Homeschooling Vs. Unschooling
My children spent the last several months participating in a homeschool cooperative. A common question the parents ask each other is: Do you homeschool, unschool or blend both worlds?
The majority of us blend the worlds, but we all do so differently. In an upcoming post, I’m going to explore how I do this. First though, let’s look at some details about what typically differentiates homeschooling from unschooling.
Generally speaking, homeschooling feels similar to classroom learning. However, the classroom is the student’s home, and the parents (or private tutors) are the teachers. The students work from a curriculum aligned to national learning standards and must meet specific benchmarks in a predictable way.
Meanwhile, unschooling functions without a set lesson plan. Instead, students engage with their caregivers in a combination of creative, practical and reflective tasks which inherently present learning opportunities. Gardening, tending to animals, wandering through nature, visiting a museum, designing signs for a protest, volunteering at a food bank or simply tidying a home can each be the foundation of unschooling lessons.
Traditional homeschooling provides definite structure, which can be a comfort to many children with sensory differences. At the same time, finding a single curriculum which works for a sensational child can be very difficult. Also, parents who devote themselves to the flawless implementation of such a curriculum often end up putting undue pressure on themselves and their children. This stress leads to meltdowns and psychological trauma which block learning and erode the connection between children and their parents.
In part, unschooling is the antidote to the stresses of traditional homeschooling. Learning goals are no longer set by test scores but rather by the natural results of how students interact with their surroundings. Done one way, unschooling literally converts all interactions into learning experiences and calls parents into a continuous state of accountability as constant, compassionate educators. Done another way, unschooling gives parents permission to vanish from their children’s worlds, setting them free to bring their own sense of structure to their time — an approach which has its own limited value but can, unchecked, constitute neglect.
Homeschool laws vary between states. In my state, Georgia, the laws are relatively lax. We must complete declaration of intent forms online each year and commit in writing to educating each of our children (in some form or another) for 4.5 hours each day of our adopted, minimum 180 day school year. We are also required to administer national standardized tests at the end of grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. However, we are not under any general obligation to share the results, and there are not hard penalties against delaying these tests. Rather, if a child is seeking placement in an established school system, or if their homeschooling is questioned by a non-custodial parent, test results may be requested. Additional details for Georgia are here.
Personally, dedicating 4.5 hours each day to teaching each of my children, while also generating an income from my personal businesses, simply doesn’t work. My children also struggle to stay focused for that amount of time on any one thing. As a result, some of the daily time looks like traditional homeschooling, structured and focused on academic tasks. Meanwhile, the rest looks like unschooling, placing my children in circumstances with inherent learning potential.
I am still working to find the best balance. However, I’ve discovered that setting my own standards for my children’s learning helps. For example, I teach with the intention that it will help my children:
- See that the world is a large, complex place — within which they can recognize and respect that all people share a common human story and also are very different from one another.
- Have enough confidence, skill and know how to live independent adult lives one day.
- Engage daily with a combination of academic, social, creative and physical activities.
- Understand current events and have confidence influencing society’s path forward.
How do you blend the worlds of homeschooling and unschooling? I will share a daily schedule next.