If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you might remember I reviewed the book Unschooled a little while back — and found it so mind-blowing that I think everyone needs to read it (whether or not you unschool — or even homeschool). That was the first step in our going all-in with unschooling this year, and I thought it might be helpful for some people to hear a little bit about about our experience: the thought process behind the change, the potential benefits, what this looks like at our house (so far), and what we’re seeing in our kids now that we’re a few months in .
Making the Decision to Unschool
We’ve been relaxed homeschoolers and curriculum minimalists from the beginning, so we weren’t ever a vast distance from unschooling. And we always had some “unschooling” in the mix. Our youngest kids basically unschooled, apart from Learning to read. And our older kids spent a lot of their days unschooling when the schedule crashed and burned (more on that later).
Moreover, there were always days when the time to “start school” for the day rolled around and the kids were already engrossed in learning activities of their own making. I couldn’t bring myself to drag them away from these organic learning opportunities to force them into artificial ones. That just made no sense to me.
But in the meantime, I always felt like we “should” use curriculum (for all but the youngest kids). I felt like we were “falling behind” when we missed days of our scheduled work.
Then I read Unschooled.
I was amazed to realize just how thoroughly my ideas of education were still being shaped by societal expectations and cultural training, even as counter-culture as I already was in that.
About this same time, I was realizing that I struggled to push my kids when they balked at certain portions of their schoolwork because it didn’t matter to me, either.
The net result was deciding that I was done letting culture call the shots. Our kids could learn what is important to them and what is important to us (an upcoming post about graduation will cover that in more detail), but not be required to meet arbitrary standards set by a culture that isn’t even consistently producing strong literacy.
So We Dropped The Plan
So we decided to try unschooling on purpose. Much of what the kids are doing, they were already doing; the difference is, now that is the plan. The guilt over “falling behind” is off the table.
And the kids have flourished!
My previously least-motivated child is now imposing more structure on herself than I would have given her. She set goals for herself, decided what she wanted to learn about, and — with minimal help from us — created a plan for learning it. Part of this plan involves enrollment in open online courses with assignments and deadlines that she has disciplined herself to keep even when she doesn’t like them.
Kids who balked at Studying Foreign Language when it was “lessons” with Dad, are now eagerly studying foreign language on their own with DuoLingo. They’re consistent and persistent.
The younger kids are less focused on activities that seem “schoolish,” but the attentive observer can see clear learning opportunities taking place. As just a few examples, the 8-year-old came and got help learning about division and fractions because she needed to fold a piece of paper in thirds for a project, the 6-year-old spontaneously used a folded paper napkin to illustrate and explain the differences between “tile,” “stretch,” and “fill” options for an image on a computer screen, and the 2-year-old counted cards into my lap.
All of the kids have taken up skill development on the piano, even where they had no interest before, or no willingness to work at it.
Practical Benefits of Unschooling
Philosophically, there are a number of benefits to unschooling — and our experience so far has hinted at some of them. But I want to point out a few practical benefits.
- It works with the natural ebb and flow of children’s energy and interests.
Learning doesn’t have to happen in evenly-modulated periods of time. That is, you don’t have to do an hour of math each day, an hour of language each day, etc. You can spend a whole day on nothing but math, and then not do any significant amount of math for another two weeks. You can dig into Ancient Egypt for three months, but then bees for only three days. You can have busy days and “down days.”This is efficient, because you get more done in less time when you’re engaged and feeling good than you do when you’re trying to fight through “not feeling it.” (This is not to say that we don’t ever have to do things even though we don’t feel like it, but that not creating artificial obligations for the down days is beneficial.)
- It works with the ups and downs of a chronically ill mama.
It’s hard to stay on top of a typical curriculum schedule when you have a chronic illness and can’t rely on which will be the “good days.” Unschooling eliminates the demands of a specific timeline and allows me to be more involved on the “good” days and less on the bad — without guilt, because the kids are the primary drivers of their education and I’m more “coach” than “master.”
- It frees up time for desired learning.
I think this is one major reason for the expansion we’ve seen in exploration of their interests. When we have a scheduled curriculum, everyone is so busy trying to get done the things they’re “supposed to” get done, they don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to really invest in things they want to learn and do. With the “shoulds” out of the way, we all (mama included) spend more time pursuing new things of our own choosing.
- I’m less stressed and enjoy my kids more.
Because there are fewer “shoulds” on the table, I spend less time on those things and have more time to breathe — and, perhaps ironically, more time to really invest in my kids.When we spend time together now, most of it is doing things we want to do, rather than fighting over things none of us want to do. Again, that doesn’t mean no one ever does things we don’t want to do. Dishes still have to get washed and laundry done. It does, however, mean that rather than fighting over math and history books, we’re spending time making art together, and they’re (happily!) learning math and history through everyday life, literature, conversation, etc.
What It Looks Like
Everyone’s idea of unschooling is slightly different. Some provide some loose structure; others are totally free with it. Some keep no records; others log what their kids do after the fact. In our house (at least for now; we’ll see if we need to adjust down the road), discipleship is intentional. Academics are pretty free and loose.
What the kids do varies from day to day — that’s kind of the point — and between the big kids and the little kids. But to give you a little bit of an idea…
The oldest is a writer and editor. She enrolled in a few online courses on various writing topics. She’s also spending a good bit of time simply working on her own books and editing projects. She’s learning about writing and editing, of course, but also some about formatting, graphic design, marketing, goal setting and project management, networking and working with groups, and the use of numerous computer programs.
There are several other subjects she wanted to learn about this year, so she curated book selections for these and is reading them and discussing them with us and with others.
She’s approaching graduation, so she set goals for herself this year of life skills she feels she still needs to learn, and sought our counsel on whether there were any others she was overlooking.
The youngest kids spend a lot of time right now gaming, and watching related YouTube videos. Through Minecraft and similar games, they’ve practiced reading skills and problem-solving, and learned about design, map skills, the role of sequencing in a project, elements (as in the periodic table), computer science, etc. They collaborate, building puzzles for one another to solve, building additional problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
They watch related videos that teach about botany, archaeology, minerology, and more in relation to Minecraft. And then they write their own stories, create costumes, and act out plays based on Minecraft. They teach themselves to play theme music from their games on the piano.
And that’s just gaming-related. They also watch YouTube video to learn magic (sleight of hand) tricks, practice, and perform them, assess tutorial videos on YouTube to discern what’s trustworthy, learn and practice new handcrafts, read library books about a variety of subjects, teach their little sister new skills, and so on. When the weather is nicer, they spend more time outside, observing nature.
They do most of this on their own, but close by me, so there’s regular, natural interaction between us. (And most of the time, this requires minimal exertion on my part — also an important factor with a chronic illness.)
Kiddo #2 is an in-between age, and the structure of her days also falls somewhere between her older sister and her younger siblings. She’s sometimes involved with them and what they’re doing, and sometimes doing more independent work like our oldest. She’s particularly good with kids, so she enjoys working with the younger ones regularly. She’s also good in the kitchen, so she spends more time than any of the others cooking. We purchased her a chemistry lesson plan rooted in cooking, too, so she can expand her learning in that area.
There’s a natural progression from the younger ones recognizing what they need to know now and focusing their learning almost entirely on “wants,” to the older ones thinking more long-term and adding in things they might not be so crazy about, but know they need. And as they get older, they’re more likely to seek out (or ask us to help by seeking out) more structured materials for learning some of those things.
Diving into Unschooling: Our Experience is a post from: Titus 2 Homemaker
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