What is unschooling? I’ve been blogging about unschooling for over 5 years now. You’d think I would already have written a post with this title, wouldn’t you? But somehow I haven’t. Maybe that’s because unschooling is hard to define. Everyone seems to have a slightly different way of describing it. Some aspects of unschooling are more important to some people than they are to others.
So why have I suddenly decided to backtrack and write an unschooling definition post? Well, I’m busy putting together an unschooling book, taking ideas and stories from this blog, as well as adding new material. And although the main body of the book is looking fat and healthy, there is something missing from the beginning: an unschooling definition.
Maybe the best way to get my ideas about an unschooling definition into order is to share them here. I’ll try and make sense of the many thoughts that are circulating around my mind. And if you’d like to add your own ideas in the comments, please do!
So here goes…
Unschooling is a natural way of learning.
Children are born curious. They are eager to learn. And we, as parents, are eager to help them. We make sure our babies are surrounded by interesting things. We buy them bright toys which they look at, feel, listen to, and even taste. We bring them household items like wooden spoons and pots and pans. We name things again and again, without ever tiring of it. We sing to them, introducing them to music. We take our children on outings and show them leaves and flowers, waves and sand, shops and people. We let them feel the sunshine on their skin and the wind in their hair. We play games, talk to them, read books, pull funny faces and laugh with them. We have quiet times, rocking and snuggling. We might carry our babies around in a sling or pop them into a chair where they can see us while we work. We include our children in all aspects of our lives. By doing this, we surround them with many rich experiences.
While our children are absorbed in all these experiences, we’re observing and listening to them. We get to know them and their particular needs and we respond. We develop empathy. We become connected.
As our children grow, we recognise that some things interest them more than others. They pretend to be pirates or princesses or firemen or superheroes. We buy them toys and books that reflect these interests. We provide materials for them to experiment with. We listen as our kids tell us about the things that are important to them. We answer their never-ending questions.
We do what parents are naturally drawn to doing.
And what happens? Our children grow and develop. They learn to walk and talk and jump and dance. They draw and scribble and create. They accumulate all kinds of facts which delight and interest them. Of course, with each little development, we smile and encourage. We cheer our children on. We are proud parents taking great enjoyment in the development of a unique little person.
And then one day, our children are old enough to go to school. It’s time to make some decisions and move onto a new phase in our child’s life.
But what if we didn’t even think about this new stage? What if life just carried on as normal? We’d continue surrounding our children with rich and interesting environments. We’d continue encouraging, helping, listening and interacting with them.
Would our children keep learning? Yes. They’d continue to learn in a natural way. They’d be unschooling.
Unschooled children explore the world, learning from everything that happens in their lives. They follow their interests. They use and develop their talents. They observe, ask questions, ponder answers, read books, watch TV, search online for information, discuss, play games, experiment, maybe even enrol in a course. They don’t follow someone else’s plan for their learning. They have the freedom to learn what is important to them.
Of course, unschooling isn’t something that only children do. Adults also ask questions, pursue answers, follow interests, and take great delight in finding out more about the world. We are always learning. It’s a life-long process. It’s a natural thing for all of us to do.
Unschooling is the way young children naturally learn. It’s also the way adults learn. If we give school-aged children the freedom to learn what is important to them, they’d be unschooling too.
Of course, there is a lot more I could say about unschooling: how we might have to unlearn the ideas we picked up from our own experiences at school, how it’s about relationships, how we need to trust and respect and be a good example, how we have to know when to offer help and when to step back, why unschooling is important… I’ve written a whole blog about these and other aspects of unschooling. And now I’m writing a book.
So what do you think? How would you define unschooling? What aspects of unschooling are important to you?