What is Unschooling?

Do not train children in learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” -Plato

Self-directed education – or unschooling, as it’s commonly called – is a method of home education where children take control of their learning. Unschooling is not a specific curriculum; it is not highly-structured (i.e., stress-inducing); and it requires a large amount of trust in the fact that your child’s natural curiosity, along with some of your guidance, thought-provoking, and question-answering, will allow him to learn all of the subjects he’s “supposed to know” and so much more!

All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt

Have you ever forced your child to learn something (or to complete homework) that he did not seem to understand or in which he showed no interest? What was the outcome of that experience? My guess is that it may have included tears, frustration, aggravation, raised voices, and a lack of learning. After this terrible experience, your child probably developed long-lasting negative connotations towards that subject. What do you think happens when these same feelings, towards a subject, occur at [traditional] school? Same frustration…potential behavioral issues (as a means of avoidance or frustration)…classification as “behind grade level”…and probably the same negative connotations! Sound familiar?

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” -John Holt

Children are not the only ones who can benefit from self-directed education. Have you ever had an interest in a specific topic or subject? Let’s use the topic of ‘learning to cook a spaghetti dinner’, as an example. In order to learn this lesson, would you prefer to (A) be forced to sit through several hours of class for 5 days per week where an instructor lectured on the history of noodle-making, forced you to memorize the 3,000+ species of tomatoes, assigned homework that included graphing a sample population’s preference for meatball versus meatless spaghetti, and then found a way to “Common Core” the whole lesson? Or, would you prefer to (B) stumble upon an interest in learning how to make this spaghetti dinner and then discover relevant cookbooks or online recipes, “pick the brain” of friends who have experience making and/or eating spaghetti, peruse the social media pages of popular food influencers, and try a few experiments in order to perfect the taste and/or appearance of your spaghetti? Which option sounds more exciting? My guess is option B (option A is representative of traditional school and some homeschools). Which option do you think your child would prefer?

Contrary to the beliefs of some naysayers, unschooling is not a “set it and forget it” method of learning. Although there is a high degree of flexibility and trust in your child, your involvement is also required. Below are some examples of how we unschool (there are an infinite number of ways):

Big Bruh (currently mid-elementary aged): We discovered that, not only is he a huge fan of playing Minecraft (his generation’s version of Oregon Trail, in my opinion), he enjoys teaching others how to play (i.e., socialization, public speaking, evolves into research about hunting & gathering). Since Minecraft is very popular, it has been easy to find books about Minecraft (i.e., incorporating reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension lessons) and Minecraft math workbooks. We also found a Minecraft coding class (which he loved!), and, of course, there are the “extra-curriculars” such as: drawing Minecraft characters (i.e., art), learning how to safely use the internet, and so much more!

Little Bruh (currently preschool aged): LOVES cars. We fill his space with various size, color, and type of toy cars. We purchased (and borrowed from the library) books about cars, at various reading levels. We watch YouTube videos about cars. From just his interest in cars and some involvement from us, he can describe the similarities and differences between his cars; he is learning to read and practicing comprehension, utilizing books that he is interested in; we practice math skills by grouping cars (early multiplication) or adding/removing them; and the YouTube videos allow him to practice pencil-holding and learn how to draw cars or learn about the parts of a car.

Want more info on our unschooling journey? Follow our blog, follow us on Instagram, comment on this post, or send us an email (unschoolingindc@gmail.com).

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there. Today is your special day! Because we are of the belief that, often, it takes a village, we also want to thank grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, female guardians, sisters who are raising/guiding/mentoring their much-younger siblings, and anyone else that we may have missed. Thank you for all that you do to help guide the future generation(s)! We hope you receive the love and appreciation that you deserve, today and every day.

7 Tips to Make it Through Pandemic Schooling

Once COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, back in March, schools shut down, college campuses became ghost towns, and, most states/districts have announced their transition to distance/virtual learning for the remainder of the school year. Although the U.S. was “late to the [pandemic] party”, we are feeling similar physical, mental, and financial effects as the rest of the world. During these past months, some families have come up with a schooling-at-home plan that is working well, while many others are at their wits’ end!

If you’re like our family, it’s hard sometimes, to even remember the day of the week or recall how long you’ve been living this social distancing life (and who knows when it will end!). Since so many families have been forced into this Pandemic Schooling, we wanted to share Seven Tips to Make it Through Pandemic Schooling:

  1. Self-care

Although your idea of self-care might look a bit different these days, it’s extremely important to take care of yourself (mentally, emotionally, and physically). Have you heard the quote, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”? It’s true! This pandemic may have caused you to be unemployed, under-employed, working in hazardous conditions/environments, and/or stressed for other reasons (including being forced into pandemic schooling) but you have to take care of yourself before you can properly care for others.

  1. Maintain a schedule

You might never see another unschooling family recommend “maintaining a schedule”, but we realize that there are some people/families who prefer high levels of structure (sometimes, you have to do what works best for you). If this is you/your family, it might be time to research unschooling sit down (alone or with your family) and develop a daily schedule. The level of structure is dependent on the needs and preferences of you and your family. While discussing schedule, it’s worth mentioning that you should find a way to keep track of the day and/or date (e.g., chalkboard, whiteboard, physical calendar, etc.).

  1. Get some fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity

It is my hope that your child(ren)’s school was providing them with daily access to sunlight, fresh air (weather-permitting), and physical activity. These are conditions that every body needs (yes, we’re basically plants) in order to maintain good physical and mental health! Since we are social distancing, you might need to get a little more creative….blow bubbles from your balcony; run in circles in your back/front yard; open a window in order to enjoy the fresh(er) air and natural light; take a longer route while walking your dog(s); participate in free, live workouts on various social media platforms; etc. [Disclaimer: Be safe while doing these activities. Maintain a large distance from others. We are are not health care professionals but have been successful in safely partaking in these activities, while maintaining at least 12 ft of distance from others.]

In addition to physical activity, don’t forget to incorporate games (card games, board games, hopscotch, jump rope, Roblox, etc.). In addition to it being fun, playing games is excellent family bonding time (plus, it breaks up the monotony of schooling at home while, potentially, working from home).

  1. Virtual play dates

Humans are social creatures! Unless you have found a member of that group of the most severe of introverts, people, eventually, need social interaction. Contrary to “popular” belief, homeschoolers/unschoolers are, often, highly social children (our boys are missing their homeschool coop, trips to the museum, daytime visits with friends, and playground time).

Pre-COVID, there seemed to be two segments of parents, when it came to play dates. On one hand, there is the segment that seems to abhor the scheduling of play dates for their children because they believe that play should come natural. On the other hand, there seemed to be this segment of parents that thrive on setting up get-togethers with other families. Regardless of where you fell previously, in these times, we [parents/guardians] have to utilize all resources in order to ensure that our children are able to maintain communication with friends and family members.

  1. Set realistic time lengths for schooling

If your child(ren) attend(ed) “traditional” school, did you ever spend a day at their school? A whole day…?? If you underwent this brave task then you would know that, although children are physically at school for 7+ hours, they aren’t spending all of that time doing ”Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic”. A lot of their school day was spent doing things like: transitioning; eating breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks; preparing for [standardized] testing; playing “catch up” for the student(s) who are behind the “average” child; taking Specials (Physical Education, Music, Art, etc.) – which are also important; potentially, dealing with classroom emotional/behavioral issues; etc.

If your child’s school wasn’t teaching them, as an individual, for the whole school day, why are you stressing yourself and your child(ren) out by attempting to do so? Depending on their age, your child probably needs, at most, 30-60 minutes per subject per day. That’s it! The added bonus of you teaching your own child is that you can now teach them at their academic level. For example, if your child is in fourth grade but reads at a 6th grade level and is at a 3rd grade level for math, now is the best time to provide them with the individualized attention that is needed.

  1. Remember that there is no right or wrong way – it’s your way

Whatever you choose to do – or not do – just remember that there is no right or wrong way. You are in charge now! Whether your children play computer games all day, spend the week learning to prepare meals, complete their weekly assignments in 2 days, discover an interest in the solar system, rediscover their interest in the Captain Underpants series, sleep in late every morning, or learning to use the washer and dryer, there is no right or wrong way. No matter what your siblings, neighbors, or friends’ kids are doing, this your journey. Plus, we are in a pandemic and stress has a negative impact on your immune system.

  1. File your district’s paperwork to become homeschoolers

If you’ve been schooling-at-home since outside closed and you’ve had enough of the schedule expectations set by your child’s school, consider filing paperwork to inform your school district that you intend to homeschool. Although we realize that there are different requirements in other states (or countries), the process, in Washington D.C., is as simple as completing an online form, waiting a few days for a confirmation email, and presenting this email to your child’s school (we assume this step is also electronic now). Taking this step would allow you to teach your child at their level and at times (i.e., weekends, evenings, specific days, etc.) that are convenient for you and your family.

It is our hope that, once you take your district’s required steps to become homeschoolers, you realize how well your child is flourishing. Remember, learning to read or do algebra or learn a new language is not more important than the long-term mental and emotional health of you or your child!