school was mostly
optional. Most knowledge children needed to become competent
adults was acquired through doing tasks along with adults and knowing
that this work was essential to their livelihood. Along with the
establishment of public schools and compulsory attendance laws came a
general belief that school was essential for children to become
modern-day citizens. There was little discussion about whether
school was indeed an indispensable institution.
In the 1970’s, educator John Holt used
the term “unschooling” to describe the act of homeschooling.
The term now refers to the specific style of child-centered learning
advocated by Holt. Today this method occupies between ten and
fifty percent of the homeschooling movement.
Unschooling in Practice:
Unschooling is an informal approach to
education based on the premise that people who make their own decisions
perform more competently than those whose behavior is controlled or
judged by others. Unschoolers take issue with
conventional education: If you take responsibility away from
children, they have no stake in the outcome and learn to follow orders
over problem-solving. How is one neat package of information
the authoritative “education?" School puts parents in
conflict with teachers. Unschooling is easier for parents because
they need not plan lessons or grade tests but more difficult in that
learning is ever-present and collaborative.
Unschoolers are curious and natural learners at
any time or in any
setting. They know people acquire
skills at different paces and ages. They are interested in and
tolerant of a wide variety of people. They are confident.
They are critical thinkers.
When deciding whether to practice unschooling,
weigh practical considerations
such as legal, financial, and scheduling issues.
Everything your children interfaces with is an
implement for their learning.
Supply books that respond to the children’s interests, not textbooks,
but “real” books written by and for people with an interest in the
subject. Help them learn to search for those books, this will
help them to think and read critically. Gardening, game playing,
working with art supplies, and music are all good resources; it is not
important to spend a lot of money or buy “kits”.
Technology can be a
part of unschooling in the forms of television,
computer and internet. Just because a TV program or computer
software is not designated as “educational” does not mean that it
offers no potential for learning.
Your child may need an outside instructor to
teach a subject that you
are unfamiliar with. Unschooled
children may adapt well to courses where instruction is “sequenced to
develop physical skills” such as with ballet or martial arts.
They may not enjoy group lessons which require strict or
product-oriented curricula, where other children are uninterested, and
may be frustrated by inattention or misbehavior of less focused
students. If you choose a private tutor, allow your child to be
involved with the selection process.
Both parents and children worry about “keeping
up” with schooled peers.
Remind them that schools teach different topics at different grades and
encourage unnecessary competition and verification of learning through
testing. Unschoolers can keep records other than or in addition
to those required by states law in the form of grids, journals,
portfolios, or informal transcripts. Not many unschoolers use
tests as a way of measuring ability.
Kids might want to try going to school; sometimes
an experimental week in a
classroom satisfies their curiosity. If they choose to attend
school full time, the family may need to adjust. Unschoolers who
go to school tend to do well because they want to learn, it was their
choice to attend, and they are aware school is not their only option.