Friday, April 13, 2007

Introduction to Unschooling

My husband has mentioned that we plan to homeschool our daughter (and any other children we have). As a result, I have spent quite a bit of time researching methods and curricula and whatnot. There have been some approaches I've liked instantly (literature-based, Charlotte Mason, classical education), and some that I was able to rule out right away (textbook/school-at-home, unit studies). And then there was unschooling.

If homeschooling is for those on the fringe, unschooling is the lunatic fringe. There is no one set definition of unschooling, but at its core is the notion that children are inherently wired to learn, and as such, find learning a fun proposition.

Certainly my ten-month-old daughter loves to explore and discover new things. She will forget to eat if there are interesting things to see and do. If she was not wired to keep persisting and exploring, she would never learn to hold her head up, or sit, or crawl, or walk, or any other milestone. These skills are either fun in themselves or allow her to do something she wants to do, and she keeps at it until she has mastered them. I must admit, I can see no reason why that persistence and love of discovery would disappear just because she reaches schoolage.

"But wait," you say, "if kids love to learn so much, then why do we have to force them to go to school and study and do their homework?"

Good question. Unschoolers assert that school destroys the love of learning in all but the most determined. Since children (and adults) are taught to equate "school" with "learning," and since most children end up hating school, they think they hate learning as well.

So why DO kids hate school? There are tons of reasons, but here are a few that most pertain to unschooling.

One, children are forced to learn in lockstep with everyone else. All six year olds are in the first grade, and all first graders must learn this list of skills in this order in this exact timeframe; this list is usually designed for the "average" six-year-old. However, children are quite different from each other, and the odds of a specific child matching up with the schools' mythical "average" child in all areas is quite low. This means kids spend quite a bit of time either bored or behind, neither of which is particularly conducive to enjoying school.

As well, knowledge is compartmentalized into "subjects," each of which is studied for a specific period of time each day or week, no more, no less. When that time is up, it's up. A child may be enthused by the American Revolution, and want to keep going, but history's over, time for math. A child's interest or lack of interest has no effect on what the child studies - why should they enjoy or respect an institution that has zero respect for them?

You'll notice there is an emphasis on "force" in the above. As a result of generations of "school=learning" and kids hating school, there is a cultural expectation that kids hate to learn, and thus most be forced. People generally conform to what is expected of them. Thus, as schools treat children like prisoners that must be corralled and some knowledge forced into them against their will, children will eventually come to live down to those expectations.

Unschoolers look at the above - children like to learn, until they are compelled to learn on some else's timetable - and declare the solution is obvious: Let children direct their own education.

And most everyone responds with, "Ha ha, yeah right. Like THAT will ever work."

At first, I, like most of you, thought this was completely impractical. I, probably unlike most of you, still thought it was a really intriguing concept. However, I still had quite a few questions and objections.

Continued in:
Practical Objections to Unschooling
Christian Unschooling - Isn't that an Oxymoron?


Jane said...

You would be most welcome to take a look at my posts on unschooling on my homeschool blog. I look forward to reading more about your journey toward homeschooling.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I would agree with Jane. She is an excellent resource and really not "out there" at all.

While unschooling sounds really radical, it is rare that the actual experience of it is as "extreme" as the description.

One thing you will find as you talk to homeschoolers, and do lots of reading, is that each paradigm has almost as many different varieties in it as families.

For instance, I consider myself Charlotte Mason/Classical...yet I am very unstructured. You could read Well Trained Mind and think classical education needs to take 6 hours a day and encompass all of these subjects and use these particular curriculi. Then you could turn around and read The Bluedorns at and have a completely different outlook, especially before the age of ten. Then, you could read Laurie Berquist's book called "Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum" and come away with a schedule for a kindergartener that would only take 45 minutes a day, and you'd only be up to an hour and 1/2 by 2nd grade. All of them legitimately classical in their scope.

With any paradigm, with homeschooling, in the end, you tailor what you do to the needs of your family. If your child needs more structure, you give them that. You spend more time on subjects that need more time. We take Friday off because that is my husbands' day. He takes them Tuesday afternoons so that I can have some time for myself. You may find that your "ideal curriculum" doesn't really work with your kid, and they need something else.
You may find that your dream to be done every day before noon (as in my case) might be circumvented by the fact that neither you, nor your child is a morning person, and that you are much happier if you let him sleep in till 10 so that you get a little peace before having to settle down and get to work. Just a thought.

I'm glad you guys are considering homeschooling. It really is a challenge and a blessing.

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

I admit I was not a fan of homeschooling at first, just ask my wife just how much she went through to convince me; I am after all a bullheaded German!

But really I think it is going to be a great deal for us. One we don't have to worry about when we go on vacation, woo hoo! Two, I think we can challenge our kids better than the public schools.

Talking with my wife she is an unschooling leaning classical ed kinda gal.