Approaching Unschooling From Different Directions


My Unschooling Book Series (13)

Today, I’m sharing a few thoughts about starting unschooling which I hope to expand and polish up.

I know a lot of parents research unschooling before deciding that they’re going to give it a go with their families. Do they announce this intention to their children? “We’re going to unschool. This means you can follow your interests. You can learn about anything you want.”

And I wonder what happens. Do the children eagerly make lists of things they’d like to learn about? Or do they look blankly at their parents as if they have no idea what they’d like to do? If children don’t seem excited, are their parents disappointed? Will they think unschooling won’t work, at least not for their kids?

Perhaps children need time to adjust to a new way of doing things. After being told what to learn and how to learn it, it might be hard at first for kids to be in control. Maybe they need guidance. Parents might have to show them some of the possibilities. Make some suggestions. Strew some learning experiences in front of them. Will parents also need to get excited and be a good example of learning themselves?

Even though parents might be impatient for their children to grab the reins of their education and start doing ‘amazing’ things, maybe the goal of the early weeks of unschooling is to improve family relationships. If parents are contemplating unschooling it could be because homeschooling hasn’t been working. Relationships might be strained. Perhaps families need time together, just enjoying each other. They could do such things as watch a few movies, read some books, go on outings and picnics, relax and talk about anything and everything. Just be a family without any pressure or expectations. Once relationships are repaired, trust can begin to grow between children and parents….

… We never made a conscious decision to unschool. Unlike some parents, I didn’t announce we were going to try unschooling. We arrived at unschooling and didn’t even realise it for quite some time. So how did we get here? I knew we weren’t happy with the way we were homeschooling, so I started making changes. I threw out all the things that weren’t working for us, one by one. For example, I stopped making my children produce work that they weren’t interested in but would impress the homeschool registration visitor. I started listening to my kids rather than to (unimportant) people from outside the family. Eventually, we reached a place that felt just right for us. We lived life ‘doing our own thing’ which, I found out later, was actually unschooling. Making changes in a gradual way meant that we had lots of time to adjust. And because I wasn’t thinking about unschooling, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing: “If we’re going to unschool, we’ll have to do this… and that…” There was no danger we were going to fail.

It seems to me that there are at least two different approaches to beginning unschooling. We could try and fit our family into the unschooling framework: We’re going to try unschooling. And so this is what we have to do. Or we could do the opposite: Start with the family and eliminate, over a period of time, everything that’s preventing us from living a close, happy, and productive life together. Stop doing all the things that are causing conflict and getting in the way of us becoming the people we are meant to be. By doing this, we will probably arrive at unschooling in a natural way.

Of course, we arrived at unschooling because we made changes in our lives which were in line with the principles of unschooling. By observing our kids, and thinking carefully about what was important and what we wanted for our family, we’d worked these principles out for ourselves. If we hadn’t initially rejected the idea of unschooling, we might have done more research in order to understand it better, and then we might have followed the same path, making changes one by one as we became more comfortable and confident with the idea of unschooling. The end result would have been the same. Perhaps this is exactly what some families do.

If we take the gradual approach, do we have more chance of arriving at the place which is most appropriate for us?

So how did you arrive at unschooling? Did you dive in with both feet? Or did you take a gradual approach? Maybe you’re still letting go of old ideas as you become more comfortable with new ones? Perhaps the perfect way to start unschooling is the one that works for our family. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we get here, as long as we arrive!

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  1. Reply

    We took the gradual approach also. It started with allowing my children to skip certain lessons in their workbooks. We started doing more of what interested the kids and more projects. I was tired and having a hard time during my pregnancy(expecting my 6th) so we just enjoyed the projects instead of having a school style worksheet or writing assignment tied to them. We ran into some trouble with screen time. I think the best for us right now is no screen time until 2pm. I have lots of exceptions but we were having trouble with mindless games and a little too much Minecraft. It’s given the kids a chance to develop other interests.

    1. Reply


      Yes, sometimes it’s the circumstances around us which prompt us to make changes. I also reassessed what we were doing when we had babies in the family. Screen time is a tricky topic. Perhaps we have to do what we feel most comfortable with even if it’s not strictly unschooling. Times and children change and so do our thoughts and ideas. I guess the most important thing is to keep assessing what we’re doing to make sure our kids’ changing needs are always being met.

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