Inside the unschooling method of homeschooling
Unschooling is a movement to allow children to learn based on their interests and passions. Infamous for having no structure, some homeschooling parents don’t even consider unschooling a legitimate method because it lacks a framework. However, parents who choose this route believe it’s the most natural way for children to learn, and it teaches them about living in the real world.
“Unschooling, or life learning, is about identifying with your child and what they want, and help them do that,” said Sara Yasner, a homeschooling mom.
Unschooling is a student-centered, unconventional learning model, focused on the student’s interests. It prioritizes experiential, hands-on activities, concentrating on real world skills and life experience versus classroom learning.
A child may learn about fractions, quantities and the metric system because they are getting ingredients to make brownies. They could learn how to tell time because they don’t want to miss their favorite show. They could learn addition, subtraction and multiplication because they want to know how long it will take them to save up for a new toy.
Unschooling can be systematic and rigorous regarding basic skills like reading, writing and math. Parent teachers tend to be guides and facilitators instead of lecturers. This method is the most flexible, and controversial, of all homeschooling methods.
Curriculums for unschooling
This method focuses largely on the child’s interests, and doesn’t use traditional lessons to teach skills or knowledge; unschooling is defined by the lack of structure. It is one of the only homeschooling methods that doesn’t utilize a framework or curriculum at all.
The unschooling method is extremely flexible and led by the child’s interests. It’s easier to engage them in “learning” with the unconventional lessons of everyday activities, especially if they’re the ones deciding what they want to do, when they want to do it.
Unschooling is adaptable to however the family decides to use it. It’s driven on the student’s passion, keeping them engaged throughout whatever activity they choose to do.
“I don’t consider our family just an unschooling family,” said Sarina Speed, a homeschooling mom. “We’re more of a life schooling family. I look where my children are interested in going in the moment, and help them figure out how to get there: taking classes they were interested in, spreading books … around the house, playing games and lots of library visits.”
Speed enrolls her kids in afternoon classes, which can be any kind of extracurricular activity they’re interested in: ballet, ice skating, dance, singing, acting, language arts, or swimming.
Unschooling is extremely controversial because some parent teachers don’t believe it adequately teaches children basic skills, like reading, writing and math. Many parents don’t consider letting the child choose when they learn and what they learn an acceptable framework for learning.
“The thing that can be a strength can also be a challenge,” said Yasner. “The kids don’t go through regular experiences like passing tests, winning spelling bees or moving up a grade level.” Unschoolers have less tangible milestones instead of tests. They learn life lessons directly from the real world, and things they’re passionate about. Success is more about progressing through life, gaining skills and independence than actual benchmarks.
Why homeschoolers like it
Flexibility is the best part of unschooling, especially when it comes to time and activities.
“It’s about supporting the kiddo’s individual needs and strengths,” said Yasner. “There’s the added benefit of flexibility and increased family time, too.”
“You really have to pay attention to your child,” said Speed. “What are they really interested in? How do they enjoy spending their days? Where do they see themselves next month, next year?”
How unschooling compares
Traditional unschooling can be difficult precisely because of not having a curriculum. Parent teachers have to be more mindful of the activities and events they do with their children, making sure they stay engaged and they follow their interests.
“I think unschooling may be one of the hardest methods because there is no set curriculum,” said Speed. “As a parent, you are always listening and paying close attention to what their passions are, and figuring out how to help them construct the best way to pursue those passions, and be willing to move on when that passion moves on. It takes a lot of research and planning on the part of the parent.”