of those days.
As I reflect, this kind of flexible schedule is exactly what I like, and expect, in work. We are fortunate to have worked in the tech industry where this is pretty common – and for good reason. It gives us the opportunity to be at our best. Vie and Aidan should get no less of an opportunity.
I learned a lot from this whole experience. It should have been more obvious and easier to learn, but sometimes the best and most memorable learnings come this way. Just like life. And hopefully for our young adults, they also learned about flexibility and responsibility. Just like life.