What is unschooling? Legit option or an easy way out?

What is unschooling? Is it legit or an easy way out? – A researching newbie mom

 

I was pretty sure if I “unschooled” children they would eventually mutiny.

Define unschooling? A while ago I would have given you a very different response. I’ll admit it–when I heard the term “unschooling” for the first time the image that came to mind was that of unruly children. No training. No learning. No form. No routine. No structure. No way!

 

I was worse than one simply ignorant to homeschooling. I was an educator who was ignorant to homeschooling. I wasn’t anti-homeschooling. In fact I was intrigued about it as an option for my children. I actually came across the term “unschooling” during my research, and I’ll admit that the title threw me off. I immediately thought that “un”schooling was tantamount to “anti”educating. And how could I, an educator, support or endorse something that I thought belittled education? I stood on my ill-form idea and didn’t dive any further into the homeschooling approach.

 

What a small minded conclusion I had jumped too! When a friend of mine, a graduate of the homeschool system herself, married to an Ivy leaguer, told me that her children were being unschooled, I had to pause because apparently I had missed something. Here were two adults who I admired for thinking outside the box, highly capable critical thinkers themselves, and they were unschooling. And their sons? Polite, well-spoken, well-mannered, intelligent, and academically gifted. Yes, I had obviously had no idea what unschooling was. And once I did the research with an open mind I realized that always touted many virtues of unschooling in my own education philosophy.

 

So, just what is unschooling?

 

In essence, it is a branch of the homeschooling community that encourages a student-led approach to education. Children are encouraged, and assisted, in following their passions. If you have an education background (like me) and support Project Based Learning (like me) don’t you dare roll your eyes at this. Many highly acclaimed schools in the US are praise for encouraging “inquiry,” “problem-solving,” and “project-based learning”. If you don’t believe me, check out The Noodle’s 41 most innovative schools way back in 2015.

 

Strip all of that educator’s jargoon away and what do you have? Schools are innovating by attempting to encourage children to do exactly what unschoolers are encouraged to do everyday–dive into their interests and passions. It’s probably this encouragement that had my friend’s son taking violin lessons while other kindergarten students were learning to stand in straight lines. Which, I ask you, will serve a child more? The latter only has a place if you expect that child to spend a lot of time in institutional lines… but I digress.

 

The Oxford Research Encyclopedias defined schooling as “a set of procedures employed by specialists, called teachers, to induce children to acquire a certain set of skills, knowledge, values, and ideas, referred to as a curriculum, chosen by the teacher or by a schooling hierarchy above the teacher.” I’ll be honest: I find the definition, while at its base true, a bit infused with a prejudice.

 

What shines through this though is that education has no direct tie to schooling. A school is a unit of an educational institution. The foundational confines given by the institutional aspect of school can be thrown off, allowing for more freedom and movement in education. You can lose the “school” without losing “education”.

 

Is unschooling for everyone?

 

I’ll say it, and you can quote me: unschooling done right is amazing, but it is not for everyone. First notice that I said “done right”. Sitting home on the “boob-tube” all day for weeks at end, to no end, is not unschooling. (Please note, I am not talking about a process often called “deschooling” in this article.) Unschooling is a form of education–therefore some form of learning occurs. Especially in younger years it’s important to let a student try their hands at many things. When something strikes a chord, encourage it! Giving your young student opportunities to try things means exposure and effort from the home educator! Even a student who gets sucked into watching Star Wars over and over, for example, should eventually take it to another level as natural curiosity takes over. Maybe they are interested in George Lucas himself? Maybe it’s the costume aspect of it? Perhaps they decide to make their own fan-movie? Imagine what kind of learning would take place from the time a child who was apparently just a couch-potato turns into a creative maven and makes their own film? Or maybe they decide to cosplay some of those outfits. Do you know how much learning would occur as they learn to measure, convert,   

 

A home educator that unschools may find that their “school calendar” is full of lots and lots of activities. Unschooling is by no means the “easy way out”.

 

Also note that I mentioned that I don’t believe it’s for everyone. Maybe the home educator would feel more comfortable with a curriculum or outline to follow. Maybe it’s the student themselves that craves more structure? Guess what? That’s OK. There is no right way for everyone to do homeschooling. However, having a balanced view of all of the homeschool approaches, along with an honest understanding of yourself, your student, and your lifestyle could help you decide on which of may options just might be right for you.

 

Do you unschool? If so, what does a typical day or week look like for you? What advice would you give to someone considering this approach?

Blowing Bubbles: An example of everyday learning

Everyday learning can be shown during something as simple as bubble time.
Everyday learning can be shown during something as simple as bubble time.

Learning does not have to take place behind a book. Kids don’t show what they know with the use of pen and paper. Everyday learning occurs during simple tasks–chores, conversations, even play.

 

 

Everyday learning: it is something amazing to see in action. It was just a normal few minutes playing with my sons on the porch. Their dad had just bought a new bubble machine for his business, and like all good children, my sons were doing a quality assurance check. There is something pure and simple about the joy of children as they run around, trying to pop rainbow orbs that dance in the wind.

 

“Oh, look at that one!” I exclaimed. “A double bubble!”

 

     Pop!

 

My three-year-old squealed with glee, “Double bubble!”

 

     Pop!

 

It became a competition of who could spot one first and pop it. I’ll be honest, he was winning.

 

Then a thought occurred to me, Who taught him what the word ‘double’ means?

 

Even though I never explicitly taught him the meaning of the word, it was obvious that he knew what it meant. He demonstrated it by only pointing out and popping double bubbles.

 

I let the educator hat slip on for a second, and looked at what we were doing. There was the obvious reinforcement of the vocabulary word, but there was more. This was an industrial bubble maker, pumping out hundreds of bubbles a minute; imagine the control to look past all of the floating bubbles to look for only the “double bubble” — talk about an eye workout! Then we added the layer of hand-and-eye coordination, to physically pop the bubble quicker than me, and it gets even more complexed.

 

And don’t forget the social lessons — he was learning to take turns. The game itself was made up on the spur of the moment. We never formally decided on ground rules. He was able to fall into the natural rhythm, and follow the unspoken rules. That’s not something to take for granted. Adults sometimes have difficulty following the social nuances of unspoken rules.

 

Did I feel super proud of my well-crafted, multi-layered lesson?

 

Nope. Because it wasn’t a lesson. It was playing. No planning necessary. But just because it isn’t a formal lesson, doesn’t mean learning wasn’t occurring. This fun bit of double bubble time reminded me that playing for humans of all ages can be learning opportunities.

 

Director of Education Revolution

 

Learn more about the author of this piece, and the Director of Education Revolution, Yolanda Newton. Feel free to contact her with questions and comments.”