How to make unstructured learning successful

Here is the thing: when you remove curriculum and school-y stuff, a lot of parents have no idea what to DO.  It seems absolutely unfathomable that we should be doing NOTHING in relation to our child’s education.

To be fair, you’re not doing NOTHING.  Here is how “nothing” happens in my house (and some things I need to get way better at)…

Maybe there are people out there that really enjoy doing absolutely nothing.  I’m not one of them, but I’m noticing a really bad trend here in my home.  Where BigGuy (now age 12) is able to pick up and run with what he wants to learn, my Girly (now age 7) is not.  She’s also really unhappy.   She WANTS to learn stuff but is still very reliant on me for things.  She also doesn’t know “what’s out there”.

Let’s call it like it is: I’ve been lazy.  Or rather, I’ve been really distracted with some heavy life challenges.  Girly has asked and I haven’t delivered.  I have been


When I gripe about American parenting culture, this is for sure at (or near) the very top of my list:  the misunderstanding of what it means to spend time with your kid.  The result is a lot of disconnects in parent-child relationships that often result in poor behavior (and bullying).

There are many parents that think they are spending time with their kids because they are at the same event or function and in the same room as their children.  Some parents think that speaking AT their children or directing conversations with their children (as the major or sole way they communicate with them) is engaging with them.

Nope. Nope. Nope.  And there are no great role models for meaningfully engaging with your kids, either.  At least none that I can think of (and admittedly, I’m on roughly year 8 of not having access to regular TV shows–surviving my current year on binge-watching back-seasons on the Roku when I fold laundry late at night).

Engaging with your child means getting down on their level (physically as well as mentally) and letting them drive the conversation and activity.  You don’t need to do this all the time, but you do need to do it often.  When BigGuy was younger, I found that if I could give him just 15 minutes of this every morning (with a timer for “Mama time”), he would often feel fulfilled enough to leave me alone for several hours and I could get a lot of stuff done.

I DID NOT ENJOY THIS PART OF PARENTING.  I still often don’t enjoy it.  But in the interest of trying to make my children feel whole, I have learned how to artfully balance my complete distaste for Legos and Minecraft and my profound stupidity for physics with BigGuy’s obsessions.  If this is you, here’s a hint: ask a lot of questions.  They love to talk about this stuff.  Make sure you fully engage by listening to the answers, taking something from that answer and building your next question on that.  THAT requires engagement.  It’s not hard, but it takes practice.  I think we have grown a habit of tuning out the annoying things our kids do.

When they realize you are actually paying attention–the relationship completely changes.

At the moment, I’m horribly guilty of not engaging meaningfully with my children and where Girly is concerned, it’s becoming a problem.  She needs me.  Left to her own devices, she has definitely come up with some wonderful ideas and things to do.  But overall, her behavior is crying out for Mommy and Mommy’s help.  She has even outright asked to learn about specific things and when I ask her how we could learn about that, she only has “books” in her little head as an answer.  No bueno.  There is a TON more available to her if Mama would get off her arse.

She asks me to paint with her or color with her and my stock reply is “In a minute” (for a good 15 minutes) or “I have to work” or “Not now” or “I can’t” or “Maybe later/another day”.  Don’t get me wrong–there are times when that needs to be the answer; but it can’t be my only answer and it can’t be all the time.  Things need to change.

So… I’m going to finish this post and walk across the room to my Girly who is laying in my bed (as she normally is for her morning snuggle) and see what I can do about being more engaged with her; and more meaningfully engaged with BigGuy (since our interactions have become about logistics and what he HASN’T done and how long it’s taking him to get dressed and make his bed… so, lots of unhappiness).

This mama isn’t perfect, either.  But we can turn it around.  Get back on that horse.

Much love to you,

Mama signature orange JPG



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s