I have to admit, the older my kids get the more complex this unschooling life becomes. When they were younger it was easy to see that they were learning in every activity, no matter how big or how small. But as they get older it isn’t really enough that they are learning. We are all learning. But at some point, and it’s admittedly ambiguous when that point is, we have to actually begin to do something with all we’ve learned and are continuing to learn. This, it seems to me, is the logical progression of our unschooled life.
These thoughts, and more, have been rumbling around in my mind for the last few months. More and more conversations with friends and family who choose homeschooling (in various forms) turn to how we’re approaching the high school years. It seems to be a fairly common concern because I have a Pinterest board dedicated to unschooling with teens and the followers for it grow almost daily. It’s mostly a board about online classes and tutorials I think my kids will find interesting but lately I’ve realized that it also needs to be a place for me to keep information about helping them achieve long term goals, not just short term interests. The board is a digital representation of the idea that as their needs change, so must my role.
As always, to figure out this changing role I have to begin with them. For quite some time now J has expressed interest in video game design and K is increasingly talking about a career in fashion, specifically as a stylist/personal shopper. I know a lot of teens express similar desires and my first instinct was to tell them that they need a back up plan. But I stopped myself because it occurred to me that it’s probably a good idea to have a plan for your actual goal before you start talking about plans for failing that goal. It’s a scary prospect though because the path to success in the fields they are interested in is not clear cut like it would be if they wanted to be engineers, nurses, or bankers. And if it’s difficult to even imagine the path it stands to reason that at times it will be even more difficult to follow that path.
However, I know that in the end, it’s not likely to be any more difficult than a life full of regret and laboring endlessly at a monotonous job. So, as my kids grow older and we look more toward the future my job as the facilitator of their education shifts. Instead of simply giving them space, resources, and support to find their passions I have to help them turn those passions into something tangible.
I love the above quote from The Princess and the Frog because Tiana’s father acknowledges that the star, the wish that is the beginning of a goal, is important and it will take you places, just not all the way. Too often we are told that growing up means being realistic and that being realistic means following the safe, easier path. But it’s entirely possible to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and still chase your dreams.
So, how does that translate into our everyday, unschooling life? Well, J and I have been talking about dreams versus goals and, in turn, long term goals versus short term steps to reach them. In the interest of game design he’s decided that his goal this year is to complete an indie game. He works on it almost daily and is saving money for computer upgrades. For my part I’m expressing interest, checking in with his progress, and helping him save (and contributing funds as I can) for equipment he needs. For K, who is a bit younger and not quite as settled on her long term goals, I’m trying to find ways for her to explore her interests. We’re looking for local fashion shows and talking about jobs she can do related to fashion (like working retail when she’s a bit older) which may help her decide if she’s truly interested in pursuing this as a career.
I continue to be ever mindful of the fact there’s a fine line between pushing my own agenda and helping them pursue theirs and I try to pay attention to their reactions to my suggestions and offers of help. My dad has often expressed that he is like a chain; you can pull him just about anywhere but if you try to push him you won’t have much luck. This is always in the back of my mind when it comes to my role in helping my kids achieve their next goal, no matter how big or small. I offer a helping hand but it’s up to them to grab hold.
As I said in the beginning of this post, as my kids get older our unschooling life becomes more complex because life, unschooling or otherwise, becomes more complex as we grow up. But no matter how complex unschooling is something I still believe in. Something which sets them on a path for well rounded success, not just financial security (which is absolutely a spoke in that well rounded wheel). Something which continues to allow space for mutual respect and understanding. Something which I think prepares them for the future without sacrificing the present.