I’ve made minor changes to the original words so that my points are easier to understand – I never say things in a video or podcast as well as I’d like! – and to make the spoken words flow better as written ones.
Being a perfectionist, I’m tempted to rewrite everything. (Perhaps, three years after making the video, I could find a better way to explain what unschooling is.) But I’m not going to do that. I just hope some of my original words are still helpful!
What is Unschooling? May 23, 2014
Today I’d like to talk about what unschooling is.
Unschooling looks different in different families. We’ve been homeschooling since 1992, and, when we set out all those years ago with our eldest daughter Felicity, we were surrounded by unschoolers. I don’t know how that happened. It was at a time when the John Holt magazine newsletter was still being printed.
We actually went to an unschooling camp for three days when Felicity was about six years old and we saw unschooling in action. But even though we did that, I really didn’t understand exactly what unschooling is. All the families around us seemed very confident, they talked about their children following their own interests, learning from life and they were doing some wonderful things. They seemed knowledgeable about the bush and they were involved in crafts and they were producing a lot of good things. I went to a number of homeschooling talks while at the camp and there was a lot of excitement about what children were learning and producing.
Now I knew that I wanted my children to love learning and unschoolers were telling me that unschooling leads to children who know how to learn and that love learning. So we started homeschooling. I sat back and I waited. I thought that soon my children would be producing all these wonderful things. The walls would fill up with beautiful posters and drawings and my children would be out in the backyard building tremendous things. Someone would want to rewire the house. Somebody else would talk about plans – even though they were little – to travel the world and do all sorts of wonderful things. But actually nothing much happened and we just sort of drifted through our days and I thought I must have missed something. So we moved away from unschooling for a little while.
I thought that unschooling meant that I couldn’t be involved with my children’s education, that I had to stand back and let them take the lead entirely, learn naturally, learn from life without any interference whatsoever from me. I misunderstood unschooling, but it was enough for me to leave the unschooling pathway. We went along other pathways. We had a dip into Charlotte Mason, classical curriculum, all sorts of other different things before we made our way back to unschooling. And when we actually got back, I didn’t even realize that we were unschooling because I was still very involved with my children’s education.
I learnt that the children need to have their environment enriched. It wasn’t any good sitting back and saying, ‘Go on, go and learn something’ and expecting them to come up with all these amazing things. Of course, they do come up with some amazing things on their own, but I found out that this isn’t all that unschooling is about. So I started doing a few things with my children. Strewing, that’s the word that I learnt eventually, was to enrich their environment with resources but also with experiences, taking them places, talking to them, strewing interesting things along their pathway.
And I discovered that I could get involved with my children. There wasn’t anything against that at all. So I could share all those things that I was itching to share with them. I had thought, well, how on earth are they going to learn about Shakespeare, (which is one of my passions), if I’m not allowed to introduce it to them? But now I started saying things like, ‘Hey, look, I’m watching a Shakespeare (play). Would you like to come and join me?’ and they did. I‘ve passed on a lot of my interests to my children and I’ve encouraged their own interests.
And so I guess that unschooling is a child following their own interests in a natural way, but it doesn’t mean that a parent can’t get involved as well. I’ve found out that unschooling isn’t something that only children do. Everybody can be an unschooler. I have so many friends who don’t even realize they’re unschoolers. They’re involved in all sorts of activities of their own, learning new and exciting things every week and I class them as unschoolers, even though they don’t know they are. And that’s what I’m like: I go from one thing to another. At the moment I’m learning video making. I’m going to go and do a Google Hangout on Air when I’ve got a bit of time. That’s a new skill I want to learn. So adults learn in an unschooling way, I think, and this is the way unschooling children also learn.
Years ago, as I said, I didn’t really understand what unschoolers did. I read a few books and they said, ‘Oh well, you know, we don’t have a schedule, we don’t have any plans, we don’t do this, we don’t do that.’ But I could never get an idea of what unschoolers actually do. They just roll out of bed any old time and drift through their days?
I’m writing stories on my blog to give a concrete idea of unschooling in one family. Actual stories: This is what we do. Now my family is different from yours and we won’t do things the same, but I think we all share principles in common so that we can learn from each other and share ideas. My ideas aren’t the only ones. You might like my ideas. You may not like my ideas. But they might give you other ideas. That’s what I like about the blogging community, the internet community: We can have a continuous conversation and learn from each other.
So summing up: What is unschooling? I think it’s children learning in a natural way, in a way that will give them a love of learning for the rest of their lives. It is the same way adults learn. And the role of parents is to get involved with their children, to strew, to learn themselves and therefore be a good example of learning.
If you’d like to read a more recent blog post about the definition of unschooling, here’s one: What is Unschooling?
And if you’d like to watch the original video, here it is:
I would like to thank Hayley for transcribing this and other videos. I am posting Hayley’s transcripts here on my blog for anyone who prefers reading rather than watching or listening. Hayley’s work will also allow viewers to watch my videos with the sound muted and not miss a word (when I’ve updated the closed captions!).
Do you ever go back to old posts, articles, videos, podcasts stories or anything else you’ve created and feel dissatisfied? Do you feel like deleting them and starting all over again? I guess that’s a natural feeling. If we are no longer happy with our work but want to improve it, this means we must be learning!