Homeschooling. Worldschooling. Unschooling. I think I have used all of these terms interchangeably here on Our Global Adventure. In my own head though, and the one that I am hoping will work out the ‘best fit’ for our family is Unschooling (To all my teaching friends who read this, I just felt you shudder 🙂 ). If you read my last post, you will know that last year our kids were attending a very nice private school which we handpicked ourselves from the selection in our area when our oldest was just a baby. So what is Unschooling and why have we made such a HUGE change in our plans for how our children learn?
I’ll admit, I’m still getting my head around the style of learning that will best fit our kids and in true “Gina” form I have spent literally hours and hours researching the best way to educate our own kids at home. Six months ago when Simon and I decided to embark on Our Global Adventure it seemed a no-brainer that of course I would be their teacher at home or on our travels, after all, I am a teacher right? The next thing we had to decide was, how would I do that? The first term I Googled was “Homeschooling in Australia” and to tell you the truth I didn’t like the results. From what I could gather from many websites it seemed that many (but not all) families were following the National Curriculum and teaching in much the same way that happens at school, just at home. Worksheets, lesson plans, tests and lists of learning outcomes to be ticked off by the end of the year. Next, I downloaded a copy of the National Curriculum and looked at the list of topics and outcomes that each of our children were expected to cover. This made me even more uncomfortable, some things they were already ahead of, some needed catching up, and others I knew that they just wouldn’t be interested in, and I anticipated the struggle I’d have on my hands to engage their interest.
Simon and I discussed my findings and I aired my frustrations, hypothetically asking the questions; Why do they need to learn all this stuff that they’re not interested in and will probably never use in their lives? Who decided what they should and shouldn’t know at this point of their learning journey anyway? And if they should fail a test or not cover it all right now, who is it that sets these arbitrary benchmarks? In his usual calm, thoughtful way Simon let me vent and then simply stated, “So, lets not do it that way.” 🙂
We came up with our own set of guidelines for how and what we’d like the children to learn and it looks a bit like this…
- To empower the children and help them become masters of their own education
- To help the children to learn the basics of maths and literacy, but allow room for them to go off in tangents as their interests lead them
- To find opportunities to learn from our daily conversations and surroundings
- To see learning as a slide scale that can be moved back and forth to suit the level that the kids are at, rather than in a linear year after year school fashion
- To provide a stimulating environment for learning
- To learn with our children
- To allow our children the freedom to follow their interests rather than learn facts just for facts sake
- To help the children become confident learners who are unafraid to have a go, and are unperturbed by mistakes
- To remove expectations that our children should make grades, pass tests, achieve scores, or even go to University, (unless they choose to)
- To have a purposeful education for the world that we live in, rather than one that is created in an institution
- To provide opportunities for the children to learn from others, not in competition with others or to satisfy government enforced testing
I think that it is important to add as a disclaimer that our children have already been to school, and so they can already read, write and do maths at the levels that are academically accepted as the norm for their ages. If they hadn’t yet though, and we’d decided to do this when they were toddlers, I am confident that they’d still have gained skills in these areas. Also, neither of our children has a learning disability, a social disorder or other condition that might have effected their path through main stream education, and so these concerns did not factor in our decision to remove them from the classroom. Simon and I completely empathise with parents who have decided to remove their children from mainstream education because they felt that the system did not cater to best suit the learning style of their child with special needs, (we believe that problem lies with the system, not students) but ours has been a decision based on a lifestyle change, and a firm belief that right now our education system is not best serving our kids for the future. This excellent RSA Talk by Sir Ken Robinson explains very clearly why many parents, just like us are realising it is time for a change…
So, this brings me to Unschooling, described in Wikipedia as…
“…an educational method and philosophy that rejects compulsory school as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and 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, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, 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’ve also seen the term “Radical Unschooler” pop up in my searches for alternative education styles, and whilst the definition varies depending on what you read, it appears to be generally accepted that sometimes Radical Unschooling can also mean that the children are given complete freedom over EVERY aspect of their lives; learning, bedtimes, mealtimes, chores around the house etc. If traditional Homeschooling is just ‘school at home’ and ‘radical unschooling’ is a no-expectations free-for-all, then I think maybe we sit somewhere in the middle. We do not follow a curriculum, but the children regularly access a website to practice skills in all subject areas with the freedom to choose what they study, how long for, and at what level, (they move the academic scale up and down themselves). Other opportunities for learning are regularly offered to them to assist them in following their interests eg. we visit the Library once a week, they have access to computers and the internet, we regularly visit museums, parks, places of interest and the theatre and swim 3 times a week at our local pool. They are given freedom to completely immerse themselves in their interests, such as watching Horrible Histories for a whole day, and making swords all afternoon from paper and sticky-tape. When they display an interest in a particular topic I find ways to scaffold their learning by making available additional resources such as videos, books, websites and community based activities. They are still reminded of bedtimes, but there is not an exact time that is enforced. They help out with chores around the house, but we do not reward them financially for doing so, as it is understood that we should all contribute cooperatively to living together. It is an expectation that we all come the dinner table to share a meal each night, this has always been our practice and so the children do not know or expect otherwise, in fact they enjoy it!
We are very new to Unschooling and in fact, Homeschooling in general, so it’s safe to say that we don’t have all the answers yet, and we are still finding our way. What we are doing with the children seems to be working at the moment, they are happy and they are learning. Our goal is that eventually they will independently replace the website that we use to practice common skills (Study Ladder) as a result of naturally learning and seeking out opportunities for practicing and increasing their skills. But, since they enjoy doing the activities and playing the games at the moment, we see no harm in it. If you are considering using this website at home with your own children, please be advised that whilst it is a very useful tool, it is not a teacher replacement. The children and I continue to work on, and expand the skills that they practice with each activity long after the computer has been turned off. It is also one of many online resources that they access.
The following video is a very interesting RSA talk on ‘The Unschooled Life’ by Film-maker Astra Taylor. I found this one very interesting, enjoy!
If you have decided to educate your own children at home, we’d love to hear from you, what were your motivations, and what works well for your family?