The Unschool Experiment

Wow. It’s been about two years since I wrote my last post, and looking back, all I can think is, “My! How times have changed!” If you’re familiar with this blog, you will probably remember that the vast majority of my posts dealt with my concepts about unschooling and how we were integrating it into our lives. That time of my life is something that I now refer to as “The Unschool Experiment.”

A fair amount of time has passed since then, and my views on this homeschooling method have changed a bit. But first…let me tell you a little story.

John Holt, considered to be the Father of Unschooling is, by far, one of my favorite authors, and I find his ideas about the education of children to be altogether inspiring and quite beautiful. I discovered his books during a period in my life when I was experiencing some homeschool burnout and was looking for a more peaceful way for my children to learn at home.

Holt is a firm believer in a child’s natural ability to learn on their own, especially if they are freed from the trappings of conventional schooling. If a baby is able to learn to crawl, walk, and talk without any formal lessons, then it is only plausible that, if given the opportunity, a child can learn anything they value and deem necessary without any sort of outside coercion.

It was with these ideas in my head that I set out for us to become an unschooling family. Looking back, the first year of our “unschooling” endeavor was actually a bit more like relaxed homeschooling. We had some routines I was unwilling to let go of, such as family read-alouds, silent reading, and formal math curriculum. (Okay. Life of Fred. Not very formal but certainly more formal than most unschoolers would approve of.) Regardless, we were certainly doing less assigned work than we did in the past and much less than most other homeschoolers we knew, so, to me, we were unschoolers.

Eventually, I began to immerse myself in books and blogs about radical unschooling. As a Christian, some of their principles were quite alien and shocking to me, but I slowly began to fall for the blissful writings of these authors and figured that maybe if I let go of any structure at all, we would have this amazing, peaceful life where my children would be happily doing science experiments, reading great literature, and writing novels without any prompting from me.

At first, my children were elated. You mean we don’t even have to do math or listen to you read? Nope. Not even that.

I spent months waiting expectantly for my children to surprise me with ingenious inventions and innovative entrepreneurial ideas. It didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong. There were certainly moments when one of my kids would astonish me with something particularly unexpected, such as when my daughter built a working candy machine out of Legos. But these moments were few and far between. A very large amount of time was being spent on nothing more than watching YouTube videos and bickering over whose turn it was on the phone.

I tried to be patient and kept repeating to myself, Just say yes more! Maybe they needed to deschool some more, or maybe I was failing to see the value in what they were doing.
It may have been either of these things, but once family relationships started suffering and our house turned into complete chaos, I finally gave in and admitted to myself that this just wasn’t working. This “blissful path” I set my hopes on was not what our family needed, and it was far from blissful.

I am not going to go so far as to say that unschooling never works. I’m sure it does for many people, but it clearly does not work for everyone.

Our family needs the structure that accompanies our homeschooling days. We need to know what is going to happen when, and it is such an advantage to have activities planned to keep my kids busy for a couple hours a day.

I am no longer the rigid homeschool mom I once was, but I’m also not willing to let my kids have total sovereignty over their education.

Right now I am in the middle of writing a book on the practicalities of homeschooling, and I would like to share this thought I expressed in it with you today:

“There has to be a point that a parent will concede that this method just may not work for their child. As parents, educating our own children is not only a right but a privilege, and we must see to it that we are holding up our end of the bargain.”

And think about it…do our kids deserve anything less?


Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

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