This was a guessing-page, in case people were looking for information on bedtimes, but it has started to gather its own notes. The main information page on how many unschoolers have dealt with sleep is: sandradodd.com/sleeping.

Kelly/kashultz responded to a mom who had let up on any bedtime rules or routines at all, and was having a hard time of it:

We have three children, 8, 5.5 and 2.5. The older two can be quite energetic and loud at the exact time that the youngest might be needing to go to bed. Here is a combination of tactical and philosophical ideas, from our experience.

I've learned to try and talk to the older two earlier, for example, right before or after dinner, to see what they might want to be doing that evening when the little guy needs to go to sleep. We will come up with ideas, maybe Barbies, maybe painting; always the evening movie is on and available. I try to help them understand what his sleep timing might be, since it varies depending on whether he's taken a nap. It's at this time that I might remind them if we have some plan for the next day.

I am often alone with my children at night, but when my husband is home, he is committed to being with the older two when I am nursing our son to sleep. He will help them on the computer, play with them, get them a snack, whatever, and then I join in when I am able to. I think the key thing here is that, after a certain point in the evening (and at our house, it's actually pretty early), we are both committed to being with the kids so that nobody is left totally alone to figure out what to do. And even though we do not have 5 children, there are still different sleep "shifts", in that everyone tires at different times. Is your husband able to be with the older kids on YouTube while you get the toddler to sleep? Or could he read to the 5 and 7 yo while the older ones are on the computer nearby? Or watch a movie with all of them if he is totally wiped? If he is right with the middle kids until you've got the little one down, then he can assess their sleepiness and maybe get them started on the path to bed, or when you are done, you can come and start to engage them on their bedtime readiness, do they want to brush teeth and then come snuggle some more, etc. Even if this doesn't happen every night, but a few a week, a few calmer nights a week is better than none, right?

There seems to be an energy burst time in our home sometime between dinner and bedtime. Often, the best scenario for us is to have a big tickle-fest on our big family bed right after dinner. When this seems likely, I'll just ignore the dishes and go play for a while. This usually has the double benefit of connecting us all in a fun way and getting that energy out a little bit earlier rather than later, when myself and dh might be too exhausted to really participate or enjoy it. This doesn't always happen, but it is usually great when it does.

I have learned to let go and even enjoy the energy when the older two get the little guy going. Often these are some of the best times that they spend together, and in reality, it is brief. He might play with them for a half hour to hour jumping around on the bed, but eventually he will say that he needs to go nappy.

I would consider your situation holistically, too. For example, what are your days like now? Are they jam-packed with activity, or empty (and thus giving the kids lots of extra energy at night). Do you have flexibility in changing plans the next day because people are tired? If not, should you build in more flexibility? Is there something that you can change so that you are not quite as drained at the end of the day, perhaps. I ask that knowing that you are about to give birth, and also that maintaining everything for a 5-child family is more than a full-time job, but it is worth thinking about. Now is the time to cut out all the time-wasters and energy-drainers, if ever, so you have time for both the new baby and the other kids.

If the kids do get overtired and everyone is crabby, there will be opportunities to discuss why they are irritable and how you can figure out how to get enough sleep to prevent that, and avoid the yucky feelings that come with lack of sleep. Do you observe and comment on how you feel in the morning? Do you comment to your toddler when he/she is seeming sleepy?

This (and the new baby coming up) is a huge opportunity to open the door for deep communicating on non-academic type things, and if you are new to the idea of radical unschooling, this could be a relatively new concept. How does the change in the bedtime affect all of you? What have different kids liked, not liked? What would make things more comfortable when they get tired? What kinds of quiet things can they get into when the newest family member arrives, etc. If we were not unschooling, I doubt that these kinds of things would ever enter our heads, but we have learned over the last 3-4 years to converse in a different way with our children than others do.

The comments on limits have also been illuminating. As a newer unschooler (3-4 years ago), it was easy for me to see the big opportunities (kids with choice becoming more self-defined and happier individuals), but I did not have that internalized set of principles that would help me to navigate through the details in each of the big areas (food, tv, sleep, etc.). We didn't have huge controls in place, mostly because our kids were little and we were just trying to be responsive parents, but we hadn't thought through everything and how it could work differently than the mainstream norm.

As a result, the concept of limits for me was a bit daunting too (and can sometimes still be). I was loyal to these new ideas, but unsure in some cases of how to apply them while being respectful to individuals and the entire household. I like to think of the experienced unschoolers as being kind of like zen masters who have practiced so long that it is clear to them which are the bogus limits that need to be cast off, which are the ones that are real, and which are the ones that are somewhere in between that need to be evaluated. It wasn't so clear to me up front, but is becoming a lot clearer, and with practice, I am becoming much better at thinking through situations and guess what, since I talk with my kids about everything too, they are getting really good at thinking through the situations themselves!

I sense that you are posting at a time full of change, excitement, fear, hormonal overload. I think it is important for you to really step back and think through what is coming, and what can you do to make the transition to this new lifestyle more comfortable for both your children and yourself, and again, it is not just a sleep matter, it is everything about your life that adds together with the bedtime, that will make it possible for you to be on top of becoming an unschooling mother, rather than besieged by the change.

Good luck.

Robyn Coburn wrote: I like this bit:
I have learned to let go and even enjoy the energy when the older two get the little guy going. Often these are some of the best times that they spend together, and in reality, it is brief. He might play with them for a half hour to hour jumping around on the bed, but eventually he will say that he needs to go nappy.
I have noticed this a lot—I mean the brevity of the energy burst type rowdiness. Sometimes it feels like it is going on and on, but if you look at the clock, it isn't very long.

Over time I have learnt not to trust my own time perception or memory and to actually time and document events. It was noting our sleep/wake up times on my calendar that led me to seeing Jayn's sleep pattern. It was timing how long certain household tasks took me that let me see how fast they really were. And conversely it was seeing a sudden radical increase in how long Jayn was rowdy and emotionally disorganized before sleep that allowed me to make a connection to stressors in her life last summer.

—Robyn Coburn

Joyce rescued a discussion someone else deleted. Sometimes recovered words seem more valuable. Someone who didn't like the answers to her questions deletes her question, on facebook, and the rest goes in the trash. Thanks, Joyce! (for a 2014 rescue I'm saving here in 2019)
Sandra Dodd:
"A set bedtime" might not be as good as letting a one-year-old fall asleep when he's tired. But if it's working for them, for now, let it be as it is. If they eat what you make, bonus.

If you're *making* them, though, that's not the same as "just eating what I make," so be honest with yourself about what is pressed on them and what they're choosing. You asked "Is that wrong???" about chores. Don't do anything you don't understand. Figure out gradually how and whether you want to change what you're doing. Don't do anything because you vaguely think unschoolers "have to." THAT is wrong.

Read a bit here now and then, and let it seep in gradually:

There's a lot of good writing on chores on Joyce's site, too, on the righthand column.
Joyfully Rejoycing

Sandra Dodd:

The whole bedtime thing has become a kind of monstrous religion for some families, and a disaster for some others.

NEVER, ever did my kids stay up all night when they were young. I was the first one to be writing about not having arbitrary bedtimes, because we never did, from birth. But for a family that DID have a bedtime by the clock, for them to let kids stay up later sometimes, for real reasons, makes sense. For them to tell the kids "You can stay up as late as you want" makes ZERO sense, especially if someone needs to go to bed in the morning, or they're in an apartment building where the neighbors are trying to sleep, or if the kids will stay up late for no other reason than that they finally can and it seems wild and exotic and exciting.

I'm very sorry that ever happened in ANY family.

When Marty was 14 he stayed up nearly all night because a friend wanted to. Marty saw no purpose, and fell asleep just before morning, but his friend was THRILLED with the **freedom** from his mom's house and rules.

When we were all sharing a computer, and then when he first had his own computer, Kirby used to stay up until about 5:00 playing video games, but it was because it was a time when he could get uninterrupted hours on his games, when others were asleep.

Without all the crazed excitement of years of rules being lifted, children will get tired and want to go to sleep at some point. Parents can help them wind down, and get the house darker, and quieter, and make bedtime peaceful and desirable. But after years of "NO, I said get in the bed and stay there" (which I heard a few hundred times myself), the idea of that changing is very exciting.

—Sandra D.
Holly Blossom:
More important than the question "am I getting it wrong?", is asking the question:
After a day of play and togetherness my 2 year old will often be tired and need to sleep before my older one.

I make it easy by snuggling, reading, in bed, dimly lit room. I respond to her energy levels and how she is showing me she is feeling. Some nights she is full of beans and will crawl into my lap when she is done, some nights there is a knowing between us that its time and I make a quiet space for her to chill and fall asleep.

"Unschooling" bed time and meals is about responding to each child's different and ever-changing needs.

—Holly B.
Alex Polikowsky:
My kids have never had bed times. What they had was a parent that was aware of when they were tired and helped them go to sleep.

Many parents will trust a baby to sleep when tired . They know their baby usually sleeps at certain times and they work with that. They will take the baby to a quiet room, or go for a walk, whatever helps their child sleep.They read the signs of tired baby and help them sleep whichever way necessary for each individual child.

A child hits one or two and those same parents now decide that the right time to sleep is, let's say, 7PM. So instead of looking at their child for signs of being tired, they start looking at their clock.

Struggles start to occur when kids are shifting nap times, seasons change, and other outside factors. Instead of the parents being aware their child is tired or not they are still going by the clock.

What if you kept looking at your child even if they were 2, 3 or even 8?
What if you still facilitate and help and you are aware when they are tired and help them and create a sleep inducing environment?
What if the child can sit with you and watch a movie until they zonk out the same way you nursed them to sleep when they were babies? without struggles or bed times.

Lack of bed times does not equal leaving your child to just crash alone and unassisted. Lack of bedtime does not mean a parent not paying attention and facilitating their sleep or not creating a sleeping environment for their child to peacefully fall asleep.

I have always done that. I have always been a partner of my kids sleep. Both my kids have come to me and asked to go to bed because they were tired but I was not waiting for them to do so. I was usually the one facilitating, helping them and being aware they were tired and ready to sleep.

I remember going upstairs to a quiet room to watch a movie and nurse my 3 year old to sleep when I could see she needed it. It happened most days at around the same time. So that was our bed time.

—Alex P.

More on sleeping

Parenting issues


Late Night Learning, a Sandra Dodd article documenting some of the best conversations, "after hours"