Feeling Hopeful About Unschooling

Ever since I heard about unschooling, oh, probably 15 years ago or so, I always imagined that’s what I would do with my child. I didn’t  particularly hate school, but I certainly didn’t hold it in high regard. As a nanny, I had various negative experiences with public schools over the years, even with some of the so-called good ones. No matter how you slice it, public school is only a “good enough” solution.

Homeschooling is an interesting proposition that takes a lot of the negative things about schools (rigid subjects, testing, schedules, workbooks, etc) and turns the parents into the bad guys instead of the institution. It’s an improvement, but only marginally.

Unschooling, on the other hand, makes room for the passion of learning and the richness of life, and it really speaks to me.

Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process…the independent scientist in the child disappears. — John Holt

Growing up, I couldn’t understand the confusion. Wasn’t it obvious that I could learn math and physics if I wanted to? Couldn’t my uncle see that I had no use for chemistry but that if I did, I’d learn it? Why did anyone care, anyway? And why did people ask me if I knew math and English but they didn’t ask whether I knew about good nutrition or how to shingle a roof? — Sarabeth Matilsky

Artificial learning takes what is simple and natural and turns it into a complex array of objectives, goals, measurements, administrators, supervisors, counselors, and transportation experts. Natural education requires only a guide providing direction, and a learner ready to discover and create goals and values that are personally meaningful. — Linda Dobson

Children don’t need to be taught how to learn; they are born learners. They come out of the womb interacting with and exploring their surroundings. Babies are active learners, their burning curiosity motivating them to learn how the world works. And if they are given a safe, supportive environment, they will continue to learn hungrily and naturally – in the manner and at the speed that suits them best. — Wendy Priesnitz

I have felt some doubt about unschooling lately, because I’m not that great at “teaching” the things that are normally taught at Dylan’s age. Dylan can’t identify any colors or shapes, for example. Part of the reason for that is that I’m a pretty lazy parent. The other part is that we’re just having a different sort of life. Dylan can identify hawks and ladybugs and he holds conversations with our sheep, but shapes and colors aren’t part of our daily conversations.

Yesterday I spent some time with a local unschooling group, and I came away from it feeling very renewed and hopeful about unschooling.

For one thing, their lives are so busy. It’s easy to imagine a non-schooling family doing a bunch of… nothing. But the reality is that (at least in my area) there are so many things to do out in the world and not going to school leaves time for all those wonderful things. Sitting in a classroom all day starts to look like a bunch of nothing!

We have a local homeschooling co-op which is an organization for homeschooling/unschooling kids to attend classes together. It meets once a week, and if you’re looking for “curriculum” type stuff, they’ve got it – art, science, history, literature. It’s encouraging to know that more directed learning can easily fit into an unschooling attitude.

I’ve also learned that a lot of the museums and other learning centers around my area have programs during the day for non-schooled kids. That’s really exciting! Sure, kids in school go on field trips, but it’s really exciting to think of our entire city being a classroom just ready to be explored.

As I’ve written about before, unschooling is about trust. Trusting myself that I am a capable guide for Dylan’s learning desires and trusting Dylan that he has an innate passion for learning that will serve him well if it’s only given a chance. Meeting some other unschooling parents and learning more about what my area has to offer has renewed my trust in our ability to avoid institutional learning and instead learn from the rich life experiences available to us.

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