What!? No bed times! Are you nuts!?
That’s usually the reaction we get when people find out our unschooled children don’t have a “bedtime”. Most of us grew up with imposed bedtimes, and adopted the belief that good parents make sure their children get enough sleep by setting and sticking to bedtimes.
Dig underneath a little, and you come to realize that this thinking is full of unexamined assumptions. Let’s look at 5 bed time assumptions before we talk about the peaceful parenting or the radical unschooling approach…
Assumption #1: Children don’t recognize the feeling of being tired.
Babies recognize this feeling, and when allowed to follow their natural rhythm will usually fall asleep easily. Children lose touch with this innate ability over the course of time when artificial bedtimes are imposed, and they are made to lie in bed when they are not tired because it’s “time for sleep”.
Assumption #2: Children ignore their bodies’ need for sleep because they want to stay up.
There are definitely developmental phases when children are deeply motivated to stay awake and resist sleeping. When children have moved through the developmental phase, their natural willingness to sleep when they are tired returns. Of course, there are also times that whatever’s going on is too exciting to cut short.
We adults experience this, too. Sometimes that movie is just too good to turn off, the book is too good to put down, or a chat with a visiting friend too enjoyable. But that’s the exception, not the norm.
Assumption #3: Children do not go to bed willingly.
We may be tempted think we’ve actually got some evidence for this one, in the form of our kids protesting bedtime, repeatedly getting out of bed or calling for us. But we’d be wrong. Kids are willing to go to bed when they feel tired and are done with their activities. It’s only when we send kids to bed when they are not tired or when they are still engaged in something that they protest.
Assumption #4: All children need the same amount of sleep – and it’s a lot.
It’s true that most children need more sleep than adults, but there’s no “one size fits all” magic number. If you pay attention – really pay attention – you’ll see that each child has his or her own ideal amount of sleep, and that it varies from child to child.
Assumption #5: An early bedtime and early waking is better than going to bed later and waking up later.
Sleep is sleep. Sure, we need to respect our natural rhythms and internal clock. Being up all night and sleeping the day away messes with that. But a child who sleeps from 7:30 pm to 6:30 am is not getting a better quality sleep than the one who gets his eleven hours from 10:00 pm to 9:00 am. The tendency to favor earlier bedtimes is more about meeting others’ needs, not the child’s. Parents may be tired at the end of a long day and want some down time. School begins early, and schooled children are expected to be on time and alert when that morning bell rings.
Make no mistake: no bedtime does not mean our home (or unschooling) is a free-for-all, party-till-you-drop kind of place.