What is unschooling? - Mothering Forums
Unschooling > What is unschooling?
carolm1's Avatar carolm1 12:57 PM 08-04-2011

I am looking around at many diffrent ways to teach my kids. I have looked at Waldorf, Montesorri and regular homeschooling. I have looked into unschooling but dont really understand what it is. Can someone explain it to me?

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:09 PM 08-04-2011

Some call it child-led learning, but it is way beyond that.  


A few basic ideas:


*as much as is practical, learning happens within the context of real-life situations.

*children are trusted to direct their own education.

*parents act as facilitators, not teachers.


Hmmmm.... this is really hard.  Unschooling doesn't mean no text books or workbooks or curriculums or classes, it just means that kids have chosen these things themselves to further their own goals.  Because kids direct their own education, unschooling can look pretty different for each family or each child


Some unschoolers find that they can extend the unschooling philosophy to other areas of family life.  But whether a family does this, and to what degree is different for every one. 


I'm sure someone else has a better answer here.......

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:28 PM 08-04-2011

I just realized that because family life IS real life, unschooling *will* spill over into these areas to varying degrees depending on the family.

unruly3's Avatar unruly3 09:49 PM 08-04-2011

You explained it very well!

OP Check out Sandra Dodd and John Holt, you will learn more there too,  It is exactly that, child led.  And you have to trust that your child will learn and want to learn, the basics and then some.  Which is hard.  But my 5 yr old is teaching himself reading, writing and math, slowly in his own way, and we jump in and help when he asks for it.  He demands to be unschooled honestly, I can see where my youngest will enjoy curriculum.  There are a lot of ideas out there about what is and is not unschool, don't let that intimidate you, the bottom line is that we all are trying to listen to, and do whats best for our children.

carolm1's Avatar carolm1 04:22 PM 08-05-2011

I have a 2 yr old, and he loves to do work book pages. They are very simple matching, spoting what dosent belong, coloring, lines. Are their any things I can do with him? His sister is 1, so he is the oldest. Whatever he does she eventually follows him.

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 08:28 PM 08-05-2011

     Long post: be forewarned!

     Workbooks are fine if he is enjoying them (according to unschooling philosophy). 

So, what else to do, from my unschooling standpoint:

    *What would YOU do, yourself, to get through the day?  Let him do stuff along side you.  Encourage friends and family to welcome him in to their activities if they wish, and your boy seems interested.  Your 1yo can do this, too.  Let him get in there and do it, even if it makes things a littler harder, messier, or longer to finish.  In many ways, an unschooling toddler-hood is very similar to Waldorf or Montessori.

     *Go outside, let him play alongside your gardening, or if you are in an urban area go to a park or on a walk and let him have open-ended exploration (or at least as open-ended as you have a 1yo to consider.)  

     *Resist the urge to turn things into a lesson.  Lessons or "teaching moments" will present themselves anyway.  For example, keep reading a joyful experience.  Don't try to "teach", and respect his wish if he doesn't like you to follow the words with your finger (one of my daughters asks for me to do that, the other one hates it.)  I have a personal peeve about the questions parents are told they should ask about the pictures and the context of the story.  Sometimes that conversation just bubbles up, but I don't like "making it happen."  I personally feel that exploring without the need to categorize or put thoughts into words is an asset at this age.  Not that you should artificially NOT give them words either because they crave that, too.  I guess what I mean is to do what comes naturally at that moment, perhaps because you sense some confusion (about a picture, for example) or when they ask you outright (or point, for 2yo's).  

     *Don't compartmentalize learning.  Reading, math, science, arts, home ec, social studies etc. can all be rolled up into whatever you are fascinated with at the time.

     *Support his interests.  These will become more clear as he gets a bit older.  Check out books with a train or polar bear theme for example.  These don't need to be informative books, either ("Little Engine That Could" is a favorite.)  Make a point of visiting the polar bear at the zoo, buy him a wooden track for his birthday, take the train to visit relatives instead of driving, etc.

     *Teach yourself to say "yes" when your parental torpor says "not now" and you don't have a better reason.

     *Let most of your day be free play.  Here is where I really love Waldorf.  NOBODY does childhood play like Waldorf.  The book "Creative Play for Your Toddler" by Christopher Clowder and Janni Nichol is excellent and has fun projects and playtime philosophy a la Waldorf.  You don't need to "do" Waldorf.  But their emphasis on creative, imaginative, open-ended play is inspiring.  I also felt inspired by their philosophy of delayed academics (which don't start until the age of 7.)

     *Trust that where your child is right now is normal.  Don't worry about where he is developmentally.  Most unschoolers and a good chunk of homeschoolers feel that much of the ADHD hoo-hah is created by forcing perfectly normal, rambunctious kids (mainly boys) in front of desks before they are ready.  There is a wide range of normal for abilities such as reading, much wider than you are made to think.  Schools need kids to learn as a group, you don't.  Even if a kid has a bona fide learning disability, many homeschooling families choose to work with it by leading a normal life without focusing on it. 

     *Trust them with some responsibility.  I don't mean "The dog is in your care now, go for it and please don't kill her!"  But a 2yo can fill the food bowl, help groom a dog, collect eggs (crack eggs, why not?) give the money to the cashier, wash food, fill the washing machine soap dispenser, wield hammer.  This is according to your comfort level, of course.  I was shocked to learn that my friend's 2yo was operating a real cordless drill, then I realized that I had entrusted my hand pruners to my 3yo!  And thus we lead back into "let him do stuff alongside you"......


But I forgot one thing.... Learning doesn't necessarily happen in the prescribed order or any particular manner.  This is OK!  Whatever works.....

Holloeness's Avatar Holloeness 08:34 PM 08-05-2011


Thank you for that very informative post, its a great way to view learning for anyone really.  My dd almost 4 would like to go to school as she is very social and likes to be around other kids but my concern was putting her into a world that is too wordy.  When everything cannot be explained with words and everything is not words, just a pointer.  I agree they should be playing and such.

Cyllya's Avatar Cyllya 12:19 PM 08-06-2011

I see unschooling as a belief that school, school-like activities, and school-related things are not more valuable than other activities/things. IMO, it's still unschooling if the child chooses to attend school or do school-at-home, but most people seem to disagree. However, most unschoolers agree that it's still unschooling if the child chooses to do workbooks or attend classes, so... I'm not really sure where the line is drawn. *shrug* 


Unschooling is a huge difference in mindset compared to schooling. I think some people hear about unschooling, and because they have a school mindset, they picture school-at-home type homeschooling where the kid designs their own curriculum, and they think it means unschooling has "failed" if the child doesn't choose to learn whatever the local public school would be teaching children of the same age. Here's a recent topic explaining the mindset:


SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 07:44 PM 08-06-2011

Originally Posted by Cyllya View Post

 However, most unschoolers agree that it's still unschooling if the child chooses to do workbooks or attend classes, so... I'm not really sure where the line is drawn. *shrug* 


One difference in our house is that workbooks are puzzle books, and the reward stickers aren't withheld until completion.  And the certificates at the back?  Ignored.  I don't usually look for workbooks unless we haven't had a new puzzle book in a while.  They also aren't filled with "busy work" like "describe the difference" between 2 objects or "write the name of _____".  The puzzles are usually some form of secret code or crosswords, really fun stuff.  My girls are 6 and 4.

     Most of their learning happens within the regular course of the day, not in books like these.  So that's one difference.  No carrot or stick for learning or not learning.  Well, OK, some heartfelt, spontaneous high 5's sometimes because I am deeply impressed when they've worked through something difficult and figured it out.


Stacey B's Avatar Stacey B 12:31 PM 08-08-2011

I think the biggest thing is trusting your children that they will learn what they need when they need it, you are there to help them not dictate what they do. A lot of people I've talked with get Unschooling confused with letting your child choose the subject of a unit. You need to throw out the school analogy to really get it. Instead think back to how they learned and played as babies, you didn't make them practice walking or crawling but you did support them when they did. Well older kids still function the same way, just different skills and interests, extend it out. You live your life along side them introducing them to the world and giving them opportunities to find interests, through adventures, libraries, friendships (both children and adults). When they are interested in something you help find the resources they need to explore it deeper.


As for the rest of life it really is hard to separate the two. Since DS is only 5 it is hard for me to wrap my mind around radically unschooling, or perhaps it is my personality, but we do try to live consensually as a family.