Monday, September 07, 2009

Inquisition Monday: Unschooling

Again from Joe:
Can you recommend some of the books you’ve read on homeschooling/unschooling that you found to be informative? In that same line, can you briefly give us your take on the difference between homeschooling with a curriculum in general (like Sonlight, Little Accorn Learners, and the such – my repertoire of curriculums isn’t very big yet to cite examples! heh) and unschooling?

This post isn't going to be as all-encompassing as it ought to be- mostly because when I considered homeschooling, unschooling made a lot of sense in my head, so I probably didn't do enough research in the other curriculum sources (I don't know anything about Little Acorn).

I researched the methods that I heard moms at our playgroup mention. This included Thomas Jefferson, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Sonlight. I didn't link to Waldorf and Montessori because a google search gives you a ton of each of those.

What I read and why
Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles I happened to see this on the shelf at the library when I was picking out a couple of the books I'll mention next. I picked it up because it gives a nice little overview on the classical, eclectic, unit study, Charlotte Mason, unschooling methods. It's heavily Christian, though, if that's a turn-off.

A Charlotte Mason Eduction This method came recommended to me because at a playgroup, I mentioned I wanted to look into homeschooling and I wanted something literature-based. So I went to the library and got this book. I was pretty converted to unschooling at this point, so aspects of this method (eg. narration) turned me off.

The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
I picked this book up sort of as a joke. I saw the title and thought, "Really? A handbook for unschooling? Sounds like an oxymoron to me... Hmm... We'll see." So I was skeptical. But I loved it. I ate up every page. It shares experiences from unschoolers and parents. It gives ideas on unschooling on vacations and such. The part I was most interested in was the sample transcript it gave for an unschooled student applying to college.

What attracts me to unschooling
In a blessing I was once told to remember that my children aren't my children- they are God's children that I am charged with for now. This idea has sat in my mind for years: I'm not any better than Margaret simply because I was born a couple of decades before her; we are equals. I try to remember this as a parent- and as far as education goes, I trust that she'll learn what she needs to learn. It's hard sometimes. I grew up in your regular middle class public school where education was based on the idea that if we weren't forced to learn something, we wouldn't. It's hard to get that out of your head. But when I look back on my life, the learning experiences that have stuck with me and enriched my life the most were the ones I sought for myself. How amazing it would be if every learning experience was like that. Having been a math major and tutor, I've seen students "shut down" against what they're learning. I think the biggest cause of this is the idea that math is hard and students won't learn it unless they are forced to. If students got the chance to learn math when they wanted, I think anxiety about math would almost disappear. I've also thought of the years spent in elementary school learning arithmetic. YEARS. I personally believe that if you wait until the child wants to learn those things- instead of years it would only take months or even weeks to learn everything from simple addition to pre-algebra and beyond. I feel the same towards all subjects- I use math as an example since it seems to be the big "But how are you going to teach them trig?" question.

It also doesn't make sense to me that children suddenly need structure at 5 or 4 or 3 or whenever you feel they need to start going to school. Yes, we have a "routine," but I don't think they need strict "structure." The first few years, children don't have "structure." They play, they eat, they nap. And somehow in all that, they learn to walk and run and jump. They learn an amazing amount of language. And while their social tendancies aren't always perfect, they learn a lot about communication and interacting with people. No one needs to sit down with them and give them lessons on how to build a tower with blocks- they learn on their own. What changes by the time kindergarten or preschool comes around that they can't continue to learn like this? Is there some inate countdown that says, "Once you are __ old, you have to learn at a desk?" I don't know why, but the trust we have in a 1 year old's ability to learn disappears when that child is 4- and suddenly they "need" school with a teacher and planned activities and lessons. If we keep trusting that 4 year old like we did when she was 1, I suspect the "need" for all those things will disappear.

Essentially, you have to give up your prejudices about the way people learn. Ask yourself why you learn and research what you do- and then ask why that can't apply to your children, too.

Blog recommendations
Yes, I can Write is a blog by an unschooled teen. She talks a lot about the unschooling philosophy and trust in a child's ability to learn. I highly recommend reading it. Highly. Open that link in another tab now.
The Parenting Passageway This blog isn't about homeschooling, but the author explains a lot about the Waldorf belief system in how children grow up and develop. For those of you interested in this theory of child development, it's a wonderful blog. She also has wonderful gentle parenting posts and thoughts.
If you are interested in what an unschooling family is like, many of those families have blogs. You can probably google unschooling blogs. I like The Organic Sister and Ordinary Life Magic. I read a few others, but that would involve me having to go through my reader.

And Joe- as for Sonlight, I have a friend who uses it with her son. She blogs here.

I hope that answered your question. I don't have any new questions to address for next week, so ask away in the comments.


  1. Hey nice timing with this question/answer! I've just started looking into unschooling, and even put some thoughts about it here, on my blog. I mention a homeschool curriculum book on the post, that was recommended to me, if anyone is trying to find the right fit for their kid.

    I like The Organic Sister's take on unschooling as well. I'll have to check out those other blogs.

  2. I asked my CTR 5s what their favorite part of kindergarten was this week -- they all said 'recess' or 'snack'! Obviously they're not ready to be done playing and forced into structured learning!

  3. Thanks so much for recommending my blog!! I'm very happy to *hear* that you like it. :-)


  4. I love the idea of unschooling! That's our current plan for our kids. You are absolutely right that we shouldn't expect kids to all the sudden learn better in school just because they are 4-5 years old! And your math analogy reminded me of a book my husband is reading called A Mathematician's Lament by Paul Lockhart. You would probably really like it!

  5. thank you! i have been wondering about unschooling/homeschooling alot lately, and this gives me a good starting point! i am procrastinating starting a real "curriculum". my oldest is only 3, but it seems like others in preschool are actually learning stuff instead of just playing, so i don't want him to *gasp* get behind!!!

  6. I've really enjoyed reading your answers to these questions, so I decided to come up with some. Warning, they're very random.

    Have you taken Margaret to get immunizations? How do you feel about immunizations in general?

    Do you plan to teach your kids about Santa?

    What are some of your favorite healthy meals?

    Thanks for writing such an interesting blog!


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