The concept of unschooling is based on the idea that children are innately curious and they will teach themselves everything they need to know about the world if they are given the chance. Unschooling is a form of homeschooling where the education process is child led and the parent is not simply teaching the standard school subjects and following a set curriculum. Instead, they are allowing the child to pursue their interests and learn naturally about the world through the exploration of these pursuits.
It sounds simple enough, but how does one go about unschooling? Is there anything that even needs to be done? Does unschooling mean children should just go off for the day and do their own thing? In the most successful unschooling environment, there is plenty of action on the parent’s part to provide an environment conducive to learning. Some parents may choose to implement their own structure while radical unschoolers will provide absolute freedom and autonomy. Unschooling operates on a sliding scale for different families but whether you provide your children with the utmost freedom or you choose to inject some parental influence into their studies, there are a few guidelines you should follow in order to give your child the best unschooling environment possible.
The First Step Is Deschooling
The first step to unschooling is deschooling. Deschooling is a decompression period where both you and your child need to adjust your way of thinking from the structured, scheduled classroom mentality to the open, free formed learning philosophy of unschooling. If your child has been attending a traditional school, the first few weeks or months of unschooling may seem like a summer vacation where they want to relax as much as possible before being sent back to the classroom. They’ll need to adjust to the idea that every day is for relaxing, having fun, learning, and working. Learning through unschooling is no longer a burden of homework and assignments but is now a path of exploration into subjects that your child is genuinely interested in.
Deschooling needs to happen for the parents as well. It might feel strange at first to allow your child to learn about whatever they choose. Over time you will become more comfortable with this, develop trust in the decisions your child makes, and start to see the differences in their enthusiasm for learning. For some unschooling parents, this period can take years for them to unlearn everything they had believed about how education should be obtained and fully accept this unstructured learning process.
Here are 10 things to do and to avoid when starting on your journey to unschooling:
Children need to have access to information if they’re going to learn, even if they’re teaching themselves. Giving them access to educational books, games, software, and puzzles will allow them to pursue the information they need at the time they decide that they need it. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy every book they could ever want to read and make sure it’s available in your house for them to stumble upon. Showing them where to find information is a great way to provide resources for them. Setting them up with a library card, giving them web access to search for information online, and being there to help them learn to use these resources provides them with endless access to information.
Simply giving your children access to information isn’t enough to make them excited to learn about something new. Unschooling is about child led learning but kids won’t even know what the world has to offer if they’ve never encountered it. Informational resources are great but inspirational resources are a must as well. Art supplies, musical instruments, and sports equipment can help kids forge a path into an interest they never knew they had. Again, you don’t need to have every piece of art, music, or sporting equipment that’s on the market. Allowing your child access to a rec center or facility that provides new things for them to try out can give both you and them an idea of what things interest them most.
Getting your kids out of the house and showing them what the world has to offer can broaden their horizons in ways staring at a textbook cannot. Venturing to the beach, spending a day at the park, or taking a stroll through the forest is a fun way to time together while also exposing them to nature and allowing them to learn through experiences. Trips to museums, aquariums, zoos, art exhibits, and musical performances can be both educational and exciting, and they may even spark a new passion in your child.
Critics of unschooling often raise the concern that children won’t be socialized when they learn at home. This could be true if you let it be, but there are plenty of ways to give your child a richer social life than what they could find in a classroom full of kids all the same age. Joining clubs, attending community events, arranging playdates, or volunteering within the community are all great strategies to introduce your child to a wide and completely diverse range of people. They can build friendships based on similar interests and activities rather than simply sharing the same grade level.
Allowing your child to pursue the knowledge they choose doesn’t mean you can’t be there to guide them if they need it. It’s important to always be aware of your child’s current interests and what they’re working on. Making sure they know they can come to you as a resource for advice, support, and encouragement will give them the confidence they need to pursue the subjects that motivate them the most to learn.
Avoid Negative Criticism
When you’re children do come to you for guidance it’s great to give them feedback but be sure you aren’t negatively criticizing in a way that will snuff out their creative flame. In no way do you need to provide false praise or excessive approval but you do need to ensure you’re being encouraging and supporting of the educational paths you’ve allowed your child to take. If they require your direction because they want to improve on something, give it to them, but avoid being adversarial about their interests if there is no benefit to your negativity.
Avoid Rigid Work Assignment
Many parents practice unschooling with their own range of educational liberty. Some unschoolers go all the way and every decision is in the hands of the child. Others feel more comfortable by enforcing some direction in their child’s educational path. If you truly want to avoid the stifling structure of a classroom curriculum, avoid giving assignments to your child and allow them to come up with the process in which they will learn. There’s nothing wrong with giving a little nudge in a direction you think would benefit them if that’s what you feel most comfortable with, but work together with them to keep the learning process on their terms.
There are ways to make anything fun and exciting by presenting it the right way. Simply telling them they must learn something creates the problem that is found in many classrooms where students are bored and unwilling because they feel coerced instead of excited and inspired.
Avoid Teaching on a Timeline
The idea that children need to understand a certain subject or concept by a specific grade is a schooling mentality. Not knowing everything about one subject doesn’t mean it will be harder to learn later.
In actual fact, that subject will be easier to learn once the child is ready for it, interested in it, and learning it because they feel they need to know it for the passions they’re pursuing. If they never develop the feeling they need to know that subject throughout their lives, then they probably really didn’t need to know it. Anything that can be learned as a child can also be learned by an adult, and usually much more easily.
Avoid Comparing Your Child to Others
A classroom full of students are generally all expected to know the same information and are graded on this through tests, quizzes, assignment, and essays. Unschooling isn’t about getting a good grade or testing your child’s knowledge, it’s about them absorbing the information they feel that they need. A room full of unschoolers are all going to have drastically different knowledge and skill levels because every one of them is unique and each has cultivated their own strengths and skill sets. The is no reason or need to compare one child to another because they’re all going to be completely different and that’s not a bad thing.
Set a Good Example
Children learn through observation more than we realize. If you want your child to be respectful, kind, inquisitive, and independent then you need to show them how to be through your example. If you’re hoping to raise a lifelong learner who follows their passions, you need to do what you can to live this way as well. It’s easy to want our children to be better than we are but they look up to us no matter how we act so it’s important to remember that they’re always watching and constantly taking many of their cues from us.
There is no one way to unschool your kids. The very basis of this educational philosophy is to promote uniqueness, individuality, creativity, and passion. Provide them with as much freedom as you can allow and trust that they will learn the things they feel are important. Be there for your child, listen to their interests, encourage their pursuits, and provide all the resources you can in order to create the richest unschooling atmosphere possible.