As we settle into our temporary base next door to La Hacienda and the Bush Fairy Dairy, we’ve relaxed into the casual, communal style of sharing food and our lives with whoever is around. When our daughters attended the local playgroup this morning, I realised that unschooling is so far removed from structured learning environments — even if they’re of the Waldorf/Steiner variety!

In the morning, we headed over to La Hacienda when a trio of little girls arrived at our campsite and invited us over. The local playgroup was setting up, and Johnny thought our girls may enjoy rolling some dough into buns for a snack later on.

Johnny's hacienda, March 2011
La Hacienda sits among trees and productive gardens, providing a magnetic space for the community to gather.

We had spent Sunday cooking at La Hacienda, introducing ourselves to the steady stream of visitors to the house and watching the girls at play. As well as Johnny and Nathan, Brian is visiting La Hacienda and contributes to the work that needs to be done to maintain the property. David’s enjoying the opportunity to share his culinary skills with a larger group of people, and his food is always amazing.

While visiting La Hacienda, it’s been lovely to sit and watch the girls play. Johnny shows a remarkably high tolerance for our daughters’ attention-seeking antics, and they’ve been thriving in this new environment.

When I arrived at the house for playgroup, half a dozen families were spilling out, with young children running around noisily. Rainbow Kids is based on Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy of learning, so I was interested to what would transpire.

We commenced by forming a circle around a table decorated with a tablecloth, flowers and a beautiful picture, and 4yo boy used a lighter to ignite the candle that formed the centrepiece. We sang and did the motions to a series of songs thankfully expressing joy at Creation. Many of the songs were unfamiliar to me, and even those that I knew (“A tisket, a tasket…”) are sung to unfamiliar tunes.

After this, the adults initiated some games designed to promote group interaction. Often they called children from their games — trying to bring everyone back into the circle. It seemed that the mothers (and grandmothers) were more enthusiastic for the games than the children.

Playing at Rainbow Kids, March 2011
After watching for a little while, Aisha was brave enough to join the circle and participate in some of the action songs.

Playing at Rainbow Kids, March 2011
Many of the games involved chasing each other around (and through) the circle.

Watching the other kids play at Rainbow Kids, March 2011
Calista and Brioni preferred sit back and just watch.

Having a snack at Rainbow Kids, March 2011
After the games were finished, we all moved outside into the lovely sunshine for a snack.

Listening to a story at Rainbow Kids, March 2011
Tania used some little toys and fabric to illustrate her story — the children were spellbound by her narrative.

Aisha, Brioni and Calista listening to Johnny read a story, March 2011
When the playgroup was over, and all the other children had left, our girls were happy to have Johnny to themselves again.

It’s certainly been a long time since we’ve visited a structured playgroup. I was hoping that with the Steiner influences, this playgroup would be less structured than the ones we’ve known. Upon reflection, I’m surprised at how much our philosophy of child-rearing has changed since we last attended a playgroup. We have experienced the benefits of unschooling, and as we learn to let go of so much of what we controlled in our children before, a structured playtime seems artificial and limiting.

As the children were moved into activities, I saw that they were being interrupted in their own games. When I’ve done this, one of my motivators has been to check off an invisible box that proves to the other witnesses that our children can conform properly.

I think back on the times I’ve tried to limit our girls’ play, when I’ve pushed them outside to suit my own convenience or when I’ve interrupted their important games to foist my own ideas on them. I repent of insisting that like toys remain together, moulding our children into copies of my own obsessional self.

Over the past couple of months, our appreciation for our daughters’ freedom has grown. As David and I have learned to let go of the areas we once controlled, resisting the fears that try to sneak in, we’re finding that our children are blooming in self-confidence and imagination. Instead of turning into out-of-control brats, as we seek righteousness first — manifesting holiness and love in our daily interactions — our girls are being shown how to make their own decisions to control the ego — the sin nature — within them.

The theory doesn’t seem possible — quit controlling your children’s lives and they’ll work out a balance — but it works! We’ve found that our responsibility is to master our own selfish ego instead. We are learning to lead by example, to deny ourselves and to pursue righteousness, eschew fear and embrace the opportunities we’re given!