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).

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