Sunday, October 14, 2012


As I creep further and further into the world of homeschooling, I am discovering that there are many layers to this paradigm, one of which is Unschooling. I am sure to the average person, Unschooling seems ridiculous and lazy. As if parents who follow this philosophy and just letting their kids sit around and watch TV or play Wii all day. How could a child possibly learn without some structure or lesson given to them?

I am starting to discover that we are mostly Unschoolers. As I meet and get to know other homeschool families, there are many discussions about what curriculum they are using or textbooks or methods. I am asked frequently what I am using. Ummm.....NOTHING. Shocking I know. And many who know me will say 'but you are an early childhood teacher so you don't need a curriculum that you buy off the internet.' Sure that is true. But I think my background offers me the confidence that I can do this without a curriculum more than it is helping me to not use one. (If that makes any sense) We actually rarely sit around the table and do 'work.' Once a week maybe. But are my kids NOT learning what they need to know?

Well I pose the question, "How do you STOP a child from learning?" Children are natural sponges. They are so curious about the world around them. They are always investigating, observing, watching, calculating....they are mini-scientists! If given the opportunity, children will learn astonishing things....all WITHOUT an adult 'teaching' them!

Without going into a long history lesson, the phenomena of public school is a relatively new idea. Public schools didn't exist before the mid 1800's. Before that, there were a variety of ways children learned; private schools, homeschools, church schools etc.  Many of the leaders who helped form this nation were probably NOT a participant in a formal school. Would you call them illiterate, uneducated or unrefined? These people became adults who challenged governments, stopped atrocities such as slavery, and created some of the greatest thinkers of all time. A short list of famous homeschoolers include Ben Franklin, FDR, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, George Patton, Stonewall Jackson, Sandra Day O'Connor, Albert Einstein, Booker T. Washington, Claude Monet, The Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Samuel Clemens, Beatrix Potter......I could go on and on.

So back to unschooling then. HOW do kids learn without lessons, structure, textbooks? They learn because that is what we are designed to do. Think about what a baby learns in the first year of life......they learn to roll, crawl and then walk. They learn to say words and the names of people and things. They understand a whole lot more and can follow simple directives (go get the ball). They learn boundaries, things that are safe and unsafe, who is familiar and who is not. They learn about gravity and the permanence of things. They start to make choices and have preferences for things (toys, food). They know how objects work in the world and start to play with toys. It's amazing and it's all done without school.

I know I revert to the learning of babies and toddlers A LOT, but it really emphasizes the natural way we are meant to learn. I love this quote from Sandra Dodd, on her website, about Unschooling:

"There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. There is a "things under the sea" room and "things in the sky" room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context. Then he opens a big door marked "everything else in the whole wide world" and goes out into the sunshine. There is unschooling."

 Formal school teaches a lot that is out of context. Maybe this is why so many children are having a hard time? It doesn't make sense to them. It doesn't interest them. It has no relevance to their lives. So many times they are taught to memorize things but not given WHY they should. Why is it important to know algebra, the state capitals or the periodic table? 

Unschooling allows for EVERYTHING to be in context. It is completely child driven. Yes I supply the materials, the trips, the experiences that allow for such exploration. But NO we are NOT sitting down to a lesson (in the traditional sense anyway).  Already in the 6 weeks we've 'officially' been homeschooling (or unschooling) my kids have written & illustrated their own books, learned about the Solar System & created dioramas, my 7 year old read & is doing a book report on the first Harry Potter book, My 5 year old was just talking today about ordinal numbers (first, second, third)...I have NOT initiated, organized, or even suggested ANY of this. It has all come about by their own creativity, interest, and/or experiences.

Not everyone can homeschool or unschool. I get that. But everyone can offer context to their child. Show them WHY things are relevant. Explain how these things work in the real world. Offer them the bigger picture. I am willing to bet this will help a struggling student.

But for those of us who have ventured into the homeschooling realm, give unschooling a try. I promise, your child will learn much more with just your guidance and assistance, rather than formal lessons. And they will learn it with excitement, enthusiasm and joy. Isn't this why we left the public system in the first place?