When John Holt first coined the term "unschooling" in the 1970s, he could not have foreseen how the modern world would change as it has, especially in regards to education. We have seen many victories and failures with how teaching and learning have transformed, along with a whole lot of growing. One of the areas that has seen much of this growth and expansion in society is homeschooling, and unschooling is an offshoot of this.
Unschooling can be a disconcerting term for educators to hear, but our goal here is not to make anyone uncomfortable. All we want to do is encourage homeschoolers who wish to know more about its possibilities to consider implementing facets of a different kind of curriculum. An unschooling curriculum, if you like.
The Debate Rages On
As far as an actual curricular structure in unschooling goes, this can vary, which is a good thing. No two days need be the same when you are unschooling, and every day should involve distinct adventures and have different goals. However, the question remains: what are the goals we're talking about?
Let's be honest. Unschooling—and homeschooling in general—has more than its share of critics. Those who openly dispute the effectiveness of learning from home generally fall back on the argument that proper learning requires a set structured curriculum to teach disciplines in all major subjects—science, mathematics, language arts, and so on.
Where this argument implodes on itself is in the fact that the majority of these disciplines can be exercised over time by using hands-on life experiences. After all, if these exemplars couldn't be found in the world outside school, then why would students need to learn them?
No two days need be the same when you are unschooling, and every day should involve distinct adventures and have different goals.
That brings us to the alternative argument against unschooling, which is that ultimately only qualified teachers can teach. Such a statement is controversial for many reasons, the most apparent being that parents are tasked with teaching their kids for years before they even enter a school environment. Wherever you may stand on the issue, the fact is unschooling works for many parents all over the world.
Moreover, statistics show that most unschooled children have gone on to pursue higher education initiatives successfully, and enjoy added benefits such as:
- Healthier social lives
- Enhanced time management skills
- Stronger drive for independent thinking
- Mastery of necessary domestic skills (cooking, cleaning, etc.)
- Better financial literacy
- Increased self-awareness
So what does an unschooling curriculum entail, and how can it benefit our learners? Unschooling works by providing children with essential life skills, awarenesses, and coping mechanisms they can only get from having personal real-life experiences. This is above and beyond what is considered the standard curricular disciplines offered in structured educational environments.
What Are The Unschooling Benefits for Kids?
There's no question that parents who practice unschooling are passionate about it as an instructional pathway for their kids. The majority of parents claim what appeals to them the most is the freedom it gives their learners to become educated in the ways that are most enjoyable and relevant to them. Of course, we know from previous posts that relevance is what makes learning authentic and practical. In fact, without significance and context for our children, learning will not happen.
Jenni Mahnaz, unschooling advocate and author of the NY Homeschool Help blog, describes unschooling this way:
"Unschooling is a trust-based educational model that relies on trust in the child/learner to be naturally curious and to guide their own learning," she says. "It's the way humans learn naturally, and always have."
The keyword there is "trust". Our goal as unschooling parents is to become self-assured in the knowledge that our kids will learn what they need to in their way and at their own pace. Of course, much of this also depends on the types of learning provocations and teachable moments we use with children, which thankfully are many and diverse.
There are also many ways we can inspire healthy curiosity in our kids. As long as we keep them asking questions, model that curiosity, and give them chances to express their interest, they'll show a desire to learn.
How Kids Learn With Unschooling
One of the earliest and most effective ways children learn about themselves and the world around them is through play. Somewhere along the line in our transition from childhood to adulthood, we are conditioned to believe play is something we should outgrow and leave behind. It's time to leave this mindset in the dust and get back to healthy and active forms of play in learning, especially when you're unschooling.
Unschooling provides children with essential life skills, awarenesses, and coping mechanisms they can only get from personal real-life experiences.
In the article Why Playing Is Essential to Achieving Effective Learning, we explained the effects the relaxed atmosphere around playing has on achieving meaningful learning:
Think about your experiences growing up at home and in school. At what times did your most significant growth and progress take place? The answer is when you were at play. In such cases, you were relaxed and content and open to new ideas. Additionally, you favoured the use of imagination to take you where you needed to go.
The learning environments centred around playing offer a safe and welcoming place for kids to open up to new experiences. Unschooling parents can enhance this by engaging in play alongside their children too. Remember, you're never too old to play; it's that the type of playing changes as we get older.
Volunteering is an excellent way for unschooled children to learn about their community. Such work can involve helping neighbours, working at local businesses or shelters, clean-up projects, and more. Through such experiences, they can learn a multitude of disciplines, including:
- Business and entrepreneurial skills
- Altruism and personal responsibility
- Community awareness
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Leadership skills
- The importance of gratitude
- Communication and listening skills
- Establishing a work ethic
- Self-awareness and confidence
- Problem-solving ability
Do you remember the field trips you used to take when you were in school? It was refreshing to escape the classroom for a day and experience learning outside the school walls. There was excitement buzzing in the air, and you and your classmates couldn't wait for the learning adventures the change of scenery would provide.
Perhaps what was most exciting about a field trip is that it offered an opportunity for some potentially hands-on experiential learning in a setting outside the rigour of school. The same kind of thing can happen for learners who are unschooling with their parents, and the more it can happen, the better.
Wherever you may stand on the issue, the fact is unschooling works for many parents and children all over the world.
Field trips offer students real-world connections to learning. True, there are many virtual field trips you can take online. Nevertheless, nothing beats the real learning connections you get from touring a local business or visiting a gallery or museum. Additionally, kids can learn directly from professionals and specialists who become an integral part of the experience.
According to the Stephen Perse Foundation, the key benefits of field trips are as follows:
- On a field trip, students are more likely to retain information. Being immersed in knowledge and being involved in visual and practical experiences will help students remember, learn and understand subjects.
- Field trips will help reinforce classroom materials, bringing lessons to life. School trips allow students to visualize, experience and discuss information on a subject.
- Going on field trips offers students unique cultural learning experiences. It allows students to be involved in new environments, the key to encouraging curiosity about a given subject. It is also valuable as an exercise in broadening a student's understanding of the world and their place in it.
- Educational trips encourage the development of social, personal and study skills. It has been observed that students appear to come out of their shell on field trips, becoming creative and displaying leadership qualities.
An alarming number of students who graduate in universities and colleges lack practical basic living skills. Such skills include common knowledge like how to clean a home, how to wash and sort laundry, ironing, cooking, check the oil or tire pressure on a car, pack a lunch, write a simple note, and more.
While our kids can exhibit amazing technological and academic skills, they often lack those that help them cope as adults in the real world because the adults in their lives end up doing so much for them. Since unschooling takes on all these crucial tasks as part of the daily curriculum, kids can learn them in a multitude of engaging ways. In turn, they are better prepared for university life, and life afterwards, than those students who don't learn such skills.
Here are some simple ways to teach practical skills and school subjects at the same time:
- Turn baking bread or cooking into impromptu math, science, and chemistry lessons.
- Talk about physics and geometry while doing a building or renovation project.
- Math lessons can become part of learning how to save money or create a budget
- Take kids along on a visit to the mechanic to teach them about car care and maintenance.
- Let your kids pay for something at the till to understand how simple monetary transactions work.
- Help a neighbour and teach kids about community, friendship, social interaction, and helping others.
- Show kids how to mend or make clothing to teach them measurement and design.
- Work with your kids in the garden to show them botany skills and the importance of growing and preserving food.
- Give kids organizational and spatial awareness skills by changing up a room or cleaning out closets or cupboards.
- Let kids help organize a family vacation or retreat to learn about time management skills, budgeting, and planning
- Visiting a local farmer's market teaches kids price comparison, shopping for discounts, how to look for good products, understanding where our food comes from, and the economic importance of supporting local businesses and artisans.
Try these ideas and others from the article No Lesson Plans Needed by Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau.
Unschooling With Wabisabi
We built Wabisabi Academy with the homeschooling and unschooling crowd in mind. It's an excellent place for you to organize activities and plans, and for your learners to share their work and projects on those days they choose to learn at home. With a flexible and intuitive platform like Wabisabi on hand, you'll ease the burden of organization and time management felt by many homeschooling parents.
Kids can learn collaboratively in a virtual environment any time you aren't out with them exploring the world. They'll enjoy connecting with other global students, and you with like-minded parents who are also unschooling. Share ideas for projects and lessons with each other and become part of the community. You can learn more at wabisabiacademy.org.