Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Destruction Instruction
by Amy Bowers

As I unschool my two young children, I am constantly amazed – not at how much they are learning, but at how much I am absorbing and changing. Most importantly, I am beginning to see clearly and release my expectations for my children’s behavior before it manifests into a controlling, coercive, or even mean spirited word or action. One area in particular that challenges me concerns the destruction of property.

As parents, I think, we are often pleased when our children use items in an unorthodox way – a wooden block for a piece of pie or a cushion for a boat – but how encouraging are we when our young children use something in a manner that seems destructive to our “schooled” sensibilities? I am not above admitting that I have bristled when my daughter takes expensive stickers and sticks them one on top of another or when she cuts up a flower or her dolls’ hair. I say nothing because I understand that it is important to her to discover and alter her world as she decides is necessary. But, on days when my energy is low and my brain has apparently recalled everything I had deschooled out of it, I admit my eyelids lower just a bit as I sigh.

Recently, I bought my daughter a special porcelain princess plate and mug for a gift. She enjoys dressing up and loves big, puffy, sparkly dresses, so I thought this would be a great present. It came in a sturdy hatbox that I thought she would like to put her stuff in. Immediately, she began covering the entire box in thick blue glitter glue, with her hands smearing it in until the image was completely obfuscated. I did not say anything, but thought, “Great…. That’s trashed!” Negative thinking, for sure. Even though I knew it did not really matter, I was not joyful about the experiment and felt rather glum that my expectation of her stashing her treasures was not met.

Well, two weeks later, the box was in the playroom, and she discovered how to peel off the glue. This turned into a fun game with lots of exuberant “Wow!”s and “Cool!”s. The box is as good as new, and we had this great experiment that she designed. It was one of the many a-ha! moments I have had parenting my young children. I suppose if one wanted to track the skills that were learned, there would be many: fine motor skills, cause and effect, sharing/turn taking (she handed the glue strips to her younger brother, and then he handed them to me), artistic experimentation, and tactile sensations (smearing the wet glue and picking off the dried glue).

To some outside the natural learning dialogue, this might seem like stretching it. I mean, come on – it’s just dried glue! But, I think it is exactly the point of unschooling. Preschool instructors and curriculum sellers would love to come up with an “activity” that could hit so many benchmarks and still remain interesting, and even if they were able to come up with one, it could never match the strength of the homegrown activity that a child invents. When children have the space to investigate and invent their own play and games, they are truly invested in the process, and, given that agency, the skills and knowledge that they acquire will stick. Amazingly, this knowledge will be exactly what they need at the time they need it.

Now, when my daughter or son asks to cut something up, take it apart or otherwise explore it, I give an enthusiastic, “Yes,” step out of the way, and try to steal a little peak now and then to see what I might learn from their experiment.

Amy lives in the shadows of Disney World with her master baker husband and their children, a 3.5-year-old fireant ballerina and a 1.5-year-old monkey king who has a crush on Maisy. They spend their time traveling, cooking, fixing their old house, and adding a bit of glitter glue to all they do.



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