You may be wondering, what is unschooling? For those who aren’t familiar with this form of homeschooling, it can seem like a pretty radical approach. Judging solely from the name, ‘Unschooling’ seems like a complete and utter departure from education, but it is certainly not. In fact, for some students, Unschooling could be the key that unlocks their academic abilities instead of being a hindrance the way that public schools can often do.
Unschooling is often confused with a term that sounds a lot like it: de-schooling. De-schooling is actually more like a transitional period between public school and homeschool for those students who were not originally homeschooled to start with. Instead of beginning to “do school at home,” this is a time when the parent demonstrates that the learning environment need not be restrictive and overly arduous. De-schooling can consist of visiting favorite places, playing games, or even working on life skills without having to feel guilty that you’re not in a ‘classroom’, have a set curriculum, or doing traditional schoolwork.
To understand more about the Unschooling style, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the details. Hopefully, this information will help you make an educated decision for your own family.
Why Choose Unschooling?
One of the most appealing things about the Unschooling style is that it far exceeds the boundaries of a classroom setting. The underlying idea that all children possess a natural ability to learn when given the opportunity creates a powerful learning environment in a variety of settings. No longer is the child confined to a set space in which to learn but can take that natural learning ability everywhere they go.
This type of learning takes a natural ability, along with the child’s curious nature and self-direction can help to nurture characteristics such as creativity, independence, time management, self-confidence, and even leadership abilities. But it doesn’t stop there. The heights your child can reach are limited only by where they want to go.
Unschooling can also erase many of the negative experiences that often accompany a public school education for these free-spirited young people. Fear of bad grades, for instance, can lead to a child that is socially, academically, and intellectually withdrawn. This can then lead to academic withdrawal because they will often stop trying if they feel they cannot succeed. Once you start unschooling, these traits often go away and you, as the educator, might even see a decrease in sibling rivalry as more stable familial bonds are created and nurtured.
Pros of Unschooling
In 2013, the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning carried out a study that resulted in some interesting findings. Written by Peter Gray and Gina Riley, of Psychology Today, here is an excerpt from their release, which you can find HERE.
"Unschooling families (families that don’t send their children to school and don’t school them at home) were invited to participate in a survey about their unschooling practices. Two hundred and thirty-two [SIC] self-identified unschooling families, with at least one child over five years old, completed and returned the questionnaire. Qualitative analyses revealed considerable variability in the routes to unschooling and in the ways in which the parents saw themselves as involved in their children’s education. The biggest challenge expressed was that of overcoming feelings of criticism, or social pressure, that came from others who disapproved and from their own culturally ingrained, habitual ways of thinking about education. The reported benefits of unschooling were numerous; they included improved learning, better attitudes about learning, and improved psychological and social wellbeing for the children; and increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family." (Gray, Peter, and Gina Riley. “The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen That Route 1.” Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, vol. 7, 2013, jual.nipissingu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2014/06/v72141.pdf.)
It seems that many families who attempt the Unschooling style of homeschooling often have good things to say about it and the effects it has on their children and families. But there are lots of other advantages to the endeavor as well.
Unschooling can often highlight the fact that many otherwise beneficial opportunities can sometimes be set aside to make sure “book learning” is completed. The idea of the public-school environment is one that is so ingrained that to think of another option can seem ridiculous. However, it’s often far better to embrace learning opportunities that may not look exactly like the “accepted status quo.”
What one family experiences as a “pro” or “advantage” of Unschooling may differ from your own. You’re likely to see the child-led learning experience give way to amazing devotion to learning in general. The truth is, learning can happen anywhere, from the sandbox to the public library, and everywhere in between. Some advantages may not even have been uncovered yet, so enjoy your journey to finding out what they are for your own child.
Cons of Unschooling
Given the lack of very many cons for this method of homeschooling, I almost left this section out. At the same time, if we are truly going to give you a balanced understanding surrounding the Unschooling style, we cannot leave out anything that might be considered pertinent information.
Some unschooled children can appear socially isolated. While this is a common stigma for all homeschooled children, it doesn’t mean that all homeschooled children are socially isolated. In fact, the prevalence of bullying in our public schools shows, with resounding accuracy, that those in public school can struggle as much - and sometimes more - than those who are homeschooled. Still, even those who admit to having a hard time finding compatible friends while being homeschooled usually go on to unschool their own children as well.
Another negative of the Unschooling method that I have heard is that it can lead to Radical Unschooling. Radical Unschooling isn’t always a bad thing, but it can certainly turn into that if certain boundaries are not set up by parents in the very beginning. Radical Unschooling is a style in which parents allow their children to direct almost everything, not only about their own education but about their personal lives as well. If things get out of hand, children can often become wild and untamed, given too much free reign with their daily endeavors.
Is Unschooling Right For Our Family?
Deciding whether Unschooling is right for your child and your family is a very personal decision. You will have to consider all the aspects that will have a direct impact on the academic process you’re going to put in place. For instance, if your child is extremely curious, enjoys exploring and learning new things, likes to take things at their own pace, and often plays the game of asking endless questions, Unschooling could very well be the style that will work best.
On the contrary, if your child is excessively introverted or shy, if they do not like to take chances in order to gather information, or if they have special needs, Unschooling may actually work to their detriment, as well as your own.
The truth is, some children absolutely thrive in environments where they are led and directed. Given a palpable path, they excel on that path. Left to seek out their own path, they often feel completely lost. My son, who has high-functioning autism, was this kind of child. On the contrary, my daughter thrived in the Unschooling style, finding ways to learn things using her natural curiosity, even I didn’t know about yet.
You know how your children learn better than anyone else. After considering the entirety of the Unschooling philosophy, I’m sure you’ll make the best determination for your child’s success.
What Is the Best Unschooling Curriculum?
There is no particular curriculum geared specifically towards the Unschooling style. “Unschool curriculum” might even be considered an oxymoron, given the details we’ve learned so far. In fact, many parents are completely opposed to any curriculum at all. Those who meet in the middle on this style often utilize certain resources for subjects they really want their children to grasp firmly. This is especially the case with hard sciences, e.g. math.
For much of my own daughter’s education, I gathered resources from a wide variety of places, including thrift shops and the Kindle Library, where I found all the McGuffey readers. In reality, you should try to actually PUT YOUR HANDS ON as many different resources as you possibly can, just to find out everything that’s available to you. I cannot stress enough, the importance of seeing for yourself how these teaching aids will work for you. Because, I assure you, just because it looks appealing at first glance doesn’t mean that it is going to be up to par in practice.
For some ideas on the types of curriculum options you’ll have, check out a few of these resources:
Sometimes, the best resource for the homeschool family and especially unschoolers in the world as a whole. The great outdoors, parks, libraries, places of worship, and social events all provide immeasurable ways for children to learn, sometimes those are the best lesson plans. Many times, this leads to lots of real-world experience. Still, there are times when something with a bit more structure can be beneficial. For instance, if your child comes to you with a question you can’t answer, where will you go to find that answer? As tempting as it is to simply say, “Google it,” let’s try not to do that.
Instead, let’s look at some options that can really open up a new chapter in learning.
- Typing programs for computers and other devices
- Khan Academy (a great source for FREE online lessons)
- Local programs such as 4-H, Scouts, Church Camps, and volunteer opportunities
- Computer programming
- Local Public Library
- Pinterest Boards (let your child create their own Pinterest board on your account, adding things of their own interest)
- Cultural Festivals
- DIY Crafting
- Swimming, gymnastics, or other lessons
- Local Sports (NOT affiliated with the public school)
- The Zoo
This is a very minimal list, but it should give you a good place to start when looking for a broad spectrum of learning resources.
Unschooling Groups and Co-ops
Groups are special resources you can make contact with, either through a local gathering, social media, or email list, that give you extra assistance and encouragement. They can keep you abreast of any local or nearby activities, form social gatherings and play dates, and they may even form special homeschool field trips.
Co-ops are a special kind of homeschool group where families gather based on specific interests or goals. These goals can be related to social activities, volunteer programs, educational goals, arts and crafts, or any combination of these and more. The activities that the families take part in are often led by one of the co-op parents, or a nominal fee might cover a specially trained leader or teacher.
It might seem like groups and co-ops are the same thing, but there are a few key differences. A group usually has a wider general purpose and a larger attendance, whereas co-ops tend to focus on just one or two activities or purposes. Even smaller than a co-op is a club, which focuses on one single interest. Leadership, costs, and other aspects of group management also vary, as do meeting places.
To find a good homeschool group or co-op in your area, you can ask around, search the internet and social media for your specific location, or attend one of our Great Homeschool Conventions and inquire in person while you’re there.
Special Considerations Before Choosing the Unschooling Style
While Unschooling is a legal homeschooling style across America, you should still learn all that you can concerning your local and state laws. Some states require much more reporting than others, and some require test scores, progress reports, and more. Although Unschooling is certainly your legal right, you should spend some time getting familiar with how records are kept for a relaxed style such as this one. It’s not impossible, but it can take some creativity.
To find out what the laws are in your own home state, please check out this resource on “Homeschool Laws in Your State” on the HSLDA website. There, you’ll find information for every state, with territories and D.C, included as well.
If you’re in the military and you’d like to begin homeschooling, there might be special considerations based on your specific situation. To find out more about that, check out this resource entitled, “Military Homeschooling Overseas.”
I hope this post has helped you understand a bit more about the Unschooling homeschool style. If you’re still wondering about a curriculum, or if you have any questions, please join us for one of our Great Homeschool Conventions.
We have dozens of speakers, hundreds of exhibitors, special events, and discounted hotels. You will actually get to examine all of the curriculum and resources that are represented and there will be plenty in attendance who can help answer any questions you might have. You don’t want to miss it!
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