I have wondered for a long time whether or not to call ourselves unschoolers when describing how we homeschool. I definitely educate my kids, but most of what we do is so fun (games, books, projects, outdoor activities, etc.) that it doesn’t seem right to call it school. This book answered a lot of my questions about unschooling. I thought it was fascinating, informative, and persuasive regarding the benefits of this educational style. The main takeaway for me personally was that unschooling has less to do with WHAT a child is doing and more to do with their choice in the matter.
Title: Unschooling: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom
Author: Kerry McDonald
Publication Year: 2016
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According to the author, other names for unschooling are interest-based learning, child-led learning, natural learning, and non-coercive learning. By giving kids autonomy and choice in their education, they are able to maintain their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. Forced schooling robs children of their natural love or learning. Also, by giving kids more autonomy, they are more invested in their education and will retail more of what they learn.
This book is jam-packed with real-life examples, studies, and advice regarding unschooling. For example, studies have shown that when young children are directly shown how to use a toy, they are more likely to only use the toy in the way shown. Conversely, if kids are not given any instruction and allowed to explore, they discover the same patterns and functions as the direct instruction group, but they also learn more about the toy through exploration.
Also, studies suggest that forcing mathematics instruction in young children can decrease their reasoning faculties. In one study, a group of children was delayed arithmetic instruction until 6th grade. By the end of the year, they caught up to the kids who had received mathematics instruction since Kindergarten. In fact, according to one person cited, the entire K-6 math curriculum can be learned in 20 hours when a child is motivated to learn the material.
I was also reassured to learn that studies have shown that when unschooled kids go to college, on average they do at least as well as their more traditionally school counterparts. As someone who does not give my children tests or grades, this was a relief to hear.
The book also discusses a wide variety of examples of learning that unschooled children do. I like the idea of being an unschooler, but I plan so many activities with my kids that I feel like there’s no way I can call myself an unschooler. However, the book details the lives of unschoolers who actually go to special schools. The main feature of these schools is choice. Kids are given a plethora of opportunities and then they are free to decide what they want to partake in and what they would rather skip.
After reading this book, I feel like more of an unschooler. I want my kids to be exposed to everything. I want them to know all the amazing topics that there are to learn about. I present them with lots of opportunities to do hands-on art and science and history. I never ask my kids if they want to participate, but I know at least at their young ages, right now they would say yes.
After reading this book, I told my kids I was going to try to give them more freedom. If I have a desire for them, such as having neat handwriting, and they don’t like the method I’ve choosen for them to reach this goal, such as copywork, we can talk about it. I let my daughter skip her copywork this week, and instead she is going to choose what she would like to practice writing.
There are still some areas where there is coercion in our homeschool. Piano is the main one. Unschoolers would probably not require their children to take music lessons unless they were interested, but at the moment, piano is a non-negotiable for me. I also require my kids to complete their minimalist math curriculum that I made for them. 10 problems per week is a not a lot to ask, but it is a requirement. Therefore, we are not all-the-way-unschoolers. However, after reading this book, I plan to incorporate unschooling philosophies as much as I can. I am planning to look for more ways in which I can give my kids more choices and freedom in their educations.