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Can someone explain unschooling to me please?

(8 Posts)
EauRouge Fri 23-Sep-11 08:57:15

There was me thinking that there was home ed or school, but apparently there are loads of different types of home ed. I've heard about unschooling but I'm not completely sure what it is. One of the mums at a parenting club I go to mentioned that she was doing it but I haven't had chance to ask her yet to describe her average day.

DD1 is not school age yet but we are planning to HE and we want her to learn about a wide range of subjects. We're not keen on a very structured environment or being anchored to a desk all day but we're quite keen for her to learn history, science, geography etc and for her to do a little bit of written work (activity sheets, writing practice, that sort of thing). How does that differ to unschooling? What are the advantages and disadvantages to different styles or is it just whatever suits your family best? We would like our DDs to go to school eventually but not until we've emigrated.


Saracen Fri 23-Sep-11 14:33:36

"Unschooling" is the American term for what is usually called "autonomous" education here. It means simply that the child decides what, where, when and how to learn. Parents may offer up various materials or activities or other learning opportunities but do not insist that the child take it up if she doesn't want to do it. Given a choice many children, especially younger ones, seem to prefer to learn by playing rather than by following a more formal scheme but that is not always the case. An autonomously educated child certainly could decide to work her way through a reading scheme and ask for help in doing this, as my dd did at the age of 6.5, for example.

You say that you are quite keen for your daughter to cover particular subjects and do some written work. If it is essential to you that she should do these things then autonomous learning would not be your choice at the moment. Parents report that children who make their own choices seem to cover everything they need eventually, but they often do it in a very different way to children whose learning is directed by teachers or parents.

As for the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches, I think it is what suits you as a family, but may also reflect your own beliefs or knowledge about how children learn best, what they need to know and when they need to know it.

julienoshoes Fri 23-Sep-11 14:38:33

Unschooling is usually called autonomous Home educatioin in the UK
there's a number of websites you could look atJoyfully Rejoycing being one, Sandra Dodd's is another

For me, the difference is between me delivering a system, where I impose what I want them to learn, and them choosing what they want to do completely.

I suppose it looks a bit like other people's six weeks summer hols, with the children having a wonderful time, doing as they choose.

It's probably how most under five year olds learn-through exploring in every day life, and how adults learn too.

If I'm interested in something, it would be difficult to stop me learning.I'd be reading everything there was on the subject, and everything that surrounds it.

We don't differentiate between life and learning. We didn't make them do a single bit of written work, although they could have done activity sheets etc. Instead they far preferred that they would write when they wanted to.
So my (dyslexic) son left school HATING reading and writing. He most certainly would not read a book-and had never done so, other than the bare amount forced on him by school. But soon became involved in a computer gane called Baldurs Gate. Lots of puzzles and logic there. Then I happened to mention that the game probably had it's origins in 'Lord of the Rings'-so he read it! The first book he's ever read!
He went onto enjoy Warhammer enormously, and read all of the Codex's applicable. Fantasy Games came next and he began to write reams and reams of story lines and charector directions as the Games Master of his own game. Even my doubting mother could see that was 'creative writing' if you looked at it!

We did maths in every day life and history and geography came along the same way-and by talking, talking and talking some more about whatever interested him-for as long as it interested him. It might be something about the Iraq war that he'd discussed with a close Iraqi friend of ours........leading to further discussions and personal research about different religions. Or something he'd noticed on the world map pinned to the bathroom wall lead to an interest in the landscape of the antartic.....

At school, they had predicted he might achieve Grade Ds at GCSE, "if he worked very very hard".
Instead what happened is that we lived life like the rest of you do in your summer holidays......we spent weeks in a tent at different home ed camps around the country, where he played games and had fun talking to all manner of people from different walks of life. If he was interested in something we facilitated that interest so that he could follow it.

He took himself to college when he was ready. We didn't nag him to go/do his homework/get up on time etc. he simply did it all because he had chosen to do so.

He's at University now doing very well indeed.

Sound good? You might also be interested to know that we started (albeit our children were older) with much the same ideas about what an education should look like, as you OP. we soon found out that it didn't suit our family at all. Horses for courses I think.

But well worth exploring further think. Can you find some local home educators to you and go along and chat about what they do? and have a look at some of Alan Thomas' books about autonomus home education in the UK.

julienoshoes Fri 23-Sep-11 14:39:55'd think considering how many times a day I type the word 'autonomOus' my fingers would type in that last 'O' but they never do........

damn dyslexia!

Saracen Fri 23-Sep-11 15:29:24

"There was me thinking that there was home ed or school, but apparently there are loads of different types of home ed."

There are far more ways to home educate than you could imagine. I know many other autonomous home educators, but none of them does it exactly like I do. How important is it to present children with opportunities which you think they'll like? Do you make suggestions? Give advice? How willing are you to drive them or take them on the bus to do what they want to do? Do you give preference to things that look like proper learning: will you be more willing to take your child to a science lecture than a popular film? If they choose to do some structured learning, do you remind them that they said they wanted to set aside half an hour a day to practice piano and they haven't done it yet today? Will you refuse to pay for continuing music lessons if they don't practice? Does autonomy over educational matters extend to allowing children to make their own decisions about what they eat and when they go to bed?

And that's just within autonomous HE!

BelfastBloke Fri 23-Sep-11 15:32:52

Cheers for the explanations - I was going to ask for a definition only yesterday.

EauRouge Sat 24-Sep-11 08:27:51

Thanks so much everyone for your posts, it's given me lots to think about! I suppose it'll take a little while to find something that suits us. I think I would be offering DD1 things to learn, I don't know how I would force her to learn things anyway! But I do want to make sure she learns about lots of different things even if she likes some things more than others. If she really, truly hated something then I'd probably just leave it and come back to it another time. Thanks again for your input smile

julienoshoes Sat 24-Sep-11 09:05:52

It's my experience that you can't stop them learning all sorts of different things.
If you are engaged with them, all sorts of things will come up, just by talking. Talking about something that interests them (not necessairly the same as something they like) is a VERY efficient way of learning.
Home educators I know call it Purposive conversation

I was constantly impressed by what my children had learned-often not from me, and about things I knew little about-sometimes causing me to go and do some research to keep up!

and living and learning this way is so much fun! grin

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