Unschooling is a child-led approach to education where children have a high degree of autonomy over what and how they learn. Unschoolers seek to honor their children’s natural learning processes without imposing arbitrary timetables or grades on education.
Those who identify as unschoolers exist on a spectrum. On one end are radical unschoolers who give their children complete freedom over how to spend their time and do not use any formal curriculum. On the other end are families who cover some of the regular school subjects, but in a much more relaxed, child-directed way than you would find in a traditional school. Wherever you might fall on this spectrum, what unifies unschoolers is their conviction that learning is happening all the time and that formal teaching is only one way to facilitate learning (and not a very effective one at that).
An unschooler’s day might begin at the breakfast table when the child wonders what a Triceratops ate for breakfast. A parent might help the child look up what different dinosaurs ate. Together they might learn how scientists look at the shapes of dinosaurs’ teeth to determine what they might have eaten. Then the child might go off to play with Legos where he uses spatial reasoning and problem solving skills to build a vehicles and structures. Later on, the family might go for a walk. Remembering their dinosaur research earlier in the day, the parent might count out squares on the sidewalk to show the child how big a Triceratops would have been. During lunch they might find a video online showing a dinosaur dig to see how fossils are uncovered. In the afternoon, the child might spend time drawing, playing a game, or helping with household clean-up. Before bed, the family might spend some time reading aloud together.
As you can see, unschoolers’ days are not necessarily without any sort of rhythm or routine. And unschooling doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t suggest activities or help find information. It’s just that unschooling parents don’t force a child to complete certain “educational” activities. Instead, they honor a child’s natural curiosities and needs.
Is the Unschooling Approach Right For You?
Here are a few signs that the unschooling approach might be a good fit for you:
- You find yourself extremely critical of the mainstream educational model. The way our society conducts private and public schools feels out-of-date and ineffective to you. You have a strong desire to break free from this mold and try something completely different with your children.
- You value a trusting relationship with your child, and you collaborate well together. You honor your child’s needs and seek their input when making decisions that impact them.
- You believe that learning is a natural process that occurs without parental input.
- You find grades and test scores arbitrary and irrelevant.
- You’re excited about learning alongside your child and supporting them in pursuing what interests them.
If you see yourself in the statements above, it’s likely that the unschooling approach will be a good fit for your family.
Advantages and Disadvantages to the Unschooling Approach
One great advantage of unschooling is that because students are not forced to learn against their will, they can enter adulthood without the resentment or apathy toward education that so many mainstream educated children display. They are often comfortable seeking information and establishing relationships with a wide variety of people. Some believe that because unschoolers have the freedom to choose their own courses of study they retain more of what they learn. And because they are not brought up within a rigid educational system, unschoolers tend to excel at thinking outside the box and are gifted in the types of complex problem solving and relational skills that are so valued in the career world.
Critics of unschooling argue that children who direct their own education have major learning gaps and are often unprepared for higher education or for entering the workforce. There certainly are examples of unschooling families where children do not feel supported in pursuing their goals or they resent the lack of preparation they received. Not all children thrive in such an unstructured environment.
Nevertheless, many children find the unschooling approach liberating and go on to lead fulfilling adult lives. If you feel your child will work well with a self-directed approach and you have the resources to support their growth and learning at home, then unschooling could be a great fit for your family.
Resources to Explore
You can learn more about unschooling by checking out some of the resources below.
Books for Further Reading:
The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
How Children Learn by John Holt
Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax
God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn by Julie Polanco
Articles to Explore:
Unschoolers to Follow:
Leah McDermott at Your Natural Learner
Kay at The Mom Trotter
Meg McElwee at Mama Liberated
Sara at Happiness Is Here
Not Sure If Unschooling Is Right for You?
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