This week my kids are participating in a children’s market and they are so excited. This children’s market idea was initiated by Meaghan Jackson through the Burlington-Hamilton Unschoolers and has grown to include the entire local homeschooling community. Children have created market booths selling services, products, crafts, and items with the intent of selling them to other children and attendees. In unschooling style, parents are encouraged to step back so that their kids can take the initiative to plan, create, calculate, and negotiate so this experience can feel real and rewarding.

My daughter loves make-up, hair, colour, and design so when I asked her what kind of shop she wanted to have at the children’s market she didn’t hesitate – a beauty salon.  She decided she would paint nails, do make-up, and she says that she is also going to do hairstyles but she hasn’t really thought that one through yet so I am not sure if that aspect will materialize.

This week she asked me to take her to the store so that she could buy a new nail polish for her salon “A glitter one because girls love glitter!” and today she wants me to take her to the store to buy white roses for her salon. I guess she has a vision of what she wants her salon experience to be like?  She said “Girls love beautiful flowers!”

As she plans aloud, I can’t help but notice that several girl stereotypes are being played out in my daughter’s salon. So I had to ask “Are you only serving girls at your salon?” She said yes. I felt really uncomfortable. I wanted her to be open to gender fluid kids or boys who wanted their nails done… So I asked what about boys that want to get their nails done? “They are not allowed.” Oh no…I felt uncomfortable with that. So I asked how those boys would feel if she told them they are not allowed to get their nails done at her salon. She thought about it and said “Lonely.”

I let her response sit with me and soon I realized her answer revealed a bit of her.  She has a best friend who is a boy and most of her play experiences have been heavy on the boy influence. As unschoolers, we have had to work really hard to find her some friends who are girls. What if her choice of market booth is not just an expression of her talents, but also an expression of her needs? Perhaps a need for friendship and shared values? What if she is creating a market booth that attracts the kind of people she wishes to interact with more often?

I was humbled by that thought.  I realized I was so tempted to pressure her into agreeing to serve all customers equally but if I had done that, I would I have changed the experience for her. I would have made her booth about my needs for equality and acceptance, robbing her of the chance to try to meet her needs. And more importantly, I would have robbed her of the opportunity for her to learn from her market beauty salon experience.

This children’s market was supposed to be a chance for kids to learn but here I am learning the value of stepping back and letting a child lead the process.  I’m not sure how my daughter will respond to a gender fluid kid tomorrow or a boy visiting her salon but I now realize the experience she is creating is for her own learning.  I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride.  Once again, I am feeling schooled by unschooling.  J

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