Many studies show kids crave structure; as an unschooling mom who allows her kids quite a bit of freedom, it’s my job to give them the structure their minds want in ways that are useful and also harmonious with our unschooling life.
Here are three ways we incorporate structure into our unschooling family:
- Chores. The kids are always expected to do some kind of chore or multiple tasks each day. We usually have some sort of system that tells the kids what is expected of them. This doesn’t always come in the form of a chart. They get bored with stickers or small novelty items easily. The number one motivator is technology. One of the rules we have when it comes to chores is your own room is not a chore, it is your responsibility to maintain. Are their rooms always clean? Ha! No. Sometime, we can’t walk through the cut up paper and toys, and we require them to clean up, but it’s not a daily thing. We do, however, have a list (sometimes physically written, sometimes not) of chores that we put on a rotation that the kids are responsible for before they’re allowed to have screen time. Sometimes the list is unnecessary and they’ll be told to clean the kitchen, or living room before playing/watching. We don’t pay them to help maintain the house, but we do pay them to do things that aren’t daily necessities. The only rule we have for paid chores is: your room must be clean and your required duties finished before you can be paid to do a job.
- Church. As members of our family (and small children that cannot stay alone) the kids go to Wednesday night Bible study each week. As members of our church, we see it as our responsibility to attend studies or volunteer our time. While the kids are still small enough that they do not volunteer on Wednesdays and Sundays I do. Not only does a scheduled, weekly activity add structure to our home, but they know, no matter the season, we will be at the church every Wednesday and Sunday unless someone is sick. As a family that often volunteers in our church, they will usually spend long hours with me prepping a lesson, or re-doing a room, or getting ready for a festival or program. These extended hours require them to behave better than they would at home, with less to do. This demands self-control from them. While they’re not perfect but neither am I.
- Manners, respect, and responsibility. As children all under the age of eight, the amount of responsibility they actually have is small, but they do have things they are responsible for. It’s not always the same, though. For example: recently we had hundreds of Queen butterfly caterpillars at our house. The kids wanted so badly to bring a few indoors to watch cocoon and hatch. I told them I would not take care of them alone and they needed to stay in their rooms. (Our cat likes them… and not in a good way.) The girls hatched about six or seven and let them free without much help from me, washed the container they used to put them in when they were all gone, and got rid of all the plants and water they used. This is a job well done for a seven and six-year-old. Manners and respect are essential in our house, too. We’re pretty laid back (hence- the unschooling thing), but we do expect common courtesy from the children (and ourselves) as well as respect for elders and each other. We allow them to choose their bedtimes as long as they’re getting enough sleep to function responsibly and be nice the next day. As soon as one of them has tired eyes and stomps about grumpily, or has nothing nice to say to anyone, their bedtime becomes regulated until I believe they can fall asleep at a decent time.
Does your family unschool? How do you incorporate structure into your home?