What is Unschooling?

Unschooling has many definitions – probably a different one for each family that calls themselves unschoolers. I define unschooling as interest-led or child-led learning.

I have observed that unschooling families follow many different paths. Some families require a set amount of Math and English done each day (for example), and then their children are free to explore whatever they like. Other families allow their children to completely take the lead in their learning until a specific grade level and then begin implementing some structure. And then there are the dyed-in-the-wool radical unschoolers who totally trust their child to learn what they need to know on their 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. We do use some textbooks and workbooks. Unschooling doesn’t mean toss out every textbook. If your child prefers to learn using a textbook, or expresses a desire for a certain level of structure, then a textbook can be a good resource. Our main resources, though, are the public library, the Internet, computer games, books, and real-life experiences.

Contrary to some beliefs, unschooling does not mean parents are uninvolved in daily learning. If anything, unschooling requires parents be even more aware of the needs of their children. 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 where your child can volunteer or apprentice. It means seeking out the person who can give lessons or advice on a particular career. It means joining a group in which you have no interest just so your child can explore more fully their area of interest.

Developing Trust

One of the biggest challenges on your unschooling journey will be developing trust that your children will learn what they need to know for their own life, in their own time frame. They may not cover all the same subjects and curricula that everyone else at their age covers; they might cover topics earlier or later. It’s also possible that they may never cover them at all or until adulthood, if they are not pertinent right now.

Each child is unique, and I believe it’s my job to help them become the person they were born to be. I can’t force my children to learn anything they aren’t ready to learn for themselves. When they are ready to learn it, then my job is to supply the resource(s) they need and to provide whatever assistance they desire.

Copyright February 1999, May 2021

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