Today I want to tackle three big questions:
- what is unschooling?
- how do you unschool? and
- do unschooled kids learn anything?
A year ago we were very much leaning towards the idea of homeschooling and there were so many things I didn’t know about homeschooling (there still are!), at the time I thought unschooling was just keeping your kids at home and not doing anything educational with them. It turns out I was so wrong. (That’s been known to happen a time or two.)
I don’t think I am alone in this initially inaccurate unschooling assumption and as we lean more and more towards unschooling I wanted to have a place to direct people if they were confused about the concept of unschooling.
If you are going to homeschool (unschooling or not), I believe that in order to have a successful year you first need to know your goal.
My goal for homeschooling is for my children to develop a love for learning and the skills to know how to learn on their own.
Once I knew my goal (yours may be different and that’s okay!) I realized that I could let go of my preconceived notions of what homeschooling is supposed to look like and actually unschool my children.
SO, WHAT IS UNSCHOOLING?
Unschooling is really hard to define because it can vary so much, it’s not like the Charlotte Mason method where they very much follow the idea of Charlotte Mason. My favorite definition of unschooling that I’ve come across comes from Marla Taviano’s ebook; An Unschooling Manifesto:
Unschooling: student-led, interest-driven, mostly-fun, super-meaningful education that happens at home (and/or any other place along the way). Parents and other adults are valuable facilitators, but instead of lecturing, they’re sharing from experience and often learning right alongside the kiddos. There’s no set curriculum, no list of things the kids need to know, no replication of school at la casa. Creativity and innovation and community (and all the important stuff in life) are encouraged and nurtured. Kids are celebrated for who God created them to be and inspired to become the very best grown-up version of that unique and amazing person. Unschooling families think school cramps their style; childhood’s too short to spend cooped up in a classroom; and learning happens best in the context of real life. And real life starts right this very minute.
While it’s a pretty long definition I think Marla taps into all the right components of unschooling. Unschooling isn’t about kids not learning anything, instead it is following their interests and learning along side them and teaching them how to learn.
HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY UNSCHOOL?
Both my husband and I enjoy learning (about things we are interested in) and when I thought about the process I use to educate myself (Google, YouTube, books . . .) I realized how easy it will be for my kids to learn about their interests. It’s easy now to learn about topics using those methods and I am sure it will just get easier as technology gets better.
A big component to unschooling is taking the time to answer your children’s questions. We’ve done this from the get go and now our children ask really good questions, because they know we will take the time to explain the answer to them, or, if we don’t know the answer, we will try to figure it out (once again via Google, YouTube and books).
For us unschooling means exposing them to a diverse group of people, different ages and ethnic groups. After graduating school rarely will you ever hang out in a group of 20-30 people your age again. Finding this diversity is usually easy to do within your own community, but travel is another great way to do this!
Unschooling is about teaching your kids to be citizens of society now instead of being students now and citizens later. That means teaching them practical skills that they will use in the future, like how to cook, do laundry, clean, etc.
Kids really do have their own interests and passions that they want to learn more about but if you are worried they will never want to do anything (which is highly doubtful), there are two things you can do:
First, invite them into your own interests and hobbies, teach them about what you love and the passion will probably be contagious.
Another option is something I do fairly frequently called strewing. In a nutshell strewing is just making resources that you think your children might be interested in available to them. You could request books on a certain topic from the library and leave them on the coffee table, or sign up for different subscription boxes like Groovy Lab in a Box or Little Passports), children are curious and it won’t be long before they start picking things up and you’ll being to realize where their interests and passions are.
A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE FOR YOU . . .
To give an example, one of my passions is travel and while we can’t travel out of the country right now (we are currently waiting for Ephraim’s citizenship certificate and then need to get him a new passport), we are still learning about different countries and cultures.
I always get out a variety of books on this topic at the library (different atlases, wonders of the world books, books about specific countries, etc) and the kids flip through them at their leisure and some times I go through and read sections with them. We also have a variety of different maps around the house that are accessible to the children.
Mexico is a country of interest to us since my grandma was born there and only moved to Canada when she was in her 20’s and Raeca has a sponsor child from Mexico that she writes letters to. I’m slowly learning Spanish on my own (via Duolingo) and I’ll periodically introduce the kids to new words in our day to day activities.
One of our favorite travel/geography activities right now is to play GeoGuesser together – it’s a free site that randomly puts you somewhere in the world via Google Street View and you have to guess where you are. We use clues around us to figure out where we are, things we look for are: the types of trees growing, whether it’s dry or lush, languages on signs, the skin color of the majority of the people, the types of vehicles and what side of the road people are driving on, etc to help us get an idea of where we are. (I use our ChromeCast and share my computer screen to our projector so the kids can get a better view of where we are.)
DO UNSCHOOLED KIDS ACTUALLY LEARN ANYTHING?
So, do unschooled kids learn anything? Well, unschooling is a student-led, interest-driving education, think about yourself, when do you learn the best; when you are in a classroom learning from an agenda a teacher has or when you take the initiative and research something you are interested in?
The truth is, when we learn about something we are interested and passionate about the information stays with us, which is the opposite of what so many of us do/did for school when the method was: memorize facts or information for a test, write the test, and promptly forget the information.
I have a feeling I’ve unintentionally started a whole series here on unschooling. Which is okay with me, unschooling is one of my interests and passions right now and something I am learning a lot about. I guess you could say I’m unschooling about unschooling 🙂
I would love to hear any questions you have and your thoughts on unschooling
(whether you are for it or not!), leave me a comment below!
You can see all my posts about unschooling (thus far) here.
Really good books about unschooling you might be interested in:
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