What do Kids do All Day if Not Directed by Adults?

What will unschooled kids do all day if not directed by adults? And what do they learn? What does a typical unschooling day look like?

Excerpted from Unschooling To University, by Judy Arnall

Children miss so many opportunities and discoveries when they are in school. They would get the chance to explore more things in life if their time were not constantly directed by adults. The key is trust. We must develop trust that our children will find things to do when they are bored. So let them be bored. Kids who are not used to people entertaining them, start to own their use of their time and embark on projects and inquiry to satisfy their curiosity. Many homeschoolers know this from practice. There is no way we are going to spend our days entertaining our children. That is their job! All we have to do is ensure they clean up their messes and make sure safety rules are followed.

Unstructured time worries people. They are uncomfortable without evidence of structure, especially externally imposed structure. But consider the following two ideas.

First, children who need structure impose it upon themselves as their executive function grows. My 15-year-old daughter disciplined herself to go for a walk every day. My 17-year-old son hopped on the treadmill every day at 5 p.m. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular times. The children read in the evenings, not during the day; daytime just doesn’t work for them. We take our vitamins and read the newspaper every day. Except for the teens, we go to bed most nights at midnight and get up at 9 a.m. Yet most people consider our day unstructured because we don’t homeschool or school. Just because the government doesn’t impose structure in the form of established school- day hours doesn’t mean that people don’t impose their own internal structure on their time. Ask any retired person and they will tell you that they are busy and that their days and weeks have structure, rhythm, and purpose.

Second, an unstructured day doesn’t mean that children will be up to no good. Children who are used to filling their time with projects and meaningful activities will not spend time loitering around malls, vandalizing, shoplifting, taking drugs, or having sex when adults are not around. The adults in their lives trust them to fill their time productively, and they have had lots of practice doing just that.

“We like to unschool because we actually get some time to do something else. If you go to school, you have to get up at 7 a.m. and then stay at school for 10 hours doing lots of math that you already know. Like, if you learned Division or Multiplication then you’ll have to answer a million more questions. Then you come home, do your math book, go to sleep, and then it starts all over again. While if you unschool, then you can learn math from other things. For example, I found an online computer game called Graal where my brother and I learned spelling, math and grammar. You also get plenty of time to play. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to homeschool.” [sic] wrote a 10-year-old unschooler, in a letter to the government.

One mom said, “We do things in four ways—I do things with her that she needs and wants to do (play and projects). She does things with me that I need and want to do (work), then we do things together (chores and errands) and we do things separately (I practice piano while she plays).” (Stephanie J, 2004)

My son Neil went to a high school for eleventh grade. He had more than enough credits to take two spares in school instead of the one spare that the school allotted to Grade 11 students. When he was caught up on homework, he would go to the library during his spares to sit and reflect. The adults were unhinged by this behavior. Why wasn’t he doing an activity instead of just staring into space! No wonder he came home to finish high school his way the following year.

Here are some activities my kids did entirely on their own because they were bored! This list might look very daunting. But there were also many, many days that my kids played video games nonstop! We eventually expressed our need for them to vary their activities, and they agreed to turn off the screens and look for something else to do. (See more on the educational benefits of video games in Chapter 18.) I’ve also indicated the subjects that each activity can teach, to show the reader how simple activities are educational without even trying to be.

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
5 – 11-year-old children
Legend:
M–Math E–English SC–Science SS–Social Studies A–Art D–Drama PE–Physical Education
Cook and bake M Play restaurant, factory, garage, etc. M, E, SC, A
Play board games M, E, SS Do household and neighborhood chores and projects M, E,

SC, SS, PE

Make board games E, A Play postal person and deliver mail to members of the house E
Paint, sculpt, arts and crafts E, A Make potions and set up a shop SC
Make craft kits A Build carpentry kits from home improvement stores M, SC, A,
Sew, knit, or crochet dolls, puppets, stuffies, and blankets A Do projects and badges from Girl Guides, Scouts, 4H, Jr.

Achievement, Jr. Forest War- dens, Cadets

M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Do puzzles E, SS, A Play casino M
Build workshop projects M, SC, A Visit friends and have sleepovers E
Play Barbies, Polly Pockets, Pokemon E Garden SC
Build snowmen and snow sculptures SC, A Gave a demonstration or speech at a homeschool fair E
Make sand sculptures SC, A SC Watch videos: Pokemon, Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy SC, SS
Play Stock Pot Inn (paper dolls) A Make movies E, A
Make circuits SC Video record a homemade movie E, A, D
Read stories, comics, and reference books E Create a theater, mime, or puppet show and make

tickets, signs, scripts, puppets; sing, dance, perform skits

M, E, A, D

 

Make a dictionary, diorama, cookbook, list, map, mobile, mural, photo album, puzzle,

tape recording, time line, poster, animated movie, movie, etching, picture, TV program, dinner, trial, survey

E, A Create a dance, filmstrip, model, musical instrument, newspaper, cartoon, radio program, recipe, slide show, slogan and ad, board game, bumper sticker, petition, piece of art, questionnaire, experiment, new product, costume, display M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Write stories and illustrate picture books E, A Play at the park alone or with buddies or in groups PE
Scribe and illustrate books (before reading age) E, A Play badminton, catch, rollerblade, swim, ski and many other sports PE
Illustrate a story, diary, calendar, chart, collage, mosaic or collection E, A Host a lemonade stand M
Research items of interest on the internet and in stores M, E Go on field trips to city amenities, zoos, and manufacturing plants SC, SS
Make trains, castles, and cities from cardboard boxes M, E, SC, SS Collect cans and bottles for recycling M, SC
Make bumper stickers E Shop M
Collect items, research and organize them, and display the collection E, A Plan a journey M, E, SC, SS
Write a book, computer program, letter, letter to the editor, new law, news report, poem, song, story, essay, article, play E, SS, A Travel M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Volunteer M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
12 – 15-year-old children
Cook and bake M Do household, neighborhood, community chores and projects M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Play board games M, E, SS Clean rooms, help with home maintenance M, SC, A, PE
Make board games E, A Fix cars SC
Paint, sculpt, draw cartoons, make arts and crafts E, A Learn to maintain appliances SC
Make kites SC, A Build projects in workshops M, SC, A
Build snow sculptures SC, A Work on a lathe M, SC, A
Sew, knit, or crochet dolls,

puppets, stuffies, and blankets

A Run errands with parents to learn about consumer relations E
Do puzzles, sudoku, crosswords E, SS, A Visit friends and have sleepovers E
Go camping SC, PE Garden SC
Work out at the gym individually or in group classes PE Give a speech, demonstration, or evaluation at Toast- masters Youth Leadership E
Go for bike rides, walks; go rollerblading, skiing, skating PE Participate in interest-driven homeschool groups M, E,

SC, SS,

A, PE, MU

Play computer and video games M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE

Go on field trips E M, E, SC, SS, A,

D, PE, MU

Program computers, design apps and websites M, E, A Host a debate E
Participate in social networks E Plan a training session E
Read books, newspapers, websites, blogs, and forums such as Reddit E Participate in a mock interview E, D
Write in a journal or learn a language E Play music MU

 

Write stories, novels, comics, blogs E Play musical instruments: guitar, piano, drums; play in a band MU
Research items of interest on the internet and in stores M, E Write music MU
Self-study with textbooks and workbooks; work out the problems and review the solutions in the workbooks M, E, SC, SS Participate in interest- based clubs such as First Lego League, NaNoWriMo, Computer Programming,

Writing, Parkour, Beakerhead, Sports, Karate, etc.

E, A,

SS, SC,

M, D, PE, MU

Collect items, research and organize them, and display the collection E, A Work at a job outside the home M, E
Travel M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE, MU

Volunteer M, E, SC, SS, A,

D, PE, MU

 

What do they do all day? And what does it teach?
16 – 20-year-old children
Cook, bake, make beer and jam M, SC Do household, neighbor- hood, community chores and projects M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE

Paint and sculpt A Participate in home renovations M, E, SC, SS, A, PE
Work on projects that will strengthen knowledge and appreciation of the arts, environmental stewardship, community engagement M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, MU

Work on bicycles, motorcycles, cars SC
Play sports, work out, ski, skate, toboggan, ride bike, go camping PE Fix and maintain appliances SC
Attend formal online or physical classes of academic subjects or personal interests M, E,

SC, SS,

A, D, PE, MU

Go to maker studios to work on projects of many kinds SC, A
Fix computer viruses and reformat hard drives SC Build a 3D printer SC
Program computers, scripts, java, video games; design apps and websites M, E, SC, A Run errands for parents: dry cleaner, bottle depot, craft store, supermarket, bank, etc. M, E
Read novels (both genders read about 3 hours a day, every day) E Visit and host friends for parties, gaming sessions, and events E
Read books, newspapers, websites, blogs, and forums such as Reddit E Give a speech, demonstration, or evaluation at Toastmasters Youth Leadership E
Keep a journal, or learn a language E Participate in interest-driven homeschool groups M, E, SC, SS, A, PE, MU
Write novels and short stories E Go to concerts, festivals, and day trips to local amenities M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE, MU

Spend time at the library M, E,

SC, SS, A

Mentor young or inexperienced person in an interest, such as coding, Latin, French E

 

Self-study with textbooks and workbooks; work out the problems and review the solutions in the workbooks M, E, SC, SS Take drivers’ education and learn to drive M
Visit relatives in distant countries, alone or with family M, E,

SC, SS, A, PE

Teach themselves to play a musical instrument MU
When traveling with family or friends, visit the local cities’ museums, zoos, science centers, and cultural centers E, SC,

SS, A, PE, MU

Participate in interest-based clubs such as First Lego League, NaNoWriMo, Computer Programming, Writing, Parkour, Beakerhead, Sports, Karate, etc. E, A, SS, SC, M,

D, PE, MU

Work in temporary office,

retail, or warehouse jobs

M, E,

SC, SS, A, PE

Volunteer M, E, SC,

SS, A, D, PE, MU

Everything children do is educational.  Everything!

About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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