Nice, shiny new blog. It got me thinking of the time when I was new to unschooling. And with the recent media interest in unschooling, more and more people are curious, so I thought writing a bit about the process of learning about unschooling would be apropos.
What are some of the questions that are typically pondered when people begin to explore unschooling? There are some questions I’m asked over and over by people who are interested in our educational choices. Assuming the questioner is sincere, here are some of the short answers I’ve given to start them thinking along unschooling lines.
Why short answers? Because in my experience, long answers usually go too deeply into the topic and cause listener to tune out and/or forget the question they started with. If they are still curious and want to learn more, they will ask more questions!
Question 1: How will they learn if you don’t teach them?
Answer: They enjoy figuring things out and I certainly help them with any questions they have.
What unschooling ideas does that answer imply? That learning is fun; that people like to understand things; and that the parents are supportive i.e. the kids aren’t left alone to sink or swim.
Question 2: How will they learn what they need to know if you don’t follow a curriculum?
Answer: Well, curricula just try to lay out skills and knowledge they think a typical person would need to live when they graduate into the real world. We just flip that around: we live in the real world now and the kids pick up those skills and that knowledge along the way.
This answer could spark thoughts in so many directions: the purpose of curricula, and schooling, for that matter; the idea that learning is separate from the real world; the question of whether curricula might include things that the person might never need to know, and vice versa, might a person need to know something that wasn’t in the curricula; whether one-size fits all curricula are a useful answer to the diversity of lives students will be living, and more.
Question 3: If they aren’t in a school with other kids, how will they learn how to get along with others?
Answer: They meet lots of people, over a wide range of ages. Instead of gathering in school based on their age, they meet up with others around their interests, in person and online. Girl guides, karate, message boards, family.
Questions this might spark: What does socialization really mean? Is the age-controlled school environment really a decent preparation for getting along with the range of ages found in the real world? Is meeting over shared interests more apt to grow meaningful friendships rather than being the same age and living in the same geographical area? Are online friendships also meaningful?
Question 4: If you don’t test, how do you know they’re learning?
Answer: I don’t have a classroom full of kids and I’m hanging out with them much of the time. I see them using new skills as we go about our day, we have conversations and I hear them using new words and sharing new ideas, and I see where their learning is taking them as I help them dive into their interests.
This might encourage the questioner to think about things like the purpose of testing; whether testing is a function of class size; how one observes learning; and if testing is the only way to judge learning.
The Deschooling Process
For the parents, deschooling is the process of digging deeply into your beliefs about education, about learning, about living with children. It’s about exploring those beliefs–pulling them, pushing them, flipping them on their head–and seeing what you really think.
Learning about unschooling isn’t like learning in school. It’s not “learn this, do that, and move on.” It isn’t a one-time endeavour, it’s a process. You’ll likely read and research and reach some sort of understanding you’re comfortable with. Then, as you spend time with your children, being with them from your new perspective, you’ll see those ideas in action, blossoming in your interactions with your children, deepening your understanding of unschooling. Wonderful! But don’t be complacent. Chances are, if you take some time to dig deeper you’ll have another aha moment. And another. Just like you’d learn about other interests. The more you know, the more connections to related things you’ll discover, and the more you know. It’s a wonderful circle of living and learning.
And it doesn’t stop: living and unschooling with your children continues to be a process. Even as you gain a deep understanding of unschooling, your children will grow and change, and your thoughts, ideas, and way of interacting with them need to keep up. And as they get older, new situations can trigger pockets of beliefs you hold that have yet to be examined.
As a bonus, the open and questioning way of thinking that allows people to wrap their head around the concept of unschooling, gives one a frame of mind that is so helpful for processing anything that life brings.
If you’re new to unschooling and are still curious after these short answers, feel free to ask more questions in the comments!