Unschooling

everything-else  whole-wide-world

OH MY WORD!  Four comments on one post in ONE DAY?  I love it!  Keep them coming!  🙂

First of all, enough with the “Oh, you naive little girl who has no children, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  It wasn’t about the diapers!!!  🙂  I understand that it is time consuming.  Lest you forget, I have washed and dried many cloth diapers!  Mom, would you tell them???  Haha.  If you really want to know why I think cloth diapering is great, it’s because my mother thinks it’s great, and that’s where I grew up, in her house.  If you want to know why we think cloth diapers are great, I’ll devote another post to it, another time.

Yes, Betty, I’m glad you asked!  Unschooling is the topic of this post!  First of all, Mom, unschooling is not the same thing as “unteaching.”  As a teacher, the more I read about unschooling, the more aware I am that it is simply homeschooling in another way. 

First of all, let me share a quote from Sara’s post on Walk Slowly Live Wildly, The Alternative:

Another question that we get asked a lot is “…but what will you do when Bella needs to go to school?”. And to that my response is “…she is already in school!”. The school of life, that is.  Bella is learning new things every day…in the last week we have learned about railroads, numbers, seasons, food, money, and more…just by living life.  She is learning about the world around her in every interaction we have. She constantly asks questions and I do my best to teach her new things each day. We fall into the “unschooling” camp and it fits perfectly with our lifestyle and beliefs about how a child should learn.

I believe Bella was four years old when Sara wrote this.  She was just getting started on her journey of educating her daughter, but at the same time, she had already been educating her for four years.

I haven’t found a good, general definition of unschooling for two reasons:  One, I have just started reading about it.  Two, every unschooling family educates their children differently!  So let me say this.  From a teaching perspective, think about reading instruction in an elementary classroom.  There are two main ways to do it.  The first way is with a published reading curriculum, a basal.  (No, I don’t know why it’s called a basal!)  You have textbooks, and workbooks, and a teacher’s guide.  You can follow along, lesson by lesson, exactly how the book says, and you will address all the objectives of that grade level’s reading curriculum.  The second way is with guided reading, sometimes known as whole language instruction.  You divide the students into guided reading groups, often by ability, but occasionally by interest or timing issues or other reasons.  You choose a book that will be appropriate for the students in the group, and get enough copies for the group plus you.  You repeat this with each group, so that each group is reading a different book.  You might be looking for a book to teach a certain couple of reading skills, or for a book to get someone really interested and motivated to learn, or just a book that you can read because you’re so tired of looking at Junie B. Jones you might pull your hair out!  🙂 

In both basal teaching and guided reading, there are certain skills and information that you would like the students to learn, and you use certain resources to do it.  With a basal, you start with the resources and push them toward the students.  With whole language instruction, you start with the students and seek out resources based on the students’ needs. 

(This is very simplified.  Teachers don’t get to choose which method to use, it’s up to the school district.  A good teacher will do a great job with either method.  A really great teacher who is required to use a basal will start with the kids anyway, use whatever part of the basal best meets those kids’ needs, and bring in other resources along the way.  It’s more about the teacher than the required methods.)

Lots of homeschooling stress seems to revolve around “curriculum,” or what materials they will use to make sure their children gain all the knowledge they need.  Which company makes the best math curriculum?  Which company has a social studies curriculum that I can use with all my children at the same time, despite their diverse ages?  Etc.  I don’t know the reason for this stress, but I would imagine it has to do with people who have never “been teachers” taking on this task that seems overwhelming and impossible.  I would also imagine there is a touch of personality difference mixed in.  Those who feel the need to make sure every detail is tended to would feel better using materials that touch on every objective necessary.

Having “been a teacher” for awhile doesn’t mean I wouldn’t find homeschooling overwhelming and impossible, too.  Teaching preschool and second grade are both certainly overwhelming and impossible!  🙂

It is my impression that when most people say “homeschooling,” they mean using a chosen published curriculum to reach their objectives.  But when most people say “unschooling,” they really mean something similar to whole language instruction.  Start with the kids, build your objectives, and find the resources (materials and experiences) that will help your kids reach those objectives.  There is a lot of child-led learning, but all that means is that you notice what your child is interested in, what your child is ready for, or what your child is missing, and you build from there.  The teacher (or parent) is still in control.

The amount of learning and the quality of learning are not different, between the concepts of homeschooling and unschooling.  Unschooling is simply a label put on the method of creating your own curriculum and working at your own pace.  www.unschooling.com is a good resource I started with to learn a little bit about unschooling.  Here are some good points from their FAQ page:

It’s easy to see how children can learn many things without using traditional, formal methods of teaching, but many people see math as a huge stumbling block, mainly, because most of us have learned to hate math because of the way it was taught in school. There are a great many ways to encounter math in the real world. Geometry can be found in quilt making, algebra in painting a room. Shifting perspectives, from textbooks to the real world is sometimes difficult, but math that is actually used is math truly learned.

You will know by listening to them speak, by watching them play, just by being with them. You will know they are leaning at 8 the same way you knew they were learning at 18 months. You will see them use their skills and knowledge. This does take some effort on the part of the parent. The information is not contained on a worksheet or within a report. It is not all nice and neat and tied up with a grade. It’s spread out over the course of the day while the children are living their lives. You have to be observant and tuned into your child, in order to know.

Imposing external structure onto the learner, by specifying materials and methods, is not unschooling. A person creating structure to suit his or her own purpose, that is unschooling.

And this is from www.sandradodd.com, which I just came upon five minutes ago, and I have no idea who she is, but I like the quote:

If unschooling can’t work in the real world, nothing at all can. People will say “How will they learn algebra in the real world?” Is there algebra in the real world? If not, why should it be learned? If so, why should it be separated artificially from its actual uses? “Why?” should always be the question that comes before “What?” and “How?” There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. There is a “things under the sea” room and “things in the sky” room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context. Then he opens a big door marked “everything else in the whole wide world” and goes out into the sunshine. There is unschooling.

We do a great deal of “unschooling” in preschool, to tell you the truth.  And, let’s be honest, I did a good bit of “unschooling” when I taught second grade as well!  🙂  If you don’t believe that “unschooling” can work in school, then you should read Starting From Scratch by Steven Levy.  He is a fourth grade teacher who essentially builds his own curriculum with his class, every year.  Or maybe just for a couple of years, I can’t remember.  I read it in college for a class, and I remember thinking, “Oh, I wish this is how I could teach!”  And, “I can’t wait until I am a good enough teacher that someone lets me do this!”  Unschooling fits nicely with my understanding of how children learn.  When I think about homeschooling, I’m thinking about unschooling.  As the teacher, in the home or the classroom, it is my responsibility to make sure my students have the learning they need.  And in my opinion, “doing school” from 8:00 to 2:00, “working through the book,” removing learning from the context in which it is needed in the world, is just not how my students can best get the learning they need.  Unless working through the book is how this particular student learns best.  My feeling is, that would be the rare student.  Unschooling, as crazy as the label makes it sound, is a great principle for both home and classroom learning.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Feb 07, 2009 @ 10:08:51

    Your definition of unschooling is my definition of informal homeschooling. I know that some parents use specific curricula with their kids, but I would be more likely to develop a set of “standards and benchmarks” to be informally met by the time the kids were adults. By the way, I do think you and your siblings would have thrived with homeschooling.

    Reply

  2. Betty
    Feb 07, 2009 @ 20:17:35

    ahhhh! so unschooling is kinda what we adults are doing all the time. We are just going along our way learning the things we need as we go–yeah, sometimes it involves a book, sometimes it involves a “museum” and sometimes it is trial and error.
    Did I over simplify that?

    Reply

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