What is Unschooling?
Unschooling, aka self-design, open source learning, or free range education, is not something that we do to our children but largely a process of unlearning, or rethinking, for us parents. Most of us are products of the traditional school system which convinced us that learning only happens when people with power over us - teachers, parents - force, coerce or otherwise "motivate" us to absorb information that people with power over teachers - education and developmental experts - decided that we should know.
We were all born with a drive to learn that is more compelling than almost any other instinct. If we step back from the power struggles, we can be allies with our children in learning, solving problems and creating what John Holt called
"a life worth living and work worth doing."
Unschooling is deprogramming, healing, regenerating. It is remembering to relax and trust our own and our children's innate ability to choose ideas and activities that promote lifelong learning and growth.
How Does Unschooling Work?
Lives of the unschooled vary with each person and each family. Unschooling can cost nothing or cost a million bucks. Unschooling at its most fundamental is child-led learning, based upon the child's interests, developmental readiness, motivation and abilities, and nurtured by parents and the community, their environment, geography, curiosity, and each nurturing participant's skills, talents and enthusiasm for life. Each hour or each day may be different for the unschooled child/teen or even routine and structured if the child thrives on elements of routine.
There is no formula for unschooling how-to; the process of listening, communicating, sharing ideas, exposure to people, places and events begins to set the course for the directions an unschooled child will desire his life to go.
Unschooling is a diverse and organic process of discovering the world and one's place in it, all on the child's terms.
Everything from sleeping/awake patterns, meal times, food preferences, the extent to which she desires socialization, her interest in reading, writing, playing, daydreaming, cleaning, traveling, inventing, creating, etc. etc. now falls into the empowered realm of the unschooled child, all occurring or not as a function of the big wide world of internal and external stimulation which enters her world constantly.
Whether the unschooled child spends hours behind a book, a calculator, a computer, video games, playing fantasy games with friends or alone, all is determined by the unschooled child and nurtured by those who care for and about her.
In the unschooling family, parents are often challenged to unschool themselves in the process, meaning that they too begin striving for more freedom-to-be and following the dreams and desires they have for themselves.
A successful unschooling family will be one where each person is not only able to ask for and fulfill their ongoing preferences but each is nurturing and supportive of the others.
Communication, experimentation, equality and unconditional love are elements of
an unschooling family at its best.
The logistics of how, why and who does what in such a family is both revolutionary and magical. The dynamics of every family are critically different and the nuts and bolts of achieving harmony vary accordingly. Such are the topics of the Rethinking Everything conference!
How to Begin Unschooling
Watch your child and look for clues that tell you he is interested or ready for something. This is happening all the time.
Fill your home with resources that excite your child and the list will be different for each child. Inexpensive materials can be had through store sales, thrift stores, hand-me downs, gifts, garage sales. Many materials can be hand-made and books on how to make them available through your library or interlibrary loan.
Teach yourself to be resourceful in ways that foster your child's curiosities. For example, if your child is bored with the local parks, find new parks in new communities. If your child wants more pets but you are at your pet limit, find others who can give him the exposure to animals he is looking for: farms, pet stores, zoos, rehabilitation organizations, pet sitting, etc.
Don't follow any compulsion you feel for purchasing text books unless your child asks for them. When she asks for them or for the type of learning that only a textbook can offer, buy or borrow them! Just because a child wants school books or college or structure - or school for that matter - does not mean that unschooling is not taking place. Remember that unschooling is simply child-led learning. When she loses interest in the books, put them aside.
Expose your child to everything under the sun, and especially more of those things that are of interest to him - there are no limits to what they should or should not know; your child will make it clear to you how much information he needs at any given time.
Subscribe to magazines and buy/borrow books that follow your child's interests, rent/buy DVDs, venture out and find people who can foster your child's interests and curiosities. It's OK and totally normal to not have all the answers and in fact, a valuable learning experience for both of you. Tell your child honestly when you don't know a thing or have never thought about what he is talking about or asking for. Brainstorm together on how you find out what your child wants or needs to know.
Stop telling your child what to do. If a thing must be done, such as brushing one's teeth or leaving the house to shop, etc. and your child does not want to do it, treat him the way you would like to have someone treat you in similar circumstances: sometimes being straightforward and rational and honest is most effective, sometimes turning it into play works. Respectful communication and your child's critical need to trust what you tell him will allow each of you to want to help meet each other's needs and enjoy doing it.
Don't worry when it seems like your child is just playing all day - developmental experts agree that huge amounts of play are critical to their development of intelligence. Some experts believe that play should be all we do, whether we are "working" or not. (Shouldn't work be play?)
Play dates and times should always be set by the child, not the parent. If you cannot accommodate your child's wish to have a friend spend as much time at your house as you believe is possible, for example, help your child figure out how she can meet her needs in other ways.
Encourage your child to spend their time in ways that bring them feelings of joy and contentment. Do not put yourself in the position of being an enforcer of all that your fear and experience tell you she should be doing with her time. Bribery, coercion, punishment and rewards do not work and only make your life more stressful and difficult. Never use time-out. Discipline is never useful or productive - self-discipline is the only discipline that works and is achieved on each child's own timetable, on their own terms.
Recognize how important role-modeling is:
what your child sees you do every day,
what he hears you say about yourself and
others, how you treat yourself and others,
are the most important things your child will
pay attention to, learn from, and pattern.
There are no short-cuts or tricks here. You must learn to be a true model of your ideal. Once you have achieved a good measure of living up to your own expectations, don't expect your child to follow suit. For example, if he sees you working hard every day doing the things you love to do, he very well may have no interest in the same things you do, but rather will learn that he wants to spend his time doing the things he loves to do.
When tempted to share with your child how fearful you are that they will not learn all that you believe they should learn, write it down instead. Keep notes on your feelings, observations, ideas and compare them from time to time. Find others to talk to about your fears.
Unschool support groups are great resources, as are books, magazines, email lists, websites, etc. With your child, focus instead on what they ARE interested in. When your unschooled child spends all his time in a math book, don't talk to him about how he should be reading instead. If he wants to play video games all day, get him more video games.
When the interest is fostered unconditionally, any contrary or rebellious motive for
behavior will fall to the wayside and allow true interests and skills to develop.
Unschooling results in rich, creative and powerful lives on each person's terms. Living in community, whether it's with a family, an extended family, a town or the big world, with respect for each person's need to understand themselves and be true to their unique and ever-changing desires allows each person to honor those values in each other.
Unschooling does not result in out-of-control chaos: it results in communities of people who listen to each other, respect each other's wishes and desires, supporting the community's commonly agreed upon goals.
How will your unschooling community evolve?
Interested? Want more info? Check out the conference here: http://www.rethinkingeverything.net/