I was an incorrigible non-parent. I had all sorts of ideas – no child of mine would ever sleep in my bed! My child would eat ALL of the dinner I cooked for them! My child would attend their local school because education is a common good that all decent citizens support!
Of course, once I had my daughter Ramona in my arms, her tiny new born cheeks and toes tugged at something primal within me and it all went out the window and in flew a freshly minted Attachment Parent.
In time Attachment Parenting led me to unschooling; after breastfeeding, cosleeping and babywearing Ramona for a good couple of years it became strange to consider that I might send this very attached wee being into a world of institutionalised education, where attachment theory was non-existent. Attachment parenting had also attuned me to the idea that Ramona was an autonomous human, with her own mind, will and ideas and that I wanted a childhood for her where she would be treated with dignity and not coerced in mind or body.
Over the years of working with unschooling parents I’ve noticed that many unschoolers enter via attachment parenting but there were other doorways too. It seems that there are six primary arrival zones to unschooling.
It got me wondering if these could be seen as archetypes, if these “doorways” had other elements to them that would inform, inspire and challenge our lives as unschooling parents.
An introduction to archetypes
Around a hundred years ago psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the idea of archetypes into his practice, proposing that there are patterns of behaviour and motivations that are almost universal. He created a series of characters that symbolise the parts of people’s psyche that seem to come up time and time again.
In recent years I’ve worked with the Jungian archetypes in my personal life – noticing where they are showing up, choosing to de-energise certain parts of them and move towards a healthier archetype for that area.
But i’ve also noticed how we use archetypes without necessarily calling them that. For example, for those of us who’ve been befriending our “Inner Critic” – that niggling voice that keeps us from what we want to do. This is an example of working with archetypes.
If you’ve ever done any personality inquiry such as Human Design or Enneagram or Myers Briggs you have already been working with archetypes!
Why unschooling archetypes?
Considering unschooling archetypes gives us a creative way to consider the different doorways into unschooling, and also how the different parts of ourselves show up in the unschooling home.
It’s helpful and interesting to understand all the different doorways into Self Directed Learning. We are not a homogeneous clan! We have different motives and experiences that have bought us here. This is useful to explore as when we are making friends or starting groups with others we can see that The Explorer’s energy is going to be potentially so, so different to The Teachers – and their homes are going to look different too.
If we can recognise this we are able to make much more space for unschooling to look vastly different in each home and we can be 100% okay when tension and conflict arises in our beautiful home school groups – it’s okay, it’s natural for our different energies to have to work things out together.
Archetypes are also useful because they can be a reflection to help us understand ourselves a little more- we can say “Oh, hello, there’s the Teacher showing up again!” We can use them to playfully set an intention too – “I’m going to bring more of The Nature Lover energy into my life in this next season.”
The important thing to understand is that we potentially have all of these archetypes sitting deep in our psyche. We can begin to recognise what archetype we move to when we are in fear – for example, perhaps when we have a wobble we start embodying The Teacher! And we can see which parts of ourselves we have suppressed and we can choose to honour that archetype – for example, I think it’s quite likely that the Divergent Thinkers amongst us have not been given the full honouring they could have.
When you are triggered you can consider what archetype is showing up and seek to integrate that part of you. You can allow gifts to come forward that have been sitting in the shadows.
The Unschooling Archetypes
The Attachment Parent (The Caregiver)
A lot of people come to unschooling via Attachment Parenting. AP parents spend the first couple of years highly attuned to their kids and then *boom* they get a will of their own and Attachment Parenting leaves them hanging. Breastfeeding can’t “fix” this! So then AP parents go on a huge journey around how we can centre connection whilst honouring our children’s autonomy – a line of inquiry that naturally leads to unschooling. AP parents rock unschooling beautifully because they realise that relationship is the MAIN THING! But the challenge for this archetype is to not slip into martyrdom, not to go beyond their own resources. To care for themselves as much as they do their children.
The Entrepreneur (The Explorer)
A lot of parents choose unschooling because as entrepreneurs or people who are in leading edge industries, they understand that the old methods of teaching/learning are inappropriate for the new world we live in. The Entrepreneur values freedom and wants to create a family life that supports this value, but they also want to raise out-of-the-box thinkers. The Entrepeneur is an excellent unschooling parent, always up for an adventure! And their challenge is to slow to the pace of their child, to recognise the deep inner, invisible work of unschooling and to recognise the importance of healthy communities.
The Struggling Student (The Wounded Child)
People struggle at school for lots of reasons: they are bored/ too creative/ too energetic/ too intelligent/ they are bullied or shamed or hurt by the systemic racism and sexism – these wounds are all doorways to unschooling. This feels like a negative doorway but none of these archetypes are “good” or “bad” – there are strengths and challenges for each one. The Struggling Student has a crystal clear idea about what is broken and the motivation to change it. The challenge is to keep actively healing our inner child.
The Teacher (the Sage)
Perhaps surprisingly, the most represented profession in the unschooling world. Teachers have seen it all from the inside out and know they want something different for their child, they believe another world is possible outside of school.
The Teacher tends to be analytical and uses their IQ to navigate life, they love information, they are truth seekers, they are often reflective. They can be brilliant unschool parents because they love learning and discovery themselves. The unschooling challenge for The Teacher is to be able to rest comfortably with the unknown and to get comfortable with handing agency over to their child. The invitation is to trust other senses, to move into their bodies and hearts more. And to not get too stuck on details before making the leap!
The Divergent Thinker (The Rebel)
When I look around my unschooling communities, I reckon a good 80% are neurodivergent, whether diagnosed or not. This way of life attracts people whose brains are wired up in unique ways. The Divergent Thinker asks big questions about why we do things the way we do, they won’t settle for the status quo. The Divergent Thinker is a natural unschooler, rebelling against clunky systems that don’t work, and their challenge is to use their creativity to build new models, not just burn the old ones down.
The Nature Lover (The Innocent)
If you use the hashtag #wildandfree you might be The Nature Lover. Unschooling appeals to you because you have faith in nature, you believe there is a core goodness to a child that should be allowed to bloom without coercion. You might even have come to unschooling via the Steiner world. You see unschooling as natural learning and will easily flow with the gentle meandering of your child’s learning journey. Your challenge is going to be to open up to ways that your child might want to learn that challenge your idea of what is “natural” such as screen based learning.
Questions to ask about the unschooling archetypes:
Which of these characters represents best my doorway to unschooling?
Which of these archetypes reflects me when I am in true attunement and flow with our unschooling lives?
Where do I go when I am in fear or struggle?
Is there an archetype here that I know has not been given expression?
Is there an archetype here that I long to express more?
Is there an archetype that I can embody at certain times of the day?
When you feel the strong pull of one archetype you can ask some reflective questions such as:
Why are you here right now?
What can you teach me?
What part of you can I celebrate?
What part of you can I allow?
Is there an affirmation that seems to reflect the healthiest part of the archetype showing up for me right now?
In The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer says “Drastic change creates an estrangement from the self, and generates a need for a new birth of a new identity. And it perhaps depends on the way this need is satisfied whether the process of change runs smoothly or is attended with convulsions and explosions.”
Understanding the way different parts of our selves show up, bringing intention to a new side of us that must emerge feels like critical work for these times of great change.
Choosing an unschooling life is already one giant season of change, but doing so in the midst of multiple crises, even more so.
I hope these unschooling archetypes might bring you more self-understanding but also the recognition that you can evoke and energise different parts of your self that are ready to be born.
If these resonate, I’d love to hear from you on social media!
If you want to uproot the beliefs you hold about learning that stop you from living a home ed life oozing with trust and joy take a look at DISCO – the unschooling course. You can begin this 5 workshop course today.