Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Homeschooling versus Unschooling

Henry has been having more and more problems at school and we are really at our wits end with what to do to accommodate him. His school is too. I usually get a call from school 2 - 4 times a week letting me know something has gone badly. I'm not sure if modifications for his behavioral issues will suffice for much longer. Our other option is to transfer him to a school with a dedicated classroom for kids with special needs. Without getting into too many details, the idea of homeschooling has come up yet again.

When my son was born, I was enthralled with the idea of homeschooling. I read a ton of books about the benefits of homeschooling, the different methodologies, the issues and the like. I loved the concept of a classical education and the idea that content could be catered to a child's interests and focus. Needless to say, I was more interested in secular homeschooling and I was happy to see a lot of support in our area for that (groups and the like), including support programs in our public schools for homeschoolers.

All that said, our children go to public school. It all came down to a few things: personality and loss of income. However, we are lucky in that our public elementary school uses some of the curriculum that I would use at home - Saxon and Singapore Math and Junior Great Books for reading. They are able to provide an environment that I certainly couldn't do on my own, as well as services they need. At least, so far.

But, one thing I never could wrap my brain around was the concept of unschooling. Basically, unschooling is centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play and social interaction rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. All of this is facilitated by adults.

I really like the theory behind unschooling, but I don't believe that children would learn everything that I personally think is important to be able to make certain life choices later. In other words, it doesn't provide them with the toolset to do certain things as an adult. I wouldn't want to restrict my children's ability to do anything they wanted to do later in life and that's what unschooling appears to do from my perspective. And, before any panties get twisted, I'm referring mainly to later career choices in math and hard sciences or anything that requires a significant foundation of knowledge.

What do you think of unschooling? For those unschoolers out there, why did you choose unschooling instead of more "traditional" homeschooling?


lisa said...

Weird. I just spent the last hour or so reading about Reggio Emilia appraoch to (mostly pre) schooling. Because that what my younger son's preschool claims to adopt. And as far as I can tell, they are on board with it.

The reason I say "weird" is because it sounds Very much like what you just described as Unschooling.

That said...

I am a firm believer that "math" can be taught through life. does not offer many opportunites to teach multidigit multiplication. Eventually we are going to have to sit down and "teach" it. (That is eventually going to become Algebra and whatever other damn math will if I suck at math--and I do--finding a good tutor may behoove me me.)

I always thought about homeschooling. But when it came down to it, there were two things:

1) If my kids do not go to traditional school, I will have to make Play Dates to facilitate social skills. I fucking Hate play dates.

2) Sometimes I want my children to go away for a whole day at a time.

I suck.

In theory, however, if Unlearning is anything like Reggio Emilia, Project Based Learning, etc....I think it is actually the course current schools will start to take. Not while OUR kids are in school, mind you, but maybe by the time Theirs are...

I'm sure this was Very Helpful. :/

Lisa said...

I was unschooled from 4th grade on. The only textbook I had was math and it was Saxon. And guess what, that was/is by far my worst subject. (though it really hasn't been an issue, I can do all the practical stuff and know how to use a calculator)

I'm dyslexic, ADD, and have Irlen Syndrome. School was very hard for me. However, I was a very good, quite kid so my teachers didn't really notice. I have an above average IQ so I was placed in the gifted and talented program. I got mostly A's because I could memorize for the tests, but I would just forget it.

When we started homeschooling I could hardly read and my math skills were not up to grade level. I had wonderful teachers in public school but I needed one on one time because I don't learn like most people.

When I was in 6th grade my parents gave me the standardized test that was used around here at the time. I was at grade level on a few things but for most I was above. My map skills were college level and other things were high school level.

There is this strange idea that unschoolers don't do school. I did school just not like other kids (even other homeschoolers). Here are some examples. One year for science I decided to read a series of books on all the elements. This was above my grade level and not something I would have done if I was doing traditional homeschooling or in public school. But I was interested so I soaked it all up.

Another year I was thinking about becoming a nurse so I read my mom's old nursing textbooks, the information I learned from that is always useful. I have found medical knowledge to be something most people really lack.

I always had to do something for each subject but what I did was up to me. We raised a see-through frog, I caught other bugs to raise and would research what to feed them and all of that.

I took piano and oil painting. I read Shakespeare and other classic works. My mom read to me everyday because with my learn disabilities I understand information better if it's read to me, then if I read it myself.

I needed to learn a language so I got out all the language dictionaries in the house and decided I liked Italian. So then got online, found a free course, told my mom and started doing it.

And the most important thing I got from unschooling is I learned to think and to love learning. I was a kid that was going to hate school. It was hard, very hard for me. It made me feel bad about myself because it showed how much I wasn't like other kids. Other kids were getting what the teacher said but I didn't, it made no sense to me. Unschooling made sense, it was freeing, it gave me wings.

I took the ACT straight out of high school and got a great science score, very good english, and the only thing that was lacking was math (again the only thing I had a textbook for). It wasn't bad enough I would have had to take extra math in college but it did bring my overall score down. However I needed to pee so badly during that part that I'm sure I could get it up quite a bit. haha

Anyway, the point is you do learn what you need to when unschooling, unschooling doesn't need to mean do direction, just means listening to your kid and encouraging interests and not stomping on their creativity for the sake of learning things at the "right time." If you make your kids love to learn, they will learn!

My research skills are much better than most people I know, and that's because I was taught to think and to teach myself. So if I want to know something, I learn it. (It's late, I didn't proof this and I will again say I'm dyslexic so ignore typos haha)

Unknown said...

Really love Lisa Sharp's comment. Wow.

I'm in my 11th year of homeschooling.

I've been thinking a lot about unschooling lately. I admire the parents that are truly dedicated.

I have friends that say they "unschool" their children. Really, it's just relaxed schooling. No worries about the future. They assume their kids will get what they need from life experience and desire to learn.

I find that to be mighty naive. Sometimes learning is hard work. As humans we don't typically gravitate towards the hard things unless we know what the reward will be in the end.

I can tell my daughter all day long that she will benefit from Algebra one day. She can't see it. She hates it. I feel it is important.

So there are some things I tell my kids they just have to suck it up and do it.

My middle son would never pick up a fiction novel if I didn't press him to. He prefers non fiction (which is great!) but there is a time and place to evaluate fiction literature.

However, the people that I see truly unschooling their kids are prepared for every teachable moment. I applaud them.

Personally, I still think it leaves holes in an education. But are they holes a well educated adult (Like Lisa) can't fill in for themselves when they need to?

I would love to give unschooling a try. I'm too chicken.

Brenda The Bregle Rebel Bag Lady said...

wow i wish i had lisa sharps education. I had a conventional schooling and i learnt sweet-f-a
I believe we all learn when we are ready, and for some its later in life, or in non conventional ways, i dont think there is any sure fire way, so go with what feels right for you, and good luck, raising kids is the hardest job :)

CitricSugar said...

I'm getting my education degree right now and am neck-deep in my internship. I think that what Lisa Sharp describes is an ideal home-schooling situation (not sure if it's "unschooling") where you have a motivated student and actively involved parents.

What type of "school" really does depend on the student. I have seen many (already) that would struggle once taken out of the school environment and others that would have greater enthusiasm for the whole shebang if they didn't have to follow the traditional version of the curriculum.

lisa (the first) also has a point about the social development. I'm a firm believer that ALL children should spend as much time in the general classroom as possible. Full inclusion helps not only the students who have exceptional needs but those that don't; children learn empathy and tolerance a great deal faster when the classroom population is a diverse as possible. It does put a great deal of pressure on the teacher to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student, though. Inclusion for all students is actually legislated in most, if not all, provinces here in Canada.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to what is best for the individual student. If your son's needs mean you decide on a separate class for students with exceptionalities, then that's where he should be. However, weigh the pros and cons carefully, (and I know you are already doing that...) I have one student who needs one-on-one instruction and is working on a greatly modified curriculum but for social reasons is placed in my regular grade ten English class, instead of an alternate education class. The detriment to her self-esteem and progress would be too great. There is an educational assistant in the room who is invaluable as a resource and support but I know not all situations are like that.

sarah gilbert , cafemama said...

I feel like you're in exactly the place I was in January of this year -- though I think our kids are different ages, and my oldest isn't on the spectrum (his beef is anxiety), and has already been through the special school just for kids whose behavioral challenges require too many alterations in the normal classroom structure.

by the time I took him out of school in February it wasn't a choice. he had been suspended and refused to go through the "re-entry" meeting where you're supposed to make a plan to do better. he hated his teacher, and we were on the third teacher that year, and most of his trouble was linked to the social conflagrations he was experiencing with other behaviorally challenged kids (which, as you can imagine, are extra-hard for a standalone classroom filled with behaviorally challenged kids). I was done.

I took him out and he also wouldn't do homeschool -- once in a while he'd do a half-sheet of division problems, and then say, "I'm bored!" we were giving him two different medications and things, even at home, were very bad. frequently, he'd have such a hard time getting along with his brother or my sister, who was babysitting a couple of times a week, that I'd have to physically separate him -- send him to stay with another aunt for several hours (even overnight a few times) until he could calm down.

after nine months of unschooling, we've taken him off all his anxiety medications and, though he still often loses his temper, it's a totally different sort of challenge than before. now, he can talk through his emotions *in the middle* of a temper burst. his physical outbursts are so different; before, he would be destructive or violent, now, he expresses his anger through somewhat more socially-acceptable means. (somewhat)

I think, for him, the social pressure of school was exacerbating his anxiety, causing enormously inappropriate outbursts (I too had to pick him up two or three times a week, often at 10 a.m. -- great!). all my school, honestly, is teaching him how to be empathetic and deal with his anger. we watch TV together and discuss the nuances of the characters' approaches to conflict. we spend a lot of time analyzing the motivations behind his brothers, his friends, his aunts, and his friends' parents' behavior -- trying to see things from their point of view. it could be just the natural maturation process -- but this seems to be working, so I'll take it. I never would have dared take him off his medication in March. now I feel confident about his eventual ability to "get along in society" as they say.

and I have NPR on *all the time.* we talk about faster-than-light protons, and how rainbows work, and the life cycle of ladybugs, and how to make glass, and why we got into world war II, and how plots are structured (I'm a writer), and I define words like I'm drilling the kids for the SATs. I'm hoping this is good enough, for now, because it's pretty much my only option.

(n.b. my husband thinks this unschooling thing is insane. but, he's in Kuwait right now for the Army, so we're delaying the inevitable difficult discussion while I'm solo parenting.)

Lisa said...

I should have also said my husband is a public school teacher and my FIL teaches education on a college level. I likely know a bit more about that side than normal people as well.

I wanted to address somethings that CitricSugar said-

"I think that what Lisa Sharp describes is an ideal home-schooling situation (not sure if it's "unschooling") where you have a motivated student and actively involved parents."-

I wasn't self motivated at all to start with. School had me pretty down on myself. School was very hard for me and something I was growing to hate. Yes my parents were involved, they were when I was in public school, yet I still could hardly read in 4th grade. Parents shouldn't homeschool or unschool if they aren't going to be there to teach or guide them. But a child can be guided to become motivated if they are taught to love to learn. Unschooling does this.

My brother was also unschooled and he is very different than me. He was a straight a's student, also in the gifted and talented program but he doesn't have learning disabilities and school was very easy for him. So easy he was quite bored in public school. He has gone on to graduate from college with honors.

"What type of "school" really does depend on the student. I have seen many (already) that would struggle once taken out of the school environment and others that would have greater enthusiasm for the whole shebang if they didn't have to follow the traditional version of the curriculum."-

This is true, my brother and I did very different things when unschooling. Unschooling allowed for us to have very different schooling, geared to what we needed and how we learn.

"lisa (the first) also has a point about the social development. I'm a firm believer that ALL children should spend as much time in the general classroom as possible."-

Being someone that was unschooled and went to public school I can put this common fear to rest. You can get socialization without going to school. I was busier and had more of a social life once I started unschooling.

There are support groups everywhere and these groups have field trips, group classes, ours had a 4-H group, sports teams, etc... I'm very well socialized, as is my brother.

The kids in our group that had issues in this area were were the same types of kids that had issues in public school. It had nothing to do with the schooling, it had to do with the parenting.

sarah gilbert , cafemama said...

... I'd just like to address the comment about belief in being in normal classrooms, and how special classrooms can be a good proximation -- and how this is so important in order to get along in the "real world."

first of all, if there is already a school environment in which the parent is having to pick the child up two-four times a week (very common here in Portland, too), you've already passed the point of "let's learn empathy and tolerance." the fact is that many teachers and most parents of other kids don't have empathy and tolerance for children who are acting out in class. and in special classrooms, I can bet the empathy and tolerance of the other kids in the class will be slim to none. (they're in the class in the first place because their empathy and tolerance is challenged.) in rare cases you will find an extraordinary teacher or paraprofessional who sees through the challenging behaviors to the soul of your child, and who always understands what the child really meant to do. these are vanishingly, preciously rare. usually what you'll get are well-meaning teachers whose wrong assumptions about your child's intentions turn a small frustration into a big classroom disturbance. and in my experience, even a small classroom disturbance is enough to change a calm environment and a happy, competent teacher into frantic chaos in which no one is learning anything. (I'm the lucky one whose kids are often on the "causation" end of that chaos.)

I'll just give you one example of my middle son, who is on the spectrum. he went through a phase where he was constantly throwing things up into the air and catching them (he's a sensory seeker and loved the thrill). he did so in the bathroom with a little stuffed animal. it fell in the urinal. some older boys saw him and teased him; which enraged him. he yelled at them, and went after his beloved animal, splashing them in his rage.

the call I got described how he'd been playing in the toilet with his animal, and splashing other kids. "this is very bad behavior," said the sweet, kind secretary. "our principal found him."

teachers can't pay nearly as much attention to kids as a parent can; and the school system is designed to address the behavior, not its cause. behaviors are punished by a very strict code. no one has time to sit around watching out for triggers or figuring out how things start; we just get the end of it and it's unusual that a teacher will understand a child's inner emotional workings like you can.

(I have another long statement about how classrooms are not designed by some educational research, but by tradition, and how ill this prepares someone to be a wonderful and well-adjusted-to-society adult. how many times have you ever, as an adult, been made to sit in a small chair with a bunch of other adults and do what someone at the front told you, unquestioningly, raising your hand if you wanted to talk or go to the bathroom? I'm guessing not many people make a career out of this, and it's certainly not going to help you get along with your spouse or your mother-in-law. there's no magic to the classroom. in fact, it could perhaps be a terrible way to learn. I'd find a study that said so, but it's bedtime: I have to unschool my kid in the morning.)

Glenda said...

You had a similar post in April 2010 -- -- for which there was lots of discussion in the comments.

As one of the unschooling parents who contributed to that discussion, I remember "foundation for math and hard sciences" being a concern of yours at that time, as it still seems to be. I'm curious if anything in that discussion changed your perspective about unschooling in any way?

My teen has always been unschooled, so obviously I'm pro-unschooling! I did look into some homeschooling curricula when my son was preschool-age and K-age, but even the least-restrictive of those felt too restrictive. We like having the ability for him to pursue any and all of his interests, and unschooling is the only educational opportunity we've found that allows for that kind of freedom of learning.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Sarah - That's been exactly my experience. Sigh.

Heather said...

I always enjoy the discussion on public vs private vs homeschooling vs unschooling. My kids are too young to really give any good insight into any of it (3 and 1), but I feel like each child is different, and you have to make different choices based on their personality, motivation, etc. I am planning on homeschooling right now, but that could change. And I do believe in interest led learning, although I have to say that it would be in addition to what I feel is necessary :-)

Cheryl Ann said...

I'm a third grade teacher myself and frankly, I think home schooling is best for some kids. I have a VERY active and inattentive class this year and frankly, some of them would be better off at home, where they could work in smaller segments and get one-on-one attention. I have 29 students and I just cannot get around the class every day to meet the needs of ALL my students. It is very frustrating. That's my two cents.

Julie said...

I used to daydream about all the fun we'd have unschooling. I just knew it was the right path for us.

Fast forward eight years, and now I have a third grader and a preschooler. Somewhere around kindergarten with the oldest, I realized unschooling was just never going to happen. I'm too much of a control freak, and she's too unmotivated.

We have an "eclectic" homeschool. I demand that math and English be studied each day. Other things are learned a bit more freely, based somewhat on interest, but I certainly guide it.

The problem with "interest-based learning" is that kids don't know what might interest them. I introduced the subject of Ancient Egypt to my daughter, and she was enthralled. We learned everything there was to know. But she may never have known she had that interest if I hadn't insisted that she at least begin to learn to about it.

We love hand-on activities, lap books, and the Charlotte Mason idea of using "living books" to teach our kids. We read a lot, and we play a lot. Not so much any of the worksheets, etc. (except for math.)

The beauty of homeschool comes when both Mom and Child are open to new things. It's never a good idea to go into it with a specific idea of how it's going to go: it usually won't. But a bit of flexibility goes a long way, and makes so much learning possible!

Krista said...

Lisa Sharp did an amazing job of saying what I wanted to say, so I will just tell you our story.

We are Unschoolers by default. Two of my three boys have ADHD as well as some other issues, and public school was not a good fit for them. We started homeschooling when they were very young. (3rd grade, 1st grade and K.) We started off with a Classical approach in mind, but very quickly learned that it wasn't going to work with one of the boys. Long story short, we valued the relationship we had/have with our kids over anything that they could learn from a book, so we let them take the lead.

Oldest son will be 20 in December. He took 1 year off between "graduation" and college, mostly because we spent three months in Europe and he did a lot of things in our community. He is currently attending the local Community College with a 4.0, is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and is applying to MIT's Engineering program next year. He sits in class with kids who graduated from the local public schools who struggle with things like basic reading comprehension, basic math, etc. His school is pretty rigorous and he has had no problems adjusting.

Middle son will be 18 in December and has decided that he wants to design and develop video games, so he is working on making sure his math skills are where they need to be and has two plans. 1) Apply to Full Sail University next year or 2) Attend the local community college and earn an Associate degree in something to do with computers and then apply to Full Sail and transfer credits. (Graduating high/home school seniors in our city can attend two years of the Community College for free and he feels like it would be a waste to not take advantage of something so great being offered to him.)

Youngest son is 16 and is too busy building things, problem solving and living life to decide what he wants to do yet. He is considering the Military, but that could change.

Homeschooling/Unschooling isn't for everyone, but to us it is a major contributing factor in the men that our boys have become and are becoming.

Anonymous said...

I have cousins who were unschooled. One is 25, went to college during her high school years and therefore got her Bachelor's for free, just got her Master's with a very, very reasonable amount of debt, and is now a museum curator. The other is studying to be an interpreter for the Deaf. The third isn't even out of puberty yet and is a professional ballerina. So, while, my sample size is admittedly small, my impression of unschooling is good.

My daughter is in kindergarten, and my son will go to preschool next year. We live in a rural, remote area, and there is simply no other way for me to get them as much peer interaction as they crave. However, once there are about 6th grade age, I want to transition them into self-motivated learning. Ideally, I want them to do as my cousins did, and start taking college classes early (and free). College is simply far too expensive to do the traditional, dorm room, four years, Fair Isle sweater-football game-autumn leaf model.

My daughter's speech therapist moved her child from public school to private school. Her son, S, was the only child of two child-therapist parents. S has skills in dealing with special needs kids that many professionals lack. S was in a class, two years running, with a boy on the autism spectrum named H. What ended up happening was that S became the defacto parapro for H. S's parents went along with this- they work with kids on the spectrum, so they had much empathy for H and his parents, and they know that this could be a very enriching thing for S. But once it got to the point that S's education and personal life were suffering, they pulled him.

This story, to me, really illustrates that special ed is a struggle for many schools. There are often children who have such profound disabilities that the ISD buildings where they attend school are more like hospital wards, with nurses on staff. Education is largely secondary- the children are entitled to a public education, and the parents may have no other help, school is the only break they get. So we have a special ed system in this country that runs the gamut from a hospital ward to mainstreamed, high functioning student who also has learning or social disabilities. It's too broad a category to be effective for individuals.

These are my (disjointed) thoughts.

Greenpa said...

I find the idea of a formal method for making learning informal just a little amusing.

Hey, just a little. Lots of things humans do are REALLY amusing, right? :-)

Anyway. My take.

My job, as a parent, is to teach my child. Teach what? Absolutely everything. Including, how to learn. How to see. How to be interested. In what? Absolutely everything.

It's a fulltime, 100% job. I take absolutely every chance I can see, hear, smell, taste, imagine or feel to get my kids to open their eyes and connect all the dots. Every second of the day. THAT"S MY #1 JOB.

It's fun. Now that 2 of my kids are grownups- it totally continues.

And every kid on the planet is different from every other one. Just a fact.

So. Just dive into the job. Do what you can. And don't spend TOO much time sweating the "maybe I should have..." stuff. Just keep going.

Greenpa said...

Incidentally, yes, Lisa Sharp's experiences there are really valuable; the view from the inside.

I have a question for you, though- you don't mention your parents' day by day inputs/attitudes. Kids, surprise, are often only kind of vaguely aware of their parents; who and what they are, etc.

The old chestnut about "When I was 18, I was astonished at what an idiot my father was. Now I'm 25; and it's amazing how much the old man has learned in that short time." - actually resonates well, for most people older than 25.

Partly I'm remembering one specific incident in the life of my Middle Child. When he was a freshman in highschool, I instigated a conspiracy between myself, his mom, his older brother, and the school vocal teacher, to put INTENSE pressure on him to do something he loudly and repeatedly refused to do; join the choir.

The conspiracy succeeded; and he went on to take immense joy in choral singing; winding up in the elite choral group at his college, performing in the National Cathedral, touring in Europe, etc. He NEVER would have done it, without the push, which he resented like crazy at the time.

Sometimes; parents DO know best. And sometimes, kids are idiots. The reverse can, of course also be true. :-)

Anonymous said...

My son (who is on the autism spectrum with PDD-NOS) is only 5 and absolutely thriving in public kindergarten. I was worried he would be hitting the other kids and making car noises all day long, because that's a lot of what he does at home, but from all reports his behavior, while not perfect by any means, has not disrupted class.

As has already been said, different approaches work for different children. Were I in your situation, Crunchy, I would definitely consider homeschooling. For my own son, the social growth he's experienced in just two months of school has astounded me, and his teacher has convinced him to start writing letters on his own; we worked on that with him all summer long and it was torture and required bribery.

The description of "unschooling" sounds like what we've been doing with him all along and plan to continue to do as a supplement to school. We visit our library regularly and I pick books from the nonfiction section to spark his interest; if he likes something, we check out more books about that subject. He helps in the garden and can identify many herbs. He's learning French and requests the French lessons CD in the car. As he gets older I definitely plan to do more hands-on projects, because I feel that kind of learning is missing in most classrooms. But what he gets out of being in the classroom is something his father and I simply can't provide.

Tori said...

I want to preface my comment with the fact that before becoming a parent, I taught public high school (all grades) for five years.

We are on the very tip of the Unschooling iceberg, my son being only two and a half, but I will say that we are already loving it. He has the vocabulary of a kid twice his age, and we have spent a lot of time watching NASA TV after having watched the final space shuttle launch last summer, which lit a fuse of interest in his little brain. We are learning the order of the planets, what Astronauts do, and the difference between a rocket, a space shuttle, and a satellite. Yes, my two year old knows what a satellite is, can say the word in correct context, and very basically what they do. I'm not saying this to brag, because honestly I can take very little if any credit for all of it. He found something he loves, and I just offer up as much information as I can and he soaks it up like a little sponge. I adore it.

As a process, I think Unschooling is the best fit for us. However, as with any educational philosophy, I don't think it will work as well for everyone who tries it.

Lisa said...

Greenpa: I don't totally understand the question. I can get my mom to post her thoughts if you would like.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I've just had this debate - what is unschooling? - with my parents and siblings the other day.

I think there is a huge range of unschooling techniques, from very involved educations like Lisa's to people who can't be bothered to homeschool properly. Real unschooling - the involved kind - can be a great thing.

However I disagree with Lisa's insinuation that other kinds of school, including mainstream, stomp on a child's creativity. I went to a mainstream school and we had PLENTY of opportunities to pick our own project subjects, do things like art, choose between playing sport for the afternoon or doing fun science experiments, read the kinds of books we wanted to. Sure, there are probably some boring mainstream schools out there. There are also probably lots of uninspired homeschooling/unschooling parents.

Both can be great, or not.

Deoxy144 said...

I was homeschooled and am now beginning to homeschool my own children. There have been very few families I've known who did "pure" unschooling. Usually, it was mostly unschooling with a math curriculum. Or mostly unschooling, but the parents give the occasional push when they feel it is needed.

With my children, I plan to follow their interests as much as possible, since they remember so much more when they choose the topic. However, learning about a topic (wolves for an example) can be broadened to include learning about carnivores, human/wolf interaction and wildlife management, the game "What Time is it Mr. Wolf" for practice counting, drawing/painting pictures of wolves, songs and fingerplays about wolves, learning about insulation by experimenting with what kinds of "fur" keep us warmest, reading practice, camouflage, organizational hierarchies, and body language. And those are just the things that have come up in the course of reading books and answering my son's questions.

I think a large part of successful unschooling is just taking time to thoroughly answer questions, finding the information if you don't know, finding ways to explore the world in depth, and helping the children learn how to teach themselves. The parent really takes on a role of facilitator and co-learner rather than a teacher imparting knowledge in a very top down way.

Greenpa said...

Lisa Sharp- hi! You know, I think your mom's perspectives on it all would be a superb addition to the conversation; and likely open a window or two for lots of us. :-)

Lisa said...

Nontoxicnest:"However I disagree with Lisa's insinuation that other kinds of school, including mainstream, stomp on a child's creativity. I went to a mainstream school and we had PLENTY of opportunities to pick our own project subjects, do things like art, choose between playing sport for the afternoon or doing fun science experiments, read the kinds of books we wanted to. Sure, there are probably some boring mainstream schools out there. There are also probably lots of uninspired homeschooling/unschooling parents."

I never said that! Like I said my husband is a public school teacher, I don't think he is "stomping on kids creativity." However, I do know that he is unable to give each child one on one time everyday for every subject, it's not possible.

I have learned a lot about public school in the last several years through having a public school teacher for a husband and a father in-law that is a college professor that teaches education. With No Child Left Behind came teaching to a test. Teachers like my husband try and still make it fun but at the end of the day they have a list of things they have to teach before testing. Did you know if the school doesn't have good enough test scores after 4 years they start firing teachers? Even if that teacher is doing a good job and isn't the problem. And before long the pass rate has to be 100% and that includes all students. It's a nice thought but it's not possible.

I'm a huge supporter of public school, again public school teaching husband. BUT it's not for everyone and I was talking about why unschooling can be wonderful and not why public school is terrible. Public school was not for me. My brother could have done fine but he did better with unschooling as well. I wouldn't have been fine, I'm sure I would have graduated and all of that but it would have been very hard for me.

Greenpa: I will let my mom know that people would like to hear her view on all of this. :)

Deanna said...

Lisa told me that my side of the story of homeschooling might be of interest here. It just so happens that I was interviewed about this very topic back in February. Here is the link:

If, after reading it, there are any further questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Jenette said...

My friend (who is also a preschool teacher) sends her daughters to a private Montessori school but the way she describes it sounds like unschooling. The teachers don't suggest topics or curriculum but allow the students to learn what they are interested in. The teachers are there only to help guide the students.

Kristin said...

I was home schooled. My parents did a combo with us. Math, grammar, and spelling were traditional while the other subjects were more hands-on. Occasionally my mom would get irritated and buy science and history books, but we never made it more than half-way through them before she‘d take us to a museum or hand us a shovel and say, “Today we‘re going to look at the root-structure of dandelions.” I think it was the perfect balance.

*I don’t home school because my husband isn’t on-board (he thinks it’s weird - kinda insulting if you ask me) and I wouldn’t survive without his full support. So when our second-born was having some behavioral problems at school and our oldest was lagging academically we pulled them out and put them in a near-by charter school. It has some draw-backs (like not being across the street) but it’s the next-best-thing to home school for us.

Greenpa said...

Lisa S's Deanna/Mom- thanks for the links and inside views. I agreed easily with the vast majority of what you were saying there.

I had one quibble; you said; "Can all families do it well? Unfortunately, the answer is no."

My own answer to that question would be "Don't be silly, of course not! Where would you ever get the idea that "one size fits all", in any aspect of education!?"

We Americans do seem to spend an awful lot of time searching for "THE right way" - in all kinds of enterprises. And fighting about it. Our Founding Aunts and Uncles were actually better at that- acknowledging that my path is not necessarily your path - and that's just the way it is.

End of sermon. Great stuff; thanks- and - you have great kids. :-)

ZZZ said...

Unschooling is by most definitions living a full, enriching life as if school did not exist. It does not work for every parent nor for every child. There is no one size fits all educational method.

I am a PhD physicist who is a parent to two unschooled kids ages 8 and 13. We stay at home, we go places, we do things together, we do different things alone, we gather with other people, we invite others to join us with what we plan to do. The lives of my kids look very different from each other because of their interests and passions. One may spend most of the day playing a new video game with friends spread over the US. The other one may be outside doing cartwheels and asking me to spot a back handpsring. On another day one may be out watching the baby bees do their learning flights around the beehive while the other one listens to a story on CD while drawing. I frequently hear "What! You balanced the credit card statement and wrote bills without me?" or "I powered by house with a solar panel in my game (followed by a description of how the solar panel in the game works compared to real life") or maybe "I helped by friend's dad do a backup of his server and install a mod. He had to do things a bit different from when I did mine". How often do you hear "I need an organization task. What can I clean up and organize for you?"

Key elements to unschooling are respect that all topics and activities are worthy of your and your child's time to learn about and trust that the child is learning all the time (even though you may not know what it is or have chosen it for today or at all!). This means that gaming and tv are not evil. Art and music are just as worthy as reading and math. It means a lot of communication between child and parent. You watch as the child makes mistakes and learns from them (because it is better to mess up at home while a child than out in the adult world with no safety net). It also means that the child does not live their daily life in isolation from the parent. Since we rarely know precisely where life will take us or our children, everything they experience as a child shapes who they are right now and who they will be as an adult.

As for math/science topics - I want to mention that often times the people who are most worried about math and science/technical education are the ones who struggled with it in school, do not enjoy it as adults, and do not go out of their way to show this intellectual world to their children. Algebra really is everywhere around you as is geometry and more advanced topics. But you need to know the topics yourself in order to be able to point them out to your children. Quick - think about how algebra is relevant to deciding how fast to drive on a curvy road in the rain. Now - again quick - think about how the French and Indian War affected your lives. Which one is easier for you to answer? How about in your octagonal garden you have raised beds that are 2.5'x5'x6". How much compost do you need to make to add 4 inches to that bed in the springtime?

As for "holes" in education as adults, let's be practical. We all have holes or weaknesses. We can choose to change them into strengths through learning and hands on work or we can choose to say it is a weakness. What are you not good at and why are you still not good at it? Plenty of unschooled teenagers learned to take tests, the language of math, and to sit through a classroom lecture because they had a goal or destination and needed to learn these things to get to where they wanted to be. Your child can too - with your help.

Feeling like your math skills could use spiffed up a bit? Come on over and we will play with numbers, letters (algebra), & shapes. Or you could make a local friend who enjoys math and share your strength in cooking with her! Learning happens everywhere so enjoy it!

Deanna said...

ZZZ: That was a superb explanation of unschooling done well. I'm glad you addressed the part about holes in one's education. Everyone has them, no matter what sort of education they received. The difference is that an unschooled child who has not had the joy of learning sucked out of them can, and often will, spend the rest of their lives plugging those holes on their own.

Deborah Niemann said...

We unschooled, and our children started college at 13, 15, and 15. My oldest will graduate in December from the University of Illinois with a degree in electrical engineering. U of I jockeys back and forth with Stanford and MIT for the top three spots in EE programs in the US. My other two are doing equally well. I can't imagine that they would have been able to do any better in school or with a more formal curriculum. Our homeschooling philosophy is spelled out at greater length here:

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