Unschooling: What I’m Learning

During our recent vacation at the beach, I read Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gotto. Eye-opening stuff. I could write a whole series of posts on this book. I was one of the kids who did well in school; on the honor roll and all that. But that really just means I was good at surrendering my individuality, stifling my creativity, relying on authorities to tell me what to do, and I found far too much of my worth in the grades and accolades I received. That’s not what I want my kids to learn; it’s something I’ve spent years trying to un-learn. (That’s not intended to sound dramatic; it’s simply my experience.)


I thought un-schooling meant NO schooling.

I used to think “unschooling” meant no schooling. No education. No structure. And there are some folks who adhere to that idea of it. In a twitter conversation, one mom I follow said they embrace unschooling totally: as in, no structure, not even a bedtime for the kids. That radical form of unschooling is definitely not for me, but most unschoolers are not that extreme.

At Leaping from the box, Karen defines what unschooling means to her:

“To me, unschooling means interest-led or child-led learning. There are also many different levels of unschooling. Some families require a set amount of Math and English done each day, and then their child is free to explore whatever subjects he would like. Others unschool totally until their child reaches a certain grade level, and then start requiring some structure. And then there are the dyed-in-the-wool, radical unschoolers, who require nothing from their child.”

Unschooling is not like traditional education.

After all the reading I’ve been doing on the subject, I believe unschooling means stepping outside of what traditional schools say kids “must” learn. In this style of learning; parents can’t just assign x number of workbook pages and call it done.

Every child is different, in personality, in learning style, and in what fascinates them. Every child has a unique purpose in life. It’s our job to help them find that purpose, then help equip them for it. I believe that’s possible in more structured teaching/learning styles as well as in relaxed/interest-led styles, but no matter how we do home education, we have to be intentional about it and we must be willing to make changes when needed.

“Strewing” is a tactic many unschoolers use. Aadel’s recent series, The Art of Strewing, explains what this means and how to do it. I’ve mentally filed away many of her ideas to incorporate into our homeschool. In short, it means knowing your kids and getting good at planting seeds of ideas they might find interesting enough to jump into deeper learning on the subject. (But Aadel explains it in much more depth, so go read her posts!)

Big changes take time.

Our nature-filled vacation week in Tybee Island was eye-opening for me because I planned no learning, but we had tons of it. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet figured out how to apply all I learned that week to our everyday lives, but I’ve been changing a few things around here, leaning towards more unstructured learning.

I haven’t thrown out the textbooks, nor do I plan to. At least not entirely. Lindsey needs a fairly structured plan for schoolwork or she won’t get anything done. Switching from very traditional schooling to unstructured learning takes time, and with this being her senior year, and with her desire to “just be done with school,” I don’t have the time I’d like to gradually introduce her to these ideas. What we’re doing now is far less structured than most of her schooling has been, and it’s been a good thing. I’ll have to be satisfied with that for her.

With Kathryn, though, I still have time. She has retained her natural love of learning and I intend to keep it that way, so we’ll explore more of the subjects she’s interested in — like astronomy. We won’t be throwing math out the window, either, but I’m still working on what that’s going to look like down the road. Right now, we’re just relaxing what we’ve been doing, and I’m encouraging more interest-led learning.

We’ll always love living books!

One thing that will NOT change is our frequent use of living books. Often those books take us on rabbit trails of more learning, fueled by ideas that get us wondering, which get us talking and very often researching the answers, which may even get us wondering about other things to talk about and research. That’s fun, y’all.

I don’t anticipate becoming a full-fledged unschooler, but that freedom to tweak and change remains one of my favorite aspects of home education.