Whenever I mention unschooling people ask me how it is different from regular homeschooling. It occurred to me I’d never written a ‘what is unschooling’ post before. So here we are!
A life without school. Pretty simply unschooling means not sending your kids to school, and not creating a school-at-home environment either. Unschooling is a complete rejection of the concept of traditional schooling.
Not equating education with curriculum. Unschoolers don’t use a curriculum. Education is not a step by step linear process, and a one-size-fits-all curriculum is not what unschooling is about. Children learn whatever they are interested in! They’re also free to not learn about things they have no interest in.
Letting children control their own education. One of the most controversial points of unschooling is that children themselves are the ones in charge of their own education. Most people think that kids are not capable of this. That we must put them in schools and tell them what they need to know. Unschoolers believe that children should be the ones leading the way in their own education and that they are very capable of doing this. We believe it is their right to be able to choose what interests them and how they will learn about it. Learning is always consensual. There is never any forced learning!
Trusting children will learn all they need to know. We believe that children will learn all that they need to know for their own life. We trust that children will learn when they are ready and interested, even if that means on a different timeline to schooled children. We don’t worry if they’re not interested in learning to read at age 5 for example. Eventually, when they are motivated and it is important to them, they will want to learn to read, and they will most likely teach themselves.
Extended to other areas of life. When you start unschooling and you start to trust children more and more, don’t be surprised if this trust seeps into other areas of your life too. When you see how truly capable kids are, you are given a new perspective. You know that they deserve to be respected and given the opportunity to make their own choices. Unschoolers parent respectfully, not using punishments and rewards. Unschooled kids are in control of their own lives, with guidance and support from parents. They pick their own bedtimes, choose what and when they eat, choose their own clothes, etc.
Prioritising Relationships. Unschoolers value family and relationships over the demands of society. Having ample time together, deepening connections, and spending their childhood with them are equally important parts of this journey as the educational aspect. Unschooling is a lifestyle choice.
Learning from life. Many sources and many people. Unschoolers learn from the world around them! Parents provide lots of opportunities and resources for kids to learn in a hands on and real world way. We give them many many experiences so that they have a chance to find what interests them. We support and guide them with whatever they need to do. We involve others in the community, extended family members, and even take classes sometimes, learning from lots of different inspiring people.
Amazing. The thing I love most about unschooling is the freedom. We are not tied to school schedules. We can follow our own pace of life and really truly get to know each other and enjoy each others company. Children can spend their childhood playing, as they should be able to do.
Unschooling is not…
Unparenting. When people first hear of unschooling they might think it sounds like parents doing not much at all and leaving the kids to ‘run amok’. Not so! Parents are always there helping, guiding, listening, and involved. There are also boundaries and limits, it’s just that they are not enforced in an authoritarian manner. We work as a team! Unschooling parents are incredibly involved and proactive. Because we’re not relying on a set curriculum we really have to be present and attentive, picking up on what our children are learning and how best to support them with that.
Compatible with school. Generally, unschooling is not compatible with school, being that the name itself means the opposite of school! You can’t unschool on the weekends for example, just as if you work you aren’t unemployed on the weekends. You can support natural learning on the weekends! And that’s fabulous and I hope lots of parents are doing that! But I wouldn’t call it unschooling.
Only for some subjects. You also can’t really teach some subjects like Literacy and Maths in a traditional matter, and then unschool the rest. I mean you can obviously, but that’s not representative of what unschooling is about. Unschoolers trust that their children will learn everything they need to, this includes all subjects. If you teach them some and then let them learn others at their own pace then you risk sending the message that you don’t really trust them and the learning process. This obviously doesn’t align with the idea of unschooling. We also don’t value one subject or skill more highly than another. Whatever a child chooses to pursue is important.
Standardised tests. If a child learns something and no one is there to administer a standardised test, did it really happen? Unschoolers would say yes! School gives the impression that no, it didn’t. School requires children to prove their learning (or memorisation at least) before they are allowed to move on the further learning. Unschoolers don’t need tests to know that children are learning. They are closely involved so they see a lot of it, and they trust children to learn what they need. We don’t learn in order to meet the requirements of other people. There is no jumping through hoops or asking our children to prove their learning constantly. We are even happy for them to keep some of their learning private if they wish.
Socially isolating. All the unschooled kids I know have lots of friends! We see them all the time and there are SO many events on for home educated kids in our area. We could attend something every day if we wanted to. Unschooled kids socialise just fine.
I hope that gives you an understanding of what Unschooling is! It’s not a club with exclusive rules or anything and no one’s trying to make people fit the requirements to join (obviously, we don’t force people, ha!), but those are the general ideas that people who unschool follow. And that’s what we do! It’s fabulous, and freeing, and amazing!
If you’d like to read more about unschooling, you can find my favourite resources here.