What’s Unschooling? 6 Things You Should Know

You’re going to what? Are you crazy?!

Unschool your kids. For reals. You are nuts.

Aren’t you worried that your kids are going to grow up to be weird and socially awkward?

Well, I guess it would be ok for you to do given your teaching background. But this is not something that any parent could do.

I couldn’t do it. I need a break from my kids. They drive me crazy.

Good luck.

This was an actual conversation I had with a close friend of mine.

As our boys played with each other we got in some mommy chat time. She knew that I had been a preschool teacher and wanted to know my plans for Spencer. She was thinking of sending her son to preschool in a few months and was hoping that him and Spencer could be in the same class.

Like most people she assumed that since I taught preschool for 6 years, I would just do preschool at home with Spencer. Maybe even have a few other kids come over for it as well.  Until last year, that was my plan.

But then things changed.

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The journey to discovering unschooling

I have always loved teaching. When I was little, my favorite game to play was school. I would line up my dolls and stuffed animals and teach them. Being a teacher was what I knew I was called to do. Nothing and no one was going to change my mind. That was the plan and dream.

Then reality hit.

While in college, I managed to get the perfect job for myself. One of the biggest school district’s in the state was looking to hire preschool assistant teachers. Since I was already in school working to get my teaching degree I was the perfect candidate.

My dream was lining up.

As time went on, I started to realize that there was some disconnect from what I was learning in my college courses and what I was being told to do at work.

I detested the fact that we are told that children learn through play and should have ample time to be in unstructured play but we were not giving them that time.

Now, let me interject here.

I am not trying to put any teacher down. I know first hand that there are many wonderful teachers out there who are doing a fantastic job. However, I am greatly frustrated with the public school system and it’s disregard for what is age appropriate. Children need more playtime and less pushing to reach some arbitrary goal.

As I was finishing up my degree, I had my first child.

After Spencer was born I immediately started thinking about where we should live in the future and what school he should go to.

Where I live the quality of the school is greatly determined by the neighborhood. Garrett and I were both the kind of students who did well in school. But we both felt like we could have gotten more if we had attended better schools.

I am a planner. I have to always have a plan. Without a plan I am lost. So it was important to me to have a plan for Spencer’s education.

After looking around where we lived I came to 3 conclusions. 1) The best public schools were in neighborhoods that had a hefty price tag. 2) Private schools cost an arm and a leg. 3) Charter schools could be decent but you have to do your research on the school to see if it will really be a fit for you.

These conclusions left me feeling unsatisfied.

Nothing really seemed like the best answer for my family but I couldn’t see any other posibility.

Fast forward 2 years.

When I first started blogging, I searched for other parenting and education blogs.

During that searching I found The Parenting Junkie. She is a parenting coach, childhood designer, and unschooler.

Unschooler?

What in the world is that? Is it homeschooling?

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling is an interest led, child directed approach to learning. It is a subset of homeschooling

At first, I was totally turned off by the thought of homeschooling my kids. I had heard and thought that all homeschooled children were weirdos. No normal person was homeschooled.

As I learned more about unschooling and what it is, I realized that the stereotype I put onto home education was wrong. Sure, some home schooled children are strange. But so are some kids who go to school.

After several months of research I came to the conclusion that unschooling was the answer I was always looking for. It is the choice that I feel is going to be best for my family.

6 things you should know about Unschooling and why I am choosing to do it.

  1. No set curriculum. There is no specific way to unschool. It looks different for every family. Children decide what they want to learn about and then do it. There are so many resources out there that you can use. The internet, library, nature, things you have lying around your house, museums, etc. are all places that are full of learning opportunities. If there is a class being offered that relates to what your child is learning at that time, let them take it. Even though unschooling doesn’t have a set curriculum, families are still encouraged to take classes when it makes sense for them. Follow your child’s lead and see where it takes you. Children get to learn about what matters to them and when they want to. I have always found that I remember things better when I have pursued them on my own rather than when I was compelled to learn.
  2. Encourages life long learning. I am a big believer in life long learning. However, I feel that many people have it in their heads that once you are out of school you never learn again. This is simply not true. Learning happens everyday, everywhere no matter who you are. I want my children to realize that they have an opportunity to learn and to always be striving to learn more.
  3. No testing or competition. In school I was an excellent test taker. But just because I got good grades on my tests doesn’t mean I actually learned anything. I want my children to pursue knowledge because they want to know answers. Not because they want to do well on a test or to be better then their classmates. Testing does have it’s place but it needs to be reliable and valid. I recently watched a TED video that said, “We need to use the right test for the right job and to interpret results appropriately.”
  4. Fosters creativity. I have heard many parents say that their children don’t know how to play or to make up games. I am going to be blunt here and say that school is crushing your child’s creativity. Sir Ken Robinson explains it brilliantly. You can watch his speech here. Unschoolers are in charge of their learning. No one is telling them how to do a particular task. They get to figure things out and find out what works and what doesn’t. They are encouraged to create and use their brains to discover new things. I want my children to be able to spend an unlimited amount of time creating what is important to them.
  5. Multi age learning. I believe it is important for children to learn from all people. I want them to know how to work with others, collaborate, and play with people of all ages. Everyone has something to offer. Children need to learn how to interact with all people and not just the children that happen to be the same age as them and live in the same neighborhood.
  6. Builds family ties. I am a huge believer that parents and children can learn and grow together. I want to guide my children through life and help them learn new things. The idea of giving this responsibility to someone else honestly scares me. I am excited to watch my children play with each other all day and to build memories as we go along.

In the end

I understand that this approach to learning might seem strange and uncomfortable to some people.

To be frank, I have been very nervous to right this post. I have started, stopped, deleted, and rewritten this so many times I have lost count. This is something that I am passionate about and so I have been afraid of how others will respond to it.

Nonetheless, I have felt like this was something that I needed to share.

I don’t think that there is a universal way to learn. I don’t think that unschooling is necessarily the answer for all families.

My purpose in writing this post was to inform parents of another option that they have for their munchkins education. Unschooling, homeschooling, public, private, or charter school are all options. Ultimately, choose what feels best for your children and family.

I don’t know if unschooling will always be the answer to my munchkins education but for the foreseeable future it is what Garrett and I feel is best for our family.

Tell Me

I want to know…have you heard of unschooling before? Does it interest you or just seem crazy? What other types of education would you like me to investigate for you?

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2 thoughts on “What’s Unschooling? 6 Things You Should Know

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