Unschool. It looks like an example of bad spelling. Even as I begin this post the little squiggly red line that appeared when I typed “unschool” is prompting me to fix my misspell. As it is, there is nothing made up or mistaken about the word “unschool”. In fact the term “unschooling” was coined in the 1970s and used by revered educator John Holt who is known as the father of unschooling. Here is his definition of unschooling:
What is unschooling?
This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work. So, for instance, a young child’s interest in hot rods can lead him to a study of how the engine works (science), how and when the car was built (history and business), who built and designed the car (biography), etc. Certainly these interests can lead to reading texts, taking courses, or doing projects, but the important difference is that these activities were chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place, though parents with a more hands-on approach to unschooling certainly can influence and guide their children’s choices.
Unschooling, for lack of a better term (until people start to accept living as part and parcel of learning), is the natural way to learn. However, this does not mean unschoolers do not take traditional classes or use curricular materials when the student, or parents and children together, decide that this is how they want to do it. Learning to read or do quadratic equations are not “natural” processes, but unschoolers nonetheless learn them when it makes sense to them to do so, not because they have reached a certain age or are compelled to do so by arbitrary authority. Therefore it isn’t unusual to find unschoolers who are barely eight-years-old studying astronomy or who are ten-years-old and just learning to read.
I have to admit, the idea of letting the child lead the learning seemed a little reckless when I first began to hear about unschooling. But as Makai continued to grow and veraciously learn as toddlers do, I became more interested, even curious about unschooling as an option for educating Mak as we travel.
After reading various unschooling family’s opinions and experiences I have become passionate about unschooling, even dead set against traditional school for Mak. A lot of reading, self discovery and personal observation of toddler behaviour brought me to this decision. I have just finished reading John Holts book, Teach Your Own (CDN link). This book was thought provoking to say the least and reading it has cemented our decision to unschool our son. So with unschooling set in stone, per say, I am reflecting on the experiences we have had that have brought us to this point. Here are some of the pivotal experiences and learnings that influenced our decision…
I had the pleasure of meeting one particular unschooling family when we traveled to Argentina in 2010. This family of 4 was my first experience meeting and seeing children thrive as unschoolers. The purpose of our trip to Argentina was to learn about a community in Cafayate which was in sync with our good life criteria at that time. Makai was only 18 months and the visit to the community included a lot of conferences and adult interactions which were not exactly toddler friendly. Hence, we decided Rob would represent our family and attend the majority of the conferences and group sessions solo and report back to us.
While keeping my adventurous son busy during these conferences I had the absolute pleasure of spending a lot of time with 2 of the most amazing unschoolers. They were brother and sister. I will call the sister ‘J’ (10yrs) and the brother ‘T’ (8yrs). What impressed me so much about these kids was their ability to relate so well to little babies and all ages, really,to older adults. Both were so articulate and I have to honestly say I was as stimulated mentally in our conversations as I have been in any adult interactions.
They also had the ability to enjoy play and relate to children of all ages. Thoughtful, kind, intelligent, playful, happy, calm, confident kids. Those are the words that come to mind when I remember them. Very different words come to mind when I think of myself at that age: Shy, insecure, kind, easily intimidated by adults and older children, even visibly anxious around older children and in most new situations. Most of my anxiety attributed to school. I was, and still am, a perfectionist and a ‘people pleaser’ which I believe I became a master at in my younger years because of school.
These blogs, 1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure and Raising Miro on the Road of Life, outline to me the evidence of the limitless social and confidence building benefits unschooling offers a child. Also how much more of a child’s potential can be realized in the absence of traditional schooling. Their stories and experiences are inspiring to me. Their children are proof of the brilliance that exists in children from birth and what remarkable people they are because their parents nurtured that brilliance instead of passing them off to school where some of that genius would seriously risk being snuffed out.