Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Unschool, say what?

Learning about homeschool leads you on all sorts of paths. I was really surprised to learn about unschooling. Unschooling is defined by John Holt and Pat Farenga as homeschooling without a fixed curriculum. Holt said that it was about giving children as much freedom “to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear”. However, it doesn’t mean not doing anything. Rather, it’s not sending children to school and not doing “at home the kinds of things that are done at school” (Gray, 2012, ¶ 7). Holt (1981) says that it’s natural, and that parents do this before they send their children to school.

This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work. So, for instance, a young child’s interest in hot rods can lead him to a study of how the engine works (science), how and when the car was built (history and business), who built and designed the car (biography), etc. Certainly these interests can lead to reading texts, taking courses, or doing projects, but the important difference is that these activities were chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place, though parents with a more hands-on approach to unschooling certainly can influence and guide their children’s choices

Gray (2012) undertook a survey of unschool families and found that there are four major benefits of unschooling for families that chose that option. These were:

Learning advantages for the child … their children were learning more, or learning more efficiently, or learning more relevant material, or learning more eagerly in the unschooling situation than they would if they were in school or being schooled at home.  Emotional and social advantages for the child ... children were happier, less stressed, more self-confident, more agreeable, or more socially outgoing than they would be if they were in school or being schooled at home. Family closeness because of unschooling they could spend more time together as a family, do what they wanted to together, and that the lack of hassle over homework or other schooling issues promoted warm, harmonious family relationships. Family freedom  … freedom from the school’s schedule allowed the children and the family as a whole to operate according to more natural rhythms of their own choice and to take trips that would otherwise be impossible.

I am really curious to explore more of this.  As a trained teacher, who was traditionally schooled, I find it so hard to lose the idea that kids need to be forced to do something in order to learn. I need to learn to trust children. After all, questions such as would we learn to do algebra without school? How do you learn math? are only relevant if you see maths as a discreet subject, devoid of a connection to other subjects. Which is, of course, how we were all taught in school.


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