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Let's talk about unschooling really - or ramblings of a very overtired mama *LONG*

post #1 of 52
Thread Starter 
I've been thinking about this off and on for some time now. We are an unschooling family...even though I don't like that title...that's what we are. I used to say Homeschooling family 10+ years ago but I think that the labels triggered different images at different times.

Most would call us "radical unschoolers". But then I'm sure there are some out there that would say we aren't unschoolers at all.

I find it interesting that in different areas there seems to be so many specifics around what someone thinks unschooling or homeschooling to be. At one point we were in a Charter situation and I remember meeting a family that my husband worked with, the husband was interested in the Charter and no one warned me that his wife was NOT and felt that anyone who was involved in the Charter programs was about the same as Satan. The husband introduced me to the wife because he wanted me to let her know about the charter, she told me how we were not "REALLY HOMESCHOOLERS" and on and on she went. I found that rather interesting since we had been homeschooling for some years at that point and I just didn't get how we could not be "real homeschoolers" I laughed and walked on my way.

We've always been unschoolers even though I never have been thrilled with that title. We aren't school at homers. Even though we've bought different curricula over the years or participated in different programs...it's always been with the children fully involved in the choices. It's been a dance. There were times when it was a bit parent led and then child led and then jointly and so on. 10 years into it, it's nice to be seeing that all the ground work and the trust and the allowing of struggle has come together.

Which then brings me to now and seeing how there are those unschoolers that feel that unschooling means no restrictions or limitations. However, I really have a feeling that this is not the case for most. I have a hard time believing that all these people have a total free for all going on in their homes. Obviously different things work for different families. I've just been rather surprised by the idea that if you are an unschooler then it means that there is this laundry list of things that you do or don't do. I would agree that unschooling is a lifestyle and I also believe that we all have our boundaries and unschooling is not about having absolutely no boundaries in life.

I guess I sortof see it as unschooling being sortof a general term or umbrella and under which there are many different "types". (I hate to use religion in the conversation but that is what comes to mind) Sortof like the term Pagan and under which there are many different groups, or Christian and under which there are many different groups.

I've also noticed that there are those that have the misconception that unschooling is all wine and roses and everything is always blissful. Hm ok - not my experience. Unschooling is a journey that takes many roads. For me one of the first and hardest lessons was that if I was feeling like it was "work" or difficult then that was up to me. It was really the first time in life that I realized that it was ALL up to me. I couldn't say it was my husband, the boss, the teacher, or whoever. If I wasn't having fun and we were at odds it was all up to me if I wanted to continue having things be a struggle or if I wanted to shift things. Early on I realized that if I wasn't having fun I didn't want to be doing it - so we started having fun.

In the beginning, and honestly at different times I too have been concerned about if my children would be "ok". Would they really learn to read or write or whatever it was at the given time. We've had our concerns. It's been a HUGE lesson in trust. My almost 16 year old read very well very early on. But he was very resistant to anything involving any sort of "math" and would write very little and spell horribly until just a few months ago (gasp! I know many would freak over that) and suddenly he's writing lengthy stories online with people from all over the world and very concerned that he spells things correctly. A year or so ago he got into strategic gaming and it requires all sorts of math and he quickly learned what was needed. My 12 year old daughter reads very little (I know this will be another GASP for some) and is would be considered to be severly dyslexic. There has always been something along the way. Whether it be severe illness, chronic illness, major injuries from a car accident, house being torn apart, animal crisis, etc. LIFE

Ok so what's my point? Well I think it would be good to have a dialogue about what unschooling is to us. I'm a bit saddened that there are those that seem to be defining unschooling as a little tiny box of things that make one an unschooler or not. Maybe I'm way off base here but I just think it would be a good thing to do since there are so many with such young children on here. I think it would be good for us all to talk about how different things are for each of us.

For us unschooling isn't anything other than life. There is no distinction between living and schooling in our home. I think that's probably the best way to describe it. There are boundaries or "rules". We have a family of 5 with lots of animals and there are certain things that need to be done if the children want to continue to have animals. There is also a matter of balancing the needs of all the individuals in the family. It's not a free for all here I really think that beyond a lifestyle, it's a mindset. It's not about that we would never use a textbook or this or that "school item"...because we might. We aren't always on watch for "teachable moments" or any of that. We also aren't "strewing" things out daily to try to guide the kids in a certain direction. It's like breathing. I guess we do have quite a rich environment...but it really has nothing to do with it being about being for the purpose of unschooling.

Ok I'll stop now. Thanks if you're still with me I'd love to hear from the rest of the unschoolers out there.
post #2 of 52
Oh I'm totally with you on this...but I'm walking out the door so I'll reply with a more lengthly note later tonight

And we've been "unschooling" right from the start so my kids have never been to ANY form of traditional school (4 yrs)
post #3 of 52
I get what you're saying, clothcrazymom. Your main point - that there are all these "rules" (though I doubt radical unschoolers would call them rules) about unschooling which if followed define your family as truly unschooling - is what kept me away from it for a long time. I didn't feel we could live up to those standards, or be comfortable with those standards, actually.

We have been homeschooling for 2 years now (My son has - my daughter just started officially 5 months ago). For about 12 months of that 2 years, I imposed curriculum for about 4 hours a week on my son. All curriculum was in the "basics" only: phonics, reading, handwriting, math. We have dropped all that - and have done no imposed academics for 5 months now - and all learning/education is learner-led. Still, I have decided to not call what we are doing "unschooling" because I have found it to be such a controversial term. It really makes no difference whatsoever to my kids if they are called homeschoolers, or unschoolers. To people who have their kids in school, the distinction between homeschooling and unschooling is meaningless to them anyway. So - homeschoolers we are. When people ask what we do I explain that the kids are self-directed learners. If they want more specific information, I might explain using real life examples how my children learn something by following an interest of theirs.

We do use an ISP (and this fall each child will be enrolled in a different ISP). The one and only reason we are involved with public school ISPs is because my children both want to be. Their choice. It makes no difference to me. They enjoy the workshops, they have friends who go there, and ISPs are where the vast majority of homeschoolers are found in our county. To some, not only does this mean we are not unschoolers - as you know from your own experience - to some, we are not even homeschoolers.

To all of that I say - whatever. No one is making any educational decisions for our family besides the members of our family. That is the essence of homeschooling, and that is what we do.

John Holt defined unschooling as self-directed learning. He never included T.V. watching, bedtimes, food choices, chores, or any other parenting decision "rules" in his definition of unschooling.

On message boards, etc. I've decided for now to call what we do "self-directed learning." It feels right, and describes our lifestyle accurately.

Laura
post #4 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by clothcrazymom
Which then brings me to now and seeing how there are those unschoolers that feel that unschooling means no restrictions or limitations. However, I really have a feeling that this is not the case for most. I have a hard time believing that all these people have a total free for all going on in their homes. Obviously different things work for different families. I've just been rather surprised by the idea that if you are an unschooler then it means that there is this laundry list of things that you do or don't do. I would agree that unschooling is a lifestyle and I also believe that we all have our boundaries and unschooling is not about having absolutely no boundaries in life.
I'd be curious to hear more about this - what exactly is on the laundry list?

I do think unschooling tends to go hand-in-hands with a harmonious parenting style most of the time, but I don't think there are any absolutes. It's a balance, though - if someone was a very authoritarian parent and had lots of rules about activities and limited items were allowed in the house, I think it would be very hard to unschool successfully - even with no rules specifically around schooling. It's like the recent thread on unschooling vs. Montessori - in a Montessori environemnt, the child is free to do the activities he wants, when he wants them... but there are limited activities that must be done in a certain way.

I know a mother who considers herself to be unschooling, who allots 3 hours every morning for her children to learn whatever they want... as long as it's "educational" and they stay at or above grade level in math. I don't consider that unschooling... but it works for them and that's fine.

Stuff like textbooks and charter schools and community college classes can be part of unschooling, or not. I've noticed quite a few older unschoolers choosing those sorts of structured options, and as long as it's their choice...

I don't think any one resource divides unschoolers from non-unschoolers - I wouldn't say you can't unschool without TV, or internet, or a car, or books. I think these things make it harder, though. Any time you limit sources of knowledge, you limit the freedom to learn. Practically speaking, everyone hs these kinds of limits - Rain would love to travel around Europe, and then got to New York and see a bunch of shows, but for now that's not happening. I wish it could... maybe someday.

I have boundaries. It's normal and healthy to have boundaries. The difference, I guess, is that my boundaries are about me, not about my child's learning. There's a big difference in my turning off the Hair video because I think she needs to be learning about a different era in US history now, or using a different modality... and turning it off because I'm hearing Aquarius is my sleep and want some quiet for a change. And actually, I wouldn't just turn it off but I'd discuss it with her, and generally we agree on something.

But yeah, we're just living life, and learning happens...

Actually, we're watching Hair for the umpteenth time right now (Rain is looking for a new audition song) and she asked me if it was safe for a pregnant woman to ride a horse... which started a long conversation and some googling here.

Dar
post #5 of 52
I do think there are things such as testing that fundamentally are contrary to unschooling. It's only my opinion though.
I also think structured learning is unnecessary in early childhood but of course if a child seeks it then it's right for that child.
I think at the core of unschooling is letting your child/ren learn on their own terms and at their own pace. Learning is living.
We definitely don't have a free for all house. Boundaries aren't a bad thing.
post #6 of 52
I called myself a "borderline unschooler" on another thread. We improvise so much and I would never tell myself that something was the wrong thing because it wasn't part of unschooling. I generally make no claim on the term itself.

We tend to hunger for structure around here. We make goals based on dd's interests together, and I push pretty hard for follow-through on some things we have planned. Sometimes it's better to decide that the interest has waned and we don't have to see everything thru because of that shift. If I say that we need the order and convenience of some preplanned curriculum and that I need to insist on certain kinds of follow through I am responding fully to her needs.

So I end up more formal due to the responsive approach of unschooling-- because I am willing to give us the extra freedom open that door that may in fact seem to led us away from "real" unschooling. If I don't claim the label, I can open that door sometimes and use any tools we need from the world of "school at home". If I don't claim the label, I don't have to contradict myself or feel like I'm reversing my philosophy. We're just living.
post #7 of 52
Clothcrazymom - Thank you for bringing up this point. I think it is an interesting conversation. As I have said before on a different thread - it is a shame that we have the need to label at all, because this is what is precisely what happens - as humans we try to sort and label, but to label you need to have criteria (otherwise known as "rules"). It is just a matter of time with each new catch phrase that someone else will apply a definition to that term and suddenly you find out you are not child-led either, because you do this or that or the other thing. AGGGGGH!

I just enjoy hearing how everyone is exploring homeschooling no matter how they accomplish it or what they call it. This board is proof that we can all learn from each other.
post #8 of 52
In agreement with Sheacoby.

I don't much care for the term unschooling either -- because in my mind to refer to schooling at all to define what we do implies schooling is the standard. Of course it is in our culture, but it's galling to me that it is and I hate to be reminded of it. It's also a term that is not well understood by most of society. So the only time I refer to ourselves in that way is if I'm talking to others who label themselves unschoolers, then I'll say, yeah, we do that too. But if someone asks if we homeschool, I don't say, "no, we unschool," I say, "we don't do school, but we do learn." If they ask what the difference is, I give some examples of my life without school -- for instance, reading a book on special relativity or having my husband the carpenter show me how to use his tools. In both cases I am learning, but neither is technically "school". Just because learning happens at home doesn't make it "homeschool" anymore than learning that happens at the libary is "libraryschool".
post #9 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brenoi
it is a shame that we have the need to label at all, because this is what is precisely what happens - as humans we try to sort and label, but to label you need to have criteria (otherwise known as "rules"). It is just a matter of time with each new catch phrase that someone else will apply a definition to that term ...

Exactly. But it would also be impossible to live without labels because we're all trying to identify ourselves to each other. I do find though, that because unschooling is just life, I tend to mix up *my* definition of unschooling with our lifestyle, kwim? It's hard sometimes to separate what part of our life is unschooling and what part is just us--because unschooling itself is just us. (I sometimes confuse myself.)

For instance, we don't have assigned chores at our house, we all just pitch in as needed--this certainly is not a definition of unschooling, and most people would say that chores have nothing at all to do with unschooling, but it's what we do and *to me* it goes with unschooling. Our kids aren't assigned work to be done--be it textbook work or sweeping the floor. (Does this make sense?)

I think there's an interesting parrallel between this conversation and one that I had about AP. I'd never even heard of AP until my second child was a toddler. When I stumbled upon a description of it, I thought to myself, "Well, that's what *I* do! There are others out there like me?!" So, I started identifying myself as an AP parent--in the hopes of finding like-minded people. A while back, someone on-line asked if she could still be an AP mother if she didn't co-sleep.

That question really blew me away because, to me, AP is not about a laundry list--it's about listening to your child's needs, taking them seriously and responding in a loving a respectful way. I see unschooling in a similar way--to me, it's about not imposing education on a child--it's about letting your child lead his/her own learning in whatever way fits that child at that time.

So, there's my .02 worth.
post #10 of 52
Interesting thread. I am still learning what all of this stuff is so will not comment but I will lurk.
post #11 of 52

The Laundry List Gripes

Ok- this thread is exactly what some other Moms and myself have been discussing lately! She had been so frustrated with some other boards and conversations ,with the "laundry list"(I like that term) of details that make you (or not) an unschooler. After getting somewhat involved with these other boards- I concluded that ,no way,we are NOT unschoolers!
(BTW,that's why we love these boards,way more room for interesting talk)
Like first mama said(sorry,forgot name),I loved giving my kids their freedom and joy to learn things at their own pace- but I needed a certain amount of order,and I felt,respect from other family members that precluded me from being"one of them." (unschooler)
I really felt like some who hold that "laundry list" felt impelled to make sure the rest of us followed it, in such detail,or we were doing it "wrong!" Which I had thought was what thinking for yourself WASN'T about.
And then I started talking to others who also loved the joy and freedom of homeschooling at our own pace,and came to the startling conclusion that, sometimes these folks ,who consider it"wrong" to give their kids ,for example,a set chore list,or responsibilty in the family, had no problem giving me and others who disagreed, a long list of "to-dos",to make sure we fit the "unschooler" standards.
Well,we all learn in our own ways,one of my ds' -loves workbooks,demands stuff like that,the other despises those things,can't get near him with 'em! I've learned over the years,labels are silly,they divide us- I refuse to have anyone label my kids,so why label us,the grownups? I like being a self directed learner!
post #12 of 52
gee, we sound like a tribe

but what to call ourselves
post #13 of 52
Wow!! So who came up with "the rules" of Freethinking reguarding education anyway? :LOL That is so backwards don't ya think?

To me unschooling isn't a list of rules that we decided to subscribe to in order to have the honor of carrying the said label.It is just a fancy way of saying ...I do things the way I want and not the way everyone else thinks I should.Which in essence is how I believe the term unschooling came about. Child directed learning is the most accurate description if one needs an explaination,the Unschooling is a way of connecting with others of likemind IMO

I don't personally use that term when responding to the question " Do you HS?" I just tell people that I HS but I am not a mainstream HSer.If they show more interest I explain. I definately want people to be attracted to what I do and show it in a positive light whenever possible.

So as far as myself... I consider myself to be an Unschooler because I let my children lead by their interest and I am a facilitator. We don't have a set time for "school" as life is our classroom. We do however have lots of books and workbooks and I tailor events and projects according to what they are into at the time to further their experience.My kids loooove that stuff.They totally dig doing papers and working on stuff. I never force it , they always ask me and I'm thrilled because they're happy and learning and I enjoy doing it with them.They'll let weeks go by without book work occasionally and then they get mad at *me* So we bust it out!

So bottom line IMHO unschooling is what your family makes it
post #14 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by clothcrazymom
For us unschooling isn't anything other than life. There is no distinction between living and schooling in our home. I think that's probably the best way to describe it. There are boundaries or "rules". There is also a matter of balancing the needs of all the individuals in the family. It's not a free for all here I really think that beyond a lifestyle, it's a mindset. It's not about that we would never use a textbook or this or that "school item"...because we might. We aren't always on watch for "teachable moments" or any of that. We also aren't "strewing" things out daily to try to guide the kids in a certain direction. It's like breathing. I guess we do have quite a rich environment...but it really has nothing to do with it being about being for the purpose of unschooling.
Clothcrazymom,
Your above quote describes our unschooling household perfectly. I too feel that many unschooling sites have too many qualifiers that you have to go through so that you can call yourself an unschooler. And like someone else mentioned earlier, I only call myself an unschooler when I am around other homeschoolers.
Thanks for starting a great thread!
post #15 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Milkymommi

To me unschooling isn't a list of rules that we decided to subscribe to in order to have the honor of carrying the said label.It is just a fancy way of saying ...I do things the way I want and not the way everyone else thinks I should.
See, this is totally not within my definition of unschooling. "Doing things the way I want" - unschooling isn't about what the parent wants, IMO. It's about giving a child freedom to choose his own learning, without inflicting your agenda, and if it's not about that it's not unschooling, whether it's what everyone else thinks you should do or not.

Truly, I've had more difficulty with the opposite edge of the issue - the people who call themselves unschoolers because they plan educational projects that are based on their children's interests, or skip parts of the textbook if the kid already knows them, or even give their children lots of options on how to learn about a subject - with the unstated message that thw world is divided into subjects and learning about that one is a current requirement, one way or another. Let me be really clear - I don't give a fig whether people do this or not, their life, their family, their choice - but why do they need to call it unschooling? Why does everyone want that label? Why can't they just call themselves eclectic and leave unschooling to mean "no coerced learning, complete academic freedom", so that when people say they unschool, it's clear what they're talking about?

dar
post #16 of 52
Quote:
unschooling isn't about what the parent wants, IMO. It's about giving a child freedom to choose his own learning, without inflicting your agenda, and if it's not about that it's not unschooling, whether it's what everyone else thinks you should do or not.

ITA with you here, Dar. And I would say that this is what we do in our family. Our children have complete freedom to choose their own learning, and even though in my mind, I am aware that I still carry an agenda (truth be told - I have not yet completely deschooled my own mind); however, I am careful to not impose that agenda on my children. If I offer an idea, they are competely free to refuse it, change it, make it their own, etc. The vast majority of what we do, and this has been true since the beginning of our homeschooling journey, is initiated by the kids themselves. Most of what we do, I probably would never have even thought of!

So, if this is what we are now doing, why am I not choosing the label "Unschooling?" Hmmm...I think it's because I was initially influenced by one of those "other" radical sites which had a very strong laundry list, and a harsh way of imposing said laundry list on naive posters. The laundry list included things like: True unschoolers never give their children chores, true unschoolers never limit T.V., true unschoolers never limit food choices, true unschoolers never give their children a bedtime, etc.

We, in our family, do not have assigned chores, do not limit T.V., do not have set bedtimes, etc. We've always been this way - even when the kids were in school. Wow - it's sounding more and more like we are "true" unschoolers. However, there are rare times, with my specific children, when I go "against" these guidelines, and I make a decision in one of these areas when I can see that a different decision than the child has made would be the more beneficial one. I am almost always glad I did. On the occasions when I was misunderstanding what was happening, or my making the decision turned out to not be necessary, I apologize, we work it out. The kids and I have great communication, and talk out every decision. Still, in certain unschooling circles ever making a decision that your overwrought child really should go to bed now would be wrong. Ever turning off the T.V. because another family member simply can't stand to hear that Rugrats song one. more. time. would be wrong. etc. Again, I say - whatever.

Also, I have a friend who has two daughters, 8 years apart. The first daughter (16 y.o.) is easy-going, cheerful, super academic, has never had a conflict with a friend, or even with her parents with whom she has a great relationship. She's a very easy child to raise, and a very easy child to live with, and she really didn't have any household rules for her to speak of. My friend said that before she had dd#2 (8 y.o.), she felt like dd#1 must be so easy going because of her own great parenting. Now - with dd#2, whom she raised the same way - she realizes that dd#1's way of being in the world has very little to do with her great parenting - it's just how she is. Dd#2 is much different. Conflict, and challenges are a daily way of life for her. Is this because of my friend's parenting decisions? If so, how come dd#1 does not have all kinds of conflicts with family members and friends? My friend is finding that she has started parenting dd#2 much differently - more rules, more structure, etc. And now, dd#2 is thriving. Could it be that some children really do thrive with rules and structure? Suppose this same parent imposed rules and structure for their family life (bedtime, chores, limited T.V.), but did not impose any learning agenda on dd#2 - would that be considered unschooling by most unschoolers?

Interesting conversation. As far as claiming the label: I let go of that, because I really don't care about the label. The label "unschooling" has nothing to do with my kids, who learn in their own way unaware of the whole labeling controversy. Self directed learning is the truth, no matter who outside of our family wants to define us, or tell us if we're truly homeschooling/unschooling or whatever.

Laura
post #17 of 52
Laura - that is what I like about this board
Quote:
As far as claiming the label: I let go of that, because I really don't care about the label. The label "unschooling" has nothing to do with my kids, who learn in their own way unaware of the whole labeling controversy. Self directed learning is the truth, no matter who outside of our family wants to define us, or tell us if we're truly homeschooling/unschooling or whatever.
that we each have our way of hs and don't prevent other people from hanging on the line because they don't use the same "laundry list"
post #18 of 52

Clear?

I think that's what I couldn't grasp from some other site,this notion that there's a "clear" definition of unschoolers. I don't think that anyone can fairly say that a person is or is not an unschooler. I honestly think that as someone else said, some kids thrive in different situations. My 1st ds is such an unschooler in his heart, it's the way he thrives, I try my best to honor that. My 2nd ds,he pretty much dictates his preferences as to experiences,and I try to honor his style also,which,when he's left with too much "decide for yourself "time,he becomes very unhappy.
I'm not saying ignoring,you know,he just enjoys more interaction, writing practice,and even workbooks(which I consider dull).I am still an unschooler,(self directed )because the only real definition of this is trying to honor the childs interests and abilities. I think ,as with anything else,there is a spectrum of "types" who choose this way.
I also wholeheartedly agree with previous post,John Holt didn't use set bedtimes,chores or not,etc, in any definitions of unschooling.
There is a large group of people out there,who firmly believe in some or all of these things,yet they are still unschooling,their kids are afforded the dignity and freedom to learn in their own way. I'm trying to teach my kids that chores are a family responsibilty,that cooking and cleaning are honorable and worthy things to accomplish,as are learning and becoming educated. There can be joy in all of life, LOL,and picking up toys time has as much importance as swimming,reading,playing piano,etc.
post #19 of 52

I forgot to say....

Oooh- I forgot to say- I love this conversation- I like the viewpoints differences coming through;-)
post #20 of 52
I think that I've been misunderstood...so let me be a bit more clear.

I don't mean that *I* chosse what goes on in any way or that HS is centered around my needs or desires. I just meant that in reguard to how the rest of the world does things I have the freedom to choose unstructered educational freedom.

Also, those that disagree with doing projects and things of that nature tailored around your kids interests, what do you do when they WANT that? My kids get very upset with me if I don't do fun projects and take trips with them on a pretty regular basis. They are very hands on learners. I don't coerse them in any way I just respond to what they happen to be interested in. If they don't feel like it ...we don't but that rarely happens.Usually it's more like "mommy we're bored why can't we do something?" So I always have some back up ya know?

If that's not complete educational freedom than what is?

I also don't really feel the *need* to use a label, I used to think it was a nice way to connect with those of like mind within the HSing community.Unfortunately I'm learning the more I get involved that this is quite a point of contention. I'm wondering why people are so defensive about a silly label? I guess I've been mistaken all this time in that I thought the term Unschooling was a refernce to people who were choosing to not take a traditoinal approach to homeschooling and let their children lead the way.

Guess I have lots to learn still about the rules of fitting in? Which is what I thought Unschooling was not about
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