painting rocks + thoughts on unschooling

I had all sorts of grand plans for Dancing Rabbit Daycare.  With Poppy being the oldest of the four children, I quickly realized they were unrealistic.  Instead of spending hours doing structured crafts and exploration they spend most of the day half naked in free play and exploration.  When we do do crafts, it usually lasts about 20 minutes and then I spend the next hour cleaning the house, the children, and the bathtub.

In their freedom, they have begun making up games of their own; the newest being a dragonfly hunt in which they run around the yard searching for imaginary dragonflies (don’t worry, no real dragonflies were harmed).  They discuss strategy and work well together.  Another favourite is when they all hold onto a stick or rope and pretend they are a train travelling around the yard.  Silas’ personal favourite are Peter Pan sword fights on the rocks and logs with great agility.  Their favourite toys generally aren’t toys; things like rocks, sticks, and dirt are most often played with.  They enjoy the dump trucks and diggers and love making mud and soup with rocks, dirt, grass and water.  They enjoy taking water from one place to another and will do it with great purpose.  We play a game in which we guess if an item will sink or float and then throw it in the wee pool to find out who was right.  I have been doing some reading on unschooling and am fascinated by it.  I realize their play is their work.

In the last few weeks I have noticed a shift in Poppy as she becomes more measured in her crafts.  Not so very long ago, she was the girl covered from head to toe in whatever medium we were working with that day (namely glitter, glue and/or paint) and usually smearing and sprinkling it on every surface available to her (human or otherwise).  I always tried to let her experience it as she needed and wanted, but it was exasperating at times.

This week we went into the field in search of items to use to make collages and Poppy surprised me with her enthusiasm.  She was the first to think of using the many feathers scattered through the yard.  She found leaves and flowers and stayed with me for the duration of the task, placing each item with excitement into the basket.  We said hello to an especially lovely beetle and a fluffy caterpillar before heading back in to begin our craft.  Inside she put just enough glue on her paper and carefully picked her leaf or feather to place.  She was so proud of her completed work and when I taped it up high on the kitchen door she demanded I give it to her and I later found it hanging at her level so she could admire it.

Yesterday, while the little ones slept, I took the two older ones out to paint some big rocks they had found.  Poppy usually prefers to paint her entire body (and I mean her ENTIRE body), but with this craft she took her time and chose the colours carefully.  She used a small brush and layered the colours in one concentrated place in a way that they were all visible.  It was like a beautiful gem.  They declared they were painting happy and scary monsters.

I was only there to ask questions and provide the paint and wash cloth.  I didn’t interfere or make any suggestions.  I just let them sit in silence and put the paint where they wanted.  They decided when their creations were complete and then we placed them in the sun to dry.

I am learning to trust.  My gut is drawing me into unschooling, but it is still something that makes us both a little uneasy though I have a hard time articulating why.  I think it is mainly due to the  misunderstanding attached to the term and process.  What if our children are behind?  Will people think we are neglectful and dumb.  Poppy has been testing our trust since the early months.  She was very slow to talk and has refused to show any interest or motivation to potty train while she has excelled in other areas such as coordination, and knowing all her colours, numbers, letters, animals, etc with great confidence from a very early age.   Any effort to teach her things such as using scissors or how to complete puzzles and games on the Ipad usually just makes her freeze up and resist.  Then I will spy her doing it nearly to perfection all by herself a few weeks later.  I see myself in her ways;  I preferred to learn things alone where I could make mistakes without being corrected.  Even when I really wanted to try something or learn something I would often bow out if it made me uneasy.  This can be disabling in many ways, but I would have appreciated it greatly if I hadn’t been pushed (with the best of intentions)  to be something I wasn’t.  It is a fine balance for sure; honouring who they   are while learning that challenges can be good.  Silas, on the other hand, is a proficient talker with an insane vocabulary and incredible coordination and imagination, but doesn’t have the same interest in letters and numbers that Poppy has.

My biggest question is how would we ever deal with any “delays” with confidence?  How do we tap into the trust?   Of course, these are more our issues than our children’s so I will continue reading and watching.  For anyone interested I am currently reading The Unschooling Handbook and The Unschooling Unmanual and wanting to watch this documentary.  Some other videos I have come across here.

So, who out there is unschooling?  Any tips, thoughts, references?


go gently + be wonderful





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  1. Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:59 am by leah | Permalink

    thank-you for this post today, erin. it is inspiring & i love the question about trust.

  2. Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm by Rochelle | Permalink

    Great Post Erin! We are struggling with the same thing here. Trust in the unschooling process. We are homeschooling our son for kindergarten/first grade. We are balancing everyone’s needs right now. We are loosely following Oak Meadow curriculum (so rich in stories and beauty and very gentle in the early years) with inquiry based learning. In BC we have an awesome independent school that we are registered with for support and homeschool funding called Self Design. We take all of this and kind of go with the flow. I am sure we will change our approach from time to time to see what works for our little ones but that is the beauty of homeschooling. One book that I highly recommend is Free Range Learning by Laura Grace Weldon. We are in the process of starting up a family blog to chronicle our journey. Should be up and running soon if you are interested in having a look at our process. I trust that it will all come together for you:)

  3. Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm by Lynnette | Permalink

    ” My gut is drawing me into unschooling, but it is still something that makes us both a little uneasy though I have a hard time articulating why.”
    This right here is where I am right now. My son is five and a half and we started with some oak meadow work but we feel like we need to expand and follow him more and the book less. Also, the idea of year round…aka life is learning is pulling at us. It feels so hard to let go of what we think we need to do, for the state, and what we feel is needed for our son. Walking timidly with you in this journey.

  4. Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm by Karen | Permalink

    My littlest and I are entering our second year of homeschooling. And what I am finding in this second year is that things are more comfortable…I am more comfortable letting go and she is more comfortable settling in.
    It seems to me that like anything, you find your groove and it works for awhile, or it doesn’t and you change it. And life circles on.
    Happy Friday!

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm by Lori | Permalink

      thanks, lise! i came in via your pinterest, erin, and was trying to figure out a nice way to suggest my own site. ;o)

      • Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:46 am by erin | Permalink

        Wow! So great!
        Thanks for stopping by 😉

  5. Posted September 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm by Lise | Permalink

    I discovered your blog just as you were beginning preparations for your child care, and it intrigued me, as I also have an early childhood program at home. My teaching style has been deeply informed by the preschools of Reggio Emilia, and I remember once upon a time coming across “The Unschooling Handbook” at Salvation Army and immediately recognizing that that was right for me. Like Reggio, unschooling trusts in children’s competence and motivation and ability to create knowledge. I now have a 3 1/2-year-old daughter, and she will is/will continue to be unschooled. One of the best things I remember learning right away from Reggio–and loving–was their approach to “special rights” (hear how different that is from our “special needs”?) students. They don’t look at children as being delayed. They look at what children are doing, and build on that. It’s a completely different mindset. I’d recommend reading Reggio-inspired literature. Also, Lori Pickert’s “Project-Based Homeschooling” shows a great way of supporting children in their independent pursuits. She has an excellent blog and forum (sorry if you’re already there; I can’t keep straight where I first came across people’s blogs!) Please come by my blog, too; there might be some tidbits there, although I’m in a blog slump right now and haven’t posted in ages. But I love to connect with like-minded moms!

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm by erin | Permalink

      Thanks! Will definitely check this out :)

  6. Posted September 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm by shannon | Permalink

    Hi Erin,

    We unschool our three kids in the woods of the Ottawa Valley.
    I have found that the greatest learning of all certainly doesn’t happen around a kitchen table or seated at a desk 6 hours a day, but when I follow my childrens interest (whether that is wolves, lego, crafts, audio books or little house on the prairie).
    In my experience, it gets easier the older they get and you being to see that its working. They are learning. My 5 year old is learning to read right now, without us ever prompting, pushing, or guilting him into it. He’s just ready.
    I think most children just need time. And when we don’t give that to them, and use shame and coersion in order to ‘teach’ them something, likely they will forget in the coming days anyways as its not exciting and interesting for them, and it will also teach them to be indifferent or even resentful of learning. Which is heart breaking and has a huge impact on them and society as a whole.
    My motto is LOVE OVER FEAR and that certainly pertains to homeschooling as well. Follow your heart every moment of the day :)))

  7. Posted September 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm by Misty Pratt | Permalink

    I admire all the parents who take on homeschooling and/or unschooling. Truly, I feel it would be a wonderful way to introduce my child to the learning process (not that she hasn’t already been learning on her own since conception!!). I just really, really suck at these kinds of things (i.e. crafts, lessons, organization etc), that I know I would make a terrible teacher. I am thankful that I recognize this in myself, but also more than a little sad that I’ll never have that type of personality :) Can’t wait to read along with you and watch the path you go down!

  8. Posted September 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm by Jenny Miller | Permalink

    Erin, I found the site, Joyfully Rejoycing, to be a great help with unschool doubts. My two boys have always been unschooled, but I had little periods of doubt. The site really reinforced our family’s decision and helped quell doubts in a non-judgmental way. So glad I found your blog! Blessings on your journey.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm by Jenny Miller | Permalink

      Oh and forgot, the book Free Range Learning is terrific too. I’m looking forward to seeing the unschooling documentary!

  9. Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm by Joe kelly | Permalink

    As a good parent the unease you feel regarding unschooling is the same unease I feel about traditional schooling. I need to trust that the ones adminsrating the system keep my children challenged and engaged. I need to trust that other children’s parents teach their kids to be respectful and open minded. And I need to trust that my parenting provides a foundation that creats confidence. it’s an awful lot of trusting and it’s enough to worry any great parent. Just cause it’s not unschooling doesn’t mean we’re nieve and blindly become part of the machine. It just shows that being a parent is a lot to have in commen with other parents, regardless of their schooling beliefs

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm by erin | Permalink

      Not sure where this is coming from Joe.
      No one here implied any such thing about how others choose to school their children.
      Why can’t I/we talk openly about our schooling and parenting choices without offending those who choose differently?

    • Posted September 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm by Joe kelly | Permalink

      Did I sound offended? I am offering a perspective from someone who chooses traditional schooling. We share some fears as parents and I thought I had something to offer in the conversation. I’m trying to be part of the conversation, although my perspective is underrepresented here, it is still a perspective. Please read my comment again without thinking that I hate you. this is your blog and you are free to discuss what you want, I’m not offended in the least about any of your choices, sorry I came across a certain way or if you feel I didn’t contribute.

      • Posted September 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm by erin | Permalink

        I did think you sounded offended, but you are more than welcome to represent your perspective here. We have many friends who make the same choice and many who do not, so I try to tread lightly when speaking about it. It seems that by simply believing what we believe it is offensive to others just by default.
        We have many similarities and many differences, but friendships stand on mutual respect, not on similarities alone. We are all just doing what we feel is best and fighting the good fight.
        This is the space in which I am able to most easily reach out to a larger community and gain advice and perspective so I am sure it will be discussed frequently here. You are always welcome and I am glad you still read my blog, I just felt that everyone was being respectful and helpful and you sounded offended.
        Thanks Joe

  10. Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm by Kim | Permalink

    We are just beginning our unschooling journey, although I prefer to call it “life learning”. My little guy is almost four and our days consist of baking, cooking, cleaning, playing, crafting, hiking, playing some more, reading, story telling, song singing and more play. We skate once a week, and swim once a week.

    We loosely follow the Waldorf philosophy setting up a rhythm to our days and weeks, and enjoying the festivals of the year.

    I have learned in the few years my little man has been here that he is his own teacher, I am here to guide and facilitate and learn along with him. He leads his own way and I hold his hand along the way. It takes a lot of trust in him and trust in myself. I have learned to let go and just follow his lead, and so far it hasn’t let me down.

    I have read a few John Holt books, which I love and the one that really gave me the confidence to follow my little man’s lead was Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee.

    Good luck on your journey, I look forward to following along.

  11. Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:52 am by christine m. | Permalink

    one of the brilliant things you do on your blog is to begin with a series of photos that tell the story before you introduce a single word. you set the tone with the shots, give the reader time to reflect and think about where your writing might go before they dive in and read. i love that. as for unschooling, i am speaking as an elementary school teacher beginning her 23rd year in the classroom… there are many elements of unschooling that i like and support, mostly because it respects children and their natural development. now of course, much of it depends on parental approach, interpretation and interaction with their young ones. given that your children are so young, you have plenty of time to test it out and make decisions. be fearless and see what comes! :)

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm by erin | Permalink

      Thank you so much.
      I really love hearing from open minded teachers on the matter.

  12. Posted September 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm by dre | Permalink

    My background is in elementary education, but we chose to homeschool both of our children. In the beginning, I was all for the “classical” approach (think Well-Trained Mind), and pushed it out of fear of my children falling behind and not meeting standard expectations. This was a huge mistake which I would undo if I could. My children and our journey ultimately led us to unschooling. I had so many misconceptions about what unschooling meant—-that it meant unlearning, unparenting, and most of all uneducated. I had a lot of unlearning to do from my teacher training days. It took me a long time to realize that unschooling simply means letting education unfold organically as it needs to for each child, and it can look like many things. I wish that I had read Alison McKee’s book in the beginning. If you haven’t read it yet, please do because she’s absolutely right. They get where they need to be in the end. They really do.

    My children are now 12 and 14. My 14 year old decided last semester that she wanted to go to high school (a special arts program at a new charter school) because she thinks it will help her achieve her goal of going on to an arts college. I worried about what she might be behind in (math, for example). But with that intrinsic motivation, she chose to knuckle down and review and study before she went. You know what? She’s a straight A student taking physics and algebra as a freshman. My unschooler is rocking out high school. It’s all ok. Most importantly, her years unschooling, being allowed to grow confidently at her own pace, and being properly socialized, has allowed her to see what’s going on in the school for what it really is. She’s able navigate the drama, the social issues and the inherent school structure issues better than I ever could have hoped (certainly better than I ever did). This is an unschooling WIN.

    And so 14 years later, I’m seeing the product of unschooling. It is excellent. It is relevant for raising happy, healthy human beings who can function creatively and effectively in a world where traditional authoritarian education is failing. I understand your fears. I’ve been there. And I can tell you from my heart that I would chose unschooling over again every time.

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm by erin | Permalink

      This is amazing to hear from “the othe side”.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write!

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:53 am by christine m. | Permalink

      i love your story! i am an elementary teacher too (since a long time now!) and i see my past mistakes as you mention yours. non-traditional schooling was never an option for our family, but if, as you say, we could start over again… i would definitely have chosen a different path for my high-school aged sons (mostly my youngest).. hindsight’s 20/20 as they say! so onward and upward from here!

  13. Posted September 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm by katharine | Permalink

    We’re unschooling our four (ages 9 1/2, 7, 4 1/2 and 8 months) and have really grown to see that trust manifest itself in great ways. Our goals in raising these children of ours is to raise them to be confident, competant, intelligent members of society and the time that unschooling gives us to love them and build their understanding of security that comes from that love is so important.

    From our vantage point all of our decisions with the kids are geared towards building their sense of security so they can go off in the world and do brave things. I nurse the children until they no longer need it so they know I’ll always listen to their needs. We encourage them to follow their interests even when they are different than ours or make us uncomfortable (my four year old son loves to reenact the fight scenes from the Lord of the Rings) because they need to know that we trust them to know what is in their hearts. Today at lunch we all clapped our hands along with the baby and made him laugh then did it over and over so he can learn that when he tries to communicate with us we listen. All in an effort to show them that this place is one where they will always be heard, always be welcomed and always be loved. I was raised the same way and myself and all my sisters (6 of us) have gone on to be brave each in our own ways always knowing we had a loving home to come home to.

    Unschooling led us to the harp, two voracious readers and one who just wants to get there sooner, so many fewer sibling squables than I see other places and such a strong sense of family and empathy that we are reaffirmed in our choice every day.

    Follow your heart, choose what works for you and remember, the best course of action is always the one you find yourself following when you weren’t even paying attention.

  14. Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am by Rippy | Permalink

    Hi Erin,

    For people new to unschooling, this local Canadian book is great –

    Free to Learn: five ideas for a joyful unschooling life, by Pam Laricchia. She is an unschooling mom. Here’s her beautiful website with an excerpt from her book: (

    I also liked Unschooling Rules: 55 ways to unlearn what we know about schools and rediscover education, by Clark Aldrich. I don’t think the author is an unschooler, but he is an Education Expert.

    Both books are quick and easy to read.

    I have a list of helpful articles and interviews that people who are curious about unschooling may find interesting:

    This blog post about ‘What Does it Take to Homeschool’ gives a really good idea of the personal resources you need to homeschool or unschool:

    And in case you decide to unschool and need a little help with giving answers to people who are concerned or ask questions, here is something I wrote that might be helpful:

    Good luck with your choice :-)

    Take care,


    • Posted September 17, 2012 at 8:44 am by erin | Permalink

      Amazing resources Rippy!
      Thank you so much for sharing with everybody and taking the time.

  15. Posted September 17, 2012 at 10:51 am by Ana | Permalink

    I firmly believe that young children don’t learn very much from structure crafts. The learn from making it up themselves, exploring, making their own rules, making mistakes a hundred times, exploring the mistakes, talking it over with their peers, coming to conclusions together. This is how they learn to be problem solvers, to be social, adapted human beings. Free, unstructured play is essential. As you’re seeing, all you really have to do is watch, make sure they don’t injure themselves or others, and leave them be. There are real, scientific studies on this, published in journals, backed up by hard research and science, that say this is vital, this free play, for brain development. It produces smarter, more adaptive adults. People that can learn faster and solve quicker whatever problem comes their way.

    I think that’s why kids love me as a babysitter; I never try and force any activity on them or teach them how to do anything. I follow their lead. I’m not especially “good with children” the way people think I am, but I’m good at listening to individual children and going with their flow.

    Formal schooling, however, is necessary if we want them to be able to function in the world and society we currently live in. It’s an unnatural creation that is nevertheless necessary in order to help us function in our unnatural society. This is just reality. But it can wait until they’re 5 or 6. And any “formal” schooling must include as much time for free exploration as possible.

    In that second picture of Poppy she really looks like you.

  16. Posted September 20, 2012 at 9:55 am by Kerry | Permalink

    We do interest led/ unschooling, We’re in our 3rd year. Although for the first year I tried to be more school at home. It wasn’t a good fit for us.

    Include your kids in what you do as often as you can. Have meaningful conversations with them, really listen to them and take what they say seriously. And be the example, even at 10 and 11 my two oldest still learn by watching what the grownups in their life do. Do that, and they’ll blow your mind with all they’re learning.

    It’s tough when they don’t know something that school kids might at their age, I try to focus more on all they do know that they wouldn’t have learned and how much they actually enjoy learning. And, my son reminds me time and again just how quickly he learns when he’s got a reason to. My favorite example is when he learned the calendar and the days of the week. I volunteered in the Kindergarten classroom my oldest attended. They spent a half hour, or more if the boys were particularly fidgity, going over the calendar. They’d look at what month it was, count the days and recite the days of the week. They did this every day, all year and tested the kids at the end to be sure they all knew it before heading off to 1st grade. It was something my son didn’t learn in his Kindergarten year at home and it worried me. He didn’t learn until the end of what would have been 1st grade when we signed him up for baseball. Within just a few days he knew the days of the week, and most of the months and learned how valuable that knowledge was. This triggered an interest in time in general and he taught himself (by asking lots of questions) to read a clock and started calculating days, hours and minutes all on his own. He still enjoys telling us how long we’ve been in the car when we go out, how many days till we leave for a trip and how long we have to wait for baseball season to start again.

    Right now I find a lot of inspirations from these blogs, Wonderfarm,
    and Project based homeschooling,

    I don’t think they claim to be unschoolers but, they are certainly child led.

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