In my last post, An Unschooling Experiment, I urged anyone who’s unhappy with their present method of homeschooling to give unschooling a go.
So as we get into the new year… I’d like to say: Try unschooling. Be courageous. Try and trust, especially if your way of doing things isn’t working for you. What have you to lose?
Yes, you might not have anything to lose, but will you gain anything? Why should unschooling work when Charlotte Mason or unit studies or some other method isn’t working for you? Why would I urge you to try it?
Could unschooling work because it isn’t actually a method of homeschooling? Could it be something very different?
I know a bit about homeschooling methods because I’ve researched and tried many of them. Some of them more than once. Years ago, I got very excited about Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Could her method be the perfect way for us to homeschool, the best way to teach my children the things I thought they should know? Would it be easy and enjoyable to put into action? Or would classical homeschooling suit us better? Or perhaps unit studies? Or…?
While I was searching for the perfect homeschooling method, I pondered lots of questions, such as:
What are the basics of a good education? Are old ideas better than new ones? Are the classics important? Are some school subjects more important than others? Do kids pass through different learning stages? What books should our kids read? Should they have the ability to listen? Is memorisation important? Is narration a valuable skill? Are short lessons more effective than long ones? Is copywork a good learning tool? Perhaps making notes helps kids to pick out the main points of a particular subject? If they make impressive looking books does this help them value their knowledge? Should learning be fun? Should it be challenging?
I was always full of enthusiasm as I put a new method of homeschooling into action. I found the right resources, put the system into place, and then hoped that my kids would soon be producing impressive work, indicating that they were indeed receiving a wonderful education.
And my children did produce some impressive work. They put together interesting lapbooks and beautiful nature journals. They enjoyed hundreds of living books including many classics. They got excited by music and art. They were introduced to Shakespeare and poetry. But despite these successes, no method lasted very long. We found it hard to keep following the necessary steps. (“Do we really have to do this?”) Learning soon became a chore. And I then knew it was time for a change. Perhaps we should try another homeschooling method. Once again, I started reading and researching and thinking…
But eventually, I stopped experimenting with different homeschooling methods. I gave up trying to follow someone else’s ideas. One by one, I threw out the things that weren’t working for us: narration, memorisation, spelling lists, reading the ‘right’ books in the ‘right’ way… Instead, I started listening to my children. Gradually, our homeschooling developed into what I called ‘doing our own thing’.
“We read lots of books and follow our interests, “I’d say in a vague kind of way whenever anyone asked what method of homeschooling we were using. Of course, by that time, we weren’t actually using a method. We’d found our way to unschooling.
These days, we’re living a rich and interesting life. As a consequence of that, my children are learning. They’re learning what’s important to them, what they feel they need to know. Their education isn’t restricted to what someone else thinks is valuable. They don’t need an artificial system imposed on them in order for learning to take place. My children are learning in a natural way.
The other week, my fifteen-year-old daughter Sophie said, “My friend Emma has to finish her school work for the day before she can do all those things she’s really interested in. I’m glad we don’t have to do that. I’d never have time to do the things that are really important to me.”
Sophie’s words remind me of something I read the other day in an article called Unschooling 101 by Bridget Bentz Sider:
Unschooling advocate Sandra Dodd describes a typical “unschool” day as “the best ever Saturday … the day people dream about when they are stuck in school.”
Deciding not to use a homeschooling method might sound difficult. If you choose to unschool, you won’t have a set of steps put together by someone else to follow. Things won’t be neat and tidy. You might have to give up your ideas about what a good education looks like and how children learn. All this could be a bit scary.
But if you unschool, you might end up with a week full of the best ever Saturdays. Doesn’t that sound good?