We aren’t really Unschoolers.  But we aren’t really traditional “Homeschoolers” either.  We’re somewhere in the bliss which is between.

In a nut-shell, Unschooling is home-based, child-led learning that focuses on education and growth that stems from real life experiences.  It’s about kids learning things in context, when they are actually interested in them, and thus most likely to actually absorb and retain what they are learning.  It’s about trusting our children’s God-given ability to learn.  To me, it just MAKES SENSE to learn something in context to the world around us rather than reading it in a textbook.  And I rather enjoy the idea of having children learn what they WANT to learn rather than forcing a boxed curriculum on kids that covers topics that someone has selected for  mass distribution and grading.

I consider us only ‘sort of’ Unschoolers because I do still introduce many ‘lessons’ to our children.  Some extremely passionate Unschoolers have never done a formal lesson with their child – and many of these children are brilliant, University bound scholars with amazing critical thinking skills and academic awareness!  We work on curriculum-based phonics lessons, math, and core subjects, but only when our children are actively seeking it.  It is never forced.  Everything we do that is “educational”, is essentially fun and requested by our children or at least happily complied to.  We do not buy/adhere to boxed curriculum that doesn’t use real books, hands-on activities, and lots of fun.

The truth is, children are sponges, born to learn – they are little eager knowledge seeking machines.  Leaning towards Unschooling doesn’t mean doing ‘nothing’, as I’ve heard people say.  Very much the contrary.  We do PLENTY.  I spend more time actively engaging with our children in “educational” ventures than I spend doing anything else in life.  But, despite my initial gut feeling and wholehearted belief that self-led learning is how our kids would learn best, when our eldest, Simon, was in “JK” I caved and bought a boxed Kindergarten curriculum for Math and Phonics.  He hated it.  It was so repetitive and boring.  One day, about 3 weeks into our “schedule”, I found myself saying, “Simon, hunny, if you want to do school at home, you need to do your work.”  As soon as I said it, I’m sure my eyes popped out of my head and I physically shuttered.

I was programed.  I was pre-programed to believe that kids could only “learn” a certain way.  Write the letter, repeat the letter, write the letter again, say the sound, etc. etc.  It’s like I need some kind of physical evidence of what my kid knows.  I already understood I’d have to fight those deeply embedded (brainwashed?) thoughts, but I think it really hit me that day.  Since then I’ve worked HARD to fight those false concepts, burned into me from years of controlled schooling.  I mean, since when did “learning” mean filling out pages of arbitrary math equations or writing the letter “A” 25 times?

I mean, our kid can beat incredibly intelligent 50-year old University Professors at Chess and does second grade math.

Homeschooling is uncommon enough.  Try going the Unschooling route and most people look at you like you have 3 heads.  No, actually, 3 heads oozing rainbow goop.  It’s just not something most people understand or have ever considered – which is understandable – it’s very much against the grain.  However, because of the mass skepticism about allowing children to lead their own learning adventure, parents of this method must have a thick skin and a genuine belief in and passion for what they do.

Yesterday, I was again reminded and reassured that my instincts are correct – our kids are learning every day and in every  moment.

In the afternoon I had planned to do some Math games and a fun phonics print-out with Simon (5) and Audrey (3).  But – it was a gorgeous sunny Spring day and they wanted to play outside.  We’d been at the park all morning and my pre-programmed schooling-self was telling me, “No!  It’s LEARNING time now!”.  I had to physically shake my head and force myself to say, “Sure, let’s go play in the sand box.”

As we sat enjoying the sun, conflict was still brewing within me.  While I was trying to convince myself it was OK that we weren’t doing those planned ‘educational’ activities, my thoughts were interrupted by Simon saying he’d ‘be right back’.  A few moments later he returned and dumped a huge container of old shells in the sand.

“Let’s sort ’em”, he announced.  So, Simon, Audrey, and I spent the next 15 minutes sorting shells by size, then colour, then shape.  Simon made a line and helped Audrey count all 30-something of them.  He then initiated a hiding game, playing with subtraction.  Simon then asked me how to spell “shell” and if it started with an S.  I told him it did and explained the letters and sounds of the words and wrote it in the sand.  He then spent time writing his own words and Audrey practiced tracing her A and H with a stick.

When we had a snack,  the kids played with division, subtraction, and fractions as I cut cheese into several pieces.

Then Simon wore his new watch and kept a close eye on the time while we went to the stream and played with rocks.

After we came home, Simon and Audrey climbed up to the kitchen table and started writing all the words they “knew”.  Simon wrote all kinds of silly words that were ridiculously goofy but, surprisingly, phonetically correct.  Audrey had fun with the few letters she knows and just making lines and shapes.  She also sat explaining the alphabet to Alex (19 months).  Simon then counted the money in his wallet, completing grade 2 level addition and multiplication using coins and bills.

And so – I look back on my attitude about “formal” educational activities with a huge, sheepish grin on my face.  My children never fail to amaze me with their God-given ability to learn and grow.  All I do is make myself extremely present (in body, mind, and spirit), give them a stimulating and enriching environment, answer questions, and stimulate thought.  And I trust our children intensely.  Unschooling requires a lot of trust.

Our kids do all the exciting work of learning on their own and within themselves, it’s only my job to facilitate.  It’s unbelievable how much real ‘education’ goes on in our home… no ‘schooling’ required.

A sandy “phonics lesson”

Simon’s words

A great article about Unschooling – http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/earl_stevens.html


“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.”

– Anne Sullivan


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