Unschooling is a radical form of homeschooling that throws the books out the window on traditional learning. School [School newly corrected: Learning] takes place out of traditional school doors and on the child’s own terms. Today, I sat down with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, to discuss it.
How can this work?
(1) Know your child. Some children thrive in a less rigid, less structured, more free form education process. Some children are self propelled, self motivated, and ready to learn in many different kinds of ways. Other children thrive with structure and adult guidance.
(2) Know yourself: It may not sound like it, but this is an investment on the parents part. Self directed not mean by themselves. Unschooling doesn’t mean only exposed to what’s in front of you. Parents must be willing to get out, get their hands dirty, and take the road less traveled. (There are lots of sites and blogs where parents and young people are sharing their experiences so you can see what this entails).
Why would people do this?
(1) Some parents may be dissatisfied with the local school system, their personal education growing up or even what traditional schools provide today.
(2) Some parents may have an exceptional child who has specific gifts that they believe would be better suited outside of the traditional classroom structure.
(3) They may want to nurture a passion of their child’s that they don’t feel the traditional local school has the time or curriculum to do.
Note: Some unschoolers will take a college class if they feel that this will help them to grow and learn what they are interested in as many they believe all avenues of learning should be tapped.
As a parent who may or may not be considering this– you may have some questions:
(1) Are there longitudinal studies? There are no long range statistics on if it’s working, not working, what’s working and what isn’t. Right now we’re going on faith and anecdotal evidence. Hopefully, studies will be provided in the coming years.
(2) Will there be gaps in their education? If the children are hyper-focused on one or two things, there may be concern that the fundamentals may be lost or delayed if they are not as exciting to learn. Even though unschooling is self-directed, parents will need to encourage some balance. After all, in order to delve into many topics of interest, reading, writing, and math are necessary. The philosophy here is; the children will learn what they need to learn at the time it’s necessary to learn it.
(3) What about socialization? Parents of all home-schooled children need to provide the socialization their children need to grow up as a well-rounded, social individual of our society. All children need to exposed to other children, away from parents, so they learn how to be with other kids. If they aren’t in school, and other avenues aren’t provided, socialization can be an issue. (This is where programming like 4H, scouts, martial arts classes, sports, community theater and camps come in- many home-schooled children will take part in after-school programming or even get together with other home-schooled children during the day and learn together).
(4) Will they be exposed to enough variety? Parents need to ensure that their children are receiving diversified exposure that allow them to discover all their passions aside from the one they are already nurturing. If a child is really interested in one area, we still need to expose them to much more than that…or how are they going to discover all the passions they may have?
(5) Are they learning to persevere through tough subjects? Parents need to ensure that all children learn how to persevere and endure through subject matter that kids may not find all that intriguing but is necessary for their development. All children need to venture out of their comfort zones, try new things, and overcome challenges.
If college, then what?
If unschoolers want to go the more traditional route, they’ll have to do what every other student does and take the necessary tests to get placed. However, there is one major difference: they’ll provide a resume of learning rather than a traditional transcript. Some unschoolers will have to learn to take tests and focus in larger seminars if they haven’t been in that circumstance before. Only time will tell if there are significant gaps and when unschooling is right for a specific child.
What can we learn from unschooling?
Just as unschoolers can supplement their education with traditional school classes, those who go the traditional route, can supplement their child’s formal education with experiential learning in areas that truly excite them. Use some of your weekends, summer vacation, winter breaks, and after-school times to go the nontraditional route. Your child may want to do science camp in the summer, take trips to the zoo, dig in the dirt to learn about bugs, camp in the forest, or draw on a mountainside.
There are great things to learn out there beyond the school walls whether you are interested in unschooling, homeschooling, or traditional structured schooling. If you take nothing else away from the segment, I think that’s the bottom line here. The “recipe” for success is different for different children and different families– parents can and should explore a variety of different approaches to see what can work best for their child.