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Thanks to the sponsor for this episode, Education Perfect. They offer home education software for years 5-12. Start a free 30-day trial, of if you prefer, have a chat and a demo with their friendly homeschooling community manager Tim.
The guides I mention in this episode… my favourite posts curated for parents, and their parents:
Helloooo and welcome to the Life Without School podcast, here to help you and your children live the life you want to, not just the one you’re told you should.
I’m Issy, a writer and unschooling dad from New Zealand.
You can find more about me at starkravingdadblog.com – all of my posts, podcast episodes, and short films created to encourage, support and reassure anyone walking this road less travelled.
Thank you so much for tuning in to listen today. Alright, let’s get into this week’s episode.
Hello there, welcome back to another question and answer episode – where I take some time to dig into things you all want to hear more about it. They might be things you’re personally struggling with, or worried about, or planning for…and I really love having these conversations, because it’s always such a great reminder that we’re not alone on this road. Every question I’m ever asked is always sent in from a bunch of different people, from a bunch of different places around the world. We’re…all facing the same challenges here, so getting to bring all that together into one of these episodes every month is really cool.
Today, I’m talking through three questions. They are:
1) What are some key phrases you can use here and there to help encourage your children, to help them find those interests and spend their time there?
2) How do you handle the fear that your children might be unhappy with you – when they grow up – for choosing such an unconventional path for them?
3) How do I work through the worry of no longer being able to home educate if our life circumstances change drastically – like, financially, or through health – and our children have to go back to school?
Again, just like the last Q&A chat, all three of these questions deserve a full episode sometime. And, that will happen. But for now, we’ll make a really good start on them. A start that – it’s worth reminding you – that is based purely on my own experiences, opinions, life circumstances, and worldviews. Nothing is ever black and white, so please don’t take my answers to these questions as being right. They are just my thoughts. They are careful, considered, caring thoughts, I can promise you that. But…they are just my thoughts nonetheless.
Before we jump into this chat, haaaaave you seen the little guides I have available on my website? There are three of them – there’s a guide for parents who are thinking about choosing a life without school, there’s a guide for parents already living it, and then there’s my personal favourite – a guide for your parents – the grandparents of home educated children. Each of these guides is a collection of my favourite posts curated specifically to reassure and encourage you, or your parents, in the life stage you’re in right now.
You can grab them as a downloadable PDF, or as a little printed pocketbook delivered anywhere in the world. I heard from a heap of people last year who downloaded them to send in an email to their friends and family for Christmas, so if you’re looking for something thoughtful to give someone – go and check those out. I’ll link them directly in my show notes, but you can find them easily right there on my website: starkravingdadblog.com
Allllright, we have three very interesting questions on our hands here, so let’s dig into them.
1) I’d love some key phrases…like when they get up in the morning something like “what are you up to today?” Or “what are you going to do today?” Or “is there anything I can help you with today?” Not because I want to sneakily push them to do something, but so that it gets them to think about what they might do. As mine just tend to be passive and want to watch tv, rather than allowing their curiosity to take hold. I understand all about allowing freedom and being child led, which I am totally for, but it doesn’t work a lot of the time, so what do you do in those instances?
Ooooo, I love this question. I love it so, so much. Because this is where that mentor, or coach role that I so often talk about comes into play.
I guess it’s probably important to start, first, with a positioning of ourselves on the home education spectrum. I call myself an unschooling dad, but that’s only really because I was looking for a term that wasn’t the traditional ‘homeschooling’ one, because that doesn’t really fit us. But, unschooling probably doesn’t either – because, just like the term ‘homeschooling’, it comes with a heap of associations. Some of which are useful – and some that aren’t.
At the very far end of the unschooling spectrum, you have environments where children have effectively complete autonomy. If a radically unschooled child wanted to watch TV all day, then the can watch TV all day.
Now, for many families, that level of unschooling works wonderfully. But for a bunch of reasons that I’ll talk more about one day, it doesn’t fit us. So when I say I’m an unschooling dad, I absolutely believe that childhood, and any concept of education during it, should be based on respect and trust for our children. But I also believe they have certain muscles that we can help them build.
One of those, for us, is the investment of your time. The idea that your time is a bit like your money. You can choose to spend it on what’s right in front of you today, or you can choose to invest it in your future you.
And while this analogy is far from perfect, which I totally get, there’s something in it that just resonates with me. It…always has.
Investing in yourself, for the now you but also for the future you – feels smart, and, if you’re staying true to yourself, incredibly powerful. If someone asked you if you could rewind to your 10 year old self and start saving or investing money regularly, would your 25, or 35, or 45 year old self jump at the chance?
And what about rewinding to your 10 year old self to spend time investing in, and developing, something you’ve always wanted to be better at? A skill, a talent, a passion, an idea. Would you jump at that chance?
As a child, it can be hard to see that bigger picture. To understand the compounding power of investing early, and often. As a parent, you have that view. And while I don’t believe life is all about relentless progression and achievement, I do believe a lot of life satisfaction and meaning can be drawn from being good at things. From being experienced in things. From understanding what our strengths and weaknesses are, and building confidence in playing to them.
SO – all of that is to say, that while I do call myself an unschooling dad…I actually do step in and help direct and focus my children’s energy quite a lot.
Which brings us back to the question of gathering some phrases that might help kick-start your children’s day in a different way. Well, my answer to this, which is probably starting to paint itself after talking through all that, is that I don’t think a phrase on its own will do the trick. In my experience, it’s taken a lot more leaning in than that. A lot more foundation building. And for me, that started with coaching my children on that very idea of investing in themselves. Of investing in the life they want to live, not just now, but as they grow, too. And while it is absolutely valid to live in the moment, and just be – and not just valid, a really important part of a healthy life – I think it’s also really important to explore yourself, explore what you’re good at, explore what you find interesting, explore what makes you tick…and to invest good, solid time in getting better at those things.
Because, again – I just don’t think your child, when they’re 30 years old, will say – hey, mum, dad, thanks so much for letting me watch all that TV when I was young. But I do believe my children will say thank you for continually directing them back into the things they’re good at, and draw life value from.
And let’s be clear here – I’m not pushing my children into spending time on work they’re not interested in for hours on end. I’m encouraging and coaching them into that flow headspace where they will grow the parts of themselves they most want to grow.
So my advice is that you spend some time working on that foundation with your children. The way those conversations play out will be quite different depending on how old they are, and your own personal philosophy towards life, but the point is you’re trying to coach them on being the best version of themselves. And you’re trying to help them understand why you’re doing that, and why that investment now can make such a big impact on their life.
One you’ve set that foundation. Once your children understand why it is you’re so passionate in your encouragement of their time investment, then your phrases will have grounding. Then you can get up in the morning and say something like…”So, what part of you do you want to invest in today?”
Or…”Let’s get some of that really fun growth going – what do you want to practice?”
Or…”Hey, let’s make that all the TV we watch today, eh – let’s dig into getting better at that thing you love doing.”
And then it’s what happens on the other side of that where the magic really starts to happen.
Let’s take a brief interlude and say hello to our sponsor for today. Education Perfect is a platform that can take a big weight off your shoulders as a home educating parent. If you have a child that’s interested in academic areas like math, history, science, social studies, or languages, it can be hard to help them drive down those paths at the right kind of level and pace they need. If you don’t use a set curriculum in your general home education approach – and we don’t – when your child wants to get into more academic areas you almost find yourself having to pull one together for the stuff they’re interested in. It can be a lot of work. Well, Education Perfect has done that work for you. You get over 35,000 lessons, over 10,000 inbuilt videos, and the ability to pick and choose any topics or lessons at any level you like. You can even build your own little courses that your child can then work through in their own way, at their own pace. It’s super flexible, and my 14 year old – who is exploring a heap of math concepts right now because he wants to – is really enjoying it. I think he feels empowered by how independent he can be with it.
Education Perfect have a dedicated Home Ed Community Leader – which says a lot in itself – and every week Tim runs a Homeschool Crash Course – which is specifically there to help home educating families get the most out of using the platform.
If this sounds like something you and your family would like to have a play with, go through the link in my show notes. Tim will know I sent you, and he’ll make sure you’re able to give everything a good test run with great support behind the scenes. And when you see him, tell him I say hello.
Right, let’s get into our second question for today.
2) How do you handle the fear that your kids might be unhappy with you – when they grow up – for choosing such an unconventional path for them?
This one, for me, weaves in neatly with some of what I said in answering the first question. I…worry about this too. Well, worry is probably the wrong word actually. Worry is too negative for how I feel about this. But…I do think about it. And I take my responsibility for making sure that doesn’t happen very seriously.
There’s a real balance to this – making sure your children are given the freedom and autonomy this kind of life path offers, and is so good for, while also providing encouragement and coaching to help them invest good chunks of their time into developing themselves.
It’s a difficult balance, but my feeling is that if you continually work on that – helping them explore and develop who they are, and head into adulthood with that strength of self – I can’t see how they would ever be unhappy with you for that.
There are probably some practical things bubbling away underneath this worry. Things like – will my children be able to go to university or college if they choose to, will they get the jobs they want, will they be able to meet people and operate comfortably in social environments…I think all those normal worries that we as parents carry about choosing this life path bubble up into the worry that those things will come to fruition and our children will hate us for it.
So, perhaps that’s the place to start. If you’re worried your child is going to regret your decision, then maybe it’s because you’re worried you might regret your decision. And…while I understand the feelings around this, you needn’t worry. Those feelings come from conditioning. From, the strong pull of the status quo. Not from what can, or will, actually happen.
Tied into this is the other side of the equation – if your children went to school, and they didn’t fit the very specific mould of success there – would they thank you for sending them? Or would they wish you’d offered them something different?
Remember, for most people, they’re walking a life path that has been chosen for them. Not something they’ve played a super conscious part in creating. Kindergarten, then school, then higher study, then a job, then retirement.
Our children have to give up a heap of freedom when living that version of life, and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact it has on them through their formative years and into adulthood.
And, in fact, we can easily measure it – just ask the next person you bump into if they woke up to do something they enjoy today, or if they grudgingly got out of bed to get ready for a job they don’t really like, handing over pretty much all control of who they spend time with, when, for what and why.
Statistically, more people than not dislike Monday. Statistically, almost three-quarters of the adult world wake up every day feeling uninspired by what they do to make a living. Which means, that if your child went to school – which is the ground from which these results are growing – their odds of doing something that really engages them when they’re older sit around that 1-in-4, maybe 1-in-3 mark.
To me, those odds aren’t good enough. To me, actively trying to tip the odds more in my children’s favour goes a long way to removing any worry that they’ll one day tell me I shouldn’t have.
The key point in my answer to this question is that as a parent you’ve made a decision that you think is right for your children. You’ve looked at the options in front of you and them, you have considered the alternatives, and you have made a conscious decision to go against the grain for good, real reasons. For them. And once they’re old enough to understand that. To understand the sacrifices you’ve probably had to make, and the social stigmas you’ve probably had to fight, and the people – including friends and family – who have probably questioned you along the way regardless of whether your child is thriving or not…I think they will see you as brave.
I think they will see you as their hero.
3) What if we can no longer home educate because our circumstances change drastically and my husband and I were either incapacitated or had to work full time? Our home Ed life is rooted in me being at home with the children and I worry if this changed my kids would be forced back into school.
You know, this is something I’ve never actually dwelled on too much, and I’m not too sure why because I understand why you would.
I think it’s because if something were to happen, and through whatever that was our children ended up back in school, well…it’s probably because that’s what our family has needed to get us through. And that’s ok. It wouldn’t be perfect – we’ve chosen a life without school for loads of reasons that are really important to us – but the importance of those things doesn’t sit above everything. If a drastic change of circumstances forces your hand, and you have school as a fall-back option for your children while you manage your way through whatever it is that’s happening in life, well…that’s ok, in my opinion. Whatever the family needs to stay stable through whatever that upheaval or change is is the right thing. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be forever, either – life always goes in seasons.
Having said that, I also believe that a lot more people in a lot more life situations could home educate than actually do. I hear from people all the time who are living this version of life through far more difficult circumstances than we are. But…they’re doing it. Because, when you really want something, you can often find a way.
I told the story in the second episode of this podcast of our personal journey through some really difficult times, and how our children actually did end up spending a bit of time in school through some of that. But I also go through how, when push really came to shove, we cut back and made sacrifices in other areas of life to make home education more sustainable for us. It’s been far from easy, as you’ll know if you’ve listened to that episode, but it has been far more achievable under far more difficult circumstances than we’d ever have believed without going through some of that.
I personally wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about this. Plan for it, if you can. Create contingencies and backup plans, if you can. And live within your means as much as possible, because that’s always a good way to live life.
But don’t let the worry of something that might happen one day take you too far out of the very moments you’re hoping not to lose.
I hope today’s conversation has given you something to take away. Some new ways to think about things that might have been on your mind. And, of course, if you’ve been carrying any worries about anything we’ve talked through today…I hope you’ve found some comfort here.
I really loved that question about the phrases – because to me it’s the tip of the iceberg of what home education is all about. There is just so much more to it than what it often looks like from the outside. And, I’m sure, so much more to it than many of us realised when we started walking down this road. It’s…kind of exciting. You have this really interesting combination of the freedom to choose how to invest your time, and the power of compounding investment when you direct that into things you’re good at as early, and as often, as you can. This is something I want to talk a lot more about one day soon.
If you’re still worried that your children might grow up unhappy with the decision you’ve made for them, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to Episode Three of this podcast. In it, you’ll find some wonderful stories shared by grown homeschoolers and unschoolers who have carved out their own place in this world. Honestly, it’s such a heartwarming, inspiring, encouraging listen.
And for any of you worried about the future – which, is just a very natural thing for us humans – try and pull yourself back to this moment, right now. Do your best to direct your life along this path, do your best to plan where you can, but if things ever change drastically and unexpectedly – back your ability to roll with those changes, and to guide your children through whatever that life season needs to look like. Sometimes, what will be, will be.
If you’ve enjoyed this question and answer episode, please do leave me a review on whatever platform you’re listening on. And, as always, if you’re in a position to support my work here, there’s an easy way to make a one-off donation right there on my website.
Thank you, as always, for listening. I’ll see you back here soon.
Bye for now.