What is unschooling? Is it legit or an easy way out? – A researching newbie mom
Define unschooling? A while ago I would have given you a very different response. I’ll admit it–when I heard the term “unschooling” for the first time the image that came to mind was that of unruly children. No training. No learning. No form. No routine. No structure. No way!
I was worse than one simply ignorant of homeschooling. I was an educator who was ignorant of homeschooling. I wasn’t anti-homeschooling. In fact, I was intrigued about it as an option for my children. I actually came across the term “unschooling” during my research, and I’ll admit that the title threw me off. I immediately thought that “un”schooling was tantamount to “anti” educating. And how could I, an educator, support or endorse something that I thought belittled education? I stood on my ill-form idea and didn’t dive any further into the homeschooling approach.
What a small-minded conclusion I had jumped too! When a friend of mine, a graduate of the homeschool system herself, married to an Ivy leaguer, told me that her children were being unschooled, I had to pause because apparently I had missed something. Here were two adults who I admired for thinking outside the box, highly capable critical thinkers themselves, and they were unschooling. And their sons? Polite, well-spoken, well-mannered, intelligent, and academically gifted. Yes, I had obviously had no idea what unschooling was. And once I did the research with an open mind I realized that I always touted many virtues of unschooling in my own educational philosophy.
So, just what is unschooling?
In essence, it is a branch of the homeschooling community that encourages a student-led approach to education. Children are encouraged, and assisted, in following their passions. If you have an education background (like me) and support Project Based Learning (like me) don’t you dare roll your eyes at this. Many highly acclaimed schools in the US are praise for encouraging “inquiry,” “problem-solving,” and “project-based learning”. If you don’t believe me, check out The Noodle’s 41 most innovative schools way back in 2015.
Strip all of that educator’s jargoon away and what do you have? Schools are innovating by attempting to encourage children to do exactly what unschoolers are encouraged to do every day–dive into their interests and passions. It’s probably this encouragement that had my friend’s son taking violin lessons while other kindergarten students were learning to stand in straight lines. Which, I ask you, will serve a child more? The latter only has a place if you expect that child to spend a lot of time in institutional lines… but I digress.
The Oxford Research Encyclopedias defined schooling as “a set of procedures employed by specialists, called teachers, to induce children to acquire a certain set of skills, knowledge, values, and ideas, referred to as a curriculum, chosen by the teacher or by a schooling hierarchy above the teacher.” I’ll be honest: I find the definition, while at its base true, a bit infused with a prejudice.
What shines through this though is that education has no direct tie to schooling. A school is a unit of an educational institution. The foundational confines given by the institutional aspect of school can be thrown off, allowing for more freedom and movement in education. You can lose “school” without losing “education”.
Is unschooling for everyone?
I’ll say it, and you can quote me: unschooling done right is amazing, but it is not for everyone.
First, notice that I said, “done right”. Sitting home on the “boob-tube” all day for weeks at end, to no end, is not unschooling. (Please note, I am not talking about a process often called “deschooling” in this article.)
Unschooling is a form of education–therefore some form of learning occurs. Especially in younger years, it’s important to let a student try their hands at many things. When something strikes a chord, encourage it! Giving your young student opportunities to try things means exposure and effort from the home educator!
Even a student who gets sucked into watching Star Wars over and over, for example, should eventually take it to another level as natural curiosity takes over. Maybe they are interested in George Lucas himself? Maybe it’s the costume aspect of it? Perhaps they decide to make their own fan-movie? Imagine what kind of learning would take place from the time a child who was apparently just a couch-potato turn into a creative maven and makes their own film? Or maybe they decide to cosplay some of those outfits. Do you know how much learning would occur as they learn to measure, convert, edit video, and more?
A home educator that unschools may find that their “school calendar” is full of lots and lots of activities. Unschooling is by no means the “easy way out”.
Also, note that I mentioned that I don’t believe it’s for everyone. Maybe the home educator would feel more comfortable with a curriculum or outline to follow. Maybe it’s the student themselves that craves more structure? Guess what? That’s OK. There is no right way for everyone to do homeschooling. However, having a balanced view of all of the homeschool approaches, along with an honest understanding of yourself, your student, and your lifestyle could help you decide on which of may options just might be right for you.
Do you unschool? If so, what does a typical day or week look like for you? What advice would you give to someone considering this approach?