What is Unschooling?

Girl Playing Guitar and Holding Phone - Unschooling
Self-Directed Learning – Learning to Play the Guitar on a Road Trip

Unschooling and homeschooling are often used interchangeably but are two very different methods of learning or “education”. According to Wikipedia:

“Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.”

While correct, this is a fairly weak definition because it simply states that unschooling advocates, learner-chosen activities.  It doesn’t merely advocate but insists on learner-chosen activities.

The term was first used in the 1970s by John Holt. The concept behind unschooling is that learning is innate and children are natural learners who want to learn. Although as parents we like to think we have a role in our children learning to roll over, crawl, stand up or even walk, the desire to do these things is inherent within our children who will learn to do those things with or without and sometimes in spite of our interventions. The same holds true for other forms of learning.

Unschooling and Development

Instead of spending hours each Saturday helping my kids learn to ride a bike we waited and both of my children learned to ride a bike on their own, within a day or two, without our help and when they were ready. Were they slightly older than their peers? Maybe, are they equally as proficient at bike riding as their peers now? Yes.

Children develop at different rates, therefore unschooling children develop different skills at naturally different rates. Unschooling lets children learn at their own pace and in a “just-in-time” way. They seek out the information and the skills they need when they are ready to learn and because of this the learning is swift and permanent. It may take weeks for a child to learn multiplication tables by doing problems on paper but absorb the concept in an instant when they are told they will get $0.02 for each stick they pick up out of the yard, quickly calculating that to make a dollar they will need to pick up 50 sticks.

With unschooling a learner-led construct, what is the role of parents?

This isn’t a hands-off educational model. Parents are a key component of unschooling. They provide resources, guidance, information, and support to their young people as they discover their own path. The younger the learner the more involved in seeking out resources the parents are but as the learners get older they begin to seek out their own resources and the parental role shifts from a facilitator to a sounding board.

Education is an individual journey with many potential paths. To learn more about alternative education methods, please visit the resources below:

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