The Homeschooling Method I Wish I Had Been Brave Enough to Try

As I’ve been blogging about different homeschooling methods in my Homeschool Methods series, I’ve tried to emphasize that different families thrive with different homeschooling methods because all families are different and all kids are different. I’m glad that, as homeschoolers, we have options.

The homeschooling method I wish I were brave enough to try

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But I’ll be honest, there is one homeschooling method that I wish I had been brave enough to try. When I first felt the tug to do something different in our homeschooling early on, when I wanted to buck the traditional, structured format of school that just doesn’t work for so many kids, I researched this method. I found many of its ideas and principles resonating with me.

Because I had been a classroom teacher. I had taught in a traditional classroom, and I had observed and worked in many classrooms during my teacher training. I was a special education major with a heart for helping kids with mild learning disabilities, those who were in regular classrooms but struggled to keep up. And what I saw over and over was that the real problem often wasn’t with the children, it was with the system.

Many children are stuck in an educational system that doesn’t fit them. They’re presented with information in a way that makes no sense to them and has no connection to their real lives. They struggle to learn information that seems boring and irrelevant. And so they are labeled as deficient in some way. But they aren’t deficient. The system is deficient.

I wanted something different. That was a large part of our decision to homeschool and the reason that I decided not to homeschool in a traditional, structured way. And if I had just been brave enough I would have unschooled my children.

I’m definitely not an unschooling expert. But, based on the research I’ve done and unschooling books and blogs I’ve read, here’s an overview of unschooling as well as some of the unschooling resources I’ve found.

Homeschooling methods- unschooling

What Unschooling Isn’t

When I was in high school I knew a family who supposedly pulled their children out of school to homeschool. What really happened was that they pretty much did their own thing and left their children to take care of themselves. While I’m sure the kids learned things- like how to stay alive on their own- I don’t think that this met our state’s requirements for homeschooling. At all.

I don’t think that unschooling happens because parents are too lazy to “do school” with their kids or too preoccupied with their own concerns to pay attention to what is happening with their kids. This, in my opinion, is not true unschooling.

What Unschooling Is

So if this isn’t unschooling, what is?

As a mom of preschool children who I planned on homeschooling, I was hanging out one afternoon with a friend who had children slightly older and was homeschooling and who had been homeschooled herself. I was picking her brain about homeschooling, and in the course of our conversation she made a statement that has stuck with me since. I don’t think she made it up, but it’s awfully profound. “Life is school.”

I think unschoolers have learned not to separate the two- the living times from the learning times- and instead have integrated them seamlessly so that in every life experience that they provide or in every experience that just happens within their family, they are presenting and capitalizing on learning opportunities.

So what does this look like in real life? Here are a couple of examples I’ve seen of what I think true unschooling is.

I have a friend who is less structured about school than I am. I’m not sure she would define herself as an unschooler but I would say she’s pretty close. She has a large family, and they live out in the country on some acreage. I have seen some schoolbooks lying around, so I know that they do some workbook stuff every now and then. But I also know they learn quite a bit from the everyday care of a large family and small farm.

I was talking to her when my older children were in middle school about how we had gotten together with some other families and did some dissecting. And then she told me about a big old black snake that had gotten into their chicken coop and kept stealing eggs. Her boys worked and worked to catch it and finally did. Then they killed it and cut it open because they wanted to see what it looked like. They were especially thrilled to be able to see undigested chicken eggs in there. (ugh) While this sounds especially nasty to me, I bet her boys learned more from their exploration than most high school biology students would learn in a lab class..

Another excellent example of unschooling that I’ve seen is from Rhea Perry. We heard Rhea Perry speak at a homeschool convention one year. She’s an entrepreneur teacher, for lack of a better description. She’s an extremely powerful motivator, and she wants to teach families how to make money for themselves instead of always having to work for other people. She and her late husband always taught their own children this way. They were homeschooled in a very unschooling way and constantly taught and encouraged how to think for themselves, be leaders, and earn and invest their money wisely.

Her children are older and several are out of school and highly successful. Her oldest son made his first $1,000,000 before he was 20. As she spoke in the conference and talked about some of the many, many things they taught their children and the opportunities that they gave their kids to do new things, I was definitely motivated to help my kids pursue their interests and learn what fits them instead of sticking them with one size fits all curricula and programs.

True confession: Why I Couldn’t Be an Unschooler

Here’s the real reason I couldn’t be an unschooler: I’m afraid I’m too lazy.

I’ve heard unschooling parents criticized as being lazy or too unconcerned with their children’s education. But the fact is that unschooling parents are working harder than many other homeschooling parents to make every opportunity a learning opportunity. They are providing their children with experiences and tools to learn. This takes work.

I’ll be honest. Handing my kids a math workbook and telling them to do today’s lesson on making change is quicker, easier, and less messy than working with them to make handmade hair bows, price them, find a venue to sell them, and then teach them how to take people’s money and give back change. But which lesson do you think will stick with them the longest?

Unfortunately I think I need some sort of curriculum to keep me on task.

I would like to consider myself a hybrid of sorts. We do use curricula in our homeschool and we do have scheduled “school time,” but I’m also always on the lookout for opportunities for real life learning. And I try to follow the lead of my kids and provide learning opportunities that fit them instead of trying to make them fit the books and materials I want them to use.

Unschooling Resources I’ve Found

If you want to know more about unschooling, here are a few resources that can help.

Almost Unschoolers– Early in my homeschool blogging years, I found this blog. It’s one of the blogs that helped me to see that unschooling takes work. And it happens best when parents are facilitating learning- not necessarily teaching directly. There are always some great ideas for learning without books on this blog.

John Holt GWS- This site is all about John Holt- the education reformer who first thought to reform public education and then, when that effort was fruitless, advocated unschooling and teaching children at home. This site has lots of information about John Holt and his writings as well as about unschooling in general.

Educating for Success- This is Rhea Perry’s site. She has free resources for entrepreneurial education here. She also has a membership site. And there is information about her Home Business Conference- which we went to as a family a few years ago.

Books about unschooling:

From my own experience and from listening to and reading about the experiences of others, I know that kids can learn so much without ever using a workbook or a planned curriculum. Unschooling can be very successful. Most importantly it can teach kids to be lifelong learners which is more important than any test score or grade on a report card.
Are you an unschooler? I’d love to hear about your experiences with unschooling. And if you have an unschooling blog, I’d love for you to share it in the comments.

Find the other posts in this homeschool methods series below.

Homeschooling methodsClassical homeschooling

Charlotte Mason homeschoolingTextbook homeschooling
Unit studies homeschooling

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