My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling

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Last week, I wrote a post entitled Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling? Today I received a comment that expresses a common sentiment about unschooling, and to be honest, was a concern I had about it, as well. The basic premise is that sometimes in the world people have to do things they don’t like, and everything about unschooling is all fun and games, so how are they going to learn how to do things they don’t want to do? Another fear expressed was that unschoolers will potentially not acquire enough knowledge in life to truly succeed. These are both valid concerns, and as I stated before, I felt a little anxious about the same things, until I actually started unschooling. Seeing this method of learning in action has completely changed my point of view, so I thought it was important to address this issue now.

Here is my response to this comment:

I agree. This is one of the things that took me so long to finally make the unschooling decision. To clarify things, I’m not a radical unschooler. There are things that my children have to do everyday, even if they don’t like it. Chores, math (although I did just purchase a, hopefully, more interesting math curriculum), not all of my kids enjoy reading, but it’s important that they do it.

And as for high school- that’s a little more structured, but it still centers around their interests. For example, my daughter will be in 10th grade next year. She loves the show Sherlock, so we’ve designed most of next year’s curriculum around the subject of private investigation. Does that mean that she’ll sit around everyday doing nothing but watching the show? Absolutely not. While that show and others will add to her learning in the area, that’s not where it ends. She’ll also be taking Psychology, Logic, Kinesics (The science of body language, especially microfacial expressions), she’ll be reading the classic Sherlock Holmes books and will probably do some creative writing in the same genre. A deacon at my church is a PI, so she’ll have a go-to person for any questions. Now she’ll also be taking astronomy- not that that has anything to do with this subject- because she loves it, and I found a wonderful book for her to use which can be used as a supplement. This book teaches astronomy through art, combining 2 of her favorite subjects. Her main book for astronomy was specifically chosen because it doesn’t include the math so often in astronomy textbooks. She has no aspirations of being an astronomer, so why dampen her love for it with math that she’ll never use? Also straying from the curriculum is advanced algebra, which she is taking next year because she wants to go to college. I found a great curriculum that she’ll hopefully like. And, honestly, math is her least favorite subject, but she applies herself and is taking higher math courses because of college. Lastly, she’s also chosen to complete a Language Arts curriculum, as well, which really isn’t necessary considering the amount of time she’ll be spending reading and writing.

Unschooling isn’t just about sitting around, playing all the time- especially as they get older. As the kids grow, they realize that there are certain things they’re going to have to do to reach a certain goal, and they do them. Unschooling is about taking what they love and expanding it so that a whole other world of possibilities awaits.

Does this clarify things at all? What do you think?

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Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ever wondered just what those unschoolers do all day? Sleeping in late, watching TV, playing a computer game and then counting it as a school day? Apparently, this is the view many people take on this method of homeschooling. But is that all there is to it?

While all of these activities do take place at our house (okay, I don’t get to sleep in :(), this is not an accurate picture of what we do. Today I’m going to discuss exactly that.

Firstly, the role of an unschooling mom is different than that of a school-at-home mom. Neither one is more important or involved than the other. They are just different. Instead of acting as a teacher as a more traditional homeschool mom, my role is as a facilitator. I am there to answer questions, provide a stimulating environment, and introduce, but not force, new concepts.

Another misconception about unschooling is that the parent has absolutely no involvement in the child’s learning activities. I don’t know about other families, but in our home this couldn’t be further from the truth! Are there things that I think my children would benefit from learning? Absolutely. But I am not going to compromise my children’s love of learning by making them do anything.

Speaking from my own high school experience, I can tell you that I really don’t remember anything from the required subjects that I had no interest in. Was I a lousy student? Actually, I was quite the opposite. I was a gifted/advanced placement student who graduated in the top 10% of my class. So obviously, I did learn lots of things…but after exams were over, it was like I opened a valve in my brain and let out all the information that I deemed as unnecessary. I have, however, retained all of the useful information from the classes I chose to be in.

This is exactly why I’m approaching my children’s education differently. As I mentioned before, while there are things I’d like to introduce to my kids, I will not force anything on them. So how do I do it? There are two methods I use that seem to work nicely.

– Strewing. Everyday I set different books and activities around the house that I think may interest my children. Today, I pulled out Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records books and laid them on the table. I also pulled out some paper and giant coloring books. Did everything get used today? No, but that’s okay. They have seen it and know that we have it. Oftentimes they will go looking for it at a future time.

Today was a great example of that. My kids kept themselves busy all day with items I had strewn last week even though they had no interest in them when I laid them out. Dillon spent two hours putting together a WoW lego set, Luke and Ireland played with clay for a long time, and Bailey spent quite a bit of time drawing, coloring, and then cutting out animals. Arianna painted for a while, and Caollin and London used some stuffed animals to play “crane machine.” (Their latest obsession since Daddy won them all animals out of a crane machine at Denny’s Diner last Saturday) Just because you introduce something to a child does not mean they’re going to be interested. Be patient. They’ll learn about it when they’re ready.

Another way I engage my children is…

– Family read-aloud time. I am very intentional about the books I choose to read to everyone. If there is a concept or a time period I think they would enjoy, I’ll look for a corresponding book. Over the summer we read Little House in the Big Woods. I can’t even begin to tell you about the flurry of activity that that started. I would find my kids outside everyday playing Little House. They dressed in pioneerish clothing, made their own “little house” with pieces of wood we had lying around the yard, and I could hear them discussing things like churning butter and making salt pork. They were interested, so they learned! We just finished Little House on the Prairie, which also brought some wonderful rabbit trails to our home. Today I started reading The Odyssey to them. I can’t wait to see what springs from this because we all love Greek mythology.

Hopefully, I’ve put to rest the idea that unschoolers, particularly unschooling parents, are lazy and uninvolved. We are just as involved and passionate about learning as other moms. We just do it in a different way.

How do you introduce new concepts to your children?

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