My family started our unschooling journey 6 years ago when we decided not to put our first born child into Kindergarten. We made the decision without a deep understanding of homeschooling. We wanted to travel with our children and homeschooling seemed to be the right thing to do to support this lifestyle.
Since that fateful decision to keep our children out of public school, we have developed a strong philosophy in regards to home education and how children learn. We believe that children are born curious and that if that curiosity is nurtured, it will continue.
What is Unschooling? Unschooling can mean different things to different people. What unschooling means to me is simply educating my children without the use of curriculum or coercion.
Here are 10 things that I have learned as an unschooling parent:
- Trust in your philosophy. Your philosophy will be challenged. Frequently. It is hard not to get caught up in other peoples’ expectations of what learning should look like. When people you love and care about cannot see value in how you choose to educate, it can become really hard to not succumb to the ridicule. You must be strong in your beliefs.
- Trust in yourself. Just as others will question you, you will question yourself. I have not yet had a year go by where I don’t have at least one breakdown where I wonder if I am doing my children a disservice by not making them learn what they “should” be learning. There will always be doubts. Feel those doubts and then move through them. Question yourself and then find your answers. Know that it is normal to doubt yourself but also recognize the beauty of the world you are creating for your children.
- Notice Learning. One of the things that has helped me immensely in my self-doubting moments is to notice when learning is actually happening. This noticing started when I was with a Distributed Learning Program called Self Design . Each week I would choose two or three things that my children were learning about and write about what I saw. The process was very similar to journaling and it allowed me to see that learning happens all the time. Playing Pokemon is learning, reading a book as a family is learning, noticing the ecosystem in a pond is learning. This journaling helped to set the stage to becoming more aware of all the different ways children can learn from the life that surrounds them.
- Find Community. If we did not have the love and support from our homeschooling community I don’t know if we would have made it this far. Surrounding yourself with people who are on a similar journey becomes even more important when you are making unconventional choices. Our family spends time with the other families in our community 3-4 days a week when we are not traveling. My children see the same friends consistently and have deep-rooted, meaningful relationships with children of all ages.
- If you can’t find community, make one. If there is not a community of homeschoolers or unschoolers in your area then make one! You will never find your tribe if you do not make an effort. Start a facebook group, start a homeschooling co-op, organize homeschooler get-togethers, throw a party, do something that will gather your tribe and stick with it. Developing community takes time and commitment but the satisfaction of belonging to a tribe is worth every effort.
- Learning doesn’t happen on a schedule. While the school system wants every child reading by six years old, ask any unschooler when a child should be reading and they will tell you, “When they are ready!” I am living this truth right now. We have always provided a home rich in literacy. We read to our children, have books on hand, answer their questions, have the alphabet up on the wall, but we have never forced reading with a curriculum. For our family, this has meant that our ten-year-old has just become what I would call a “fluent reader” and our nine-year-old is just starting to be able to read simple books.
- It’s OK if they don’t learn everything. This is a hard one to swallow. Most people can kind of, maybe, sort of, wrap their heads around unschooling for some subjects but I always get the question, “What about math?” Well, what do they need to know? Personally, I think that we should all know adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. We should understand fractions and decimals. Math concepts are important but once we have the concept do we need to do worksheet after worksheet? Frankly, I remember none of the math I took past elementary school. Granted, I do not work in a math-related field, but I do trust that if my children need a math skill there is nothing stopping them from obtaining it. We treat math like we treat the rest of our learning, it will happen naturally. Does this mean we have never practiced math? Not at all! Life is full of math! When my children started their own business this year selling pop at our local market we learned long addition and subtraction, profit and loss, as well as the percentage of tax.
- Unschooling is a lot of hard work. I think there is a confusion when it comes to unschooling that unschoolers do nothing all day other than play Minecraft (although some days do look like that!). Unschooling is actually a lot of work! Unschoolers are using all the means at their disposal from libraries, to community classes, to art galleries, to museums, to local mentors. Unschoolers are using their communities as their classrooms. Unschooling parents are watching and listening to their children, and when we see a spark of interest we are there to help facilitate that learning by helping with finding books, classes, YouTube videos, and mentors to help our children to pursue their interests.
- Children are curious. There comes a point in public school where enthusiastic curiosity starts to wane. This does not happen to unschoolers in my experience. Humans are curious creatures and, if given the tools and resources, they will continue to learn about things that interest them.
- It takes a village. Community, friends, family, loved ones, and mentors all have a part to play in educating our children. As unschooling parents, we need to draw on the people that surround us for support and mentorships to our children. We can all learn from each other.