Have You Ever Heard of "Unschooling"?

crayonThe beautiful Leigh over at the blog Marvelous Kiddo wrote in her bio that she was raised as an “unschooler.” A what? How had I not heard of this word in my 31 years? I’m familiar with home schooling, of course, because my mom home-schooled my sister, brothers and me for a short time, a fact that I still find amazing. (I was only home for a brief stint between moving from one school district to another, and though I give my mom props for doing it, I don’t think it suited me). But unschooling? I had no idea. So, fascinated, I googled it, and found this interesting definition from the site, unschooling.com

“Have you ever described ‘red’ to a person who is color blind? Sometimes, trying to define unschooling is like trying to define red. Ask 30 unschoolers to define the word and you’ll get thirty shades of red. They’ll all be red, but they’ll all be different. Generally, unschoolers are concerned with learning or becoming educated, not with ‘doing school.’ The focus is upon the choices made by each individual learner, and those choices can vary according to learning style and personality type. There is no one way to unschool. Read, play, sing, dance, grow things, write. All of these things and more are things unschoolers do. We do them because they interest us and bring us joy or because they help us accomplish our dreams. We do the things that have meaning in our lives and contained within those activities is real learning.”

Interesting, right? I have to admit, though, as much as I dread the thought of my kids going off to school–I am secretly looking forward to it. For the most part, I thrived at school, and I hope my kids do too. Although you could call me a hippie mama in the traditional sense (breastfeeding, baby-food-making, baby-wearing, attachment-parenting (sort of), co-sleeping (the baby is in his own bed now, whew), I think I draw the line at home schooling. Because, heck, how would I ever teach anyone math when I’ve, um, forgotten how to do basic division? But, who knows. If I’ve learned anything about parenting, it’s that it’s a day by day, month by month thing.

What are your thoughts on homeschooling, unschooling, etc.?

[Photo: Lilivanili via Flickr]

  • June 5, 2009

    Hi Sarah! Thanks for this post and for your recent sweet email, which I have been dreadfully slow to respond to 🙂
    I’m so glad that you were intrigued by the concept of unschooling, and I love the quote that you posted from unschooling.com to describe it. As for your apprehensions about being able to home school your own kids, obviously home/unschooling is not everyone’s cup of tea and every family is different, but one of the great advantages of unschooling from a parent’s point of view is that you don’t have to worry about “teaching” anything. Instead you offer your children tons of support and (guidance if they desire it) and you trust that their own innate passions and interests will provide them with an excellent education without any of the trappings of school (home or otherwise). Anything pursued with integrity and self-motivated interest will result in great learning. Kids do not require the “hoops” of curriculum, grades, tests, etc. to insure that they learn in a deep, quality way. In fact, too often all those things just get in the way, dampening natural curiousity, causing stress, and forcing a kind of one-size-fits-all education. Think about the way that your children absorb information before school — wouldn’t you say that they learn naturally before school? They’re sponges! They learn to speak entire languages in their first few years of life, more or less through just being around adults and living life. Nothing changes at the age that most kids go to school. What happens is that school can often interfere with that natural inclination to soak up information and be excited about the world.

    Thanks for bringing up a great topic!

  • June 23, 2009

    I used to teach horseback riding lessons and we had a group of unschoolers that came through every week for lessons. For the most part, they were independent, self sufficient, and a pleasure to teach. There was one or two kids that might have benefited from a bit more structure, as they seemed to lack any natural direction, but I found them all to be great kids. I would definitely consider unschooling my children and wish that it had been an option for me, because traditional education was NOT my cup of tea at all.


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