Unschooling: Radical learning?
Unschooling lets children control their own learning, says Sally-Jane Cameron.
My children don't go to school. Are they homeschooled? No. What we do is as far from school-at-home as homeschooling is from sending kids to school. Yes, my kids learn at home, but that is where the similarity ends. We are an unschooling family.

What is unschooling?

We believe that children can be in control of their own learning. Does this mean that I just let my kids run around free to do what they like with no structure, lessons or learning? In part, yes; we do not have fixed lessons like a school classroom or curriculum-based homeschooling, but what we do have is a lot of learning.

In the 70's, John Holt, a teacher in America for over 20 years came to the conclusion that a one-size-fits-all education system does not get the best from children. They are not all ready to learn the same things at the same time. They feel bored because they are ahead of their peers or, worse, set them up to fail because they were not ready for that skill yet.

When left to master skills in their own time, children often learn quicker and more effectively, but left to work at their own pace they will learn what they need to know.

Unschoolers believe that children have a natural desire to learn. Their curiosity to explore the world around them will lead them to learn though life experiences. A lot of fantastic real-world, hands-on, spontaneous learning opportunities are missed when we think that learning is limited to school.

There are no standard curricula or testing. Unschooled kids have the freedom to choose how to learn and they may decide to take courses, even attend school for a period or study a certain subject to further their knowledge in a particular area. Older unschooled kids who would like to go to university or college may study a fixed curriculum to pass school leaving exams if it is a skill they feel necessary to them.

Is there not a basic body of knowledge that kids must have?

Even curricula vary. I remember being at school the year behind my sister- it often occurred that the content we learned was different; she might have done the locust in Biology while I did the butterfly, or if I did MacBeth for English Literature she did Julius Caesar.

Unschooling parents are more focused on how to help our children to learn rather than to being worried about the specific knowledge that they have. How to learn, where to find information and how to critically evaluate it seems more valuable than knowing a list of facts.

John Holt says: “Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try teach it in advance. Instead we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.”

The role of the parent

Unschooling does not mean un-parenting or uninvolved- the opposite, actually. As adults we do have more experience of the world; we use this to help aid our kids. We read to them, follow their interests, and answer lots of questions. Together we find out things we don’t know. We help facilitate time with people who might know more about a topic than we do; from a Maths tutor to a car mechanic or farmer, we involve other experts in subjects that interest our children. Young children especially need a lot of time and input. As they get older and more able to find information and follow their interests, children take on more responsibility for their own learning.

Read more by Sally-Jane Cameron

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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