Adventures in Unschooling

Unschooling defined.

Posted on: April 1, 2009

It is incredibly hard to define unschooling since it is based on the concept of learning through the exploration of your environment etc. instead of being taught.

In the U.S. about 10 per cent of kids are homeschooled and of those homeschooled kids only 1 to 2 percent are unschooled. While unschooling is getting more and more popular it is still not widely practised. It is even illegal in some states although not in Canada thank goodness!

Unschoolers believe that children learn when they are ready and that they don’t need to be told what they need to know and when they need to know it by.

We tend to end up in the same place in the end (skills wise) as the schooled kids but we take a much more scenic route to get there.

For example a child may not do math for years but then find a need for it and all of a sudden learn three or four years worth of math in a few weeks.

I, myself, also take it a little further and teach my kids through exposure. So picking out apples is an opportunity to practise counting. Gardening is an opportunity to learn about where our food comes from and about the seasons. And when they are older they can learn math skills through helping me find the better deal on crackers at the store or by helping us determine which route is the shortest distance on road trips.

This is pretty labour intensive for the parents as the children need to be included in every part of your life (even budgeting when they are of age). For example, we are planning on taking a trip to France in a few years. When we do we will bring our kids and use every opportunity to teach them about history (like where Germany invaded France) and about culture (food and vineyards etc.). Most people leave their kids behind on vacations but we the opportunity to teach them about geography and more.

You also have to be willing to drive them to museums and IMAX theatres and libraries. You have to be willing to facilitate their experiments at home and really make the home a fertile place for their minds to grow.

Unschooled kids choose what they learn about. If they get interested in kinetics they will spend days reading about it and experimenting with these concepts. Conversly they may become fascinated with Vikings and try to build boats and study maps and try to retrace the steps of historical vikings.

In essence, they become “experts” in the areas they choose.

Every time I see books that may come in handy in the future on clearance I snatch them up. I am building a library at home for them to use a reference should they need it. Thank goodness there are such resources as public libraries too.

The first question people always ask is how they can go to post secondary if they don’t get a high school diploma.

This is much simpler than people think. There are many post secondary institutions that offer entrance exams that can be used to determine whether the applicant meets the requirements. If needed then can also take a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) exam. These are respected by pretty much all institutions. And lastly, if the program they seek to gain admittance to is so selective that they need more, they can always complete a year of general studies at another post secondary institution. If they choose to go into a trade there are plenty of places that offer apprenticeships. I read of one unschooled boy who was apprenticing as a computer something-or-other through the company his dad works for. He was 16!

The next complaint is that our kids won’t be socialized. I have written a long post about that. You can see it here.

But the gist of it is this:

Children in schools are socialized by other children. Immature children. They are also taught that their teachers are an authority above them. Unschooled kids are socialized by the world. They do spend time with children but they spend much of their day amongst adults. The adults at the farmer’s market, the librarian, the mechanic etc.

They tend to be much more mature and polite than their schooled counterparts. Plus, since they are in the “mature” world they don’t have to deal with the poor influences of cliques and pecking orders. They are much more compassionate humans as a result.

They can learn to be proud of who they are for who they are instead of constantly striving for the approval of a teacher or their peers. You should read my link above for more on that.

Another question people ask is, “won’t they just sit around and do nothing if you don’t make them do stuff?”

No! They may have down times, as we all do, but their uninhibited passion for learning will lead them from one topic to the other and from one experiment to another. We also associate learning with something that is being taught to us but in reality we are constantly learning.

Schools are notorious for quashing children’s natural inquisitiveness. You can read more about that in my link as well.

And lastly, if we don’t grade our kids how can we tell they are learning. Well, let me ask you this, does regurgitating information to get to grades mean that you are smarter than you were before?

You can tell they are learning as clearly as you can tell your child is progressing when he begins to crawl or when he learns to form words coherently. You will see them learning.

Anyways, here’s to the winding roads!

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1 Response to "Unschooling defined."

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