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(41 Posts)
NadineBeyer Thu 29-Nov-12 15:35:48

I've recently started to read a lot about the benefits of unschooling. Has anyone tried this? what are your thoughts on this?

tiggytape Thu 29-Nov-12 16:51:01

Isn't that natural learning or experienced-based learning?
If so, I think a lot of parents embrace it at home when their children are with them but I don't know how it would be as a complete replacement for a school or more structured learning environment for a child who otherwise enjoys school and does well there.

I think there is a lot to be said for individual and natural ways of learning and for some children it is the only approach that works but at the same time, we live in a world where for most things, you have to get the qualifications and bits of paper that say you've passed, follow set learning goals.... there are some things you just have to learn in life even if natural inclination never leads you to want to learn them but maybe there are ways this is handled?

Oldladypillow Thu 29-Nov-12 16:54:12

IMO I think this approach makes adult life difficult to deal with unless you are a millionaire family living in a commune. Structure and formal learning are expectations of adults if you want a career.
However - this is v much my opinion and I am not stating fact. Happy to be educated about the subject more smile

mummytime Thu 29-Nov-12 17:09:55

If you want to debate it, there are people on the Home Ed board who are into unstructured education.

Saracen Fri 30-Nov-12 06:52:39

My girls who are thirteen and six learn through unschooling (or "autonomous education" as it is more often called in the UK).

I quite agree that children need to learn that there are certain things they'll have to know in order to achieve what they want. However, it isn't necessary to make an effort to work on this intensively from an early age. They figure it out for themselves.

Children often do choose to do some formal learning even while young. That isn't incompatible with self-directed learning. The key is that it's their decision. They may want to take swimming classes, or work through a book about a subject which interests them, or learn to read music or learn a martial art. I don't think I know any older home educated children who've had no experience whatsoever of structured learning.

It's interesting to me that the older home educated kids I know (including my own daughter) tend to start gravitating toward rather more formal sustained learning experiences around the age of twelve to fourteen. They don't seem to find it a difficult transition. Perhaps that is because they are developmentally ready to concentrate more, or maybe it is because they are highly motivated to achieve their aims.

Some jump into a full-time formal learning environment suddenly and completely, but if they do it when they are ready then they don't struggle. For instance, my dd tried school for a term when she was ten. Many aspects of starting school which can be a challenge for a four year old - getting dressed and out the door on time, sitting still in class, asking for help when she needed it, looking after her things, organising her time to do homework - were easy for a ten year old. She had adjusted completely within a couple of weeks. Similarly, it's common for young people to go to college without having been to school previously.

tiggytape, if you (or anybody else!) wants to give an example or two of something which you feel a person needs to know in life but which they wouldn't naturally be inclined to learn, I'd be glad to give my take on that. The short answer is: maybe they don't need it after all, or if they really do then they'll easily learn it later when they discover they do need it.

tiggytape Fri 30-Nov-12 08:32:08

I wasn't thinking so much about my personal view of what children should learn, more that qualifications are increasingly the key to everything including vocational paths now and, as such, formal qualifications if not formal learning are needed. You can't do catering or mechanics or even very practical subjects later in life without formal academic qualifications so in that sense, it may be valuable but out of step with what the rest of the world will expect.

For younger children, I was thinking along the lines that a child who struggled hugely with phonics or literacy is generally less inclined to gravitate towards those activities (the children I know with dyslexia for example never choose to read for pleasure - not even magazines or comics - but are made to read by virtue of being at school and getting lots of extra help). It isn’t optional. My DD has a physical disability and shies away from some physical activities which are good for her to undertake. If we wait for her to want to do them, we may lose the window of opportunity to help her improve and she’d also fall behind in other things because her fine motor skills are affected too. At school she is made to do them in a supported way. If she could chose not to, she probably would but it wouldn’t be the right thing for her in the long-term. Generally if you are not very good at something, you may not enjoy it very much but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be made to do it.

cory Fri 30-Nov-12 11:43:11

My ds has never read anything of his own volition in his entire life. He hasn't had a traumatic experience or been put off or anything: he just finds it mildly difficult and he is the kind of person who has no interest in doing anything that is difficult. It seems a personality trait: he doesn't do crafts or music or sports either, unless they can be done without an effort.

We have done everything we can to provide interesting things to access through reading, but the truth is that he is the kind of person who doesn't like putting himself out. He doesn't have any particular career dreams, so there is no motivation there. He is 12.

Thanks to school he can actually read. If he hadn't been pushed, I don't believe that he would have learnt. And that would have been a big thing to catch up as an adult.

Basically, I think people are different: some are self motivators and some are not. His sister is, I was as a child: you couldn't have stopped us learning and wanting to find things out. We'd have done fine being unschooled.

Though dd would not have had the level of physical activity she needed unless pushed to do it, and I probably wouldn't either: I would have been happy just to stay in bed with my books.

cory Fri 30-Nov-12 11:48:00

In my own country, acquiring a good speaking and reading knowledge of English is pretty well an essential for having a chance of a decent career. This is very difficult to pick up later in life. Naturally not all youngsters have the understanding of career opportunities when they are 10 or 11, so they might not feel it that important. Which means that the ones whose parents insist that they learn anyway have an enormous advantage over the others when it comes to the crunch.

I remember my PE teacher asking me how I was going to cope in life if I never did any exercise. I told her that all I would need physical strength for was to get books down from a shelf and I thought I'd be able to manage that. Of course I knew nothing of the importance of good physical health for a career in research. My PE teacher was right. My health is not as good as it could be and if I had gone the whole hog and become seriously unfit I could have wrecked my plans completely.


There is a Home Ed section on MN. There are a fair number of autonomous educators on there. I'm sure they would be happy to share their experiences with you too.

Saracen Sat 01-Dec-12 05:43:22

All good points, thanks. Everybody seems to be saying roughly similar things.

"You can't do catering or mechanics or even very practical subjects later in life without formal academic qualifications" Yes, there are typically entry requirements, but for practical subjects these are usually flexible and come down to demonstrating that you are capable of the work. If the young person discovers that he really does need, say, a maths GCSE and nothing else will do, there's no reason he can't do the GCSE at that stage. For the more academic careers where entry is going to be very competitive and the entry requirements quite inflexible, any young person who wants such a career will need to be highly self-motivated and academically-inclined anyway: if the child were the type of person who will only study if made to do so by somebody else, he's probably not cut out to be a vet.

Literacy. I hear stories of children who struggle hugely with literacy and are pushed to work on it and then manage to grasp it. I also hear of children who don't succeed with reading at school and for whom all the hard pushing seems to backfire, who feel like failures because so much of their time is being spent on something they can't do, who switch off to the possibility of learning because they have become convinced that they can't do it. Perhaps this prevents them from learning to read though they might have managed it if left alone. I know several dyslexic HE children who learned to read after the age of ten, having been very reluctant to read beforehand and not having been pushed to do so. People are ready for different things at different ages. I suppose it is impossible to say whether a particular child would have done better with a different approach to the one he had.

I don't know about windows of opportunity when it comes to physically disabled children getting stronger. Maybe it depends on the particular condition. Nobody has ever said to me that my own dd needs to get stronger RIGHT NOW or the opportunity to do so will be lost. She could certainly do with more exercise than she gets, and having more exercise does help her in many ways, that much is true. So I go to a lot of trouble to find activities and situations for her which she loves so much that she will voluntarily exercise. But I don't force her to exercise, aside from the fact that I'm increasingly unwilling to carry her short distances when I think she can manage to walk. She is getting stronger over time, undoubtedly more slowly than she would if I insisted on her doing exercise. But she is happy, there are no battles, and she seems to be getting there in her own time. Just as I don't care whether she learns to read at four or six or eight, I am not too bothered about the exact age at which she becomes able to walk a quarter mile.

I remember when she was younger, a physical therapist told me some ways I could work with dd to encourage her to learn to walk. These were all things which dd really disliked doing. I asked her, "If I don't do those things, will she still learn to walk someday?" She said yes. I asked whether it mattered if dd first walked at the age of two or three or four. She said no. "Then we only need to do these exercises if we want to hurry the process along?" She said yes. I told her that in that case I would leave dd to do it in her own time, and she said it was refreshing to work with a parent who wasn't in a hurry. In her experience parents aren't prepared to wait. They want their children to try to "catch up" with others of their age so they won't stand out so much at preschool and school. That was why she hadn't even mentioned to me that the exercises were optional.

Learning a language does seem to be something best done when a child is very young. But exposure alone should achieve this, so I don't see the need to require the child to work on it. If you have plenty of appealing books and TV programmes and computer games and songs in the target language, speak it sometimes and associate with native speakers when possible, then won't that be enough?

Just a few thoughts. I am ready to believe that there may be a few exceptional situations in which it is better to try to force a child to learn something, but in general I think they learn more effectively if the motivation comes from within.

madwomanintheattic Sat 01-Dec-12 06:57:13

Catch up so they won't stand out so much? Yuk, and what a truly awful thing to say.

I suppose in terms of avoiding additional problems for the child, but that's veering off in to the social model of disability.

Personally speaking I wanted dd2 to be able to walk so that she was less frustrated and made less screaming noise, ditto the hand function and ability to feed and swallow without choking, aspirating and spending half her life with chest infections. She was imprisoned by her own body and unable to do what she wanted so desperately to do, so, yup, we did the physio. grin

I assume your dd doesn't not have spasticity associated with her condition that becomes more problematic over time, the less stretching you do? And the necessity of surgical intervention becomes stronger?

That's great then - you can take your time. But please don't rubbish any parent who actually follows a physio programme by accusing them of just wanting their kid not to stand out. That's breathtakingly inconsiderate of individual conditions, and naive in the extreme.

Fwiw, I'm a huge fan of unschooling, despite recognizing that there are some situations when really, you do have to step up to the plate and take the choice away from a child who does not understand the consequences of refusing (physio or whatever) in their particular case.

tiggytape Sat 01-Dec-12 10:40:58

My DD's disability is such that she does have to do certain things at certain times else it will negatively impact on other areas of her life that she hadn't struggled with before which in turn will wreck her confidence as well as her independence. It isn't anything to do with how other people view her (if I worried about that, I'd never stop worrying!).

Just from my experiences with her, I can see that where a child struggles badly with something, there is a chance they would never confront it or tackle it unless made to. Virtually all of the therapies and treatments she has make her do things for her own good that she would never otherwise do.
For some things (like learning a language) it may not matter much later in life if a child never wishes to tackle it. For other things like physio and learning to read, it matters very much.

Maybe that's the point though. Maybe it isn't a method that can suit all children but one that suits some very well.

cory Sat 01-Dec-12 23:07:03

"Learning a language does seem to be something best done when a child is very young. But exposure alone should achieve this, so I don't see the need to require the child to work on it. If you have plenty of appealing books and TV programmes and computer games and songs in the target language, speak it sometimes and associate with native speakers when possible, then won't that be enough?"

I think most bilingual families will tell you that bilingualism doesn't just happen because a child has access to a language. Children from such families typically grow up with a limited passive understanding of a language but unable to speak, read or write it. Active knowledge happens when you are regularly put in a situation where you are forced to use the language actively, either because you are taught it at school, or associate with people who genuinely only speak that language or because one parent at least insists that you speak that language to them. I am one of the very few parents on the bilingual board who does not insist on speaking my own language all the time to my dc (and am therefore perceived as a bit of a naive optimist), but even I wouldn't have expected any results if I had just provided the materials and spoken the language to them sometimes.

cory Sat 01-Dec-12 23:14:04

Saracen, I'd be genuinely interested in how you'd deal with somebody like my son who simply isn't interested enough in anything that reading can give him. As far as entertainment is concerned, he reckons he can get that from the telly, from music or from friends; if those are not accessible, he prefers just lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling (and has been known to do this for hours on end). As for learning, he doesn't have much of an enquiring mind. As for a career, he says he can't think of one he'd want. He is not dyslexic; he has been tested.

He wouldn't want to be home-schooled and has actually said so- he prefers going into school even when he is unwell and would have an excuse to stay off. But he basically regards school as one big social event (with lots of girls to choose from hmm).

He is not unhappy- he is very sociable and quite popular- but he just hasn't found anything worth making an effort for.

Would you really have been happy if he had been your son and still unable to read at 12 and showing no signs of wanting to learn?

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 08:48:33

Hi madwoman and tiggytape, I'm very sorry if I offended you. You're right, my dd doesn't have spasticity, just the opposite: she's a floppy one.

I don't think physiotherapy is a waste of time in all cases, which is why I was consulting a physiotherapist. I don't think the PT was implying that all parents who use her services are doing so because they want their children to become more average as quickly as possible, just that some were. I just take exception to the idea that children who have delays ALWAYS need to be hurried along for the sake of it. Why waste the physiotherapist's time helping my daughter against her will to "catch up" though there is no medical need, when she ought to be working instead with children like madwoman's daughter who actually want or need her help?

There are definitely times when I make decisions for my children which they don't like. For several years when my dd refused to take the medication which keeps her alive, I did force her to take it. Unschooling parents don't all give their children free rein in everything. However, I tend not to feel that there are many times I ought to intervene on the educational side.

I think I've sidetracked the whole discussion by mentioning physical therapy, sorry about that!

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 08:49:45

"I think most bilingual families will tell you that bilingualism doesn't just happen because a child has access to a language."

Thanks for the clarification, cory, that helps!

FlamingoBingo Sun 02-Dec-12 09:02:53

Yes, we do it. Works very well in our family of four very different children who all learn very differently and have different strengths and interests (to dispel the 'it only works with self-motivated early readers' myth).

Unschooling doesn't mean you don't get qualifications if you want them. I know unschooled kids who now, as adults, have PhDs.

When I have my regular and healthy 'omg what are we doing!?!?' wobbles and frantically compare my kids with their schooled peers, I find that they're behind in some aspects, but not by much, and way ahead in others. Therefore, I am usually shown that the whole school/unschool thing is swings and roundabouts. My kids may well be fine in school, but it appears that there's not much point in being there when they have way more time within the family to learn what they want how they want in much greater depth and without the distraction of the bad bits of school, so as I'm happy to have them home educated, what would be the point of sending them to school?

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 09:07:15

Flamingo, I'm not disputing that it works: more wondering how you would make it work with a youngster like my ds who simply isn't interested in anything that reading could give him. I'd be very grateful for any hints. I might be able to use them.

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 10:03:43

"Would you really have been happy if he had been your son and still unable to read at 12 and showing no signs of wanting to learn?"

Happy, no. I'd like to think I'd have the courage of my convictions and keep waiting, but it wouldn't be easy. Reading is very important to functioning in our society, and there is a lot of emphasis on doing it young. Someone very wise, who had two children who learned to read in their teens, once said something along these lines in a discussion about autonomous education: it's easy to let children come to reading in their own time if they choose to do it at four or six, but it takes nerves of steel to do it if they happen to become ready after ten!

But in return, let's consider a worst-case scenario when it comes to non-autonomous education. Picture a 12 year old who has not had success at school. It all started when she was four and everyone kept on at her about reading and writing when she wasn't yet ready and would rather have been doing other things anyway. After a while she shut off and stopped trying. The harder her teachers and parents pushed, the less she seemed to understand. Would you have been happy if this had been your daughter?

What's the difference between these two children? Neither can read. There's no guarantee that either of them will ever read.

The first child probably feels a bit down about this. He's not oblivious to his grandparents asking his parents regularly about whether he can read yet, and a couple of kids may have noticed and teased him about it. It's inconvenient that he can't look up the TV listings or figure out a new computer game without help. Still, his inability to read doesn't dominate his life. He's had time to get good at other things, so he is confident. He can do lots of things and has never bothered to invest much effort in learning to read. He knows that nearly everyone is capable of learning to read at a basic level. So he is fairly confident that he'll manage it whenever he gets around to tackling it. The rest of his education isn't affected much by the fact that he doesn't read. He learns from documentaries, from going places and talking to people. He listens to audiobooks. People will read him things if they have time. His friends are barely aware of the fact that he can't read, since they aren't sitting in a classroom alongside him. They think he is a pretty bright kid. He knows a lot about science and history and archaeology.

The second child is confronted by her inability to read in a painful way on a daily basis. Everyone at school knows she is in the lowest sets - not just in English but in most everything else too. There's no chance of producing a geography essay or passing a history exam when she can't read. She's pretty sure she is thick: people have been trying to get her to read for eight years now and she hasn't got it, so she "knows" she can't do it. There's no point trying any more. School takes up a lot of her time, so she doesn't have much time to master other things which might have boosted her self-esteem.

One other difference: everyone will criticise the parents of the first child and blame them for his inability to read, whereas everyone will blame the school for the second child's problems. But it isn't at all clear to me that the first child's problems are caused by his parents' decision to let him decide when to learn to read, or that the second child's problems couldn't have been avoided if she hadn't been made to attempt reading for years when she didn't want to.

As risks go, I think the second scenario is a worse risk. I know Child A well... that is to say, I did - he can read moderately well now. I don't know Child B. My mum, a schoolteacher who specialised in teaching teens who had very low maths attainment but no diagnosed learning difficulties, said that most of her pupils had terribly low self-esteem. The almost insurmountable problem was that they thought they were incapable of learning.

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 10:06:25

cory, does your son not want to find out when his favourite programmes will be on or when the next film in the series is being released? How does he download the music tracks he wants? Do his friends not text him or want to make social arrangements on Facebook? Does he not find it awkward to catch the right bus to town to meet them?

If he has found clever ways to deal with all of these situations then perhaps he genuinely doesn't need reading right now. That's not to say he never will need and want to do it. As he gets older he will discover more interests, he will want to more things, and it's quite likely that reading will play a part.

I know this is a frustrating answer but: I think that with autonomous education it isn't a case of the parent "making it work". It is a case of waiting. Waiting, and ensuring in the meantime that he isn't in an environment where people are trying to force him, at the risk of teaching him that he can't do it and that reading is all that matters. Autonomous education isn't something you do, it's something you refrain from doing.

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 10:37:10

I am afraid he relies on his friends to keep track of when things are on etc, Saracen. Whenever he has wanted to take up an activity and his friends haven't organised it for him it has come to nothing; however keen he seems he just can't go to the effort of doing it.

He goes out when they call for him; left to his own devices he will lie on the sofa all day.

This works at this age, because he is quite popular and his friends enjoy mothering him. I can't see it working in the workplace. In fact, I can't see it getting him a job.

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 10:38:20

I can see the rationale of autonomous education- but how long would you be prepared to support an adult child who had not yet seen the benefit of getting himself adequate skills and a job?

lljkk Mon 03-Dec-12 18:37:42

(Deep Breath) I have lurked on other websites, online, where folk ask "Were you unschooled and did you like it?". The replies are a range of opinions just like anything else. But the one thing that jumps out is most folk saying that they have noticeable gaps in their education. They feel those strongly & often feel quite strongly about it (feel quite insecure as a result). They seem to feel that the gaps are quite formidable.

I know a lot of HErs and None of them unschool, several of them (no matter how passionate they are about HE) express considerable skepticism about unschooling. It is a hotly debated topic within HE circles.

bebanjo Mon 03-Dec-12 23:11:47

we follow autonomous education in our house, this does not stop me from parenting and from talking to my DD and telling her things.
we had our first visit from the LEA last week and he was very happy with how DD is doing.
i fail to understand how anyone that has been "unschooled" could have gaps in there education that bothers them, that goes against what "unschooling" is/means.
it is for the child to learn any and all things that the child finds interesting, useful nessersery for there own ends. if they want to know more they simply do, they ask for help as and when needed and get on with it. if this is not the case then they have not been "unschooled"/ followed an autonomous path but simply been ignored/ neglected.
my DD can not read yet but she will ask me to Google something, she knows there are many ways to find things out.

cory Tue 04-Dec-12 08:36:24

This is what I find interesting, behanjo, because everybody who speaks of the successes of unschooling seems to be describing a child who is very different from my ds, but like my dd, a child who is interested in finding out more about a subject.

So how would you deal with a child who wants to lie on a sofa and watch the same re-runs of Top Gear over and over again but has no interest in learning how a car works or anything else about it? A child who literally only wants to be entertained and who does not want you to tell him things?

If ds is left to his own devices, he doesn't bother to get dressed, he makes it as far as the television and there he watches the same no-effort programmes over and over again. For a child who only wants to be entertained and is given a free run of the home entertainment systems (which I suppose is what autonomous means) there is absolutely no need to learn anything beyond how to work the remote controll.

It doesn't bother him at all, because he doesn't have any "ends" in mind. But I don't fancy the idea of having to support an unemployable 22yo.

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