When we went to the grocery store this week, we bought a few extra treats. I sometimes do that when Dad is away, because I feel the need to lighten things up a bit. Froot Loops were on sale. Olivia requested pickles, and John wanted marshmallows and whipped cream. So we got all of those along with our regular fruit, veggies, and milk.

We arrived back home past our normal lunch time, so I knew I needed to throw something together quickly for them to eat. As I looked at the variety of food laying on the counter waiting to be put away, I was inspired to prepare a monkey platter. You can read about the monkey platter here on Sandra Dodd’s website. It is one of my favorite take-aways from her site. I used to make it often, but had fallen out of the habit.

The kids watched an episode of Liberty’s Kids, as I worked making the lunch. My thoughts already heading in that direction, I thought about unschooling and why it works for some and doesn’t for others. One of the questions I have been pondering lately is what specific things should I be doing as a parent to make sure my kids are learning. The number one complaint among parents who tried unschooling and then quit, is that unschooling was wasted time and the kids didn’t want to learn. Yet there are other families who unschool with great success. Their kids attend the college of their choice (assuming they choose college) — some even on scholarship — and do extremely well. If we are to trust the child, and if all children love to learn, then the difference between the two experiences has to lie in the parent.

I added foods to the platter that I know the kids like, some they would not choose to eat if left to their own devices, and some of the treats that we had purchased at the store. And then it struck me that unschooling, specifically being an unschooling parent, is very much like making a lunch just like this one. If I left those kids alone to fend for themselves, they would sit and eat that entire bag of marshmallows in one sitting. Almost all kids would. In fact, a couple of days later, John did sneak away with the whip cream and empty the entire can in his mouth before he was found out. And he was only found out because Olivia was upset there was none left to empty into her mouth.

The finished monkey platter. I would eat this lunch — also an important point.

Unschooling, though, is not leaving kids alone to fend for themselves. Instead, unschooling is like making my kids a monkey platter for lunch. My job is to lovingly offer a wide variety of things for them to try and enjoy. Some things I put out there exactly because I know they will love and devour them. Some things I put out there because I think if they try them they will like them. Some things I put out there because even though they might not choose it on their own, they might eat it if I offer it — especially with a little sauce to dip it in.

The feast has been spread. I am excited about it, chatting as I present it, talking about how yummy everything looks. They dig in, filling their plates and enjoying their lunch. I sit with them, enjoying my own lunch (a sushi treat for Mom) and picking a couple of things off the platter to eat. When more marshmallows are requested, I suggest the pear. “This is pear? It is good,” and a second piece is taken as the extra marshmallows are forgotten.

When it is done, and they have run out to play, the platter is just about bare. Sure there are more carrots left than marshmallows, but everything has been tried and consumed with no stress, no whining, no disappointment. And me? I am a bit wiser about unschooling and how it is like lunch.

The remains

Welcome Simple Homeschool readers and thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always fun to make new friends. Here are a few related posts you might enjoy:

How We Became Us-Schoolers
Letting Go of Homeschool Perfection: Throwing Out the Unit Study
Kicking Curriculum to the Curb with Living Learning Lists

If you’re an Internet junkie like me you might want to join us each week in Making It Count Tuesday. Don’t forget to leave a comment linking back to your blog, so I can “meet” you too, and please consider this my invitation to you to subscribe via feed, email, Facebook, or Google Friend Connect in the sidebar over there. Would love to have you stick around. — Pam

Pam Barnhill

Pam Barnhill

Pam is the author of The Your Morning Basket Guide and Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace. She also is the host of three popular  podcasts -- The Homeschool Snapshots Podcast, Your Morning Basket, and The Homeschool Solutions Show. She lives in the Deep South with her husband and three kids, where she is the go-to lady for great curriculum recommendations or a just a pep talk on a rough day.
Pam Barnhill