A feature of radical unschooling, aside from allowing children to choose what they learn and when, is that the children are allowed to choose what and when they eat, and what time they go to sleep.
I started off my parenting life being extremely strict about sugar and sweets. Eventually this began to backfire and I felt I was policing too much. A friend of mine suggested a book that revolutionized how I thought about food, and I began "unschooling" food. (This was before I ever even heard of unschooling.)
When my oldest was a toddler, a newlywed friend who had no children suggested that it made sense to let the children go to bed whenever they wanted. He theorized that eventually they would work out their own rhythms. I scoffed. In my experience, children didn't peacefully go to sleep. They got cranky, cried, didn't settle down if you missed the window, and were horribly tantrummy the next day.
But now I find myself in the odd situation of somewhat unschooling sleep. My 7yo asked earlier in the year if he could go to sleep "when he's tired." Up until this year, he had the habit of beginning to destroy things and literally jump off the walls if 8pm came and he wasn't put to bed. But he seemed to have outgrown that, so we tried it out. He fell asleep a lot more quickly and also began sleeping later. My 5yo has always preferred to be on a 9:30pm-9:30am schedule, but since he shares a room with his brother, he was being woken up earlier and needed to go to sleep earlier. I do still put him to bed most nights, but his bedtime has evolved to 9:30. I found that my 3yo hasn't gotten wild or tantrummy either, and usually comes to request that I put him to bed most nights. (Sometimes he does melt down, but it's less frequent than I would have thought when I scoffed at my friend.)
A study of why homeschoolers love being homeschooled listed being able to get enough sleep as the number one thing they like about being homeschooled.
Last night was Friday night. After dinner we did family snuggle (minus my 13yo who decided to read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People*) and it was about 10pm when everyone went to sleep. I began to fret a little that the boys would have to be woken up to go to shul in the morning. And if they would be crabby and function less than optimally.
And then it struck me. It is normal in our society for children to be woken up every. single. day. Swathes of children aren't getting enough sleep. (Especially teenagers.)
I went through years of not enough sleep. My youngest is 3 and it's only been a few months where I could count on sleeping past 7am. There were years when I had nursing infants and years and years when our children thought that 5am was morning. It's actually incredible how much lack of sleep people can still function with. I can function on three hours of interrupted sleep. (Too many of those in a row, though, and I start screaming and crying. Melt down, if you will.)
I also recall years of me waking up at 6am to catch the bus to school. I still remember the physical pain of waking up tired to face a full day of school and then homework and studying.
Some things about unschooling have crept up on me so slowly I have forgotten what life used to be like. I didn't really understand what homeschooling was before I started it. I didn't really understand that it's a different lifestyle, a different way of looking at the world, a different way of functioning. It's not just about education and how we learn. It's also about eating and sleeping and the rhythms of life.
I remember once we were interviewed for an article about homeschooling. "What do you do for lunch?" he asked my daughter.
"Huh? We go to the kitchen when I'm hungry and we make lunch," she replied. What a funny question.
*I don't know if she'll actually end up reading the whole thing. She found the first chapter boring.