How Does Unschooling Work? A Day In The Life Of Unschoolers
Welcome! People often ask us questions about our home education philosophy; about what unschooling is and how unschooling works. I thought I’d illustrate how unschooling works for our family by writing about a typical day as an unschooling family:
We got up this morning at around 7.30am. In order to maintain my sanity I told the girls that we weren’t going to settle down and do any of our usual bits- art, iPad games, reading- until we’d gone out to IKEA and got our necessary trip out of the way (we’re moving house so we need a few bits).
Once the three of them are stuck into something it is waaaay harder to get out of the house, especially as I tend to follow suit and would have started packing or gardening or something, and before we knew it the day would be over and we wouldn’t have done what was on our (my) list.
We had breakfast (tea and toast) and got dressed, during which we talked about electrical equipment and fire safety as the girls were asking to leave their devices on charge while we were out (nope).
We hopped in the car. On the way Eira saw twin babies being pushed along in a pushchair, and asked me if I could please have another one (nope!). We talked about how resources such as time and money are finite and that despite my best efforts, it would be inevitable that my time would be split more between them if we had another kid (maybe one day. Maybe. But definitely not right this second.)
This didn’t put them off at all. Eira asked me what would happen if she was told by a doctor that she couldn’t have children. I said that there were options for helping your body to have kids, or that she could have a surrogate, or adopt. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll just tell the doctor to give the seed to you and you can grow me a baby.” Well, thanks.
We got to Hobbycraft- a local emporium of all things arty and crafty- and the girls were absolutely in their element. We learned what deco patch was, and had a brief chat about how French words (decoupage) ended up in everyday English language. We read the instructions for die cutting and sewing machines, and had a look at how sewing patterns are made.
We looked at stacks of themed fabrics and the girls told me their favourites, and we talked about how different countries inspire different colours and patterns.
Some decorations for Easter bonnets sparked a chat about Easter, about the different meanings that people bring to it and how people have different beliefs (“but they will all like these green felt hats”, said Eira, who was very taken with the grass bonnets).
Eira asked to buy a cake mix and that led to a chat about why items are priced differently in different shops- this was quickly followed by a conversation about the difference between price and value. We did some maths while pricing up art supplies (for which read: the contents of the entire store), and looked at the pros and cons of hot and cold glue guns (we’re still clueless, actually).
We talked about delayed gratification and I told them that I’d take photos of them with anything they thought they might like and that I’d get it cheaper on Amazon with a voucher that we have.
The whole way around the store we were chatting about different aesthetic tastes and the girls were deciding on themes for their new bedrooms. Esmae’s is ‘pastel’, while Eira and Elfie’s shared room is going to be half dinosaur and half unicorn (update: it’s now half panda and half ‘death’, with black skulls). Hmm.
After we’d scoured every aisle and taken a bazillion photos, we headed to IKEA, the only place in the world where you can feed your whole family for £1.50. We had a chat in the car park about road markings, and how they don’t guarantee safety, and how adults are fallible even though they are supposed to drive safely. We saw a cherry-picker machine fixing some windows, and watched the workers for a while.
Then we got hot dogs (50p! I bet Freddos are more than that now) and the girls had a whale of a time figuring out how the ice-cream machines worked (with tokens, not money). We talked about value, and budgeting, and how we decide if something is worth spending money on- case in point was buying one soft drink cup instead of three, as you get a free refill and they don’t finish a whole cup each anyway.
After that we headed to the rugs and plants section, where Eira decided she needed every green plant that was taller than her in order to make an authentic dinosaur-themed room. We weighed up the pros and cons of real vs fake plants including the environmental impact, price, dying potential (this ranges anywhere from ‘very high’ to ‘certain’ for plants in our house) and aesthetic.
We saw bamboo and talked about how fun it would be if IKEA displayed their toy pandas next to the bamboo, as well as reasons we wouldn’t move the pandas from the toy section to the bamboo- this led to a chat about the difference between rules, principles and etiquette. We talked about how fast bamboo grows and why it would make a good starter plant- essentially ‘cos you can ignore it forever.
(Update- since this conversation we have also talked about bamboo as being a more eco friendly material than plastic, as well as when bamboo was used by the Japanese army in WW2 as a torture device. I just thought this was interesting as it shows that any one theme, item or topic can spark a huge range of conversations and explorations covering many subjects areas).
We saw people loading IKEA boxes into their car, and this led to a discussion about why IKEA is cheaper than other stores due to the flat packing,and how people decide whether or not to buy from IKEA or purchase ready-made furniture. The girls wondered why anyone would buy normal, whole furniture when flat pack sounded so much fun, like a ‘giant puzzle’ (ha).
We’d had enough of the labyrinth of interior overwhelm, and headed out to the park next to IKEA. The girls played for half an hour before we headed home. In the car they figured out how to use the catalogue to reference things they’d seen, and folded pages down for inspiration for the new house.
When we got home the girls played Minecraft together, during which they figured out some new code and tried to troubleshoot an issue where they couldn’t all get on to the same world. During the game they created houses and wrote signs and critiqued the worlds they were in, with suggestions of what they’d do if they had unlimited Minecraft resources. I zoned out after a while but it involved Pokemon and a theme park and unicorns, naturally.
Then Elfie found a Paw Patrol cake mix in the cupboard and the girls made the cakes. While they were cooking we talked about how funny it was that they didn’t really remember Paw Patrol, which they’d watched when they were little. We talked about memories, and how they’re formed and stored, and some of their favourite memories (the water parks in Bali are a firm favourite!)
Of course they ate some cake and then Elfie did some weeding in the garden with me, while Eira and Esmae did some drawing inside. Then Esmae started to run a bubble bath, and couldn’t figure out why “the bubbles were growing but the water was not” (she’d forgotten to put the plug in- spectacular). We talked about what bubble bath was made from, and other bath products like shampoo.
Then the girls got their pyjamas on, listened to some music and had food, mainly several trees’ worth of mango. After that I read The Faraway Tree to them and they went to bed.
Of course, there’s no way to capture or remember every single conversation we had today, or every activity or event- often the kids will just get out something like a train track or magnets or something to cook, and will start getting on with it, and get me involved when they need help.
We love using simple discussions as a rich educational tool, exploring new information in an accessible way, in an interesting context and without pressure. Of course, no-one’s going to test them on why IKEA furniture is cheaper than other furniture, but we believe that applicable life skills and information is essential for a rich education, and we weight our activities and discussion as such.
I’d love to hear how this differed from what you might have thought a homeschool day would look like!
Thank you for reading- please feel free to take a browse around our other home education blogs.