Do you find yourself pondering the notion of disposing of all curriculum and simply allowing your children to learn from what life throws at them? Are you intrigued by fairy tale-like stories you read about families who live as if school didn’t exist?
Although I haven’t considered myself an unschooler for quite some time now, I still find myself drawn to writing about it from time to time. Despite the fact that I am now a bit more structured, I’m still very passionate about what I learned from this experience- the good and the bad.
Unschooling has in so many ways opened the doors to a new world of learning for us- a world free from the schoolish mindsets that so many of us grew up with and tend to not even question.
On the other hand, living in this world for a couple of years also made me realize that there are some important principles to keep in mind when making the decision to immerse your family in this style of learning.
It is this aspect that I choose to address today.
8 Things Worth Considering About Unschooling
#1- Your child’s needs are more important than the “unschooling” label.
Unschooling is meant to be about freedom. It’s about giving your children the space to pursue their own interests without imposing overly coercive learning methods on them. That’s it. There are some people in this circle who are exceedingly purist in their thoughts. They are militantly against anything that resembles school and will not hesitate to call you on it. More than once I was made to feel like I was failing as an unschooling mom because we sometimes added a little structure to our days. After many months of feeling woefully inadequate, I finally became aware of this one thing:
My children’s needs were more important than our status as unschoolers.
Do not let anyone tell you how to unschool. That completely defeats the purpose. While frowning upon using any sort of coercion on children, there are some unschooling parents who will attempt to coerce you into doing things their way. Don’t do it.
#2- Children need limits. Remember that you are the parent.
It is common among some unschooling parents to extend this freedom beyond education and to give their children autonomy over everything they do. It is one thing to give self-directed learning a shot. It is quite another to say that you will not discourage your kids from trying drugs because it is their choice (someone actually said that) and that you would rather have your children’s teeth decay than have to force them to brush their teeth and make them unhappy (someone said that, too).
Freedom to follow interests is an outstanding path to learning. However, children are just that- children, and they need boundaries to be set in place by people who love them.
Speaking from experience, I urge you to keep the unschooling ideals within the confines of a homeschooling method. God made us parents for a reason.
#3- It is possible to go overboard.
As with the purists I spoke of in #1, there are some people who are so desperate to keep the label “unschooler” that logic seems to fly out the window. Sometimes a child may need help with learning something. While I don’t like to follow government-issued developmental charts because I think they’re ridiculous, there has to be a point when you are willing to concede that there might be a problem. If you are having to make up false diagnoses to explain to your adolescent’s coach why your son doesn’t know how to write, that should raise a red flag. I do have to admit that when something similar to that was brought up in a group I was in, even the uber-unschoolers were shocked.
Use your common sense. Let your kids develop at their own pace, but use some discretion. If you feel there may be an issue with one of your kids, work with them. If that doesn’t help, contact a specialist. I promise you that no unschool police will come knocking at your door. Your child’s well-being has to come first.
#4- Children need to learn responsibility.
I know that assigning chores is frowned upon in many unschooling circles, but this is truly a disservice to not only the parent who ends up doing everything, but also to the kids who grow up believing that making a contribution to the family is unimportant. Someday, these kids will be adults, too. It certainly won’t go well for them if they don’t even know how to run the washing machine. Life skills are crucial to growing up. Give your kids a head start by showing them from an early age how to run and maintain a household.
#5- Some children do need a push.
One of the most common sentiments in homeschooling is that children are unique. There are some children who are natural go-getters. They’re up at the crack of dawn to begin their day doing a myriad of activities. Think of Rapunzel in the beginning of Tangled.
Then there are children who would be perfectly happy playing video games and watching TV day after day after day. I’m not putting down either of these pastimes. My kids also enjoy doing these things. But…contrary to what you may read, not all kids self-regulate. This ties in with #2: Children need limits (and sometimes a push!) 🙂 It’s okay to tell your kids to take a break from the games. It may take awhile, but they will find other things to do!
#6- Your children need to be aware that the world does not revolve around them.
I know that “child-centeredness” is a big thing right now, both in unschooling and public school circles alike, but this lifestyle is really misguided. The world doesn’t revolve around any one person, and your kids need to know that. If your child doesn’t want to attend a party with you, please don’t stay home because you can’t find a babysitter! Make him go with you. Just because your child “feels like” running wild around the store, explain to her that this is not the place to do that. You are not doing your children any favors if you never teach them appropriate behavior.
#7- Some kids do not do well with unschooling because they need more structure.
My kids are great examples of that. During that time of our lives, since they had so much free time, my children spent much of it bickering and complaining that there was nothing to do. I knew it was time to add more order to our homeschool day when my youngest son came up and asked me when they were going to start “doing school” again because they missed it, which leads me to…
#8- If you end up choosing a different path, you haven’t failed your children.
You have not been defeated. You have not let anyone down. The beauty of homeschooling is doing what fits your family, and no one can know that better than you!
All things considered, I still look back on our unschooling years with fondness. So many truths about how children learn were revealed to me during that time, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. If I could give one piece of advice to someone looking into unschooling, it would be this:
Think of it as a beautiful approach to learning, but practice discernment in giving your children the guidance that all kids need and subconsciously long for.
If you’re interested in pursuing this educational path, here are some great resources to give you insight into the learning aspect without “going too far.”