Unschooling parent Karen M. Gibson explains what unschooling means to her and how it works within her family. Interest-led, child-led education can be a challenging homeschooling method for the parent(s), requiring a high level of knowledge of your child’s learning styles and ability. It also requires trust and the ability to be patient, to see your child’s unschooling success over the passage of time, not overnight.

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I must create a system of my own, or be enslaved by another man's.
~ William Blake

    What is Unschooling?
    Karen M. Gibson

    Unschooling has many, many definitions - probably a different one for each family that calls themselves unschoolers. To me, unschooling means interest-led or child-led learning. There are also many different levels of unschooling. Some families require a set amount of Math and English done each day, and then their child is free to explore whatever subjects he would like. Others unschool totally until their child reaches a certain grade level, and then start requiring some structure. And then there are the dyed-in-the-wool, radical unschoolers, who require nothing from their child. They totally trust their child to learn what he needs to know on his own timetable.

    How unschooling works for us

    The more we explore the avenues that work the best for our family, the more we find ourselves gravitating towards total, radical unschooling, with the child leading his learning all the way. We do use some textbooks and workbooks, but only if the child has said that he would like to. Unschooling does not mean no textbooks or no curriculum. If a child prefers to learn that way, or expresses a desire for a certain level of structure, that’s fine, as long as it is the child’s wish. Our main resources, though, are the public library, the Internet, computer games, books, and real-life experiences.

    Unschooling also does not mean no parental involvement. If anything, it requires that you, the parent, be totally aware of the needs of your child. It means having on hand many resources, making suggestions of new avenues of exploration, and being able to hunt down that elusive answer or needed resource. It means finding a place for your child to volunteer or apprentice. It means seeking out the person who can give lessons or advice on a particular career. It means joining a group that you have no interest in so that your child can explore more fully his area of interest.

    I find that one of the hardest things with unschooling is learning to trust that your child will learn what he needs to know for his own life, in his own time frame. He may not cover all the same subjects and curriculums that everyone else at his age covers; he might cover them earlier or later. It's also possible that he may never cover those subjects if they are not pertinent to his life. I truly believe that each child is unique, and that it’s my job to help that child become the person he was born to be. I can’t force my child to learn anything that he isn’t ready to learn for himself - and if he’s ready to learn it for himself, then why do I need to teach it to him? All I need to do is provide what he needs and help, if he asks for it.

    Copyright February 1999

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For everyone who has ever gone to school or is interested in the current national debate over educational reforms, but it is especially relevant for teenagers and the parents or caregivers of teens.

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