What Unschooling Means For Our Family (Part 1)

I spend a lot of my “Social Media Time” in unschooling groups, and on unschooling pages, sharing unschooling memes, and reading unschooling articles.  Because of this, I forget that there are people out there who might not think unschooling is the best idea, and some who don’t even know what it is.  For a long time I have been putting off writing an article about what unschooling means to us and why we uncshool.  But I think it is time.  It is kind of overwhelming, so I am going to tackle it in smaller chunks, starting with a basic idea of what unschooling is, and how unschoolers learn without a curriculum.

What is Unschooling:

I used to tell people who asked that unschooling was “Homeschooling without the curriculum,” but calling Unschooling a lack of curriculum is like calling the ocean a lack of air.  Unschooling is journey, it is an intimate relationship with your children where all parties are treated with equal respect.  Unschooling fosters creativity, encourages curiosity, follows passions, and chases dreams.

So, what is unschooling?  It is learning from real life, in the real world.  There is no distinction made between life and learning.  Life is learning, and learning is life.

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”  ~John Holt

The World is Your Textbook

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Humans are always learning.  It’s what we do.  If you’re not learning, you’re dead.  So I chuckle a little inside when people ask how our children learn.  To give you an idea, here are a few of the “pages” from our “Unschooling Textbook”

  • Microscopes
  • Nature Centers
  • Bird Feeders
  • Cooking
  • Neighbors
  • Legos
  • Youtube (MinuteEarth and CrashCourse are two of my favorite channels)
  • Minecraft
  • Parks
  • Rocks
  • Ponds
  • Libraries
  • Books, Books, and more Books! (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Pictures, No Pictures)
  • Wandering
  • The woods
  • Caterpillars, ants, worms, slugs, snails
  • Grandparents
  • People at the grocery store
  • Archery
  • The University of Utah
  • Dancing
  • Museums
  • Google
  • Trees
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Binoculars
  • Telescopes
  • Cleaning
  • Paper
  • Gardens
  • Taking things apart
  • Forts
  • Wikipedia
  • Reading Eggs

There is no shortage of knowledge out there, and it doesn’t have to be funneled through a teacher, a professor, a priest, or anyone else.  It is available to anyone who looks for it.  Any activity is an opportunity for discussion.  Something as simple as bird watching can lead to learning about animal behavior, biology, anatomy, the diversity of life, the history of aviation, light and color, the properties of air, or phases of matter.

But the most important part of unschool learning is the motivation.  Instead of being motivated by fear, coercion, or imaginary rewards (such as grades) they are driven by their passions, desires, dreams and goals.

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Ruining Socialization For The Rest Of Us

If you have homeschooled for more than a few minutes, someone has confronted you about the “Socialization” issue.  I will not bother re-hashing the same debate, because you can’t walk ten paces on the internet without running into it.

I would, however, like to point out that the more society relies on school to socialize children, the more scarce social opportunities become even for those of us who don’t.  As an unschooler, I am worried that my children may not have enough positive social experiences.  But that is not because they aren’t in school, its because so many others are.

  • Many of the young children (who would just make excellent playmates for our little ones) are locked up for the majority of the day
  • When the children are released, they are hesitant to make bonds with “outsiders” and are more comfortable playing with those who they already know.
  • Many adults are shocked (and even offended) at the sight of children during school hours.  So, instead of acknowledging our children, greeting them, and interacting with them, they recoil in fear and gasp “what the hell was that?” under their breath.
  • Adults who our children manage to get close to are not used to having wee ones taking an interest in whatever “adult task” they may be performing.  Instead of offering to show them how that tool works, they give a firm “Don’t play with that, its not a toy” and offer to turn on the television.

So, in a sense, all those people who want to know how you will socialize your kids have a legitimate concern (albeit misguided).  In a culture where the majority of the population is institutionalized from a very young age, there are not nearly so many social opportunities available.  Maybe if everyone homeschooled (or unschooled) their children, we could get back to socializing again, just like humanity did before public school arrived on the scene.

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