Check out any online book store and you’ll see over a hundred titles about how to “sleep train” your baby. These books are about getting kids to sleep at times that suit the adults in their lives, not because babies that weren’t trained would stay awake 24/7! That way of thinking/wishing is also where our need to control our children’s learning begins, and where understanding unschooling can begin.
As an article about sleep in one of Life Learning’s sister publications Natural Child Magazine explains, how we sleep depends on a wide variety of factors related to our environment, family, genetic make-up, moods, general health, and even hormonal changes. And, as the same author wrote in another article, “Your baby sleeps and wakes in a certain way because that is how babies are.” Likewise, children learn in certain ways because that’s how they are. When we fight their natural instincts and curiosity, we get in the way of what we want to happen, and ultimately can cause them harm.
I remember coming to that realization a few weeks into the life of my first daughter in 1972, although I had already begun to form some strong opinions about children’s need for autonomy in learning. Accepting that how she would sleep on her own schedule wasn’t much different than how she would learn made life for both of us so much more pleasant. (Sure, I wasn’t sleeping any more than before, but I also wasn’t fighting or trying to control her, and that freed up my energy and my soul just to love her in each moment.)
That decision not to try and control things that weren’t mine to control was one of the foundations on which my philosophy of life learning/natural family life/radical unschooling/autonomous living (however you want to label it) was built. It led to me learning to recognize my daughters’ other patterns, personalities, and passions. And, following their leads, I was able to provide support, companionship, and much more, always respecting their needs and finding ways to mesh theirs with mine.
So here’s where understanding unschooling can begin. Let your babies sleep and stay awake as they are wont to do, Be alert to supporting their needs, but trust that they’re doing what works best for them and aren’t trying to manipulate you. And, as they grow, allow them the freedom to pursue their curiosity, their interests, and their passions. Respect that they can learn to recognize their own needs, and trust that they’ll learn how to fulfill them. They’ll grow up to be healthy, happy, and well-educated. And I’m betting that you all will be able to sleep well at night.