Unschooling for Beginners

Unschoolers get a bad rap. Unfortunately the media has shown unschoolers as the very worst of the Homeschool philosophies. However, they are not anything like what the media portrays, even when we are talking about the radicals. But, let’s break this down for those of you who have never heard of unschooling before, or who want to know more about the philosophy itself. Kind of like an unschooling for beginners course.

Unschooling was coined by John Holt. If you don’t know, John Holt is one of the “fathers” of the modern homeschool movement. He wrote many different books including “Teach Your Own” which is basically a manifesto for all those looking to homeschool their kids. If you ask a homeschooler for a book recommendation on starting to homeschool, this book would be at the top of their list.

In basic terms, unschooling is a homeschool philosophy where the children lead the way. In Radical Unschooling this means that the children lead the way in all aspects of their life, not only the schooling/home education aspect.

So what does this actually mean?

Well, the media would have you believe that it means that the kids are running around like feral animals, dirty bare-feet, neglected, wild-eyed, all Lord of the Flies style. However, this is not the case. These children are far from being neglected. Unschoolers are so invested in their children’s education that they will go against social norms in order for the kids to get the most support in their learning as possible.

A main tenet of unschooling is real-life, or natural learning. That means that if your child is interested in frogs, not only will the home-educating parent provide books, and websites, and different educational resources to enhance learning about frogs in the school room, they will also take the kids out to ponds and encourage them to get up close and personal with frogs in their natural habitat. This goes for everything. There is even a subset of unschoolers that travel from place to place (roadschoolers or worldschoolers) to make sure that the kids are exposed to as many learning opportunities as possible.

Unschooling doesn’t mean that the kids do not do any work. They may have a smaller written portfolio than someone who is classically homeschooled, but most of their learning is hands-on and in the real world.

In our own homeschool we are able to blend multiple styles of education quite seamlessly. If my kids are interested in something like Minecraft, I encourage it. We have been able to direct that interest into computer programming, math, and even history. I want to be clear though that a few radical unschoolers will not believe that this approach is unschooling — because for some radical unschoolers there are no limits placed on any learning. We cannot follow this type of radical unschooling philosophy because my older two are ADHD and they need me to give them some limits or they will hyper-focus for days, and that is not healthy for their brains, or my sanity.

However, the concept of allowing a child the freedom to explore their learning when intrinsically motivated is a good one. Think of all of the times that you were really interested in learning something. You stayed on task longer, you had a deeper understanding, you were more tired the next day. Nothing is more annoying than when you are really focused on something and just about to make a breakthrough when someone stops you, and expects you to change gears. This is one of the reasons why homeschooling is such a great option for education; we are able to take that extra time when the kids are engaged to really exploit the fact that they are truly interested in what they are learning.

I really believe that unschooling is greatly misunderstood. The word un-schooling makes it seem like there is no learning, but that is because we equate learning and school. However, school is just a place where learning can happen. To unschool is to facilitate and support children in learning where they are; in the real world.

Recently, I watched a video on Periscope by Brave Writer Creator/ Homeschool Coach Julie Bogart. She explained how she stared to follow a more unschooly approach as her children became older. That her children were able to teach themselves what they needed to know to succeed in life. They are now all adults living very normal lives. Her scope inspired me to do my own which you can see on my katch.me account.

Unschooling makes a lot of sense. If you have a new interest how do you learn? Do you take a class? Google it? How about if you wanted to learn how to crochet? Would you sit in a lecture? My guess is that you would’t. Kids are no different. Unschooling from an early age helps them to find the answers themselves and know from the very start that they are competent intelligent people in charge of their own education, and the path that it takes.

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Originally published at learningfrommykids.com on February 22, 2016.