113 | Unlocating, Unlearning, and Unschooling: Our Family Gap Year Lifestyle

In this episode, we're going to explore the concepts of unlocating, unlearning, and unschooling, and how these practices can lead to a more fulfilling and liberated lifestyle.

It’s been a hot minute since you heard from me with a solo episode.  I do still exist and I am still an adventurous working mom and yet so much has changed since we started this podcast.  I don’t think the lessons I’ll share in today’s podcast episode are anything I could’ve predicted when I started this podcast two years ago, nor did I realize what the words in the title even meant or could be connected to living an adventurous life with kids. But the last 3 months have been eye-opening and completely normal if that is even possible.  

As we embarked on a family gap year there were many things that would be tested.  Some of them would be the vocabulary and the simple language we use to describe our lifestyle.  Questions like “Where are you from?” “Do you homeschool the kids?” “What do you do for a living?” all became more interesting and perhaps awkward for us to answer.  To offer some context to this episode I thought I’d begin by sharing semi-formal definitions of what the terms unlocating, unschooling and unlearning means.  

Unlocating is a term that helps describe things that haven’t been placed; not surveyed or designated by marks, limits, or boundaries as appropriated. unlocated lands.  

Unlearning is the act of eliminating a previously regular practice from habit.  Iti s a tool that allows us to learn from a previous experience or pattern while making room for new learning. To discard (something learned, especially false or outdated information) from one’s memory.

Unschooling is informal learning that advocates self-directed activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.

As we have entered the RV space I recognized how much we (collectively as humans) define ourselves based on where we are located.  Many full-time RVers or those seeking a nomadic lifestyle aren’t defined by a space, location or home.  For example, when traveling or meeting someone it’s common to ask three questions: What is your name, where are you from and what do you do?  Hmm.  Those have become interesting questions I have learned to ask others  “Where are you coming from?” instead of “Where are you from?”  While we do not classify ourselves as full time RVers, retired or Nomadic there are bits and pieces of these terms that fit us.  We didn’t sell it all and still have a home base in Wisconsin.  There are bits and pieces of being a Wisconsin Family that define us, location-specific factors are very relative to who we are.  Part of our desire to travel extensively with kids was to expose them to different places, cultures, food, landscapes to better understand a better representation of what it all included in this world.  As we travel we notice what is similar and what is different from Wisconsin?  We discuss what we like about traveling and what we miss about home.  There are also parts of the place, of a geographic location that keep us in our comfort zone.  For us, unlocating was the first critical step to getting outside our comfort zones – a huge value of adventure is continuing to grow by experiencing things that aren’t comfortable.  

For example, at home I know most of the intricate details of my favorite grocery store.  I know the brands I like and the prices I typically pay.  I know how to get there, what part of town it’s in and what the parking scenario is like to know if we can take the RV as we drive through town or if we need to unload the van from the tow dolly and drive later.  I know which routes are easiest to make my way through the city if traffic isn’t aligning with my travel plans.  I know where the best parks are.  I know which gas station I like and why.   I don’t have to think about doing laundry because it’s located in the house.  All of these things are unique to the location we are in and what I know about that location.  When 100% of your location changes every 3-5 days we are constantly disrupting and taking tie out of our typical habits and routines to learn new systems.  While that might seem exhausting to some it also creates a unique opportunity to be curious and not fall into previously established routines and habits that keep us from growing and learning.  

Our big experiment in unlocating has taught us how to find community when we aren’t connected to a place.  How do we keep in touch with friends and family when we don’t see them as often?  It helps us be much more intentional about what we want to do with whom,  when we do go home.  What do we actually miss and where do we want to spend our time?   By visiting different museums, parks and playgrounds, church services, staying in friends and strangers’ back yards and driveways – each are helping us to see the world in a slightly different way and perhaps challenge what we have come to learn as normal.  Unlocating has also helped to define what is necessary in our lives.  The kids don’t need as many art supplies, toys, or clothes as they have at home.  We don’t need as many kitchen appliances to have amazing meals on the road.  Much of what we own at home was to make our life easier, more convenient, more efficient but not necessarily more effective.  

To demonstrate this I think the perfect metaphor of this lifestyle experiment is pour over coffee.  In our old life, mornings were hectic.  Everyone was up earlier than desired to eat, get dressed, get school and work materials ready, pack a lunch and go over our schedule for the day before the mad dash out the door.  My husband would grind and brew the coffee first thing in the morning.  He and I would maybe drink a cup while doing something else and usually the only time I really enjoyed my coffee was while driving to work.  In the RV we rarely have a schedule to wake up to (although we usually start waking up around 6 or 6:30 anyway).  Some nights we don’t have electric hook ups which means no coffee pot with a push button start.  We boil water over the gas stove and spend 3-4 minutes pouring the water slowly over the grounds into our individual coffee cups.  I actually savor the flavor of coffee now and am completely content taking 10 minutes to make 2 cups of coffee. This is an example of unlearning.  The practice of removing old habits to make space for new learning.  It was through unlocating and forcing us to learn a different way that we discovered and appreciated pour-over coffee.  

Which leads me deeper into unlearning.  In previous episodes that when we make space in our lives, new opportunities emerge perhaps that we weren’t expecting (in particular, 109 | Experiencing your Childhood Dreams with Chris from Life Outside the Maze).  Part of changing the narrative is releasing old facts and stories we have held onto as truth, and gathering new experiences, stories, and facts to relearn how the puzzle pieces fit together.  By changing places and spaces we can trigger different stimuli to rewire how we do our work or the narrative of our life story.   I noticed this when I was in a leadership role.  If I needed to have a strategic brain I noticed I craved a booth at a coffee shop with music or an open creative space to capture thoughts.  If I needed to get work done I needed a clean desk and timer at my computer desk.  In order to unlearn some of the systems and habits I had come accustomed to, a change in place was important to me.  I have noticed a change in our lifestyle and relationship to each other.  By removing some of the existing things in our life I noticed areas that were now available to expose myself to different thoughts or experiences.  I am finding the greatest joy and nurturing ans supporting my kids adventures both through learning and unlearning.  

For example, there are various part of history that I am currently unlearning and relearning.  We went to the Holocaust Museum – which is a free museum in Richmond, Virginia.  I have read books, studied, and watched movies about various parts of WWII.  Somehow in the midst of all of that learning and filling up my knowledge I missed some key pieces about refugees who attempted to leave.  My son is currently reading The Refugee as suggested by one of his teachers and I was completely unaware of this element of the voyage of the St. Louis.   I have been working in system level community change work for nearly 20 years and I continue to see ways history repeats itself with different ingredients.  I am also still unlearning what family travel looks like for us.  I continue to unlearn and relearn what our habits, routines, and expectations are of each other. 

As I mentioned earlier, after meeting someone new we often are asked “what do you do for a living?”  It’s a standard set of information gathering that helps us determine how we can relate or connect to others.  Being that neither my husband or I have formal W-2 jobs we often grapple with what to share and how much we feel like explaining who we were. We are slowly learning how to detanlge our identity from our careers, however we also both liked our jobs so doing that without shame or eliciting others opinions about our previous titles is a balancing act.  Unlearning has helped me recognize the assumptions from my own experiences have been tied to a neutral fact or set of data.  It also reminds me that data is neither good or bad – data is neutral, but the stories we attach to the data can elicit emotion that we assign as good or bad.  It has been interesting to have conversations with the kids about various topics, explore what they know and discover if they have assigned emotions to scenarios.  If so, what caused them to think and feel that way?  What don’t we know and what else might be true that we haven’t been exposed to?  How might we learn more about that.  

There are several steps to unlearning of which adventure seems to be a good platform for practicing.  According to Logic Earth the process of unlearning is to foster a willingness, pursue the unfamiliar, change location, learn from your opposite, and foster curiosity.  

 I think the greatest unlearning came when we began to explore what learning would look like on the road.   Erin Austen Abbot from Episode 088 | Tips for Planning Family Field Trips highlights the various forms of teaching children while traveling (reference Family Field Trips).  Worldschooling, sometimes referred to as roadschooling, is rooted in experiential learning that uses the world as a classroom.  There are MANY different approaches to teaching outside of the traditional classroom.  Charlotte Mason encourages spending time outdoors and emphasizes the importance of structure, and good habits.  Montessori emphasizes independent thinking and being responsible for your own thoughts and responsibilities.  Waldorf takes a holistic approach encouraging both creative and analytical thinking.  STEAM or STEM learning centers often imply hands-on experiential learning.  Forest SChooling has become more popular spending time in nature and building empathy for the world and natural spaces.  For us the model that worked best was unschooling – the fundamental belief that kids will learn when they are interested in learning and supporting them when that happens.  For us it wasn’t based on a place (hence the importance of unlocating), we have educational materials to support their exploration, and encourage daily, weekly, and monthly progression on projects they are interested in.  

The reflection isn’t the fact that we chose unschooling for our teaching methodology, because I am not married to this style and open to changing at any time.  What has been interesting in the unlearning that happened between my husband and I to realize that learning could look like unschooling.  Both my husband and I were teachers so we have been systemized for almost 40 years.  When we unlocated we gave ourselves the time and space to rediscover what might this look like for our kids. Part of this unlearning began years ago when I realized that in defining my metrics for thriving joy and success were not synonymous.  If Joy was the metric that defined thriving I needed to relearn what joy looked like in each slice of my life.   Thriving in learning didn’t have to look like achievement in school or accomplishing a desired outcome (which is how I had previously defined success).  Joy in learning often looked more like solving a problem, connecting dots or synthesizing a complex system into a meaningful and actionable way.  Joy in learning also looked like new territory, something new, taking action.  If that was what Joy looked like for learning for me – how could I discover what joy in learning and growth looked like for my kids.  Additionally, how could I create the conditions for them to experience joy in learning.  That was what was behind our decision to unschool.  

What we are relearning is that unschooling might not only be the educational practice that our kids needed, but it was the practice of unlocating, unlearning and unschooling that my husband and I needed to make space for what could exist in our life.  We are slowly rewriting the narrative of thriving for our family.  

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