I am really looking forward to homeschooling our girls and see huge benefit to thinking outside of the proverbial K-12 box, which is why Unschooling has really peaked my interest. As type-a and organized as my brain works, the creative free spirit inside of me frolics all around when it comes to different ways of stimulating curiosity, problem solving, and learning in my kids.
Though I did very well in structured school settings and working from text books, I was blessed to also have a few years of my education at home, where I saw the regime switched up and really fell in love with learning. I want to cultivate that same lush environment for my children, from where they can excel at their own pace and explore knowledge more intricately than possible in a classroom.
Unschooling is a very natural way of learning.
It is learner-led and driven by personal interest, inquiry, exploration, and experience rather than by following a structured or standardized curriculum. It is an outlook that views life and all things in it as vehicles to knowledge, consequently producing life-long learners and impacting how its students mature and grow throughout adulthood.
If a family chooses to embrace unschooling, their choice will not only dictate how they facilitate learning in their young, but also how they parent and childrear at large. By viewing all things as opportunities for growth and learning, unschooling engages every aspect of parenting, also morphing into a parenting style.
The term “Unschooling” was popularized by John Holt, a Yale graduate and school teacher who began questioning the value of compulsory education. His ideas concerning the ways children learn and the fallacies of formalized school systems were especially explored in his books, How Children Fail and How Children Learn, as well as his magazine Growing Without Schooling.
One of his biggest problems with “schooling” was the fear that he believed it created in students; fear of getting the wrong answers, being ridiculed by the teacher or other students, or not being good enough. He felt that this fear (along with being forced to learn things one may not be interested in) hindered true learning, and in fact taught children to not learn by memorizing facts just to meet a standard and then forgetting them completely.
Holt believed that children naturally want to learn…
The human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we need to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. (source)
and proposed that home was the best base to do it from…
I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were. (source)
His writings eventually led to a formulation of unschooling tenants like:
- Learner-led. Subjects are explored because a student shows desire to seek them out, not because the standard says it’s time to learn to read or understand algebra.
- Adult-facilitated. Parents find ways to make knowledge available to their kids by involving them as much as possible in “the real world,” and assist in obtaining resources/experiences that relate to their children’s given interests.
- Shaped by life experiences & individual pursuits, not curriculum. Though outside courses or educational resources can certainly be used if driven purely by student interest, things such as adventuring in the woods, balancing the checkbook and paying bills, or changing the oil in the family car are seen to be just as valuable “teachers” and likely more effective.
HOW UNSCHOOLING LOOKS ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL
Naturally, unschooling will look differently for each family and individual since each “learner” will possess different interests and curiosities at different stages of life, and each adult “facilitator” will engage in different levels of involvement.
In our family it would look something like this:
Clementine is on a total Snow White kick this week. I’m not talking about the Disney movie, I’m talking about the book and vocabulary associated with it. She wants to read it over and over. So I, as facilitator, could take that queue and pursue ways of encouraging her to learn through that interest.
We could explore: mirrors/reflecting light (Physics), forest animals (Zoology), cottages & types of homes (Art/Design, Cultural Studies), jealousy & emotions (Affective Science), monarchs and castles (Government, History, Geography), huntsman & other roles in society (Social Science), diamond mines and gemstones (Mineralogy, Gemology), baking pies and domestic activity (Nutrition, Home Economics). We could pursue these topics in a number of ways from reading books about them (Non-fiction & Fiction Reading) to sifting for “gemstones” in sand (Sensory).
The options, really are, endless.
My level of involvement:
Since Clementine is only 18 months old, at this stage my involvement and guidance would be extensive. I would come up with some of her activities & obtain necessary supplies. I would do some talking (not instructing so much, but attempting to stimulate her own questions and curiosity). My frequent involvement would likely be necessary for a few years, though by the age of 7-8 she would probably be more self-guided.
How is unschooling graded?
In short, it’s not. Well, not in the way that public schools would count scores or record test percentages, assigning an overall grade. It would be more a case of attempting to master the material or truly understanding it before moving on to the next concept or interest.
Will unschoolers learn everything needed in order to go to college or excel in life?
From the reading that I have done, it seems that in earlier years unschoolers may be a bit slower or “behind” in learning to read, for example, as it would come from their desire rather than on a forced schedule. It seems that the unschooling philosophy might pan out in the end though, raising adults with deep knowledge and desire to continue pursuing it that text books could only scratch the surface of in larger settings. Not only do unschoolers often go to college and do extremely well there, but they maintain a life long love of learning.
Are any of you unschoolers? How does it work in your family?
Be sure to check out some of the other parenting style posts we have covered: Parenting Values & Why You Ned Them, Attachment Parenting vs. the Continuum Concept, Consensual Living, Equally Shared Parenting.