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unschooling for the uninitiated

I’ll tell you why I talk about unschooling. Or as some call it, child directed learning, child delight learning, eclectic homeschooling, relaxed homeschooling…what other word describes the notion of letting go and letting them learn?

Yeah, that’s the reason to talk about unschooling.

To let go of control, and let them learn.

There’s this notion out there, that if you set up a system, organized, with a lot of people to officiate, and administer a grade and a class, a lecture, a lesson plan and an exam, then children learn, and they’ve received an education.

Yes. They will learn. In spite of our overorganized, rigid expectations and approaches.

Children learn. It’s what they do.

Great teachers, interested teachers, increase the chances of someone wanting to learn something. Of being interested. Of engaging. But the willfulness to learn is all on the kids. They don’t receive an education, they learn if they are invested.

They want to. No fear there. Unless they’ve been seriously neglected or abused, children were meant to grow and learn. Their bodies do it without consciousness.

They’re not necessarily eager to learn what you want them to learn, when you want them to learn, in the way you want them to learn. But by George, or Jack, or Annie, they want to learn.

1. So, occupy their time in meaningful ways.

But give them lots of space to be quiet, to pursue new interests, and discover themselves past boredom. A balance between prescribed and exploratory use of time.

Give them opportunities to be exposed to new worlds, in real human time, or in made up worlds of books. A balance between people and solitude.

Give them meaningful work that contributes to the well-being of their family and community through housework, childcare, farm work, volunteer work. Then let them play…no learning plans hidden behind their play, just easy, amusing play.

As the parent, we teach them how to structure their lives.

2. What do you want them to learn?

You’re their parent, what do you want them to learn? You don’t have to assume that because the neighbor kids are learning something, your kids must be learning it too. But it might be a prompt. What do you want them to learn? Why are they learning it?

The federal election is coming soon, Canadian sooner than American. What are the major political parties? What are the reasons one might vote for different party platforms? How do these two systems differ? What are their weaknesses and strengths? You might not care. My husband is passionate. Imagine what our dinner conversations look like.

August 2015 001

Me, I like reading. I could be called a professional reader, just sayin. I can move through quite a few books for a mama of four. So you can imagine that I like to read with my kiddos. “I Am Malala”, “To Set A Watchman” and “Thimbleful Summer” are our present reading selections. When studies start, our major mode of learning new worlds is through reading.

This is your chance to share your passions with your kiddos. Let your curiosities flow.

3. Who are your children?

What are they about? Listen to them. Their story isn’t complete. But you can take cues from their lives. As you provide opportunities for them, look for opportunities to pursue those interests.

Do they like making money? Start a lemonade stand. What is the demand for lemonade on a Wednesday summer morning when everyone is driving by our driveway heading to the garbage center? As they get older, they might want to market their baking capabilities. Yardwork for the neighbours. Childcare for their mom’s friend.  This kind of kiddo might enjoy playing math games.

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September2014 029 Are they crafty? A Pinterest board might give them ideas. Learn to knit? Tie dye? Create your own bed cushions. This kind of kinesthetic kiddo might enjoy tactile spelling games too.

This will help them learn more about themselves, whether they pursue those interests in the future or not will be up to them.

4. Don’t educate out of fear.

There will always be gaps. Imperfect educations. My favourite term I’ve heard describe this: a ‘lopsided education’. Yup, that.

When someone suggests, “I don’t know if you should homeschool, you might miss something,” they’re probably right. Your kids might not learn something. Give me a tight case where schooled kids don’t miss a beat. I personally missed far too much, doting on boys and worrying about home life. I am no exception. No one is.

After twelve years of academics, are you hoping your kiddo can outwit Google or God?

No? Then relax.

5. And enjoy the process.

Yes, you’re the parent. “Educating your children.” BIG responsibility. Especially daunting when you know people are looking over your shoulder or questioning you directly.

But your kids weren’t put on this earth just to be educated.

They are growing right before your eyes, growing independent and capable, and growing right out of your home. You had these little beauties for a reason, so try to enjoy them.

And though you discovered it was a lot of work; yup, you were right there. You didn’t have them so you could check another box off the list, another makework project.

Don’t make home education an unreachable makework project. They already want to learn, they were hardwired for it. So have fun with it.

There! That’s UNSCHOOLING in a nutshell. Not so daunting after all.

9 thoughts on “unschooling for the uninitiated

  1. You warm the cockles of my heart – perfectly said – onward unschooling friend! I tend not to think of myself as an unschooler, because I provide some loose structure, but when I read this I can’t agree more – so unschooler it is from now on.

  2. As a long-time unschooler, I’ve felt that the kernel at the centre of the nutshell is trust: trust that children raised with freedom and autonomy in a reasonably rich environment with access to caring adults will learn what they need to become who they want to be. And trust that when included in the real world of family and community life, what is necessary and useful knowledge and skills will be self-evident, and their drive for competence will motivate them to master it. So I would substitute trust for your #1 and #2. I would say 1. Trust them to occupy *themselves* in meaningful ways and 2. Trust that they will know better than you what and when it is important for them to learn.

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    • Thank you. This is my way of defining unschooling in my home. I’m certain many unschoolers wouldn’t necessarily see it that way. There is, emerging recently, a form of radical unschooling, which I have tried, and eventually moved away from too. The different seasons of learning how best to homeschool in my home I guess.

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