I’m sometimes asked by other mothers and by people who are just curious, “How do you Unschool?”
I’m intrigued with this question, because it sheds a lot of light on how we as a culture live and learn. Most of us have been trained that children are not to be trusted and that they are blank clay to be molded by others (usually older and “wiser”) into something useful to society. Children grow up believing that they are not to be trusted and so they turn to older people or resources for answers.
I think it is unwise to assume that older people know more just because they are older and I think it is equally unwise to assume that the youth know less than we older folks do.
What also intrigues me about the question is that the goal isn’t to Unschool. I’m not in competition with schools. I really don’t care about schools and what they do at all and to be honest, I’d love it if I didn’t have to be accountable to a system that I believe fails more children per year than it serves. I quit teaching for a reason. The goal is not to Unschool. It’s to open children up to LIFE. It’s to allow them to learn and live their lives as joyously as possible without being told that what they want to learn is “inappropriate,” or “silly,” or whatever other ridiculous thing an adult tells them.
That which interests is interesting. I’ve always believed this. If you’re interested in the life cycle of the earthworm, then that’s a very interesting topic to study and learn about. If you’re interested in outer space (as my six year old currently is), then that’s a very interesting topic to study and learn about. Grab all the information and resources and tools you need to learn the most you can about these and when you’ve had your fill, take that same enthusiasm and dive into something else.
To me, that’s Unschooling. Like I said, my daughter is really into learning about outer space. She asked for a telescope for her birthday, so she uses that to look at the stars. Just yesterday she worked for three hours straight and painted and built a solar system model while watching You Tube videos about each of the planets. She also used her books about space to help her with her paint choices and to learn more about teach planet. All I did was help her get things together, set up her space, and read from the books when she asked (she asked me to read about teach of the planets and the sun). She didn’t stop until ten o’clock at night and she called for her dad and me to go upstairs to see her finished project.
Do you think this would have happened had this been a mandatory project for school or if I even referred to it as a school project? Most likely not. To her, it was fun. To her it was HER project. I was just her helper.
This is Unschooling to me.
I offer up questions about things as we’re living our lives together. We talk, a lot. My husband and I provide as many experiences as we possibly can within our budget and we try to make it happen if it is a bit steep or seems out of reach. I learned from my friend, Maryanne, that saying “no” is not necessarily the right response, but rather, “Let’s see what we can do to make that happen.”
Why tell children something is impossible? Nothing is impossible, except what we decide is. I try to keep this in mind as I learn alongside my child.
That brings me to another thing: Unschooling to me is learning alongside my child. We aren’t always working on the same project, but we can be learning at the same time. I love this. I love making mistakes in front of my child. I love not being the “expert in my field of study,” which is what children in school experience. In a school, there is always the adult expert and the children are the only ones making mistakes. This is not natural. Mistakes are a part of learning and as a matter of fact, if we don’t make mistakes, are we learning at all?
This is Unschooling to me.
Am I an expert in Unschooling?
No, nor do I attempt to be and I truly think anyone who claims to be an expert is going against the very fabric of what Unschooling is. Becoming an expert Unschooler is not a goal. There is no one way to do it, because each of us is unique and each of our children have their own minds & spirits. This bothers some people who are used to being dictated by schedules and time restraints.
The basic premise is this:
Trust in their freedom.
Trust in their intuition.
Trust in their imagination.
Trust in their mistakes.
Trust in their struggles.
Trust in their fascination.
Trust in their play.
Trust in the magic of children.
They actually know more about learning than we do, especially those of us who are the product of institutional learning.
A final thought I have regarding Unschooling is that the end product is learning. There is no need for a grade. There is no competition with other children, because they are guiding their own learning and the motivation they have is intrinsic. There’s no great award at the end of a contrived “year” of learning. There’s no graduating to another “grade level,” because learning is a lifetime experience. This bothers some adults, who, if we’re honest, want to be able to label there children and their learning.
It’s easier in our culture to be able to say: She’s in fourth grade. She reads on ______ level. She scored _____ on her recent test. It gives adults a way to place a gold star on their children (and themselves).
It’s far more challenging to say: We don’t really do school. I don’t know what grade she’s in and we don’t worry about that.
People don’t understand it and it’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because we’ve been programmed to believe that learning is something that must be forced, that has rigid time lines, and that it’s compartmentalized in subject boxes: math, reading, history, language arts…but that’s not true. That’s what a business does. A business says, “you need this and you need to buy into this idea in order to do it correctly.” This rigidity is why public schools have mandatory attendance. If it were not mandatory, how many children do you think would want to sit inside for seven-eight hours a day doing work they are usually not interested in?
True learning comes from within the one who desires to learn something. Otherwise, it’s just memorizing something to pass a test or to get an award. Don’t believe me? How much of your high school History do you remember today?
That’s not real learning. Learning doesn’t happen until the student is ready. It cannot be forced. What I love about Unschooling is that my child leads the way and because of this, she is always learning and she retains more because she’s choosing what to learn.
This is Unschooling to me.
“How to Unschool” is not a concern.