From the time Bella was born, Matt and I knew that we wanted her to have a rich life experience…and that it wasn’t going to come from spending 7-8 hours a day at school. And even though we were not homeschooled ourselves, it was something that we were excited about and embraced with open arms. But the term homeschooling is quite broad and it became somewhat overwhelming to navigate our options. As Bella approached that “magical age of 5″…we felt pressure to make a decision on a curriculum and get busy learning.
Have you ever noticed how ramped up everyone gets when kids enter kindergarten? It’s like everything before then was a cake walk…their kid was just slacking off until one day BAM, they’re 5 and it’s time to get serious about learning. Letters! Numbers! Reading! Writing! Stress enters the picture and hysteria ensues. * Child’s Play / The Art of Learning
However, the more I researched, the more I found that none of the curriculum were clicking with me. Fellow homeschooling friends would recommend different ideas…but something else kept drawing me in. And that something was something called “unschooling”.
What is unschooling?
Unschooling is a lifestyle of learning. It is a type of homeschooling, but we do not “do school” at home. There are no workbooks, no desks, no memorization, no set “time” for school, and no tests. The child is FREE to pursue their own interests.
Mary Griffith, author of The Unschooling Handbook, defined unschooling this way, ‘[it] means learning what one wants, when one wants, in the way one wants, for one’s own reasons. Choice and control reside with the learner. She may find outside help in the form of parents, mentors, books, or formal lessons, but [she] is the one making the decisions about how best to proceed. Unschooling is trusting that your children are at least as clever and capable as you are yourself.’ (source)
Does this mean that we never help her in her journey of learning and she is just left to figure it all out on her own? No. As her parents, we are responsible for coming alongside her as a partner and providing learning opportunities based on interests…and guiding her if she asks. At this age, most of Bella’s learning is is based around play. But if she expresses interest in something…we will do whatever we can to help her explore that interest.
The biggest difference is that we are not actively “teaching” her. She is learning on her own through life experiences. If, for example, we’re sitting watching the sunset, we don’t launch into a quiz session about the earth’s rotation and the solar system. We sit and enjoy it together and if she asks questions about it (which she usually does!), we can start to discuss it, but it’s not a parent-initiated.
Unschooling as a Lifestyle
For our family, unschooling is a natural extension of the parenting style that we have chosen. Attachment parenting and gentle discipline respects and nurtures the child…and we’ve found that unschooling does the same. We enjoy a very easy “flow” to our family life. While it is not completely free of conflict, we have taken some of the common struggles (sleep and food) out of the picture. Bella does not have a set bedtime, instead she listens to her body and goes to sleep when she is tired and wakes when she wants. We also don’t have a lot of rules and restrictions surrounding food. We do have family meal times, but if someone is hungry before or after a meal or even after teeth have been brushed, we eat. Basically, we treat her with the same respect that we would a guest in our home.
There is an excellent article that goes into more depth on the logistics of an unschooled life here: “From Control to Connection: An Unschooling Journey”.
I also really enjoyed this talk given by Astra Taylor, called “An Unschooled Life”. Her biography reads: Raised by independent-thinking bohemian parents, Taylor was unschooled until age 13. Join the filmmaker as she shares her personal experiences of growing up home-schooled without a curriculum or schedule, and how it has shaped her educational philosophy and development as an artist.
What about “socialization”?
This is one of the questions that comes up a lot…and it’s good to stop and really think about what the word socialization means.
Socialization defined: “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position”.
Hmmm….being socialized doesn’t sound like something I want for my children. I want them to think OUTSIDE the box, not learn how to follow the “rules” of social position.
What it boils down to, is that school is not teaching children about the real world at all. It does just the opposite. And instead of rambling on about it, please just read this. It spells it all out and is an interesting read.
What about math?
I took college calculus. I don’t use ONE thing that I learned in that class. In fact, I don’t use much of what I learned in high school either. I do use math to cook, go shopping, and figure out how old I am (after you pass 30, you start to forget!) My point is that life-learned math is much more applicable to…well….life! And if you run into a situation where you need to divide 68345 by 27, I’m sure a calculator will be nearby. In the case of those who wish to become an engineer or delve into any other math related occupation, they can learn it as they need to. You may want to read this intriguing article about kids learning math easily when they control their own learning. And more interesting thoughts on math here.
What about reading?
Children will learn to read naturally, on their own…in their own way that works for them. It has been said that age 7 is the ‘best’ age for children to start learning to read. Starting them before can be detrimental to their reading habits in some cases. Joyce Fetterol puts forth the idea that “…schools place emphasis on [early] reading not because it’s the best way to learn but because it’s the most efficient way to run assembly line learning.” For more information on unschooling and reading…click here and here.
What about college?
If our children decide to go to college (and it would be fine if they didn’t)…they will learn what they need to learn to achieve that goal. There are many unschoolers doing fantastic in college right now…and there are many who decided to take a faster (and cheaper) route to their dreams.
What about learning discipline?
Discipline, as in SELF-discipline, cannot be forced upon a child. Like adults, it is born out of a passionate desire to achieve. For me, I have self-discipline in my eating because I am passionate about health. I have self-discipline in my language and lifestyle because I am passionate about following Jesus Christ. The discipline was learned on my own because I was excited about these things. It was not something I learned sitting in classroom by being forced to sit and take tests and raise my hand to use the restroom.
What about the laws?
Each state has different laws regarding homeschooling. You can see each state’s regulations here.
That’s All Folks…
Those are my thoughts on unschooling in a nutshell. This could be a 10 part series, because there are so many branches and ideas related to unschooling…but I wanted to give you a brief overview because I’ve had so many questions sent to me about it. Unschooling is something that I’ve grown very passionate about and I look forward to our discussion in the comments! Please share any other unschooling blogs that you love as well…
If you have a general question about unschooling, you may want to check out the starred web links below before commenting…they cover a HUGE range of topics related to unschooling and your question is most likely addressed there.
If you are adamantly opposed to unschooling or homeschooling, please comment with a gentle spirit and know that this is what works for our family and we love it. We are not judging your choices…everyone needs to do what works best for them, and it’s definitely not for everybody.
Web Resources That You Will Read For Hours
Sandra Dodd’s Site*
The Natural Child
Natural/Non-Coercive Learning (Psychology Today)
What about the Dads?
Not Back to School Camp: I cannot wait for my kids to be old enough to attend this camp. I wish that I would have been an unschooler so I could have gone Be sure to watch the video on the home page.
Books That Will Change Your Life
*When you use these links, I will get a small percentage of the sale. Thanks so much for supporting my site!