I have a friend, Charlie, who refers to her theory of unschooling as benign neglect. I've also heard it described as turn 'em loose, and be around parenting, or improvisational parenting, or as my friend, Jennifer, likes to refer to it -- parenting from the couch. To me, it is one of the basic tenets of unschooling. Oh sure, there are days when there is more direction from me, but most of the time, my kids are best when they are doing their own thing. Depending on the day, they are more or less interested in me being a part of their play. The best is to just sit back and watch it develop. It's an amazing way of learning what they know, what they're into, what they've picked up.
Yesterday was a prime example of parenting from the couch. It's bitter cold outside, and we rely a lot on outside play, as we're all big movement folks, so being cooped up is hard, and we've been cooped up for months. Sometimes it makes you stir crazy, sometimes it brings out extreme creativity. I started a rag rug and knitted, in addition to what I normally clean during the day. My kids did this:
In the morning, Angus and Wednesday decided to build a ball pit. They turned the coffee table upside down (oh yay, not having nice furniture is extremely helpful for improvisational parenting... well, actually, for any parenting). Then they encased it in blankets and pillows (the only break down was when I tried to step in and help. Once I abandoned that attempt, things went much smoother). They filled it with balls and played in it for awhile.
Then Angus decided if he put the big comforter over the top, he could hibernate in it. They even stored food in there, but Angus quickly became annoyed with Wednesday's presence inside, and she was ejected from the den.
I helped her, at her request, to build her own den out of the dining room chairs. She spent some time "sunning" herself on it's roof.
After lunch, the kids decided it would be better if the coffee table was a speaking podium for a king. They each gave speeches, even Zhara. Then Angus went downstairs and got the hobby horse, and they took turns rescuing the princess/prince from the castle tower -- all three got involved on that one. They even had to battle a dragon to do it, which required me to light candles, and them to blow them out to "defeat" the dragon. I insisted on being a part of the fire-related play -- I figured that was pretty necessary.
All of this went on throughout the day. People took breaks for snacks, to watch TV, to play on the computer, and play with dolls, and to occasionally fight with their siblings, but it happened. And it all came from them. They worked together, and despite having a TV on in the background, they were incredibly productive.
In the late afternoon, we braved the cold to get into the hot tub, and I watched the steam rise off of my crazy kids as they jumped in off the side from the frigid cold. It was just one more part of the day. I suggested it, but the two youngest jumped at it, Zhara sat out this time. No one was angry because she chose TV over swimming, it just was. At that moment she was practicing benign neglect, and we knew it wouldn't be forever.
As the weak winter sun started to set through the trees, and I watched my kids jump, steaming into the hot tub, reflected in the pale yellow of that sunset, with dinner cooking inside the house, and another day of learning about life behind us, I realized, this is one kick ass life I get to lead.