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The unschooling philosophy

German translation

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Please, please, as someone new to this all. What exactly is unschooling philosophy? And what do you base this on?? What are some significant resources for its roots???


John Holt coined the term unschooling. He observed then wrote about what helped and hindered children's natural learning in the 60s. His purpose was to improve schools as learning environments. His observations cut through a lot of nonsense abut teaching that got in the way of seeing how children actually learn. He progressed from school reform to recognizing that without freedom to choose then learning is hindered.


Frank Smith has also written about natural learning even though he didn't know about unschooling :-) The Book of Learning and Forgetting is short and a very easy read.


Staying steady on the course of helping children learn

I guess I'd never really thought about the philosophy of unschooling specifically to write it out! A philosophy is an idea that holds true for you. "Peace is the best choice." "It's better to not eat animals." "Children learn best through supported exploration of their interests." The philosophy's principles help in making choices. Such as choosing not to hit back. Choosing to be hungry at an event rather than eat the ham sandwiches offered. Choosing to understand what a child is learning from video games rather than listening to fearful voices.


The core idea of the unschooling philosophy is that humans are born learners. That's what John Holt observed over and over. Children will learn best when allowed to learn what, when and how they want.


That doesn't, of course, tell anyone what to do. The philosophy helps you make choices. The principles -- such as peace, trust, respect, support, helpfulness -- help you stay on course when situations make it difficult to.


Philosophy as a navigation aid

Some new to unschooling see the unschooling philosophy as limiting, as preventing them from doing what they feel is best. They equate limits with closed-minded. But we all have guiding principles. We all limit ourselves to the choices that we feel are right and true for us. If we didn't have principles it would be okay to shoot our neighbor for running his table saw at 6 AM on Saturdays! But we voluntarily limit ourselves because we recognize that some options violate our principles.


The principle that some are having problems with in this thread is respect. When children are treated with the same respect we give to other human beings, family life (and unschooling) is enhanced. As a side effect, kids see how respect works in real life situations. They experience what it feels like to be respected.


Respect for children's dignity as a principle of parenting is not an idea anyone should just accept. But those of us living it have experienced life with and without that kind of respect and know how wonderful the change can be. Those who have only experienced conventional parenting are only guessing at the effects. They are rejecting the principle without experience.



I've been researching all the different Homeschooling methods ... and I must admit that they all appeal to me in different ways.


The goals of unschooling are different than the other methods you mentioned. The goal of unschooling is not education. It is to help a child be who she is and blossom into who she will become. Learning happens as a side effect.


People plant vegetable gardens to raise vegetables. At some point pollinators arrive. They even play a vital part, but the purpose of planting the garden isn't to attract pollinators.


The purpose of the other homeschooling methods is to give the child what appeals to the parents. In a way formal education is like those cool educational toys that parents want to give their kids for their birthday. What you buy with a curriculum is an image of what you want your child to be. The image may be as simple as preparing them to be whatever they want to be. Yet it is the same as imagining your child playing with the super deluxe Erector set you want them to have. What if the child has no interest in Erector sets? What if the child really wants a Nintendo system?


How much should you pay for a gift given to you?

Most parents see education as a gift they give their children. But what if the recipient doesn't want the gift? If the purpose of giving a gift is to satisfy the giver's need for the recipient to have the gift, is it really a gift? If the gift giver needs the recipient to appreciate the gift and the effort involved in providing the gift, is it really a gift?


It's helpful for parents choosing formal education to see it honestly. Despite the pictures of happy children using the various formal curriculums, it's not about giving a gift. It's about meeting parents' needs. It's about molding and shaping a fellow human being against their will into something we want them to be.


That sounds harsh, but if it weren't against their will, then the children would choose to do it on their own. If it weren't against their will, there would never be instances where the parent is coercing the child to do something for the curriculum that the child doesn't want to do. There would never be instances where the child can't say "I don't want to finish that."


Unschooling is about supporting a child growing into who they are. Formal education is about molding them into what the parent thinks is valuable to be.


The thing is my DS LOVES structure. He likes to know what is happening next, and what is expected of him.


Some kids like to know that after lunch will be grocery shopping followed by a trip to the play ground. It's considerate to let them know how the day will likely be.


Liking structure doesn't mean a child wants their learning structured. Having math from 1 to 2 then a half hour free reading period followed by reading from the history book will get in the way of a child following his own trails of interest.


Sometimes when I'm making dinner I'll get out dough to play with, or paper and crayons, and he asks me what I want him to make. I tell him to make whatever he wants. Right now he's in a preschool program, it's pretty structured and he loves it.


If everyone had independent creator in them, there would be no picture book illustrators, or product designers, or wallpaper designers, or architects, or programmers, or ... All those creative careers depend on being given a goal with constraints.


Choosing anything you want can be overwhelming. Working around natural limitations, meeting some predefined goal in your own way can be challenging and inspiring. So when he asks, think of yourself as the picture book writer and him as the illustrator. Give him a spark to run with. If you can't come up with ideas spontaneously, brainstorm a wild list of things and keep it in the kitchen.


I'm a bit uncomfortable with no structure.


Structure your life as much as you want. But create a space where they can explore according to their own internal rhythm. Unschooling is creating an environment that meets their learning needs.


Find a way to be comfortable. But don't make your kids pay a price in discomfort for your comfort. Find ways you can all be comfortable.


I don't want to force my children to learn anything that does not interest them. But I am not sure I have it in me to totally let them do whatever they want.


Because you're unclear on what your goals are. And you're intertwining your needs and agendas with their needs.


Is it still unschooling if you include typical school activities, textbooks, workbooks etc if that is what the child wants to do? My oldest loves workbooks. He does not do them in order; he will flip through them and do the pages that interest him. For a while it was the numbers pages, but now he is doing the alphabet pages.


If the child can freely choose to do it or not, choose to do it in whatever manner they want, then they're choosing based on interest.


BUT also be aware of your own reactions. You may be getting comfort and satisfaction out of seeing the workbooks done. Do you respond differently when he chooses workbooks over coloring books or watching his favorite cartoon? Do you put a higher priority on replacing the workbooks than making a trip across town to buy the video game he's been saving for?


So if I pull together a unit study when he shows an interest and lead the learning is this still unschooling?


The short answer would be if the child can say "No thanks, I'd rather go watch TV" and you be perfectly okay with that despite all the work you did then it's unschooling.


The longer answer would be that in an unschooling home where the child and mom are both confident that learning from life works best, some formal bit of learning might be fun. But since you're unsure that unschooling will work, doing a unit won't help you or your son feel more confident. It will be dangling your feet in the water and calling it swimming.


During my research I've discovered Reggio Emilia, an Italian method of early childhood education. Here's a link that I found interesting. This sounds very unschooling to me ... but would it still be considered unschooling if you sent your children to a school?


It sounds like you're uncomfortable with unschooling but want to stretch the definition to include your comfort zone. What is it about unschooling that you want? Ask yourself why you want to be able to call school and unit studies unschooling.


Unschooling will make you uncomfortable. You can't have the benefits of child-chosen learning without letting go of control. You can meet your need for guarantees by sending them to school or using some formal educational method, but you have to let go of the illusion that it has anything to do with child-chosen learning.


You can let them do some choosing and you do the rest, or let them choose from a selection of things you feel are worthwhile, but it won't be unschooling any more than eating some meat is vegetarianism. (You might try an eclectic list for that style.)


Though there are benefits to being mostly vegetarian over eating a heavily meat-based diet, by retaining some control over their learning, there are benefits that you need to give up. One of which is the label unschooling.


As for the school, if a child can go when they want to and not go when they don't, if they can do whatever they want to when they get there and can say "No, I'm perfectly happy doing what I'm doing" to activities suggested, then I guess it's as close as a school could come to unschooling. (That's the philosophy behind Sudbury Valley schools.) But since schools aren't the whole world, and can only present a slice, they have to use some value judgments on what is better or more important for the whole student body. So it would be pretty impossible for a school not to have an agenda. It may match your agenda which is generally the criteria parents judge a school by. But does it match your child's agenda?



Learning is a side effect

So I guess what I'm asking is, how involved are you and your kids in weekly lessons of some sort or how involved are you in homeschool groups that provide kid interactions, etc.?


The goals of unschooling are different than those of school or academic-leaning forms of homeschooling.


Unschooling parents' goal is to support their children's happy pursuit of what interests them. Most parents are pleased when that can happen, but it's not their priority. They believe children need prepared to do what interests them. Unschoolers know that people do what's necessary for their interests when they have chaice.


If you were lucky and your daughter loved the classics and math, then unschooling could look like the life you would like. But if her tastes leaned towards Captain Underpants and all-things sports then creating the life you envision would mean making her set aside her preferences to do what you wanted in order to get her where you wanted her to go.




Tom Peters, who co-wrote the book In Search of Excellence, said that companies that wanted to empower their workforce and excel needed to have management structures that were simultaneously loose and tight. Sounds contradictory, but I think there are parallels to unschooling, which we sometimes talk about in such confusing ways. It could be the contradictions that make it confusing.


In unschooling, parents have to be both "hands on" and "hands off" simultaneously. On the "hands on" hand, parents have to be connected to their children, involved with their lives, and also have to be engaged and available. But on the other hand (the hand that's "off") parents need to be confident, trusting, patient, and permissive. By "permissive" I mean they need to permit their children to be themselves, rather than nudging them and nipping them too much towards being some other type of more conventional or better paid person.



I am doing a lot of reading and trying to figure out which way will work for us.


It might be worth examining what "works for us" means to you.


Perhaps one factor that sets unschooling apart is that unschooling is doing what works for the child, specifically what works for the child learning through exploring their interests. Well, it needs to work for the family too! But it should work to maximize a child's learning not to minimize a parent's fears.


A common encouragement is to choose what feels right. To go on gut instinct. But what feels right is often what minimizes our fears. That's fine if the fears have a solid foundation. But most of the fears about learning are false. Listening to those fears will get in the way of unschooling.


For instance we may fear that kids won't read or learn math. We may fear that they won't know enough. We may fear that they will have gaps and doors will be closed off to them. We may fear that without a solid foundation of education, they'll be useful only as Wal-Mart greeters.


Too often parents end up compromising children's happiness to ease fears. If we fear they won't read we might make them read for "just" 10 minutes a day. It doesn't seem like much to ask of the child because the fear seems so huge.


But since the fear is valid only in school, the potential consequences out of school -- that the child will come to dislike reading or they will feel bad about themselves because they can't do what "everyone" can -- become significant and something to be avoided.


It's often easier to believe that someone who isn't afraid is clueless than that our fears might not be real. The fears sure feel real! Unschooling means holding our fears up to examination. It means being uncomfortable while we work through our fears. It means looking at how other people deal with those fears.


Because the rewards of a chilhood spent joyfully exploring are well worth it :-)



And what makes the transition [to unschooling thought] happen, I think, is the mom changing her perspective and the filter through which she's seeing "just living." One day you'll see something glorious that you wouldn't have noticed before.


We humans like to sort and categorize things. We like to say, "This is learning," and "This is playing." That's a good thing. By labeling we don't need to relearn what we know about cats every time we meet a new cat. We already know lots about cats. We can just fill in what's unique about this cat.


But sometimes a label emphasizes the less important similarities and hides the more important differences.


Labeling an activity as play prevents us from understanding how and what children are learning and why what's happening may be more valuable than what happens in school.


So experienced unschooling writers try to help people reexamine how they're labeling learning and play. A common suggestion is to eliminate the categories themselves. Start fresh. Just call everything living and you'll start to reorganize your categories without the divisions imposed by school.



I think it's possible that if a list was created for Unschooling Without TV, there would be interest in it.


And before people start nodding, I'll ask this:


Is discussing how to restrict children's access to something they enjoy part of the unschooling philosophy?


Unschooling is creating an environment that allows natural learning to flourish.


Families who limit or remove TV set off one area for natural learning and another area for instruction on what to believe. Children will be supported in broadly exploring, say, music and food and books as they decide what floats their boats. But they will be told what is true (according to their parents) about TV (or food, religion, video games, plastics, the internet).


In its effect on children, it doesn't matter why a parent wants to override natural learning in one area. Whether it's fear or certainty that it's best for children, the kids will learn they must rely on experts to tell them the right answers in this area. They'll understand that if they try it themselves, they'll get it wrong.


What creates greater choice for the parents --  being able to tell kids what they can eat, spend time on, wear -- comes at the expense of less choice for the kids.


Whether it's TV or history, video games or math if chidren can't explore to discover what's right for them then they are being instructed. Instruction isn't unschooling.


Families can embrace unschooling ideas then change them to fit the needs of their family. A family can call themselves unschoolers and be organic vegans without TV who wear only purple cowboy boots. That doesn't mean being vegan or wearing purple cowboy boots is unschooling.


What disrupts unschooling discussion is when parents feel their limits  (on TV, food, etc.) are justified and then assume that because they're unschoolers that means their choices are unschooling. Any area of life where you're not letting kid try out her own ideas is an area where you're teaching. Teaching is not unschooling.


Asking the philosophy to embrace values that are counter to the philosophy is to change it. It becomes a different philosophy.



Undoubtedly that's getting read as "You're not an unschooler if you limt TV." Followed by irritated thoughts of, "Who are you to say who is an unschooler and who isn't and what unschoolers can and can't do?"


But I'm not discussing the labels families use. I'm talking about the unschooling philosophy, the ideal, the idea, the concept, of unschooling. The thing people look to to help them decide what will help and hinder their child's learning.


A personal philosophy might be "love one another as we love ourselves." Against that ideal we will weigh the decisions we make in life. Those who adhere to the philosophy strictly will find a way to "love" a child abuser (e.g., love the innocent child that was damaged to create the abuser but without condoning their current actions or something like that). Those who don't adhere strictly to the philosophy may make exceptions yet still use the philosophy as a guide.


If a value is tacked on that is counter to the core of the philosophy, then it becomes a different philosophy. Veganism except for purple cowboy boots and fish on Fridays is not veganism.


Love everyone except those who are trying to hurt us is not the same philosophy as love everyone. The philosophy is fundamentally changed in profound ways. The philosophy's founders knew it was hard to love your enemies. They didn't include "except for enemies" for a reason.


Unschooling is creating an environment for safe exploration where chidren can discover what works for them. It doesn't mean "explore what interests them except for things mom doesn't like." Moms don't like lots of things. If the unschooling philosophy were "Learning naturally except for ... then it could be Unschooling without going into cities. Or Unschooling without plastic. Or Unschooling without basketball.


If TV or all terrain vehicles or pop culture are outside a parent's comfort zone but are things her kids love then unschooling will be more uncomfortable for her. She can work to overcome her dislike in order to open doors for her kids. But if she wants to keep those doors closed then she's changed a core value of the unschooling philosophy.


If practicing a philosophy were easy, it wouldn't be a philosophy! It would just be doing what you enjoy. It's hard to love your enemies. It's hard to find a way to eat without harming animals. It's hard to let kids develop their own values that may be counter to our own. (Think a peacenik mom supporting her child joining the military.) A philosophy


 But allowing children to discover what they believe for themselves is the essence of unschooling. 


If a mom wants to change the philosophy so she instructs some and lets kids discover other parts, it's not up to the holders of the philosophy to support her in limiting where her kids explore. It's up to the mom to figure out how to combine the two separate ideas into her own philosophy.



Okay, so where can I find a concise (or, heck, wordy!) report or list of the goals of unschooling. Laid out plain and simple, so I can get it! LOL


That's the cart before the horse. ;-)


What are your goals?


There aren't goals of unschooling. (Though I must admit I have worded it that way.) But there are goals that unschooling can help us achieve. Living life joyfully. Supporting a child's self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Supporting a chid pursuing dreams. Providing an atmosphere for natural learning. Growing an understanding of themselves and the world. And so on.


Think of the unschooling philosophy as like a vehicle. You don't buy a vehicle then ask where it can take you. You check your needs then find the vehicle that works for them.



It's like taking a child that wants to learn carpentry and formulating a set of lessons for them on how to build a HOUSE. Maybe the child just wants to learn how to use a hammer today. Maybe tomorrow they'll want to build a small birdhouse.


Or they wanted to build a bird house and they're given hammer lessons because (supposedly!) no one can build anything without learning the fundamentals of hammering.


We should respond to our unschooling children with generic solutions to generic problems. That's school think. Unschooling involves knowing who your child is and finding out what they want to know and then supporting them in get it.



I want results that please me overall.


What kind of results? Is it progress through academic knowledge? If so, unschooling won't look like it's working. If your goals don't mesh with unschooling, then it won't make sense that unschoolers give up that sense of progress and the semi-guarantees of academic styles of homeschooling.


My focus is on today because I know what my daughter does today is foundation for tomorrow. Which is foundation for the next day.


If my daughter explores what she enjoys today, that prepares her for doing what she enjoys. Just as using English as a 2 yo is the foundation of a 3 yo's English. But a 2 yo doesn't need to prepare or practice to speak as a 3 yo or a 6 yo or 20 yo. They learn what they need as they need it ... because they need it. :-) Even though a 2 yo may one day need to ask a librarian for help finding a book, they don't need to practice for it. ;-)


Life rarely throws us a curve where we need to go from knowing nothing to knowing everything tomorrow. If kids are allowed to pursue what interests them, then they acquire the skills and knowledge they need for those interests as they need them.


If, on the other hand, kids are being prepared for the future by being taught knowledge they might use as adults, it's much more difficult and takes much longer. Kids spend tons of time learning things that don't interest them and they never use.


Society has convinced us that kids need a particular chunk of general knowledge. But the original purpose of public school was to raise the minimum education level of a largely immigrant population. Children were growing up without basic numbers skills and illiterate. The purpose was to make them employable, never to provide a well rounded education in preparation for college.


It worked for it's limited scope. Because it worked, it expanded with more being asked of it. But the basic design isn't meant to give each child a great education. It can't. It was designed to be a learning factory. There will be some tremendous successes. There will be some scrap. But what's important is how it all averages out.


If schools were concerned with each individual child, they would provide each child with an individualized education focused on that child's strengths and desires and interests.


But they don't. They can't. It would be too expensive.


And what makes me nervous is ... illiteracy, I guess.


Unschooled kids learn to read when two things happen: 1) they are developmentally ready and 2) it's useful to them. They learn at the same ages as schooled kids 6-8. Sometimes earlier. Sometimes later. The kids who learn to read later are shortly indistinguishable from those who learned to read earlier. (In school naturally-later readers have been shamed and humiliated -- just by having "specialists" focus even kindly on something that they couldn't do -- and are convinced that they can't read or that reading is dumb.)


How do unschooled children learn long division? What do they do to practice it?


Amazingly they don't need to! My daughter is figuring out how numbers work because she wants the information the numbers will give her.


By using math in real life she understands the context. She can see why she needs to do something. On paper 34-17 doesn't mean anything. It doesn't have any effect on her life if she gets it right or wrong. (Which is why schools need to impose artificial consequences on getting things right and wrong.) But in real life, her purpose might be to figure out if she has enough money to buy 2 toys. So she might subtract the price of one toy from what she has or she might add the prices of the two toys together. She wants the information and has a stake in getting the answer. How she gets the answer isn't important. What's important is gaining enough understanding of why she's doing what she's doing. And the understanding is pretty much built in to the problem because it's a problem in real life. She won't make the mistake of subtracting the price of one toy from the other. She won't add the price of one toy to how much she has. It wouldn't make sense.


But in school the numbers have no context. Sometimes you add. Sometimes you subtract. There's no context to give feedback that adding this time doesn't make sense. The only difference is in what you're told to do.


School-style math focuses on the mechanics of manipulating numbers. The educators hope that kids will understand if they do enough problems, but the goal isn't understanding. -- Understanding is hard to teach. It's hard to test. -- So instead the goal is getting the kids to be able to do the problems. If they do happen to understand that's a hopeful side effect not the goal.


It's hard to explain! Learning by using does work. But the process doesn't look at all like school-style math learning.


Learning math from life is the way your children learned English. English was useful to get what they wanted. So they used bits that worked. As a side effect of using it, they got better. That process worked pretty well!


Learning math school-style is the way children learn (or don't learn!) a foreign language in school. It's memorization without needing something.


Needing something for a right now purpose provides the opportunity to understand. And that's what's lacking in school style learning.


What about algebra and other higher mathematics? I'm reading a lot about the practical uses of what we learn, and I agree wholeheartedly BUT ... the brain work that goes into learning and knowing how to do abstract number exercises like algebra, increases the ability of the brain to think about ANY subject. It's GOOD for the brain to "workout" by doing abstract stuff.


But is algebra a good workout or are people who are naturally good at algebraic thinking able to get a good work out from it?


Running is a good exercise. But is it the running that's good or having the capacity to use your legs and lungs in that way to get the benefit from running that's good? Someone on crutches can't get much out of running!


Algebra is good if a child wants that type of brain exercise or enjoys that type of accomplishment (even if they find it difficult). It exercises something the child finds natural to exercise.


But if it isn't natural, it's like trying to exercise a body part that doesn't exist.


There's a word for that type of study but I've forgotten what it is. Researchers will look for a positive result and then try to find the factors that are different between that and the negative result. Like why does this group of people have unclogged arteries and this group of people have clogged arteries.


It's a useful type of study but it does have it's weaknesses. It tends to focus on the similarities rather than why they exist. Are Mediterraneans healthier because they use a lot of olive oil or because their bodies process fat differently?


So is it algebra that is the benefit or is it having the ability to use algebra that is the benefit?


And so, how would an unschooling family get algebra across to the kids?


There is algebraic thinking in life. The thinking part is more important than the Xs and Ys. Understanding why you're doing what you're doing is more important than how. When a problem is in context, the what and why are pretty obvious.


When we were flying from Boston to LA we stopped in Pittsburgh. It took us an hour to get to Pittsburgh by plane. It takes us 11 hours by car. We had 5 more hours to get to California. Kathryn, who was 10 at the time, said "Do you know how long it would take to drive to California? It would take 66 hours." That's algebraic thinking. (Which Linda Wyatt neatly described as using what you know to figure out what you don't know.) The context of the problem supplied the sense of how the numbers needed to be manipulated. Her curiosity supplied the desire to manipulate them.


Once there's understanding, doing it more formally is loads easier if the need is there. Trying to do it formally without understanding it is very very difficult. Which is why it takes years for schools to teach kids math. (And schools often fail!)


There are unschooled kids who have needed formal math for college who have learned high school math in 6-9 months. The need was there. The background of having used math in context was there. That made the formal part much easier.


[Update 2015: It turns out learning formal math on their own before college isn't necessary. At the time (2000ish) that's what most unschooled kids chose to do. Now community colleges and many 4-year colleges give students placement exams in math and writing. Colleges offer prep courses in both subjects because the public school approach fails on that many kids. If the unschooled student even needs a prep class, a single semeseter is generally enough. Unfortunately way too many schooled students need more than that. Avoiding school math means less damage to be undone in college.]


When kids know that learning something is their choice, then learning it is a lot easier. It's also easier if they haven't experienced years of learning being hard. It's just something they want to learn, or are required to learn to get to something they want to learn, so they learn it.


I "make" my kids do their math ... lying in a puddle of sunshine on the front room floor, wrap-ups in the recliner, Math Minute drills, etc. Right now, the two younger ones are playing dominos ... MATH! but would unschooling REALLY say not to give them seat work to practice their basic number skills, and on a consistent basis? If I waited for them to come to me asking how to divide ... well, I sure wouldn't hold my breath!


I assume by putting quotes around "make" you mean you don't need to hold them down and force them. But ultimately your kids can't choose not to do math.


It's a pretty picture you paint. It might be similar to if your husband loved to watch you snuggling with a baby in a rocker in the sunshine and decided the best reason to have another baby is so he could delight in the image that brought him joy. The cost to you wouldn't be part of his equation.


If you didn't make them would they be doing it on their own? Even if it looks peacefully satisfying, if the kids don't have a choice, then the outward look isn't nearly as pretty on the inside. They're just making do with what they are permitted to have.


Since you're an eclectic homeschooler, I'm not saying you need to change. I'm just describing the difference. If what you're doing works fine, there's no impetus to try something different. You need to want what unschoolers feel is better to feel the changes are worth it.



I guess in my mind, these things -- freedom, respect, flexibility, and less tangible things -- went without saying. I know, you can't read my mind to know I was already considering those.


The things that go without saying need to be said. They need consciously considered.


If you talk to public schoolers, they'll say, "Of course, I want my children to be happy and find joy in life. That goes without saying."


But when it goes without saying, it gets forgotten when worries set in. Focus shifts to the academics of school and joy is allowed to happen when it can.


As Sandra said:


I think learning happened better here when our focus changed to their mental health and feelings of contentment.


When we change our focus from the future or academics or whatever it is that worries us to focus on whether our kids are joyfully living their lives, great things happen :-) And then the future naturally takes care of itself.



Parents who are new to homeschooling take a while to learn that schooling does not produce education. The parents who "school" their children have not yet realized one fact: Schooling actually prevents children from becoming educated.


If you redefine the word educate to mean something more along the lines of gaining wisdom, there's truth there, but I think by using a word that people associate with the end product of school (and those are the definitions in my dictionary) you're just going to confuse people ;-) I had 17 years of schooling and I think of myself as educated.  


What unschooling offers is something better than educated. It helps people grow into who they are rather than shaping them into some externally defined ideal. (Which is what educated connotes.)



I don't mean to offend anyone, but unschooling sounds a lot like Montessori schools. The prepared environment approach, allows children to serve and learn on their own. Let the children follow their own interests. They will learn when they are ready.


Unschooling is similar to what Maria Montessori envisioned originally. (I haven't read that much, just absorbed a bit so I don't know for certain.) Nowadays, Montessori schools only pretend to encourage free exploration. The "prepared environment" is very goal oriented. Children are allowed to "play" in only certain ways so that they can "discover" what the materials are designed for them to discover.


Unschooling isn't like that. There isn't a "prepared environment". It's just living life.


Most of us have been trained to view the world in terms of work and play, e.g., Disneyland and TV are fun, non-fiction books and museums are educational. We tend to focus our lives on getting through the necessary parts of life in order to get free time to enjoy. So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously. We need to rethink the work before play maxim. We're trained to believe the laundry or grocery shopping must get done and the board game or book can wait for "free" time. We're trained to get through the life maintenance stuff as quickly as possible so we can have free time. But laundry is opportunities to connect with kids, to talk about what's going on in their lives. It can be natural opportunities for sorting and measuring and the cost/benefits of -- and perhaps experiment with! -- hot versus cold water. (Is the impact on the environment and budget worth the benefit -- if there is! -- of cleaner clothes with hot water?) At the store there are scales to weigh things, signs that identify where fruit came from, labels identifying nutrition and ingredients, sales, unit pricing.


And we need to be more aware that learning isn't in a resource but in the interest a child finds in the resource. Something "educational" isn't educational unless the child is interested in finding answers to those particular questions. A child who loves Fairly Odd Parents will learn a lot more from watching that than going through the experiments one by one in a science kit he has no interest in.


So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously and with more curiosity than we might normally feel inclined. Rather than feel like we need to drive the kids to be more curious about life, we should be more curious. We should put on the CD of digeridoo music because we're curious not because we think it would be good for the kids to hear.


Which is a long winded way of saying unschoolers need to "prepare the environment" so everyone can learn, not just the kids.



Rather than me just waiting for her to ask the magic question, "Mom, may I learn such and such?" Can she possibly know what she really wants? What I mean is do unschoolers just strike the match for the child and see if it burns and if not, then stop or do you wait for your child to ask for the match?


One of the harder parts of unschooling is turning away from thinking in terms of subjects to thinking in terms of exploring interests. Kids are more likely to be interested in Little House on the Prairie and Samurai than a broad vague category like history. They'll be more interested in stars and frogs than science.


The point in life is the bird house, not the hammer. As a side-effect of building a bird house we learn how to use a hammer. The hammer is meaningless without things to build. And learning how to use a hammer is even more useless if it's learned for the sake of learning how to hammer "just in case". Learning that hammers are for hammering limits the idea of a hammer. It becomes just a tool for pounding nails. It won't be a tool for cracking nuts or a paperweight or to whack a wrench to loosen a bolt or a prop to test center of balance.


That's inadequate but, like a problem in percentages you've walked through for your daughter out loud, it is a foundation, a beginning.


Is it not considered unschooling if I introduce things for them to do, like math, and maybe nudge them to see if they are ready.


The unschooling philosophy is based on what helps and hinders children's learning. One thing that helps is exploring their interests.


When your kids were learning to speak, were you concerned that they had to learn words like corporate takeover, radio astronomy, medulla oblongata, cartesian coordinates or they'd never make it in the world? Or did you talk about the things they were interested in, naturally immersing those words and subjects in the proper context of language even if they didn't totally grasp every word you were saying and yet naturally at a level that wouldn't confound them totally?


So an unschooling parent doesn't lead a child to what he may one day need to know. An unschooling parent creates a rich life of opportunities where interest can flourish and where they will bump naturally into stuff to learn.


If we hold onto an image of learning looking like school that can sound like an impossible task! How can we possibly surround them with everything that's in a 9th grade science book? And how do we get them to be interested in it all?


Well, you can and you can't ;-) That science book is just a distillation, just a tiny portion of what is in your child's life right now. The chapter on astronomy may enter their brains then trickle out. But a child who has gazed up with a wondering parent and searched for constellations or given the time to notice stars come in different colors or asked about the first "star" that appears at sunset or tried to find the various figures in the moon that other cultures have found won't find it trickles out. It doesn't need to go further than that (though, of course, some kids may). It will create a sense of wonder and curiosity and good feelings about the night sky that will be a foundation for learning more. A textbook chapter may interest a child who already had the spark of an interest, but it's as likely to leave another child with no desire to learn more.


What you supply them with isn't the information, but the sense of wonder -- you'll need to recapture this too :-) -- and the resources to explore wherever their interests lead them. It doesn't mean you need every educational product on the market. It can be just a mom who can say, "Let's Google it." :-)



Joyfully Rejoycing
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