Can a Single Parent Unschool?
By Jan Hunt
These days, many parents find themselves alone, whether by choice or by circumstances. Many of these parents assume that homeschooling is not an option for them -- but like many other assumptions, this can be self-fulfilling. Happily, homeschooling in single-parent families is easier now than it has ever been. With commitment, creativity and support, single-parent homeschooling can be not only possible but very rewarding.
If a parent considers herself a resource person rather than a teacher, homeschooling will be much more feasible. "Unschooling" (interest-led learning) is much easier and more enjoyable for both parent and child than a structured curriculum. It also takes far less energy. This is likely to be especially appreciated by a parent who has the full responsibility for raising the children, whether he or she is a single parent or a parent whose partner travels frequently or works long hours. Without the unnecessary burden of a curriculum, parents are free to respond to their children in a more natural and far less time-consuming way.
Researchers consistently find that an unstructured approach is the most effective anyway – and the most fun for both parent and child. Instead of following a curriculum and hiring a tutor, many parents instead hire household help. This gives them a break from tiring chores and allows them more time to enjoy helping their child learn.
The family at home
A major factor that makes single parent unschooling a viable option today is the increased opportunity for working at home. Many parents have started home businesses or have found contract work that can be done at home. Still others have found outside jobs that allow them to bring their children along.
Many single homeschooling parents receive government assistance for some length of time when their children are younger. While most such parents would be in a better financial position if their children were in school, they feel strongly that homeschooling is best for their children, and they find ways to make it work.
For parents with small children, I often recommend a "mother’s helper," a young person who can spend time with children while the parent is also in the home. This can provide the parent with some uninterrupted work time. If the mother’s helper is a homeschooler, he or she will be available during the day and is likely to have been raised in a similar environment.
Put your finger on the resources you need
Books and websites on voluntary simplicity and frugal living can be excellent resources. Inspiring articles on starting and running a home business and home management can be found on the Natural Life website, and SimpleLiving.com offers many helpful ideas and suggestions. The book Homeschooling on a Shoestring by Melissa Morgan includes ideas for earning money, lowering expenses, finding affordable learning tools and discovering low-cost field trips. The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs offers suggestions on money, housing, work, health, nutrition and travel.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for single parents is the need for sufficient financial resources, time and energy. Supportive friends or family can offer essential emotional support, help and encouragement. Unschooling support groups and parent co-ops are invaluable resources for creative ideas and emotional support. Jon's Homeschool Resources includes a list of support groups in many locations. The Single Parent and Working web page offers advice on homeschooling for working single parents, and the Homeschooling While Single Parenting mailing list offers a connection to other parents facing the same challenges.
While homeschooling can be challenging and time-consuming for any parent, having a child in school can be even more so. My mother often asked me if I wouldn’t have more time to myself if my son were in school. I told her, "No, I wouldn’t, because I would always be on the phone to the principal about whatever educational issue had come up that week." By unschooling, I felt that I had more time than I would have had if school and all of the demands it puts on families had been a part of our family life. Knowing that my son was free to learn in his own way and at his own pace, and watching him do so, was a profound delight that made unschooling an easy choice despite any sacrifice. And with sufficient determination, creativity, and support, single parent homeschooling can be an immensely fulfilling experience.
More book recommendations
Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-At-Home Parent by Isabelle Fox
The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle by Amy Dacyczyn
The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-By-Step Guide to Work-At-Home Success by Ellen H. Parlapiano and Patricia Cobe
Staying Home: From Full-Time Professional to Full-Time Parent by Darcie Sanders
The Stay-At-Home Mom's Guide to Making Money from Home: Choosing the Business That's Right for You Using the Skills and Interests You Already Have by Liz Folger
What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home? by Linda Burton
The Work-At-Home Mom's Guide to Home Business: Stay at Home and Make Money With Wahm.com by Cheryl Demas
This article first appeared in Life Learning, November-December 2003.
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., is a parenting counselor, director of the Natural Child Project and editorial assistant for the Canadian journal Empathic Parenting. See more about Jan.