Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Unschooling Myths, Facts, and Reality

Let's be perfectly clear here, I'm not an unschooler, and I don't know many who are. However, I thought I would write from the perspective of a "schooling" mom as to what unschooling can be, is, and should be.

Unschooling, in the truest sense of the word, is letting your child's imagination drive the learning process. However, that can look very different from family to family and age to age.


  • Unschooling requires less time and effort than an "in the box" curriculum. In the early years, this is probably true, because most early learning (Kindergarten and below) happens naturally in the car, at the breakfast table, and playing outside. Once you get a bit beyond that, if you're truly unschooling, you will spend a lot of time running to the library or pulling up websites or Youtube videos to answer your child's most recent queries and trying every trick in the book to ensure a well-rounded education without formalizing it too much.
  • Unschooling means your kids won't get all the basics. The basics of life are really pretty simple. A few minutes a day of basic math prep and reading quality literature and you'll cover most of the "basics". However, unschooling can mean that your child misses out on certain topics, or needs a refresher before moving on to tackle more difficult subjects. The trickiest part of this is knowing when and how to present this "basics" so that it applies to what you child is currently studying and without implementing "traditional" learning methods.
  • Unschooling means letting your child "figure out" how to learn to read or answer a math problem. I get it, some kids can figure it out on their own if given enough time. But if your child is struggling with a topic, you still need to be prepared to step in and give them some guidelines. Kids do learn most things naturally, but unless you live in a science lab/museum/library/foreign language speaking house there is likely to be something you need a little help to encourage them by showing or doing with them. Math and reading are two subjects where a little gentle help can encourage explosive growth that would take an eternity (in kid time) to figure out otherwise. Also, you can't expect them to decide to learn about history or science if you don't first peak their interest by exposing them to a particular topic.
  • Unschooling means no textbooks. OK, this one might be more true of unschooling than anything else. But be prepared. Your child will likely need encyclopedias (online or in print), living books on every topic imaginable, and a library close at hand for special requests. If you don't have those easily available, a more traditional "in the box" education might be a better fit. Math books that fit your style are also a must have (the books don't have to be traditional or have a lot of problems, as long as you can figure that part out on your own, but they do need to present an interesting variety of math ideas).
  • Unschooling requires a tutor/parent/teacher who can find information and answer questions from any subject with little notice.
  • Unschooling requires a self-motivated child.
  • Unschooling may require a change in schedule, location, and lifestyle.
  • Unschooling requires the ability to withstand answering the question "Why?" 90% of the time from ages 2-10 and 50% of the time thereafter.
  • Unschooling requires patience, courage, creativity, and a strong sense of family.

  • While I do quite a bit of unschooling myself (if my kids ask me a question I will answer or find the answer) it is way too difficult for me to implement as an entire curriculum. My oldest thrives on routine, and unschooling just doesn't provide us with the means to do that at the current age/stage.
  • Unschoolers can easily lose focus or miss out entirely on a subject if proper care isn't taken to sculpt the learning process. Think of a bonsai plant, it takes patience, and gentle direction to get it to grow into a beautiful creation rather than a hot mess.
  • Unschooling isn't automatically a bad or good way of learning - but it needs to be a conscious decision based on your personality and your child's.
How do you school?
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