Monday, May 26, 2008

A definition of unschooling

A new reader of this blog asked me to explain unschooling, and this is what I came up with...

Unschooling, very simply, is living life without school. It's different from traditional homeschooling in that many homeschoolers try to replicate the classroom to some extent. Unschoolers don't. We just live our lives, following our interests, providing plenty of resources to explore, and letting children do what they do best -- learn. It's based on the ideas of late educator John Holt.

Unschooling philosophy basically says that children are learning what they need to know from the moment they're born, at their own pace, and in their own style. There is no magical age when this ability suddenly disappears and children need to be told what to learn, when to learn it, or how to learn it. That said, there is also research that shows how most children gradually lose their interest and/or initiative in learning after spending a few years in the typical school environment. Instead of learning for the joy of it, they need to be cajoled, rewarded, and punished into doing the work that teachers set out for them. Teachers spend an extraordinary amount of time studying ways to "motivate kids to learn." (This is confirmed by my schoolteacher husband.) Unschooled children don't seem to experience that loss of interest or initiative. They may not be interested in everything the typical schoolchild is supposed to learn at each "grade level." But they usually develop interests of their own that lead to real learning about the real world in ways that apply to their real lives.

There are lots of great unschooling blogs out there.

10 comments:

Becoming Me said...

Very interesting. And can it be done in a way that children will still be eligible for college? Forgive my ignorance.

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Yes, lots of unschooled kids have chosen to attend college. Many of the best schools are excited to have nontraditional applicants, homeschooled or unschooled, particularly because they are usually there by choice, not because they didn't know what else to do. And they are there to learn, not just graduate. Unschooled kids who want to attend college find different ways to fulfill the entrance requirements.

Band of Brothers said...

hi there, thanks for popping by my blog with your kind words! your blog and bio are fun to read. i have 2 dear friends interested in natural living that both had home births and I recently watched the documentary "the business of being born". it was quite fascinating, especially for someone who has endured 3 c-sections:(
i have lately been becoming very informed on all sorts of hazards and have been using more natural products lately. i'm slowly getting there.
oh and your boys are very cute!

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Thanks for coming by, Davi! My mom had 3 C-sections, too, and I think it was healing for her to be able to watch me have positive, empowering births.

P.S. We live in the same city. :)

Bobbi said...

i absolutely love everything that you have written about unschooling. it seems like such an obvious choice for my family. you're very inspiring!

primal said...

To the first commented: My unschooled child is in college currently and another is on her way.

Funny thing.. the term "unschool" conjures up a definition in people's minds that is synonymous with "unlearned" which is not the case at all :-)

silent wings said...

What happens then if you take a middleschooler or preteen struggling with the basics (like reading/writing/math) and has expressed much disinterest in learning anything (unless playing video games counts) and choose to unschool them? Will it be too late for them...or is it possible for interest and initiative to return when they are no longer under pressure to learn?

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Silent wings, thank you for asking!

I don't have personal experience with pulling an older child out of school -- but I know lots of people have done it successfully.

There is usually a stretch of time where the child (and the parents, too) need to "deschool." For the child, it takes time to regain a sense of himself independent from school expectations. For the parent, it takes time to learn to trust the natural learning process -- because it usually looks nothing like what happens in school.

Fortunately, playing video games definitely counts! It's nearly impossible to play most games without doing some math and reading. Not to mention critical thinking and other things kids are supposed to learn at school but often don't. If that's what he's happy doing, don't stop it!

Once a person realizes that he really is free to follow his own interests, rather than being told what to learn, the initiative will come! I heard one story of a boy who never read anything until he decided he wanted to learn to play a certain video game. The game manual, in all its complexity, was the first book he read from start to finish.

silent wings said...

Thankyou for replying. I have three who I pulled out of school and "schooled" at home for the past few years. I have not felt very academically successful up to this point and wondered if the struggles have to do with LD or the resistance is because I am trying to fit round holes into square pegs :).....There is a sense in which I can see the possibilities and potential for self directed learning. My oldest has taken a strong inititive at diving into researching the things that interest her....my one son is quite creative at making things and building things that he sees in his mind (cardboard, lego, ect.)... and my other son is a bit of a naturalist who I often find has left the lesson to go explore the creatures behind our house. :)And boy do they play imaginatively. I admit though that unschooling is out of MY comfort zone...I actually liked school growing up! AND I was hardly ever allowed to play. And Play is what they do alot of. Is that nornal for older children!! LOL How does one tell when it is simply a matter of not being ready or interested in reading/writing/computation....and when it is a deeper issue like a LD? Any thoughts?

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

I think your intuition about square pegs is right on. :) Your children sound wonderful! They have their own strengths and interests and personalities! And they haven't had their imaginations limited by school expectations and peer pressure.

Some kids do like school. They like the predictability of the structure, or having a lot of people around them all the time, or they're naturally gifted in the things that school focuses on.

I think if a child really WANTS to learn something -- asks for opportunities, requests help, takes the initiative, and then struggles for a long time, that might be a sign of a learning disorder.

Otherwise, they're just not ready or interested, and the more you push, the less interested they'll be.

Unschooling is scary for most parents. It's so far away from what most of us experienced growing up, and from what we see other parents doing, that it takes a lot of courage to trust our kids and wait and see. But it's SO worth it!

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