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What is Unschooling?

Recently I was asked, "What is unschooling and what if I do it wrong?" I was a bit taken aback. I'm not sure if I've ever had someone ask me if they could "unschool" incorrectly. I thought about it for a minute and remembered all of the times during my own family's unschooling adventure where I questioned the validity of what we were doing. Would my children learn what they needed to know to be successful adults? Would they be able to attend college? Would they resent me for their alternative education?

What if I was doing everything wrong?!

Maybe we should start with what unschooling is. Unschooling has been described in as many ways as there are people who are doing it. Unschooling tends to be a personal journey, however, this description works for most purposes: A method of homeschooling that focuses on intuitive learning led by a child's interests and passions, rather than a set curriculum. Let's dissect that and talk about what it is and what it isn't

  • A method of homeschooling: Homeschooling is guided a child's education at home, rather than sending them to school. An adult is important in any homeschooling scenario. Unschooling is a method of homeschooling and requires adult participation.

  • Focuses on intuitive lead by a child's interests and passions: Intuitive learning vs. prescribed learning. a child is not told what to learn, but rather learns organically by following their interests and passions. My definition would include child-driven interests with parent-facilitated experiences. When my children were young, I was very "hand on" with their education. As they became older, they became more responsible for their educational pursuits. They both learned to play several instruments and they both are fluent in a second language of their own choosing.

We read together, sang together, cooked together, did chores together, played math & spelling games together, and watched educational programs on PBS together.

Unschooling, for most families, is not an excuse to let children do nothing and for the parents to remain unengaged with their children's education. There is a commitment, from both sides, to learning. The adults act as guides, while their children learn from, and about, the world around them.

Scientific studies have shown us that children learn best by being free to explore their interests, take on projects and challenges, and engage in their own education. Unschooling allows children to learn from real-life experiences instead of just from books or lectures in class. They'll gain skills by working directly with tools and materials in the real world.

Unschooling teaches kids how to learn. In traditional schools, students are taught content and tested on it- but they aren't necessarily learning how to learn (or how to think). At home, kids can tackle challenges that interests and pursue them until they master them- and then move onto somethings else! They learn how to to do research, how to problem-solve, how to work through an issue... all skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. Unschooling provides opportunities for self-directed learning.

Unschooling gives you more time with your kids! You can focus on one thing at a time instead of rushing through everything at once. Unschooling means less stress for children and parents alike. There's no pressure when it comes to grades or tests or homework assignments- instead, there's just learning through exploration and discussion!

As a parent, I've always felt that my job is to provide my children with the tools they need to live a productive life.

For me, that meant not sending them off to school every day from the age of five until they graduate from high school. I'm not going to tell you that unschooling is easy, or that it's for everyone. It requires commitment and research. I put a lot of time and effort into making sure my kids had a great education.

When I started unschooling my kids, I didn't know anything about homeschooling or unschooling- and I certainly didn't know what an impact it would have on our lives.

But here's what I do know: Unschooling changed our family in ways we never could have imagined

It gave us the freedom to explore new interests together. It gave us a sense of community with other families who were doing the same- and who supported us along the way. It allowed us to spend more time together as a family unit instead of being separated by school all day. It allowed us to live and travel on a bus! And most importantly, it gave my kids the opportunities they might have never gotten otherwise- opportunities that have shaped them into amazing human beings who are capable and confident in ways I never could have predicted!

We all got plenty of sleep and no was particularly stressed. We were a close happy family and still are. My children had a good group of friends and were prepared enough for college, with admittedly some holes in their education that were fixed with college math classes. Their education was not perfect, but parts of it were amazing.

The unschooling years were the best and most fulfilling years of my adult life, and my well-adjusted, independent, adult children say they had a magical, happy childhood.

Both of my children earned college degrees and are lifelong learners. They are some of the most interesting people I know and I have learned so much through their explorations and experiences.

They have assured me that they do not resent me for their alternative education, and love that they had the freedom to learn what they wanted, at their own pace.

So, dear reader, as long as you are committed to presenting opportunities for your children to follow their interests and you are learning together as a family, you can't go wrong!

After all, once we leave formal educational settings, don't we all become unschoolers?Learning never ends and it can't start early enough.

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