These are some brief notes from a talk I gave at the North East Unschooling Conference on August 22, 2013.
7 Habits of Highly Happy Unschoolers
(Based on “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey)
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Don’t be stuck in reaction mode. Move on from reacting to: government pushing you around, parental control when you were young, bad school situations that you suffered yourself, or negative experiences your child had in school.
Being proactive means having the imagination and confidence to make your own choices. If you choose unschooling then remember that it IS a choice. You could send the kids to school like everybody else. Happy unschoolers recognize that they’ve made an alternative choice and it is up to them to choose how to carry through on it.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
What is the point of unschooling? Figure that out for yourself – your goals won’t be the same as mine. How will you know if unschooling is “successful?”
Habit 3: Put First Things First
This is the habit that really really matters. It is practical. It means that every little or big decision you make today and tomorrow and next week should be based on whether or not it contributes toward your true goals. Don’t do things just because others are doing them. Don’t do things because they are expedient. Don’t do things because they seem urgent. Do the things that line up with your own principles – the ones you came up with as Habit 2.
Remember that keeping your choices in line with your own highest priorities will feel good and right when you do it – even when it is hard. This is what can guide you in handling the little things that come up in everyday life and it is all those little things that add up to the big things and your family’s quality of life.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Kind of a “duh” for unschoolers – we know we want to do this. But is also the place where many people get stuck most often. Remember, the idea is to develop a habit of looking for ways that everybody can win. If you are normally committed to being solution-oriented, then on those occasions when solutions elude you and everybody else (DO remember to ask the kids), then your family members will more likely be forgiving and accommodating.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Listen, listen, listen. And then listen some more. Nobody ever told me that THE number one most important parenting skill is to stay interested, listen carefully, and not interrupt when your children are talking. Ask questions. Make sure your child feels thoroughly understood. Then respond with few words and lots of encouragement. Kids (and other people) will only really listen to you if they feel understood first.
Habit 6: Synergize
For unschooling families this means think of your family as a team. The very minute you get any hint of an adversarial relationship developing, work on that immediately. A feeling of being “in this together” is the critical element that makes unschooling wonderful and different than mainstream. How do you develop it? Support your family members. Model generosity. Invite a lot of collaboration in little and big ways. For example, in a grocery store ask the kids, “What do you guys want for dinner?” Get what they want. Ask, “Which check-out line should we get into?” Include them in these little mundane things casually and in the normal course of your day.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
This is about self-care and also about continuing to work on your own understanding of unschooling and on creating a sweet unschooling life for your family. We can become complacent – but don’t do that. Instead, keep reading, learning, and stay connected.
Habit 8: Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs
Apply that to our roles as unschooling parents. It encapsulates what this is all about – finding our voice as we work on ourselves. We work through all our own crummy baggage and while we’re doing that our children grow and learn and, just as we find our own voice, we discover we are singing in beautiful harmony with the voices of our kids – voices we have inspired.
This is a beautiful idea that really resonates for me with the way unschooling has worked for me and my family.
I hope for the same for you.