For the most part, when I mention to people that we unschool, I get one of two reactions. The first is curiosity, the second is disbelief. This is typical across the board.
The former usually means they haven’t heard the term and they want to know more. The latter comes from unschoolers or homeschoolers themselves, both claiming that that’s not really what I’m doing.
So I’m here to set the record straight. Since unschooling is a term that can apply loosely or rigidly, here is what unschooling is and what unschooling is not.
Letting the Child Take the Lead
When it comes to our family, unschooling is trying as hard as possible to take the lead of the child. It involves waiting, agonizingly long sometimes, for the child to be ready for the next step of their education instead of following some random scope and sequence because the state standards require it.
A perfect example is one of writing. Many curricula tie reading and writing together and while there probably is a connection, I don’t see any reason to hold back a budding reader simply because he is not holding the pencil right.
By the same token, we do not believe that the children will learn only when and what they want. We set aside time for “school” every day, but it is with the awareness that it is only the tip of what they will learn on an ongoing basis through the day.
We emphasize reading, writing and math and, yes, we do math drills.
We do this because we believe that these are the basics of any good education and no matter what the children decide to do in the future, they will have need of these basic skills.
However, we follow a relaxed schedule and don’t feel pressured to keep up with grade levels. We insist rather on achieving a certain level of mastery before moving on to the next level.
Aiming for Self Discipline
My ultimate aim for the children is self discipline, which is one of the reasons I am such a proponent of unschooling. I want them to take responsibility and be self-directed. But I am also aware that at this point they need my guidance to get to that future place where they will be steering their own ship.
We discipline, we exhort, we teach – continuously. We do not encourage acting out, temper tantrums or otherwise bad behavior and neither do we justify it.
As such unschooling is not letting them run wild and figure things out on their own.
It is however arranging things, ideas, subjects, even our home, in ways that they can learn, in the course of our daily lives, how stuff works, how people and professions, countries, governments, environments, history, God and geography interact with each other on an ongoing basis.
Unschooling is interacting with my children in the minutiae of daily life while pointing to the larger picture and reminding them to find their place in it.
Non Traditional Teaching Methods
Unschoolers are known for their distaste for worksheets and textbooks. As someone who hates clutter, I am one of them. However, my children love online drills and I do have a daughter who loves stationery. Let’s just say I don’t stand between her and her passion.
With that said, I have an affinity for non traditional teaching methods and include them as often as we can. These include hands-on workshops in cooking, field trips, Netflix videos, TED Talks, experiments, talking to specialists, and so forth.
For us, unschooling comes into play most often when subjects mingle one with another. Science leads to history, to language arts, to math, to the Bible and back to cultural studies. This fluidity is one of the attributes of a good education, because the more connections you make, the better the learning.
Unlike some radical unschoolers, though, I do not make a rule out of this. If the children prefer to read a book about butterflies rather than go out and look at them, I won’t stop them. And I have gradually begun to read more to them as well.
So there you have it. The way I see it, we have the best of both worlds. If I’m not unschooler enough or homeschooler enough, it doesn’t matter. I see unschooling as a spectrum, not a box. We’re on it, somewhere. I’m certain of it.
What do you think? What method works best for your family and how closely do you align with it?