24 Nov

Refining What Unschooling Means For Us

Whole Sherry Family Selfie

A photo posted by Rosie Sherry (@rosiesherry) on

We officially started on our unschooling journey almost 3 years ago.  We had been mulling on the idea for quite a long while before that, but didn’t feel brave enough until then.  It’s been quite a journey.  And I can quite confidently say we will never go back to our ‘schooling ways’.

Whilst I always knew that our unschooling journey would have unschooling elements for us (the parents), what I didn’t really anticipate is the extent to which we would be unschooled ourselves.

We (the parents) have had to deschool too and develop our own understanding of how our lives as an active learning family should be.  I haven’t blogged as much as I would have liked about it and we’ve all had ‘interesting’ experiences and challenges along the way.

It’s tough. Experimental. Forever changing.

It’s incredibly clear that we are all going through the unschooling process.  Which for us is not focused on school in any kind of way (I feel like we’ve recently let go of one of the last remaining things of a schooling approach, more on that later, but it has to do with maths).  It’s about living our life detached from societal pressures and expectations.  Supporting each other in any way possible.  Trying to live in harmony, ha ha!  Defining ourselves what we believe is important to get by in life. We are all learning all the time, on our own terms.  We are constantly redefining our lives, needs, expectations and goals.

A common theme is that we strive for freedom in every aspect of our lives.  Freedom to spend time with the kids. Freedom to work.  Freedom to choose where to spend our energy. Freedom to experiment and play. Freedom to decide what works for us. And letting go of all the things that try to define and hold us back.

For us, it doesn’t mean we get to do what we want all the time.  It’s more of a case of finding the balance, between all of us.  There is important work to do.  Time together and play is also important. But these things can be combined where, for example – work feels like play :) (but I am not implying play is the opposite of work).

Balance is key for us.  Lack of it is what tends to cause problems.  And our life before totally lacked balance, which we know in hindsight was generally bad for us.

So unschooling for us means:

  • freedom
  • balance
  • work
  • play

For all the family. Together.

This is really a bit of a brain dump and reflection.  This year has been wonderful, but tough.  I’d really like to get back into my desire to write and refine more about what unschooling is via our journey.

21 Oct

Of Course Unschoolers Have Rules!

There’s this perception that unschoolers live some kind of wild life of chaos.  Without boundaries and rules.  Sometimes people peeping in from the outside believe that the foolish parents are letting the kids are making all the decisions.

Unschoolers Are Unique

I cannot not and will not speak for others.  I will only speak for us.  Each unschooling family will have their own approach.  And much of what I write about comes from experience of unschooling for the past 2.5 years.

The thing with unschoolers is that we do things our own way.  There is no set way of doing stuff as we are all individuals.  It’s a constant exploration of understanding who we are and what we need.  What we do one year will not apply the next.  What we do with one child will not necessarily apply for another.

Finding The Rules That Work For Us

What we found, for us personally as a family, is that we initially let go of the rules. We let our kids explore options and make decisions for themselves.  Then as we learned to live and trust each other more (and better) we started creating rules that worked for us.

The reality, imho, is that we all live by rules.  The beauty of unschooling is that we tend to focus on the rules that work for us.  We question everything and define rules together.

So as examples, right now…

We don’t have specific bed times or start times.  Though our two youngest tend to have a routine of getting to bed between 7-9pm.

We don’t have limits on screen time.  Though we express our reasoning for a balanced life of screens, physical activity and work that needs to be done around the house/family.

We have a guideline that our older boys should ask if there is anything they can do to help before requesting their own free time.

We have rules about being quiet after our youngest children have gone to bed.

We have rules about always trying to be nice and respectful towards each other.

We make requests that the kids help with the kitchen and dining areas being tidied up after meal times.  Actually, we ask things to generally be tidied up.  It doesn’t always happen, but we have a guideline that it’s unfair if the parents have to do the tidying up all the time.

We express that us parents are only human. We have needs. We get tired too.  We have rules that we should be considerate of each other and our individual needs.

We have a rule that if people in our family smell or are dirty then they should have showers, if not for their benefit, for the benefit of others in the house!

Plenty of Rules!

So, you can see we have plenty of rules.  The difference is that these are rules that matter to us. Rules that we have created – through experience, discussion and collaboration.

The rules for other unschoolers will be different.

The result is that we are all happy to live by these rules.  And when they are broken there are no punishments, it’s more a case of understanding why the rules were broken and deciding whether to continue with the rules or use it as an opportunity to change things around.


23 May

Minimalism for Babies!

THEMINIMALISTBABYThree months ago our 4th child entered the world.  Our life has changed a lot since our 3rd child, 4 years ago.

We weren’t unschooling then. Nor were we living independent lives.  We hadn’t started thinking about minimalism at that point either.

Our (slow) journey towards minimalism has probably been going on for around 2 years now, shortly after we moved into our current house.  Despite it being a big house, we feel we are slowly moving towards our goal of living with less.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever be true minimalists, our aim is to own only what we need and use.  We have discarded of loads of stuff and we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s hard with a family and we can’t be as minimalistic as we would truly like, but we are making positive steps forward and always looking to improve.

There have been no tears of the parting of items.  Our older boys have been quite happy to get rid of almost all their belongings.  This does not include their laptop or xBox though!

What You Really Need For The First Six Months

I thought it would be worth highlighting what we have bought and set up for our new baby and what we believe is all that is really needed (for us, at least):

  • about 10 baby vests
  • about 10 baby grows
  • car seat
  • nappies + wipes (started on disposables, but have just transitioned to cloth nappies)
  • changing mat
  • baby carrier
  • stroller
  • baby bouncing chair
  • mattress / floor bed
  • Ikea Leka baby gym – bought 2nd hand for £4 #win

We haven’t bought a cot. For sleeping the baby has her own room with a mattress on the floor, Montessori style. I currently sleep with her.

expeditminimalismNor do we have a changing table.  The top of a small Ikea Expedit will do and the 4 boxes that fit into the Expedit is all the space the baby will have to keep her belongings.  We currently have 3 of the boxes/shelves filled up:

  1. with her current sized clothes
  2. clothes that don’t fit her yet (mostly presents)
  3. nappies/wipes

I hope to keep this to 2 boxes in the future so that the two bottom shelves can be kept for suitable toys/activities as she grows.

We will buy stuff as she gets older, but we will consider whether it will really add value to our lives.  For example, a walker or a donut ring is next on our list this will help free up our arms, time and bring joy to our baby. Also, the baby gym we have is not really an essential, but our baby currently enjoys it and it gives my arms a break for a few minutes :)

The Minamlistic Rules We Are Trying To Stick To

As we become much more conscious consumers, we are trying to stick to rules to help us decide what and how to buy, they are:

  • We will buy 2nd hand where possible
  • We will buy high quality so someone else in the future can get use out of it too
  • In addition to the high quality aspect – where possible we will focus on simple wooden toys.  We are desperately trying to avoid (cheap) plastic.
  • We will not hold on to anything that will no longer be used.  For example, we have already given away our daughters first size clothing.
  • When we buy something it has to have a place to live – otherwise it doesn’t get tidied away and creates mess.



17 Apr

Changing The Words You Use

I put a lot of thought into how I communicate with my kids these days.  A new baby in the house also brings extra challenges.  I’m often stuck on the couch or bed feeding.  This means I can’t easily get up and speak to the kids if they are in another room.

However, when I know they are on their computers, I now often Skype them.  Normally it’s to request something – normally to fetch me something or turning their voices down!

Today I Skyped one of them “Can you close your door?” (They were being a bit loud and I didn’t want the baby to wake up).

They promptly closed the door with an unintentional bang.  That’s how they close doors.  They don’t try to be loud.  Just kids being kids.

My reaction was to mutter to myself and shake my head in annoyance.  Luckily the baby didn’t wake up.  But it did make me think how best to deal with the situation.

So I tried again later that day.  This time I changed one word “Can you gently close your door?”

And bingo. Quiet as mice, they closed the door.


10 Mar

When Kids Practice What You Preach

One of the things about unschooling is that we spend alot of time with our kids.  This means we talk alot.

The funny thing is, the way we talk now is like friends. Or even like adult to adult.  With a huge amount of respect for each other.

When that happens we all listen better. We are all in tune with what is important for each of us. We take on board what everyone is saying and use the bits we like best, as individuals or as a family.

As parents we have had different lives.  ‘Bad habits’ are harder to break.  It’s easier for the kids to build the right habits *if they want to*. <— that’s the key.

But where we are at now, is that our eldest, when it comes to food, practices what my husband and I preach a whole lot better than we do.

He eats better and has a stronger will to resist than we do.  We can’t make him eat the bad stuff and it has resorted to us fighting over the last carrots. Something I would never have imagined!

Go figure.

10 Mar

Stop Accepting Things As They Are

We all want to create our own path, but will it truly be our own if we accept things the way they are?

There are paths everywhere that others try to define for us.  Just look around, people everywhere trying to tell you what is best. What to eat. What to wear. When to wake up. What to read or watch.  What is acceptable, or not. What to study. When to study. How much you should know, or not. What to do with your life. When you are right, or wrong.

Anyone and everyone will happily give you advice.  But it is only you that has to live with it.  The more you follow what others say, the less you really know who you really are.

How many of your thoughts are really your own?

There is so much pressure these days to follow a path that someone else has defined. So much so, that we often forget that we can define our own and it doesn’t have to look anything that currently exists in this world.

When you define your own life; your own path; discover the things that you enjoy and start discovering how wrong everyone else is about you. That is when you start discovering who you are.

And like a true teenager you begin to care less and less about what the world has to think or say about you.  Because it doesn’t matter.

The sad truth today is that many of us don’t take the time to get to know ourselves. We’ll come up with excuses of why.  And keep trodding along the path that others have created for us. Often expecting to be given the time to find out, at some distant point in our lives.

The reality is it’s a rare thing to be truly given anything.  You need to take stuff when and where you can. (You can apologise later!).

11 Jan

Won’t The Kids Just Sit And Play Video Games All Day?

Society has such little faith in our children.  It seems if we are not there to guide, monitor and control them then they will make awful decisions.

One of the most common responses to us unschooling is…

But won’t they just:

  • play video games all day?
  • watch TV all day?
  • not do any real work?
  • be lazy and not get any exercise?
  • eat junk food all the time?
  • be rude?
  • be unhelpful?
  • not learn a thing?
  • not be able to cope in the real world?
  • etc, etc, etc.

As we dive deeper and deeper into the world of freedom and unschooling I can’t help but feel that the lack of trust we have in our children making (good) decisions is a huge problem with society.

Why do we not have faith in our children to become good and well educated people of the future?

Why do we feel we have to control every aspect of their lives for them to become respected and educated citizens?  A typical child’s life, until they are around 18, generally involves others or the system making decisions for them.

It’s almost like we see children as a different species.

In our world of unschooling (note that each unschooler does things differently) we give our kids more freedom than most.   And the more we unschool, the more we realise that a huge part of their education is us all having discussions together and working as a team.

We all have a role to play.  We are all part of a team. And we all make a difference.  The more we work together in an unschooling way, the more the kids see the value they can bring to us and their community.

The reality is that they mostly don’t need teachers to teach them stuff.  They just have to want to do things.  So we talk about alot of stuff that they are interested in, could be interested in and in a way that will encourage them to see the value in learning new skills.  We open their minds to the possibilities that are out there.

We encourage them to try different things too.  They don’t have to stick with everything they try, but opening their minds to new things is important…we believe.

When they want to learn something, it happens remarkably quickly often without much help from us.  If they are genuinely not interested, then we drop it.

Sure, sometimes they have lazy days. Sometimes they eat junk. Sometimes they have alot of screen time.  Sometimes they snap at us or can be rude.  But to be honest, don’t adults do that too?  And us adults do, what’s the big deal?  We are not seeking perfection.

The more we unschool, the more we see the kids doing stuff and pestering us adults to help them achieve things they want to do.  They are not sitting on their lazy arses watching life pass them by.  They are proactive.  If anything, they are getting us up and about doing more stuff.

My eldest is particularly driven at the moment.  He has written down his goals for the year.  There are 11.  Most of the things he gets on and does himself.  Though some activities (like cooking and maths) he often needs help, and boy does he get on my case to help him get through his schedule (that he has created) for the day.  We have not asked him to do any of this.

So, will they just play video games all day? No.

Perhaps people should realise the influence they have on children and start raising their expectations and trust in them.

Believe in the kids of the future and they will surprise you in many ways!


07 Jan

Why And How We Cancelled Christmas

Masters in the Business of Us...Graham recently wrote about life choices we have made as ‘unschoolers’.   For us, we are viewing unschooling in the sense of not just our kids education, but as our life as a whole picture.

The 3 key areas (for us) we have identified for this are: unschooling, bootstrapping and minimalism.  As we find that these 3 philosophies overlap significantly in their thinking and approach whilst addressing different parts of our lives.

The more we have gone down each of these paths the more we have have let go of things that do not add value to our lives.  Sounds simple enough, but it’s a slow, slow process.

The latest thing we chose to get rid of is Christmas and I thought it would be worth trying to explain why and how.

The Why

Sometimes you feel like you are on a treadmill in life.  You continue doing what you are doing because that’s just the way things are.

A ‘9-5 stuck in a rut job’ can be typical example of this.  Sure, there’s a need to go out there and earn money.  Early on you may have had dreams to move on or do better.  But along the way these dreams and reasons got lost along the way.   It is only when you begin to re-evaluate your life and job that you realise how far off track things have gotten and that you’ve now signed up to so many things that the consequences of quitting feel too big.  This often creates a feeling of being stuck.

I kind of feel like it’s the same with Christmas.  Sure as a kid it was fun.  As a teenager and young adult, not so much.  As an adult with a young family the experience of creating Christmas quickly felt like a chore to us.  We had signed up to the festive rituals, no religious stuff for us though as we are not religious in any kind of way. Got the kids to believe in Santa. And now felt stuck in a routine that we didn’t particularly enjoy anymore.

As the years passed with the family, I really began to dread the whole Christmas thing.  The mass media advertising. The mass spending of unnecessary money. The mass lying about Santa to kids.  The mass focus on so called ‘season of giving’ that feels so unbalanced to society.

The kids didn’t really appreciate, need or value the presents that were given.  And a whole years worth of catching up with family was crammed into a few short days.

It wasn’t about punishing our kids or feeling that they had turned into brats.  Nor was it about saving money.

We just felt in our hearts that the whole run up to Christmas didn’t add value to our lives.  So we decided to get rid of it.  We would have probably stopped it years ago if we didn’t have kids.

The How

The first thing we did was speak to our older boys (aged 9 and 11) to explain what we wanted to do.

We said we didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore because:

  • we are not religious
  • we dislike the mass media and advertising around it
  • we felt like it didn’t add value to our lives (and our time and money could be better spent elsewhere)
  • we could go in search of something else to do in life, something else to celebrate – and we could choose exactly how and what. (We didn’t have to make a decision straight away.)
  • we never liked the whole Santa thing. This year was the perfect year to stop as their younger brother (aged 3) is at the age where he starts to understand and believe the stories around Christmas.

We asked them how they felt about it.

There were no tears. No complaints. Our (older) kids were completely on board. I kid you not.

They said it made sense and ‘that’s fine!’

The kids did ask about presents and our response was that if they ever wanted or needed something then they can ask us and we can talk about it.  If we have the money and if we believe it adds value to our or their lives then we tend to get it.  Sometimes we’ll have to wait a bit for it or we make some kind of agreement around it. We also find a bit of patience makes them think about it more and often they decide against it.  However, the key point here is that Christmas doesn’t mean we have to buy stuff and that it often makes sense to wait till after Christmas to get better deals.

Our ‘No Christmas’ happened by:

  • us donating our Christmas tree and decorations to the local Montessori Nursery that our youngest goes to
  • we didn’t decorate or do anything Christmassy in any kind of way
  • our daily thoughts and actions not being over taken by Christmas tasks, we kind of forgot about Christmas
  • with our 3 year old we decided to take the approach of not talking about Christmas or Santa, unless he specifically asked stuff.  It was slightly awkward at times as he was aware of some things through his nursery.  He’ll be more aware next year and we’ll have to figure out the best approach to it.

Interesting things that we noticed:

  • it was so nice and relaxing!
  • we didn’t really do any work, just took things easy and focused on ourselves – as a result we managed to do some personal stuff/projects that we had wanted to ‘find the time’ to do for ages!
  • Graham’s mum who normally comes down for Christmas postponed her trip to a more sensible time (in February after our next baby is born/due)
  • we became observers of Christmas – via the likes of Facebook we would see others celebrate and we felt quite content within ourselves that we were not taking part in it.
  • no presents were given
  • no junk was accumulated
  • we had a low key meal and watched a family movie
  • a nice time was had

I suspect that our ‘no christmas’ will evolve over time. Being 8 months pregnant I particularly enjoyed the not having to do much and having the opportunity to have a few lazy days to focus on myself and family without work emails coming in.

I don’t feel under pressure to do something instead of Christmas.  I am tempted to do some good long term social cause project in the future, but I don’t want this to be something to replace or just happen because of or at Christmas time.  Good causes need support throughout the year.

All in good time though! As my current energy levels are loooowww!




03 Jan

To Compete or Not To Compete

When you stick like with like then they will naturally be compared and compete.

Stick kids of all the same age in a class – they will be measured, compared and compete against each other. Stick kids in a mixed age class – like Montessori does – and they can’t compete.  They actually end up helping each other out.  Siblings often can’t compete on the same terms – age differences mean that they will often never be at the same level.  Sure there is rivalry, but not really competition like is witnessed at schools.

Stick adults in a similar working environment with similar career progressions – they will be measured, compared and compete against each other.

So what’s the problem with competition?

Is it a bad thing?

Does it really push and encourage us to do better?

Do we become a better society because of competition?

I know, as an adult, I would utterly detest being compared and ranked against everyone else my age.  If I went seeking this information to see how well (or not) I’m doing compared to others of a similar age, country, gender then I’d soon be doubting myself at every single opportunity.  I would probably lose focus of who I wanted to become and be tempted into the greatness of someone else’s picture of success.

In the context of business – competition is often seen as good, but the negatives are there too.  Driving costs down. Lack of employee welfare. The pressure and stress to succeed no matter what the cost – to people or the environment. Etc. Etc. Etc. All in the name of success and competition.

The benchmarks that exist – do they really make sense or have any value?

Could some analysis and numbers really determine how well I’m doing? And how happy I am?

Maybe I would classed as happier then average, but if the average is ‘depressed’ then it’s not such a great thing.

My gut tells me competition is (often) a bad thing. We lose sight and focus of the things that are really important. We become distracted by competing on other people’s terms. And we fail to really see what is important to us – as individual human beings.

I see this in my kids as we’ve removed them from the education system – it really doesn’t register with us what other kids their ages are doing.  We look at them as individuals to help them achieve the next step in their life.  We are proud of what they achieve, not because they have achieved some kind of grade or are better than someone else, but because they have worked hard, overcome inner challenges and come out the end stronger.

I also see this in us, as parents.  The more we detach ourselves from the rat race. The more we focus on ourselves and not on what others expect of us, then the more motivated and focused we become to self improve and get to where we want to get to.

We think really hard about the decisions we make.  Is this something that we really want? Or have we been unnecessarily influenced by what others think?

Our terms. Our ideas. Our rules.

31 Dec

The Science Behind The Education System

I’ve always loved the Montessori approach to learning. My 3 year old goes to a local Montessori Nursery, as did his older brothers several years back. Their experience has been nothing but positive. Sure, Teresa who runs the little Montessori nursery deserves a lot of credit for being lovely :) but I also think there is a lot we could all learn from Montessori – whether you believe in the standard education system or not.

For me, one of the things that I’ve been taking away from my reading and research into Montessori is the clear scientific approach to the Montessori child led approach.

Maria Montessori spent many years observing children and creating activities, tools/equipment and theories of why and how children learn best. Her approach has always been scientific – always looking to explain and prove her findings. Though I’m no expert, it feels clear to me that her motivation was for the child. To help children learn with desire and purpose to then become capable and confident adults. She was not motivated by money. Or by creating a system or company to dominate the education world. Or by proving intelligence through tests. Her focus was the child – understanding how they work from many angles of life and as a result creating things that would benefit their growth, when they are ready and prepared for it.

I take a lot of ideas from the Montessori approach and apply them to our unschooling environment. To me, many of the Montessori activities that have been designed just make sense. I can and have seen why they work. And this is what gives me confidence in the Montessori approach.

I’ve become quite a practical and scientific led person over the years. Montessori went to great extents to prove her findings scientifically. There is nothing like that for the current education system. This is a big part of why I’ve lost any confidence in the school system.

The comparison of Montessori & unschooling with the current schooling system will inevitably be mentioned here! Those of us who homeschool are most likely well aware of the origins of schools – they were never created with the child in mind. There was probably no research into how children learn best. The focus was to churn obedience out children in an organised way. As far as I am aware, there is no research and proof that the current education system works well. There are endless attempts to prove effectiveness through tests, and more tests. But really, do tests really prove that at student is a well rounded, capable, independent and content child? Test may be able to prove certain things that a child is capable of doing, but it is purpose is to prove the capability of one single area of a child and ignoring the rest.

I never wanted to send my kids to school. There was always something tugging at my heart strings that made it feel wrong. I knew I could homeschool from the beginning, but didn’t. We’ve had some horrible school experiences, but there were also some positive ones. But in the end, the positives of homeschooling won.

My purpose here, really is not to have a go at the current education system, it’s more a reflection of mine. A validation of the decisions we have made as a family. I feel confident and content that our energies are being spent on focusing on our children in an unschooling, child led and Montessori way. We’ve been doing this 2 years now and I feel it is right to invest our time and energy this way.

How could I send them into a school system that I don’t believe works? Never say never(!)… I could now never send my kids into a school or an education system which has not been specifically designed to create content, confident and capable children.

There is no science behind the education system.