One Little Word: WITH

One Little Word: WITH

Lots of people come to unschooling wondering what it’s all about. While some shake their head and fall back in line with more familiar ways of thinking, others are compelled to learn more about it. They read books, join email lists, engage with people at local parkdays. Unschoolers share how they’ve come to embrace the concept or how they overcame those schoolish thoughts and ways that seem to be so ingrained in our patterns of life.

New unschoolers seem to be mesmerized by examples of daily life in an unschooling home. We share what happens in a day, demonstrating flexibility and humor.  We explain that one day can be so incredibly different from another – still they want to hear more. Some veteran unschoolers go to great lengths to answer questions, guide newcomers, dispel fears.

But in spite of all these detailed discussions, advice, and guidance, I’ve come to realize the importance of one small word in the success of unschooling families.

What is the word?


A simple preposition that makes all the difference. Think of how important that word is, when you visualize these scenarios.

Camping Together

Camping Together

Playing WITH your children.

….board games
….card games
… games
….make believe
…in the treehouse
….on the tire swing
….in the fort in the living room
…. in the pail of bubbles

Working WITH your children

Playing at the Beach

Playing at the Beach

….on how to assemble a kite
….or ride a horse or a bike or a jet ski
….about how to change a flat tire
….on how to use mod podge, or make stepping stones
….on how to build a power point, or connect the modem
….or how to unstop a toilet or run the washer

Talking WITH your children
….about getting a new pet
….about which movie to go see
.about how friends treat each other
….about advertising you both see/hear on TV or billboards or radio
….about what kind of job he might like
….about why grandma has to repeat things so often

Hiking at Yellowstone

Hiking at Yellowstone

Interacting WITH your children
….about how they feel when kids are mean
….about how to stand up for what’s right
….about how to really listen and fight the urge to interrupt
….about what can be done about the homeless man on the corner
….about what you can do when you feel bored
….about what’s considered rude or inconsiderate or kind or helpful
….about grocery shopping, or laundering, or cooking

I’m sure you can come up with a bazillion more examples of things you do WITH your child. I just want you to realize that no matter what it is – the WITH aspect is the most important part!

Remember 20 years ago, the debate was “Quality” time vs. “Quantity” time? It had a lot to do with women choosing careers – but it’s really not that black and white.

You can have “quality time,” and just not enough of it.
And you can have “quantity time,” but not be engaged or really present with your children.
It’s never simple, is it? You have to walk into it all consciously – checking and rechecking to be sure you’re parenting in the way that you want. You have to put down the phone or the internet, and really focus on your child standing in front of you, playing beside you. Connect with them.

Modeling behavior, having heartfelt discussions, getting the opportunity to share life experiences can only happen when you’re WITH them. It seems obvious, but sometimes when you’re tired or the kitchen is a mess, parents can get impatient and prefer the kids to go do something in the other room. That’s when I want you to remember the little word: WITH.  Time will fly, and your relationship with your child as an adult as well as so many aspects of their own personality, will be directly related to how much WITH Time you gave them.

So if you have to, paste a little piece of scrap paper like the one above with the word “With” on your bathroom mirror…or your put it up on your fridge with a magnet… paint it, cross-stitch it, print it – whatever you have to do to keep it in the front of your mind!

All of us together before
Michael left for the Peace Corps,
Katie left for NYC,
and Alyssa got engaged


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