Unschooling what it is and Isn’t

We all know what schooling is. We know what it looks like regardless of whether it is done at school or at home. The children involved hunch over a worksheet, furrowing their brows as they work at problems. The worksheets are assigned and the children have to complete them on schedule.

Unschooling, then, doesn’t look like this. It doesn’t imitate conventional schooling. It doesn’t imitate anything. It happens in the course of everyday living with no arbitrary separation between the two activities. The children involved don’t go to school and they don’t do school at home. They move through their day doing whatever it is they do. What that is varies from family to family.

Some unschooling families enjoy worksheets. Mine does. Some enjoy gardening, farming, housework, reading books, watching videos, joining clubs, and attending classes.

Unschooling families may share in many of the same activities as schooled and schooled-at-home kids, but they don’t strictly adhere to a curriculum, unless they want to. Unschoolers use the world as their classroom, as they saying goes. They learn what they want in whatever way appeals to them.

As Howard Gardener pointed out with his “seven intelligences,” we don’t all learn in the same way. Unschooling kids have the freedom to try ways besides the linguistic and logical. Math, for example, can be learned through music, baking, gardening, shopping, building. We don’t need textbooks and worksheets. Math, afterall, exists in the real world. Why else would we need to learn it?

The unschooling approach to home education-or education pursued wherever an unschooler happens to purse it-is not a new approach to learning. Rather, it’s the way we learn naturally when left to follow our personal interests. It’s also the way most people learned before modern compulsory schooling. Unschooling is not a method, as you will learn, but rather a flexible approach that serves individual families and individual children.

The unschooling approach acknowledges that 1) we learn all the time, 2) all learning is important, and 3) learning occurs within the learner.

Unschoolers believe that learning cannot be caused to occur or prevented from occurring, but that a child’s natural curiosity and love of learning can be inhibited through the use of coercion.

The differences between unschooling and other approaches to home education are most notable not in practice but in philosophy. Unschooling is a frame of mind, a way of seeing the world and of being in the world. Unschooling prompts us to question the true best interests of our children and ourselves and to question our true natures. It encourages us to be respectful and mindful in all things.