Once my husband and I made the decision to disenroll our children from public school, we began researching the legalities and options for homeschooling. Legally, California is one of the most permissive states for homeschooling, thankfully! As for different curriculums and methods, options certainly are abundant. Religious, secular, strictly scheduled, free-flowing, reading-based, hands-on learning, online, worksheets, charter schools… the options really are never-ending! However, a trend emerged that we didn’t really like. All these methods still sought to present information to the child as facts set in stone. This is precisely one of the things we didn’t like about public school. We had encouraged our children to ask questions and seek answers continually since they were old enough to do so. Then I read an article about a school with no grades, classrooms, or teachers. A place where children of all ages could gather and seek information, initiate discussions, and establish their own ideas and theories on different subjects.
…children as young as four and as old as 18 regularly interact. “Young kids learn from older kids. They learn to read by playing games that involve reading with older kids who can read. They play complicated card games with older kids that they could never play by themselves.” Older students benefit too: “They learn how to care, to nurture. They get a sense of their own maturity.”
This made perfect sense to me! I wished a school like this existed near us. Because the article mentioned unschooling, and I had never heard of it, I looked that up next. I started with Wikipedia, as I usually do:
Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that rejects compulsory school as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in maximizing the education of each unique child.
I knew right away that this was it. Nothing I had read made more sense to me. And thus began our journey. The first step was reading lots of different material on how unschooling works. The next step was de-schooling. Shedding the school mentality. This took longer for my husband and I than the kids. I still struggle with the desire to “teach” my children specific subject matter. The rule of thumb that I’ve read is that it takes one month of de-schooling for every year of formal schooling. I think that it can take longer for some people, though. Here is a good article on de-schooling for parents: http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/deschooling.html. And here is one geared toward de-schooling kids: http://unschoolers.org/what-is-deschooling/
The third step was the easiest: start living life alongside our kids. Talk to them. A lot. About everything. Answer all their questions, or point them toward the answers. Encourage them to form and share their own opinions about things. Encourage them to question all answers, including ours!
So what does unschooling look like?
It’s watching documentaries on the Roman Empire from 7-10pm.
It’s going grocery shopping together and reading food labels, talking about preservatives, GMOs, and what organic means. It’s talking about pesticides and their effect on bees and butterflies on the way home.
It’s letting them spend their money however they want, encouraging them to save it, and helping them compare prices of Barbies so they get the best deal.
It’s cooking together and teaching them how to add fractions because we are doubling the recipe.
It’s taking them to the park and identifying trees, watching ground squirrels, and finding goose feathers, which leads to a discussion about quill pens and feather pillows. It’s then plotting a timeline of humans from caveman to modern based on the type of bed they slept on.
It’s listening to them talk excitedly about the books they checked out from the library.
It’s dictating how to spell words while they write a list of things they want for Christmas.
It’s discussing current events around the dinner table and answering questions that might arise.
Unschooling is all these things and so much more! And because I know what you’re thinking, I’ll go ahead and address the most common question…but how will they learn math? First, let me ask you, what do you use math for? Comparing prices at the store? Calculating miles per gallon for a long trip so you can take enough gas money? Measuring a wall to see if the couch you want to buy will fit? Making your monthly budget? Figuring out the price of an item that’s 15% off? Chances are, if you need to do anything more complicated than these things, it’s because your job or hobby requires it. In which case, you want to be able to do that math, so you would have learned it at some point in your life out of a desire to reach an end goal. The math that we use on a regular basis can easily be learned through living life with your children and talking to them about what you’re doing. In case you still have doubts, here are some other opinions on the issue: http://sandradodd.com/math/.
If you have any other questions about unschooling, I would certainly do my best to answer them, or direct you to where you might find the answer! After all, I’m just another unschooler 😉