I am a trained teacher (I have 2 education degrees) and I have taught three different school systems (British, Australian and American). Education is a passion for me. I believe in it wholeheartedly. But the more I study and research, the more I talk to others, and the more I see children getting stressed out because of school I really do feel that there needs to be a change. Working with a whole array of students I have become a little jaded about how we are teaching our children. Becoming a parent changed my thoughts and ideas even more. I have had the privilege of watching my girls grow and learn, try things out and stretch their wings. My heart is that my girls would love to learn: forever and always. Thus enters unschooling.

“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge,
not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”

George Bernard Shaw

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is popping up more and more lately. It is an educational philosophy that is child-centered or child-led. It is not so much a homeschooling style but a mindset, or an approach on how to educate your child. With it, it does not mean that the parent sits back and doesn’t help their children learn. Unschooling has been around since the 1970s when John Holt, a teacher, who wrote books on the shortcomings of the education system. He is generally acknowledged to be the father of unschooling.

As with many things, there are a number of ways to approach unschooling. It means different things to different families. On the extreme, purist form of unschooling, you do not have any sort of school-at-home where you have set hours and structure. You also do not use a curriculum and let your children control their education. For the purists, you do not mention school and do not engage in specific, parent (teacher) led lessons. It will even extend into all areas of life, so children are allowed to choose bedtime, food, clothing, etc. Parents guide and do not enforce. 

For others, they may use a curriculum for some subjects or sign their children up for a class here or there, but for the most part, they use their children’s interests to teach ALL subjects. You are still keeping away from having a structured schedule, sitting the children down, and working through a curriculum for set hours on set days. 

This is a great infographic from weedemandreap.com that shows the differences between traditional style schooling and unschooling. 

The Pros of Unschooling:

  • Children are free to learn. This is based on their personality, interests and learning style. 
  • Motivated kids! By having the freedom to choose subjects children are more likely to fully engage.
  • As a parent, you can plan and prepare in response to your children and their interests. You don’t have to sit down and work out a structured plan and try to work out how long something might take or whether or not your child will be interested.
  • Children develop a sense of responsibility and accountability for their own education and behavior.
  • It has been shown that there is better retention due to the fact that children are learning what they are interested in.
  • It builds on gifts and talents, as well as assisting students who have learning struggles. Unschooling is a great way to let students who struggle in one area excel in what they are good in and to use strengths to assist where there are weaknesses.

The Cons of Unschooling:

  • There might be some information gaps in your child’s education. But that can easily be rectified and you will often find your child filling it in themself because they are motivated and know how to.
  • Parents really need to engage and be attentive to opportunities, resource needs, interests changing. While it is child-directed you need to be highly involved as a parent. Unschooling does not give you permission to sit back, relax and neglect your child’s learning. 
  • If your child is not motivated then unschooling is not for them. It isn’t for every child. Some children really need or desire structure. 

4 girls sitting and reading a book

Why I am choosing to unschool at the moment:

The girls are young.

I do not feel the need for formal education at preschool age. I want them outside, experiencing, trying and questioning without restraint (but safely, of course).

Learning styles.

I am a huge believer in learning styles (even if some highly educated people doubt we learn better according to one way). I see how my girls learn differently. Kira is very much a kinesthetic learner. She needs to move, to actively be involved in touching and manipulating things. She also is a child who does not want to move on from an activity if she hasn’t finished. Soraya is an active questioner (like a million questions a day!). She is naturally curious about things and is always wanting to know, to figure things out, to understand. She is self-motivated but also stubborn as to what she wants to do. I am concerned that at this young age if they were in the classroom with a lot of structure they would wither and lose their love of learning.

unschooling takes place wherever - 2 little girls laying in grass

Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing.

Madeline Hunter

Developmental expectations and readiness.

Europe doesn’t start formal lessons until a child is six. The more I research I see that later is better than early. I am concerned with how we are pushing our children earlier and earlier to master concepts that are developmentally too advanced.  I want my girls to be ready to learn, not forced to do so. The fact that they said to me just before Christmas that they wanted to learn how to read and write showed that they were ready, especially when they started pointing out or sounding out words in the books we were reading. Readiness is key.

Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.

George Evans

Skills rather than content.

I am a huge proponent of skills-based learning. In this day and age of being able to ask Google anything, there are skills I would much rather the girls have: synthesizing information and putting it into their own words, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, being able to deliver well-reasoned responses, etc. Reading and writing go hand in hand, so there will be a lot of reading and from there creative and other styles of writing can happen. 

Ignite a love of learning.

Oh my goodness how I desire my girls to have a love of learning. I don’t want to suck them dry and turn them off from learning.  “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Yeats? Plutarch?

helping to feed cows from the back of a trailer

Learning is all around.

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…..;p Learning happens all the time. We might not recognize it as algebra (and believe me, we use that often, we just don’t call it algebra) or history, but there are so many opportunities to learn without us even realizing it. There are many reasons why I take my girls grocery shopping and they come out from the experience enjoying it and not knowing how much they learned.  

Freedom and flexibility.

We can’t take trips to Australia or Germany during the school year if the girls are in school. It is frowned upon to take your child out for a few days, so how would they handle six weeks? But I look at all my girls learn on these trips. I love the freedom to take off days as needed. The flexibility to mix things up is also great. If we have had a rough night we don’t have the pressure of having to be a school early. 

feeding a kangaroo in Australia

I want them to direct what they want to learn.

I would love the girls to pick the topics they want to study and learn about. My dream is that they will pick a country and study it and then we go as a family to visit that country. Right now they are interested in cooking so we are doing many cooking based activities. I actually love to write lessons and curriculum, so I am looking forward to developing lessons based on what the girls want to learn. 

Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.

George Carlin

My aim is to take this year by year and see where we land with unschooling each year. Being so young we don’t need curriculum but as they get older we might add curriculum for different subjects. I am not a staunch purist in that we will add as necessary and tweak as we go along. 

With the girls being young we are having fun learning the letter sounds (we love phonics) with associated activities, along with learning how to write the letters and numbers, etc. 

Here is an example of activities and things we do during a week. We do not have set hours and we do not say “OK, it is time for learning!”

“S” Week

  • Daily adding to a list words that start with S, seeing how many we can get. This is a game.
  • Because meal planning and shopping together are a part of every week we do this but have fun coming up with foods that start with S. We write that meal plan and shopping list and then go and get everything we need for the week. Our meals were: spaghetti, soup and salad, steak and squash, spaetzle and sausages, salmon and steak fries, and spanikopita (spinach triangles). We also ate strawberries and drank strawberry milkshakes.
  • Animals – We researched (asked Google) about squirrels, skinks and skunks, salamanders and snakes. We looked at pictures, talked about their habitats and listened to what they sound like. 
  • Shapes – We went on walks (around the neighborhood and shops) to find squares, stars, spheres, and semicircles. 
  • Art and craft – We made a starry night picture (painting the background and sticking on star stickers), snowmen out of marshmallows and sock puppets.
  • Math – using Skittles we counted out 6 and 7, 16 and 17. We also made a game of calling out when we saw those numbers when we were at the shops or driving, wherever we were.

This does look like a lot of work, but it wasn’t really. Most things were just natural and happened. We also read lots of books. Reading is a must in our house. 

So why do I unschool?

Because it is fun and I love spending this time with my girls, guiding them, encouraging them and being there to answer a million questions or helping them to find the answers. Unschooling might change for us over the years into just homeschooling with a slightly more structured approach and more prewritten curriculum, but I can’t say for certain. Right now my heart is to be child-centered in our learning and letting the girls explore this world we live in, to explore the world of books and to follow what piques their interest. I do believe that they can have a well-rounded education without it being structured and defined. Unschooling is a unique opportunity for each family to do whatever makes sense for the growth and development of their children.

Michayla Best

For over 30 years I have worked with children in a variety of capacities, whether as a teacher or tutor, a babysitter, a camp leader, or family advocate. I have always found a way to connect with children, to help them understand themselves and the world around.

I am Mummy to trinational twincesses who keep me on my toes with their questions, their commentaries, their shenanigans and acts of spontenudity.

Wife, world traveler, musician, crafting queen and self-proclaimed nerd; I love to take what I see, glean, know and help families to find their groove and be successful.

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