Everyone is familiar with homeschooling. Though many people express concerns about the social and emotional development of children who are homeschooled, it’s an accepted alternative to a traditional classroom education. Children follow a curriculum and adhere to certain educational standards. In that way, then, homeschooling is an alternative to the classroom, but not to traditional education. That’s where unschooling comes in.
What Makes Unschooling Different?
When children are homeschooled, parents are in control of their education. They set the parameters and the expectations. Unschooling, on the other hand, encourages children to pursue what interests them. These explorations might take them deep into the history of Ancient Greece or spur them to learn to code in order to build their own computer games. What unschooled children learn, then, isn’t standardized. The topics and modes of learning are as broad or narrow as the child chooses.
Why Opt For Unschooling?
If you ask most children, going to school is generally on the list of their least favorite things to do. They don’t enjoy it, many are bored, and many others are struggling, with children across the spectrum constantly in trouble for behaving like children – fidgeting, wanting to get up and explore, speaking out of turn, of failing to pay attention. These factors alone should suggest that something is off about traditional schooling, but most adults are unwilling to address such problems.
Parents who unschool their children, on the other hand, know that sitting at a desk in a classroom isn’t the only way to learn, and that many of the things that occur in the classroom are detrimental to their children. As one mother noted, the rigorous testing that’s so popular in education today can be harmful to children and discourage them from thinking freely and expansively about a topic. As explained by advocates, children need to learn to think for themselves.
Looking to the Future
One major question that has been raised about unschooling is whether this form of student-led learning has the ability to prepare young people for college or the work force. Isn’t that a large part of what traditional education is meant to do?
There are two parts to this question. First, informal study of adults who were unschooled indicates that the majority feel that they were not only prepared to tackle work when they arrived in college, but that when they were behind, they had learned to apply themselves to any problem, and could easily overcome any deficits, and even excel in fields where they were initially behind.
The second part of this question is about the purpose of education – understanding why we send children to school and what we expect them to learn there. Although most people believe that schooling is meant to prepare young people for college and careers, this is rarely the case. Many high school students arrive at college having never learned the kind of educational and social independence that unschoolers develop from a young age.
Then, there are the many unschoolers who head straight into the work force. A large number of these young people have been avidly studying their area of specialization for years, putting them ahead of colleagues twice their age. Preparation for the “real world,” then, is no question.
Unschooling changes the entire dynamic of the home, encouraging children and parents alike to reevaluate how we think and learn. Our children are more focused, more knowledgeable, and as adults we’re better for that. Once you meet an unschooler, sending your child to sit in a classroom no longer makes sense.
About the author: Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting.