Many people have asked me how my kids can actually pass the end of year assessment when we mostly unschool. I get that it takes a leap of faith that children will learn when they are ready, but I can attest that this does happen.
My 9 year old daughter HATED reading when she was 5 and 6...and 7...and most of 8. LOL I was nervous and tried to force it for a little while but it just created stress, tears, fights and was just not worth it. Honestly kids learn to read so early in school because the curriculum demands that they read. An 8 year old who doesn't go to school does not really need to know how to read. So I left it alone. Well, about halfway through 8 years old, she decided she wanted to learn how to read. She was watching her school friends read so well and was tired of us reading subtitles to her. So she learned how to read. Period. End of story. She went from reading CVC word books (cat, bot, mit, etc) to Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse series in about 2 weeks. And I really did nothing but sit with her as she read aloud & helped her pronounce words that were hard for her. THAT'S IT!!
But HOW you ask? Because she was motivated, interested and engaged. It was important to her. And this is true of ANYTHING. Think about how much you learned in school that you cannot recall. I have re-learned so much as a homeschool mom! I have vague memories of The Revolutionary war and polymers, but now that I am interested, I really KNOW about these things. Think about all the things you did NOT learn in school that you use everyday....computers, internet, texting. I know I'm old as hell but NONE of these things existed when I was in school. How did you learn them then? Either because you were interested and took the time or your job demanded it so you buckled down and learned it.
So as far as our days go, I said we mostly unschool. I have to say that we totally unschooled until about a year ago. I honestly have run out of math ideas that are hands on and experiential in nature. So we do a math worksheet almost everyday and they sometimes use online games and websites. But that's about it. Everything else is just living our lives. They've always been interested in science, so since they were babies we've blown stuff up, made slime, had an aquarium for creatures we find in the yard, grown caterpillars into butterflies, etc. This is just fun for us. Now that they are a little older (11 and 9), we look a little deeper into the science behind these things. When they are interested, they research it. Get books out of the library, watch videos, go online. History has been the biggest surprise for me. I HATED history in school and retained almost nothing. I LOVE history now. We do a lot with trips. For instance we went to Boston a few years ago, so we did the Freedom Walk. That led to interest in the Boston Tea Party & Revolutionary War. We happen to live in the Hudson Valley NY and there are a ton of Revolutionary War sites here, so we went to them. We got books out, watched videos, etc. My kids could tell you more about the Revolutionary War than I ever could when I was in school. Both my girls love to read, so we talk about books. They write letters to pen pals. They like to journal so they do. They are starting to get into email. They are interested in other cultures so we celebrate holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Chinese New Year and learn about other parts of the world through their customs, celebrations and foods. We cook all the time - tons of reading, science and math there. We go to see plays, musicals and live music. We have a piano, keyboards, various drums and guitars laying around. Sometimes they watch YouTube videos to learn how to play something. They participate in local sports and activities like gymnastics, tennis, Girl Scouts and dance. We go to farms, museums, aquariums, the ocean, the mountains, and cities. They talk to their grandparents and great aunts and uncles about life when they were kids. They talk to adult friends and family about their jobs and interests. They live in the world and buy things with their own money and volunteer in our community. I could go on and on.....
So yes my children have learned a lot. They have never seen the inside of a textbook (I don't think), they sit at a table for 20 minutes a day maximum doing math (not weekends, holidays or summers - and we extend all of those beyond the school calendar). I test them at the end of every year with a test that has to be approved by our state (and NY is one of the toughest states to homeschool in) and the lowest grade received so far was an 85 on a grammar section because I've never taught grammar. They just picked it up from reading. I am more a facilitator of learning, rather than a teacher. If they are interested, I help them find out. I help them figure out HOW to find out. The key is learning HOW to learn, not memorizing facts. The world will be VERY different 20 years from now. They need to know HOW to go about learning that new thing when it comes around.
So yes it is possible to learn while unschooling. It may not be according to the school calendar, but who cares if all fourth graders are learning about NY state government? The learning is not even constant. There is a LOT of downtime when NONE of this is going on. It is during these down times that the trust in the process is really needed. Those days of video games and nothing else (like right now). This stuff comes in bursts. But when it's authentic, and it comes from them, and they are interested, curious and want to learn, it is the most meaningful and memorable learning that I've ever experienced.