What Unschooling Means To Me

This  year I have mentioned how I have decided to embrace Unschooling.

According to wikipedia Unschooling is:

“Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices surrounding the primarily belief that education is a greater undertaking than schooling. Unschooling places little emphases on traditional school curriculum and encourages children to learn through their natural life experiences including playgame play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful to the child. Differing from conventional schooling, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in maximizing the education of each unique child.”

I have been roaming around the world wide web for different views on unschooling and what it means and so far I did find this to be the best defintion for my family. I actually am not a fan of the word unschooling because of the negative connotation that seems to come with it. In my experience these days when people ask what kind of curriculum my kids follow and I say nothing in particular the look on their faces is that of confusion. I then lead into a big definition of what it is we do as if I have to defend it. One thing I have learned is we don’t “have to” do anything. That is something I am learning everyday, take “have to” out of my vocabulary.

It wasn’t easy making the decision to follow unschooling as I was brought up in the public school system and had the idea that it is important that we teach kids based on set guidelines and curriculum because how else would they learn it?  However Unschooling has always intrigued me and I had never had the guts to just take the plunge. Let me say that this hasn’t gone without some struggles for me emotionally. It has been hard to sit back and not break out the workbooks and projects and all that other stuff, to just let the kids lead their education. But once I got through all that doubt this is what I have learned.

1) My kids and I are MUCH Happier. Although life is still stressful at times and we do get on each others nerves there seems to be a better peace around our house. There is an unspoken respect I see growing amongst my 4 kids. Although they still bicker and have their regular disagreements, we spend more time discussing how to be respectful and kind to each other. They help each other more, like each other more and respect each other more. The stress of “getting that workbook done” or learning a new concept that they can’t understand is no longer there. Which leads me to #2.

2) My kids are LEARNING so much!  This has surprised me. I have heard so many successful unschooling stories and have met many unschooling families and am always impressed with what their kids know. And I am not just talking book smarts, I’m talking life “smarts”.  You can see that they are a confident member of society. They speak to adults and children all the same, with confidence and ease. They are constantly asking questions about things they are interested in and soaking up the world around them. My kids are learning math in ways I never thought possible! My son who has never done multiplication knows how to do it and has even memorized some of the multiplication facts. He enjoys math and works on it on his own even creating his own questions and answers to solve. My daughter who has never really shown an interest in Math IS doing  a math book because she wants to learn. She then takes what she has learned and sees how she can apply it into real life situations. My 7 year olds are always trying to figure out math problems. I hear them asking their siblings “When you are 16 how old will I be?” They have even worked out together what the months are seperating them all.

3) Unschooling is not Uneducated! I wish I could say I have never thought this but I have, I am guilty. Before I knew much about unschooling I always thought that the kids must not know alot and must be so sheltered and lazy. I feel bad for thinking those things and never did I judge anyone on their choice I just could not get over my belief that we have to instill education into our children. The thing about that, education is already in our kids! I have noticed that when we were following a set curriculum my kids were tired, bored, uninterested therefore I would be raising my voice and damaging my relationship with them. We spent many mornings crying and yelling at each other and me melting down. I felt like a failure! How come my kids aren’t interested in this? Maybe school is the answer? The things with that is they went to school one day a week and it made no difference. They still weren’t interested in all that was going on and the stress was weighing on us as a family. Now my kids are happy to learn. My husband recently said to me that he notices a huge change in our kids and is amazed daily with what they have to teach him at the end of the day. It has gone from trying to pull “what did you learn today” out of them to non stop talking about areas they spent their day learning about.

4) It’s about teaching my kids How to Learn not WHat to Learn! This has a been a major one for me. I always thought I had to tell my kids what to learn and when to learn it. Since unschooling, my kids have taken their own intiative into their learning. When they want to learn about something they find out where to get the info. They might ask me, search the internet, call a friend or a relative, read books and so much more. My sons excitement over the war of 1812 has led him to Ipad Apps, Books found at Costco and the Library, Youtube videos and websites that focus all on the war of 1812. I have been nothing but the facilitator in their learning. And I love it! I have learned so much. Recently my son mentioned he wanted to be a realtor when he was older. Immediately he knew who he could go to and ask questions about it. We talked about the different types of realtors there are, what we think makes their job challenging and fun and if it’s something that can sustain you in life. That then turned into a conversastion with the kids about building a house. How do you do it mom? Can u just pick some land and start to build? What’s an inspector do? How much does it cost? That all in a car ride home to where my kids then all grabbed graphing paper and drew out what kind of house they would build and then made their buildings and neighbourhoods on Minecraft.

5) I am learning too. Unschooling has taught me that learning is something we all do all the time and it doens’t have to be forced.  I have been taking the time with my kids to learn what they are interested in and I have noticed that when I am doing something they want to learn about that too. I am doing activities I never thought I would have time for and the kids are doing it with me. We are learning photography, decorating and baking of cakes, taking cooking classes, sewing, knitting, building puzzles of Paris and learning all about different countries, watching interesting documentaries, role playing and acting, taking voice, piano lessons and so much more. Anything we all learn spills over into all our conversations and we are all learning as well. Our dinner time conversations are the best of the day.

6) We have so much time. I love that nothing seems rushed. We all have our schedules and commitments that we have to go to and we do our best to make it an outing for all. If the girls have swim lessons we all go swimming for a few hours every week, if there are voice lessons we stay and play in the playroom provided, building with blocks and making a zoo. If cake decorating is going on I get to sit in on the class and help and take pictures. All of these things happen during the day so our evenings are spent as a family at home with dad. We don’t have to rush around with the masses of people and can enjoy our evening time together watching hockey, cooking and relaxing. The kids can make play dates during the day with other homeschool families. They make projects with their friends and spend their days practicing their lessons and just enjoying the freedom to learn what they want, with who they want.

I am sure over time I will find many more things I can add to this list. But for now this is what stands out. In no way am I saying that unschooling is the best fit for any of you and I am NOT AT ALL saying that my way is better than anybody elses. It amazes me how many times I have heard “you’re kids are so well behaved and interesting” just to get a smirk when they hear the word unschooling. My kids are not lazy, or unsocialized nor do we have an attitude that any other form of education is “wrong.” Yes they can all read and write and did so at their own pace and loved the joy of doing it. They don’t need to be tested by you to prove that they know something because be warned we will test you right back. (yes this has happened, and no it doesn’t make you look smarter) It’s just didn’t work for us at the time. Every year we talk about what we want our year to look like. My oldest is considering entering grade 8 and if she does we will be there to support her in that venture, if not we will support her as we always have. We are loving our life and this form of education and respect everyones choices for their families. So all we ask is respect ours.

If you’re an unschooling family, what makes it work for you?



7 thoughts on “What Unschooling Means To Me”

  1. Great summary! We’re not strict unschoolers but I’m very inspired and informed by unschooling philosophy. I’ve found that using some curriculum is the best balance for us. My teenage son is ADHD and Asperger’s and needs an external structure/scaffolding. And my younger daughter is a little bookworm who was asking for worksheets when she was 2 (foiling my intended plans to 100% unschool at least until she was 7!)

    But even though we do use curriculum, I remained influenced by unschooling in things like 1) not stressing about timetables, or ‘getting the workbook done’, etc; 2) making sure she has most of her time free for ‘life learning’, and thus 3) not forcing the bookwork on her if she’s really engrossed in her creative play. My son has a stricter schedule, but still has as much self-determined time as we think he can manage healthily (since indeed he must eventually be able to manage himself completely independently!)

    I love reading about unschooling ‘success stories’ since it helps remind me that there’s no rush and no pressure, and that even though we do use curriculum for some structure and opening up areas that my kids might not have realized they were interested in otherwise, we’re not enslaved to the curriculum at ALL and we can take it or leave it whenever we want. So I can continually remember that we’re using it as a tool within unschooling, in a manner of speaking, rather than as an end in itself. 🙂

    And how lucky am I to have a husband who actually thinks we could stand to use a little *less* curriculum and unschool even more than we do already? 🙂 Whereas many moms have to convince their hubbies who would rather have strict school-at-home, I know he will just be yet one more help to keep me from getting carried away and going too far into forced ‘schooly’ stuff with our daughter!

    1. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing about other families journeys and reading different blogs and connecting with others. My husband too is a big supporter. He loves what the kids are doing and has no qualms about the choice of education we have chosen. He has been a supporter from the get go. – Lee

  2. We are a combination of unschooling and more formal education depending on the topic. I have two sons, one with high functioning autism, and the other with a mysterious disorder that is just being called at this point a language disability. I never thought I would do unschooling because I felt that it was “granola tree hugging hippie” stuff! LOL! However, soon I discovered that I could teach them a lot more when they didn’t realize they were learning, and then suddenly it occured to me that we were now “granola tree hugging hippies”

    1. That is so funny you say that! We felt the same way and I am pretty sure used that term more than once. But like you we have found it to be wonderful!! Learning and life is so much nicer. Thanks for sharing. -Lee

  3. I could write for hours but I don’t have time! 🙂 I’d just like to say that I have 5 kids currently aged 10 thru 17. For almost 8 years now we have been unschooling, what some people call radical unschooling, some call whole life unschooling. We don’t have any arbitrary curriculum, no schedule for bedtimes or meal times or chores. We just live really cool, interesting fascinating lives that are free from the restraints and demands of a schooled life. We have been to 9 unschooling conferences in Washington state and in California over the last 7 years, and have friends all over the globe. Have not studied a single “lesson” of English, but the older kids have all voluntarily participated in Nanowrimo (national novel writing month) where they try to write 50,000 words in the month of November. My 17 year old son has a job he works at currently about 4 days a week, but travels back and forth from Bellingham a few times a week for a girlfriend he has in her 3rd year of university at WWU. She’s a 20 year old homeschooler herself. My son at 15 was travelling through the US with an unschooled family helping out as an au pair with their two small kids. He bought his own first car a few months ago, and for now is busy and happy. My 15 year old daughter has a job also that she has had since she was 14. She has saved enough to buy herself a Canon digital SLR, fund two trips to Alaska to visit her boyfriend, has paid recently for a trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua which will happen in March for two months, travelling with another unschooling family. My 14 year old travels regularly to and from Portland and other places in Oregon, has performed on multiple community stages with community events as a hoop artist, fire hooping, and stilting. She plays the ukulele and guitar, writes and sings her own original work. My twins are 10 and have so many interests, skiing, soccer, acting, drama, visual arts, photography, etc. Life is so damn good, and we have so much fun and learn so much. Why wait to retire to live a lifestyle that people work their entire lives to get to? We are doing it in reverse. 🙂 Kind of. Maybe. That’s my closing thought and I reserve my right to change my mind about it! Learning all the time!

    1. Oh, and my 15 year old daughter this year did a Ski Instructor course up at Whistler Blackcomb and she is now a certified Level 1 Ski instructor! She can get work up there next season! 🙂 That was an exciting addition to her curriculum vitae, at age 15!

    2. You really do inspire me Shonna and make me think all the time and often remind me of why we have made this choice. Thank you for sharing! -Lee

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

My Canadian Time Capsule