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The following is the text from an unschooling presentation I gave on the internet June 1998.

The term "unschooling" was coined by John Holt to mean not sending children to school. The term has been stretched and changed since then, and those of us who refuse the entire school model have taken the word "unschooling" for our own. Other terms associated with unschooling are natural learning, child-led learning, discovery learning, and child-directed learning. We don't divide our day into "school" parts and "non-school" parts, because there are no school parts. We live; we learn; we try new things; we go back to things we've loved a long time.

I can't really tell anybody else "how" to unschool. But I can tell you what works for us, and what I've seen work for other unschoolers.

The central philosophy is child-directed learning. Children determine what they learn, when they learn, how they learn, and why they learn. Grades, grade levels, semesters, testing, and imposed lessons simply don't enter into our experiences. We offer, we might even try to persuade, but we never force, threaten, or set up reward systems for doing academic work.  We read a lot, play on the computer, visit the library, observe nature, and pursue whatever our current interests are. We believe that children have a natural love of learning.  We believe that, given a rich environment and involved parents, children will exceed any expectations we might have had.

Unschooling is not "un-learning" or "un-teaching." Unschooling is not a limitation; it is a philosophy of opportunity and interest. We suggest, facilitate, offer, chauffeur, support, guide (when asked)--we make sure the kids have the opportunity to explore whatever they are interested in.

We believe learning is a natural, joyful process, and we don't want to interfere with that or sabotage it.  We believe that children are good judges of what they are ready to learn and when they are ready to learn it.  We enjoy watching them explore and discover.

We have seen our children exceed and transcend our expectations when they are encouraged to choose their own way.  We don't forsake them, just step out of the way.  We support them in every way we can and try to anticipate interests and needs.

Since each child is different, we notice that we unschool each one differently.  Some want more one-on-one time with Mom; some want to build stuff with Dad; some want to be left completely alone.  And tomorrow we may do things very differently than we do today!  Every day is an adventure.

We believe that unschooling--as opposed to traditional schooling--encourages independence, confidence, self-motivation, a greater immunity to peer pressure, a lifelong joy of learning, and sense of self. We think traditional methods of schooling--whether at home or in a school classroom--can encourage mental dependence, working only for external motivations, dependence on peers, the "drudgery" of learning, and a sense of distrust of self.

Eric Anderson, in his classic essay, "Unschooling Undefined,"
wrote:  "Child-driven learning is fundamentally active. Children are doing things because they have taken responsibility for carrying out the actions needed to fulfill their desires. Unschooling is centered around the idea of learning, with the student as the center of action and the source of activity, rather than on the idea of teaching (with the teacher as the center of action and the source of activity). Not only does this make the learning more effective, but it encourages the child to develop virtues: independence, self-reliance, and a sense of responsibility. The child learns that if he wants something to happen, he has to make it happen."

If you think about unschooling in terms of how adults learn, it's easier to understand. What do you do when you want to learn something? You might read a few books, take a class, look it up on the internet, watch someone who already knows, ask questions, etc. You might find, after you do some initial research, that you aren't really interested. Or you might branch off into another area. Or you might pursue the interest until you become an expert. All those choices are acceptable for adults.

To quote the old saying, "Children are people, too." The way they learn is no different than the way we learn. Children are naturally motivated to learn. Without any formal instruction at all (in most cases), they learn to walk and talk--both pretty amazing accomplishments. Children don't lose their curiosity and thirst for learning unless we forcefeed them.

on to Unschooling FAQ



1998 Amy Bell

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