little girl

Unschooling: The Natural Way of Learning

I am really looking forward to homeschooling our girls and I see huge benefit to thinking outside of the proverbial K-12 box, so this whole Unschooling approach 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 in a homeschooled setting where I saw the regime switched up and really fell in love with learning.  I want to cultivate that same lush environment in which my children can excel at their own pace and explore knowledge more intricately than possible in a classroom.  The more I read about unschooling, the more I think it might be the route we want to go.

Unschooling is the 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.

An unschooling slogan says that “living is learning, learning is living”. Unschoolers do not believe that there are times to learn and times not to learn. They do not divide life into school time or class time versus play time or leisure time. There is no extra-curricular time for an unschooler, every minute of every day is learning time and there is no separate time dedicated to education.

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 child care at large.  By viewing all things as opportunities for growth and learning, unschooling engages every aspect of parenting, also morphing into a parenting style.

Read also: 10 Tips For Letting Your Child Play Out Independently

Why Unschooling?

little girl with book

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, which he began in 1977.

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.  This fear (along with the mandate to learn things one may not be interested in) hindered true learning, he felt, 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.

Read also: Simple Tips To Teach Mindfulness To Your Kids

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:

My daughter 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.

Here are just a few different concepts from the book 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 mos 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 likely be more of a case of attempting to master the material or truly understand 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 research I have done, it appears that in the earlier years unschoolers may be a bit slower to learn to read, for instance, as it would come from their desire rather than on a forced schedule.  However, it seems that the unschooling philosophy pans out in the end, raising adults with a depth of 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.

Read also: Simple Tips To Introduce Children to a Green Lifestyle

Why Unschooling works?

Every child is unique. They experience the world in a way that is unique to them and express themselves in a way that is different from anyone else. There is no program in the world that is specifically and dynamically designed for a particular child, yet the unschooling lifestyle can provide a 100% individualized learning experience. Unschoolers may not learn exactly what educational professionals and textbook publishers think they should, in that sense, they have gaps in their learning.

But they will also learn a lot of things that are not included in the list of “standard learning.” What is important for one person to learn is not necessarily important for another, and we don’t really have a way to predict what will be important to know in the future. However, we do know that forced or coerced learning is not sustainable and that what children are “taught” will only be “learned” in a sustainable way if it is something that interests them.

Does unschooling actually work?

Many unschooling parents report that their children are more self-reliant and open-minded as a result of their efforts. Unschooling supporters have come to believe that it is ideal not to subject children to the stress of grading and testing.

Unschooled children had high levels of satisfaction with their schooling, with few severe concerns, according to surveys.
Unschooling appears to offer educational outcomes that are comparable to public schools when done intentionally. Unschooled students seem to gravitate toward entrepreneurial or arts-related occupations. A significant majority chose STEM occupations, confirming the assumption that unschooled students’ qualities support innovation and self-direction in future careers.

Do Unschoolers learn math?

Math is all around us! It’s an unavoidable aspect of life. The truth is that you can’t live in this world if you don’t know how to do fundamental math. It is required on a daily basis. And with a caring adult who creates a stimulating and educational environment? Learning arithmetic isn’t a difficulty at all!

It’s easier to see for younger children. They learn their numbers, begin adding and subtracting, learn to tell time, and take height measurements against the wall. We can see kids beginning to grasp the concept of numbers.

Are any of you unschoolers?  How does it work in your family?

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I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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Kara Bout It