Homeschooling…Unschooling…Pandemic Schooling. What’s The Difference?

When the whole world shut down last spring and every family with kids was forced to school at home, you may have been bombarded with the terms homeschooling, unschooling, and/or pandemic schooling and wondered, “Is there a difference?”. To many, these terms might have the same (or a similar) meaning and, to a certain degree, they are [kinda] similar. Although these terms seem similar, there are several differences in these methods of learning.

Of these three terms, the one with the most name recognition is probably ‘Homeschooling’. Whether you directly or indirectly know a homeschooling family or just know of the concept, most people have some knowledge of homeschooling. According to Merriam Webster, homeschooling is the act of teaching school subjects to one’s children at home. In other words, homeschooling families have made the decision to forego “traditional” school and educate their children at home. Families decide to homeschool for a myriad of reasons, including: escaping bad experiences with traditional school; to continue the homeschooling tradition in which they were raised; a lack of trust in the education system; because their child has an illness or is a professional athlete or actor; or for many other reasons. The overarching term, homeschooling, can include choosing one of the “popular” homeschool curriculums, utilizing a homeschool program that is offered as an alternative to your local “brick and mortar” public school system (e.g., Connections Academy), educating your child(ren) at home while using your own compilation of curriculums, or educating your child(ren) with no set curriculum (see unschooling below).

Unschooling, or self-directed education, involves teaching children based on their interests rather than using a set curriculum. Although this is the method of homeschooling that we utilize (and the method that most adults use when learning a new skill or hobby), we feel it is a lesser-known or appreciated method of educating children. Since unschooling can take many forms, it is challenging to give an exact definition or to describe exactly what unschooling looks like but we will share some messages from a few people who have been helpful in our journey:

  • According to Akilah Richards of Fare of the Free People, “…unschooling is a tool for decolonizing education and liberating ourselves from oppressive, exclusive systems.”
    • According to Pam Larrichia of Living Joyfully, ” With unschooling, learning is not focused on the skills as it is in school (learning to read, to write, to calculate, and to memorize) but on pursuing personal goals and interests and the needed information and skills are picked up along the way. Learning has real meaning and connection to their lives in that moment so it is understood in a way that a random piece of information presented by someone else is not. And because that learning is strongly connected to a real and immediate use for that information or skill, it’s much more likely to be remembered.”
    • “It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”  ~ John Holt

If you are interested in examples of how we homeschool, please click here.

In stark contrast to homeschooling and unschooling, Pandemic Schooling is what all families, with children enrolled in private or public “traditional” schools, experienced this past spring. Although some schools and/or districts were better equipped to adjust to those abrupt changes, due to the pandemic, nobody was fully prepared for the immediate switch to 100% worldwide, virtual education. As challenging as this shift was for schools to coordinate, no group of people (my opinion) was more impacted than parents with children in school. As a homeschooling/unschooling family, we’ve (as a homeschooling community) had the time to plan how, what, and when we will teach our children and to coordinate our work and/or personal schedules (Disclaimer: this is not meant to imply that homeschooling families were not also impacted. We were and I fully acknowledge that). Non-homeschooling families, unfortunately, were immediately forced to educate their children at home, while also unexpectedly working from home, becoming unemployed, having their work-hours reduced (i.e., less pay), or being deemed an essential employee (and left scrambling to figure out alternatives for their children). This version of schooling at home is not homeschooling, it is pandemic schooling! Families are/were in crisis and scrambling to figure out what to do and how to do it. It is unfortunate that this was the first experience with “homeschooling” for many families but I assure you that homeschooling is so much better than this!! Now that we are quickly approaching a new school year, and many school districts are announcing a virtual start to the year, it is my hope that more families will do the research needed to be able to move from pandemic schooling to real homeschooling or unschooling.

Have more questions about this posts, other posts, or homeschooling in general? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us on Instagram or email (unschoolingindc@gmail.com).

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