Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Unschoolers and bedtime rules

One of the differences that set unschoolers and families following natural learning apart is that they tend to avoid rules, setting limits only where the child’s life is in danger or where they will be hurt if they proceed. Bedtime is one of the more obvious differences between mainstream and unschooling/natural learning families. The former tends to set a more rigid bedtime with an emphasis on routine whereas the latter tend to favour an approach that mirrors the way adults determine when it is time to go to bed. As Deb Lewis on Joyfully rejoicing states, children give many signs when they are tired and simply being quieter in the house can assist them to make the transition to sleep.

There are some things about traditional bedtime that set a mom and kid up for struggle. Kids don’t want to leave the action or leave their stuff …When bedtime means a child has to be alone in his room in the dark and the child wants to be in the light with people he loves, that’s a struggle. Kids can sleep anywhere, on a cushion under the table, in a chair, on the sofa, in mom’s bed, in mom’s arms. There’s no reason a child needs to be in his own room for sleep … When the mom decides the child should sleep and the child isn’t ready for sleep yet, that’s a struggle … A lot of struggle comes from a mom who wants things to be a certain way and a baby who has a different idea.

A further point of departure from traditional parenting is the sharing of a sleep space. Research supports the notion, evident in the Deb Lewis quote above, that children like to sleep with their parents.

The difference between the stories of parents who fight their children and those of the unschool and natural learning community around bedtime are interesting. As Danya Martin states:

When others hear that Unschoolers have “no bedtime”, it isn’t exactly true. Unschoolers do have bedtimes, but only when they say they are ready to sleep. It is a very organic, easy, joyful process for my children, and something they have never had any issues with. I know that most sleep issues in children today are because of parents imposing their needs before the needs of their children. Unschooling not only allows children the freedom to choose their own bedtime, but [it] releases them from the cultural notions that bedtime is a difficult process for parents and children.

And there’s the hard part, being released from cultural norms. Whether it’s the cultural norms that children need a separate sleep space or a determined bedtime, there are many taken for granted assumptions in parenting that the unschool and natural learning community are seeking to challenge. These assumptions are based on a cultural bias around individualism, separation from parents and stoic independence. However, this can be a difficult road to travel.


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