"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
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.
on to Unschooling FAQ
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
© 1998 Amy Bell
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