I’ve become obsessed with reading about unschooling. If I could wave a wand to make any kind of educational approach feasible for my family, at the moment unschooling is at the top of the wish-list.
At first I thought unschooling was the latest, hippest word for homeschooling, but no, it’s its own thing: learning without school and without a curriculum.
I don’t know any unschoolers personally, so all I know about it is what I’ve read on blogs and magazines recently (a couple of books are winging their way here from the Book Depository too).
So, from a novice outsider perspective, here’s an introduction to unschooling, with a lot of help from my bloggy friends.
The premise of unschooling is that children are best left to follow their own interests, learning along the way, rather than follow a curriculum.
Following an interest in mermaids, for example, might lead to all sorts of learning, like:
- reading books about mermaids (aka literacy, world mythology, biology, history)
- finding other mermaid enthusiasts online (literacy, social interaction, computer skills)
- learning to swim with a mermaid tail flipper (physical education)
- watching mermaid movies (media studies)
- making your own movie about mermaids (film-making)
- start your own online business making mermaid jewellery (economics, business studies, maths, computer skills)
I chose the example of mermaids because it’s based on a real person. The 13-year-old in this partly-homeschooling, partly-unschooling family has recently turned her mermaid interest into a blog that provides international mermaid fans with all sorts of resources. The jewellery business is next.
Just as with Michael’s recent post about all the transferable learning that can happen when you go for a walk with your kids, decorate a cardboard box with them or ask good questions at dinner, perhaps real life is all a child needs to prepare them for, you know, real life?
Canadian unschooling writer Pam Laricchia writes in her book, Free to Learn:
Unschooling is, at its most basic, about learning without a curriculum, without a teacher-centred environment, but sometimes the concept is easier to define by what it’s not. It’s not school-at-home, a re-creation of the school environment with a low student-teacher ratio around the kitchen table. And it’s not about leaving your kids to fend for themselves, far from it.
It is about creating a different kind of learning environment for your children. An environment based on the understanding that humans learn best when they are interested and engaged, and when they are personally involved and motivated.
Creating an environment conducive to real learning is very difficult if someone else – parent, teacher, or curriculum developer – is dictating what a person should be learning at any given time. But drop that outside control over the child and learning truly comes naturally. As the late John Holt, educator and unschooling advocate, notes so succinctly, “Fish swim, birds fly; man thinks and learns.”
I have so much I want to say and discuss with you guys about this! Way too much for one post, so consider this an introduction to an introduction. I’ll finish with this story of six-year-old Flora’s unschooling philosophy, from Undogmatic Unschoolers. More soon.
Flora: What’s this?
Receptionist: It’s a little desk, you know, for doing homework at.
Flora: What’s homework?
R: You know what homework is. It’s the stuff that teachers give you to work on at home.
Flora: Oh. I don’t go to school. I’m homeschooled.
R: Oh, that’s great. But you still have homework, right? Or do you finish all your work at school?
Flora: I just said, I don’t go to school.
R: Well, yes, but you have school at home, right? When your mom teaches you? And you do your work at a desk? Because otherwise, it’s just hanging out…
Flora: I do a lot of hanging out. With my brother, and with my friends, and with my mom and dad. And I play Heart dolls and pets, and I have a microscope, and I read books and do puzzles and crafts and stuff, and science experiments.
R: And you do some work at a desk.
Flora: I don’t understand why you’re obsessed with the desk.
So on the way home in the car, I mentioned that I had overheard her conversation and it seemed that the person she was talking with had a hard time understanding what homeschooling was really like.
Flora: Yeah, it was really hard to explain it to her. She seemed to think it had something to do with a desk. And I was like, no, I do all sorts of stuff. What does learning have to do with desks, anyway?
What are your first impressions, first thoughts about unschooling?
I’m not at all sure our family will end up unschooling. It would suit us temperamentally (as far as I can tell so far) and ideologically to an extent, but certainly requires a fair amount of time and energy and not-working-outside-the-home, compared to school attendance. I have been thinking, though, that the things I find attractive about unschooling may be really helpful to mould my thinking about a) how schools can adapt and b) how we could approach school attendance. How can we get the great benefits of unschooling if SBJ goes to school?
So whether or not you would ever countenance unschooling, you may find aspects of it useful for your situation. As I say, I’ve got heaps more I want to chat about. What about you?
This is the sixth post in a series on all sorts of aspects of education and schooling (and unschooling!). If you want to catch up on the other posts, you can debate an animated critique of formal education, celebrate your favourite teachers, make use of a guest expert on primary school education, learn how to spot a great teacher for your kids, and share tips on building an educationally rich family life. See the whole series list here.
[Update: there’s a follow-up post on Unschooling and Socialisation, now, too.]
Please leave a comment on any of these posts if you have questions for guest experts or suggestions for topics to include in the series. Thanks!
And you are warmly invited to join us at the Sacraparental Facebook page for daily links, encouragement and resources, and/or follow me on Twitter and Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board on Unschooling, too.