What in the World is Unschooling?

If you’re not an unschooler or even a homeschooler in the know, you may be wondering what exactly is “unschooling?” I can only explain what it is for us, since unschooling varies as much by family as any other method of homeschooling. We certainly can’t be lumped in with the image most people have of homeschoolers sitting and doing school at home. So, what do we do?

We live our lives as if school doesn’t exist and B learns naturally as the day unfolds. There are no workbooks, required reading, math timed tests, handwriting lessons or pre-packaged curriculum. Some of you may be cringing and picturing my child running feral at this point. (For those that have met him, he has his moments. hehe) Learning can and has taken place without all of these things for most of human history and for the seven years of B’s life.

If B finds an interest or has a question, we pursue it. We read about it, watch videos and find events related to it. I facilitate with as much help or materials are needed to delve into it. We have maps and a globe for anytime a location is discussed. Math often finds its way into our day in the form of game play or spending cash in real life.

B has learned to read by being read to from day one and from living in a language rich environment. I’m not ashamed to admit that his love of video games has spurred the majority of his reading acquisition. He read because he wanted or even needed to.

He writes when he has a purpose to do so; a list of materials, a note for me to find or an explanation of a drawing. He learns what he needs when he needs it.

I don’t worry that there will be gaps or that he’ll miss a bit of history or that he won’t have a math fact memorized. We all have these, regardless of how we acquired knowledge. What he will have are problem solving skills and the strategies to learn what is necessary in his life. This is the most meaningful learning and what will stick with him.

From my life experience, I know that what was interesting to me and that I pursued because I wanted to, stuck with me my whole life. I learned the names of all the plants that grew in my area and I still know them. I know, really know, a lot about ย insects and animals because of an insatiable need as a ย child. Can I tell you what year something happened in history? No. I may have “learned” it for a test in school but it held no interest or purpose so it didn’t stick.

This authentic, interest led learning is the most meaningful. No, he won’t keep up with his peers or be taught all the things they are. He’ll know more on some subjects and less on others. Though he will know how to think for himself, to question everything and to listen to his own heart. Think about it. If instead of being taught, in mass, to conform to outside standards, we were all listening to our own heart, what a very different world this would be.

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25 thoughts on “What in the World is Unschooling?

  1. Very true Melissa. I don’t even remember things from my college years that perhaps I should remember. The things that I do want or need to know, I relearn and it does stick because, like you have said, I pursued it. Great post. ๐Ÿ˜Š

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    1. Thank you! It’s hard to get away from the mindset that we must all learn the same things. Everyone’s life and experiences are different so it only stands to reason that we’d all need to know different things.

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  2. “Iโ€™m not ashamed to admit that his love of video games has spurred the majority of his reading acquisition. He read because he wanted or even needed to.” Love, love, love this line, Melissa. It’s exactly what prompted my eldest to want to learn to read. And, certainly not that you need my approval, but as a former brick-and-mortar educator and current homeschooling mom, I am totally digging your style. Many happy wishes to you and your B. XOXOX Micki
    http://mickiallen.com

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  3. You teach everything a child needs. I think the important part is that they can find their way through life and will not be limited because of the choice we made when we decided to unschool or home-school. That’s what’s important for us. I want them to have every opportunity open, from studying at a good university to choosing to work in a field where no university degree is needed to find another way through life. Whatever makes them happy. As long as they stay good people.

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  4. This is something I have given a lot of thought lately (not that I have kids, just a general question about society and so on) it was specifically about the conformity of school and how it affects us and how one can escape that and provide better learning for children and this seems to be the answer! I found your link on OM’s blog and I am so glad I clicked it! You seem like a great mom and I love the method you shared here! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! Glad you like it. This really is a great way for kids to learn and that’s part of why I’ve starting blogging and sharing it with the world. Schooling is such a pervasive idea that people forget they have alternatives.

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      1. Ithink many people’s fears (as mentioned in your other post) overcomes their need for an alternative so they rather just stick to normal schooling…. So I say kudos to you for doing it, i am reallyvery impressed with the idea!

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  5. I’m so glad I came across your blog (from the OM Meet and Greet) as I’ve been interested in the question of standardized education for a bit now. Have you read The Continuum Concept? I don’t think you have to read it because you guys seem to be on a great path, but it might be an interesting read. It’s all about more natural child-rearing, including letting kids learn as they learn. They’re so voracious in their hunt for knowledge!

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  6. I had no idea what B was doing in this picture, but my sixth grader immediately recognized that he is dissecting owl pellets! She had done this work in her very advanced fourth grade science class. I told her B is only seven…something must be going right!

    I have to admit that I am one of those people who wonders “What in the world in unschooling?” If I could, I think I would homeschool my kids. Maybe it’s a case of “the grass is always greener”, but the idea of spending most of my time with my kids watching them grow and learn is really appealing to me. I have, however, always been perplexed by the concept of “unschooling” It is partially what attracted me to your blog. I thought maybe I could see things from an insiders view ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Part of why I blog is so that people can see that anyone can unschool. The owl pellet dissection was something I had done in high school. We did this at a science center and B loved it. (He brought all the bones home.) I’ve never put any age limits or restrictions s on what he could learn when. If he’s ready or curious, we go for it!

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