Unschooling is a term that can conjure thoughts and images in people’s minds of children who do nothing and learn nothing, and of parents who essentially uneducate and unparent their children. When I originally heard the term I thought it was very negative, and of this style of homeschooling was very ignorant. Due to this ignorance I had pessimistic preconceived ideas about unschooling that I’m sure many other people have; children who are unschooled must be missing out on so much, there are things that they need to know that they can’t possibly just learn without instruction, and children shouldn’t have the daunting responsibility of choosing what they learn, and how they learn it, laid at their feet.
For us, the path to unschooling has been a convoluted one; a journey through homeschooling that we have woven with evolving different styles and our own growth and experiences. We have now been homeschooling for almost 9 years, and I would say unschooling for the past 2 to 3 years. Prior to that we homeschooled using the Waldorf curriculum for about 3 years, and before that the Montessori curriculum, also for about three years; following on from Bear’s early education at a Montessori school. The way that we home educate, and my personal philosophy about home education, is now so far removed from those early years. We have arrived here, at our life together unschooling, not simply because of my self education about different methods of homeschooling, but largely through years of learning by experience what is the most authentic, individual, and efficient way for our children to learn and be happy. Unschooling is the best choice for us because it is about being us.
I think when people have deep concerns about unschooling education it is because they are comparing it to the linear education provided at schools. How can unschooled children learn everything that is learned at school? Won’t there be gaps in their education? My answers to these questions would be; well, they most likely will not learn everything a child would learn at school, and yes, there will definitely be gaps in their education. There are gaps in every child’s education! BUT…… I am more than happy if my children aren’t learning everything that is taught in schools, and that there are gaps in what they learn, because what my children are learning through living their lives with freedom is so much more individualized and meaningful for them and for the lives they are and will be living.
Bear, Star, and Strong are learning everything that they need to know to navigate through their lives. Bear and Star did not lose their innate curiosity and drive to learn once they reached the age of five, or suddenly begin to need to be forced to learn. They learn so much more because everything they learn is either by choice because it is something they are really interested in, or they are learning simply by living and carrying out tasks that are needed for everyday functioning of our family life. We do not coerce them to learn information or skills that they will never use, or simply forget, and they are less likely to forget what they do learn as learning happens through ways that are specific to their individual personalities, and when participating in practical, real life activities and situations. They are also able to follow their passions and interests deeply and as extensively as they wish. Of course, we do have certain expectations of our children, and there are limitations that we work with, such as where we live, and our income. There are also important considerations, such as health, and our ethical beliefs incorporated into everything we do on a daily basis. But within our family dynamic Bear, Star, and Strong are encouraged and supported by us in every way we are able, to explore their interests as far as they need to.
Just recently Star said to me how she thinks that she learns more through unschooling then when we followed a curriculum, and both Bear and Star have said how they prefer unschooling to how we used to homeschool. They are happy because they have freedom. Their learning is not separated from what they choose to do, it is an intrinsic part of their whole lives, and a natural, inevitable occurrence. They are directing their own learning simply by doing what they enjoy. That is not to say that they find everything easy, some things they choose to follow they find difficult but they continue to try because it is something they are driven to do. Star is not yet at a place where she finds reading easy but she continues to try and is most certainly improving because it is extremely important to her, and in our family she is surrounded by books and immersed in stories everyday. And, naturally, when the children do need help or guidance we give it lovingly, to the best of our abilities.
Over the years Scott and I have needed to deschool to arrive at the place where we are now. The ingrained societal expectations; that one must go to school and must learn what is deemed necessary, or for the rest of your life be flawed and forever behind all your peers, are hard to shed. But we have shed them. And as a homeschooling mama I now find myself at a place where I am at complete peace and wholly confident and happy with the educational path we have chosen. I do not believe children need to spend most of their young lives at school. I do not believe what is taught in schools is needed for one’s happy and successful life, honestly I think the current school education system falls very short of this for most children. I am actually aiming higher for my children; higher in the sense that I believe every child is more than just another cog in the institutional wheel rolling towards its final destination of ‘Workforce’. Isn’t that a terrible word in itself ‘work–force‘, doesn’t sound very appealing to me!
I want my children to be able to follow their dreams and their happiness and I believe to do this they need their own space and time to learn what they need, when they need to. And, excitingly we, as parents are blessed to share this journey with our children; share their learning and our learning too! We certainly haven’t stopped learning since leaving school, personally I have learned so much more! I myself have been on a journey of discovery; discovering what I really love to do and learn, which I think I would have come to earlier in life if I’d had the freedom to do so. I believe school should be a choice; a choice that a family makes if it is the right one for them, as we have chosen unschooling.
In essence, I believe unschooling is the best education for our children because they are able to direct their own learning in an holistic, authentic, and natural way that is specific to their individual lives, personalities, needs, and interests, live their days in a supportive, loving, sharing and respectful environment, and have the FREEDOM to be who they are and follow their hearts and dreams and happiness!!