A recent article in Outside magazine “We don’t need no education” touted the virtues of unschooling as a growing movement. These parents believe a steady diet of standardized testing and indoor inactivity is choking the creativity right out of our kids. The alternative: set ‘em free.
Amy Gates and her husband Jody have two kids, Ava (10) and Julian (7). They didn’t start off as an unschooling family, but evolved into it over the course of a few years. Although homeschooling had always been in the back of her mind, her kids started out attending Waldorf preschool. Then her oldest, Ava, went to kindergarten at a public school but Amy knew in her heart that that wasn’t what she wanted for her, but didn’t feel she was in the best place mentally and emotionally to homeschool her at that point.
After Ava completed kindergarten, however, Amy felt ready to make the shift to homeschooling. They homeschooled for a short time before making the switch to unschooling. For the most part, unschooling works well for their family. The four of them have a range of interests, from computer games to woodworking, Legos to crafting, traveling to gardening, raising chickens to riding bikes, and more. Both of her kids love Minecraft.
Don’t miss Amy’s fascinating Q&A!
What is it about unschooling that appealed to you and what is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling?
Unschooling is based on children’s natural curiosity. I like that my kids are able to explore their interests in their own time. I like that they discover where they need to turn to find out the information they need — whether that’s asking a parent, looking things up on a computer, reading a book, etc. I like that through unschooling they learn how to teach and motivate themselves. If there is something they want to do or learn, we make it happen.
The difference between unschooling and homeschooling is that there is usually no curriculum involved in unschooling. Other terms for unschooling are child-led learning or life learning. Children learn organically through their day-to-day lives with their parents there to support them as needed. Whereas with homeschooling, curriculum is usually involved and it’s more a case of sitting down and doing school at home.
If your child’s learning is led by them, how do you ensure they will learn important subjects? I.e. I can tell you that if one of my children had to direct their own education/learning, they’d opt for no education and just to play all the time.
Because my children’s learning is led by them and their interests, I trust that they will learn what they personally need to know. I don’t worry about the things they might not learn, because I don’t feel that ALL children need to learn X, Y, and Z. If something comes up that they don’t know and they want to know, they ask me or their dad or look to the almighty Google or YouTube for answers. There is so much information available at their fingertips.
You bring up an interesting point by saying that if your child had to direct his/her own learning, they’d opt for no education and just play all of the time. I believe kids can learn a tremendous amount through playing alone. It often amazes me that my daughter basically taught herself to read and that both of my children can do math in their heads, without ever being formally taught how to do so. They also have expressed the desire to take various enrichment programs or workshops over the years. Between the two of them they’ve been involved in local community theater, 4-H, a farm program, nature and science programs, Lego classes, art classes, soccer, parkour, horseback riding, piano lessons and more.
Do you sometimes worry an untraditional education would limit your children’s chances of getting into colleges? How do college registrars feel about kids who are unschooled?
The thought has crossed my mind, but I feel pretty secure that whatever my children desire to do, they will make happen. If they want to go to college, we will find a way to make that happen. I also don’t feel that college is necessarily the answer for all kids. Many older unschooled kids tend to lean towards entrepreneurial pursuits.
I honestly don’t know how college registrars feel about kids who are unschooled because I’m not a college registrar. My guess is that unschooled kids have to complete the same entrance requirements as traditionally-schooled kids. Leo Babauta (creator of http://zenhabits.net/
) started a blog called Unschoolery a while back and has written his thoughts about college and unschoolers here – http://unschoolery.com/college. Leo and his wife unschool four of their six kids, one of which is preparing to go to college.
Are you open to your children returning to a traditional school when they get older if that is what they want?
Yes, if that is what they desire, then I would support them in it. I’d first examine the reasons they are choosing that route and make sure there isn’t another way to meet those needs that they hadn’t yet explored. However, if traditional school was the answer, then yes, I would support them. I know unschooling families whose kids have moved in and out of school over the years. Some go a day, some go for years. It just depends on the child and his/her motivation.
What do you love most about unschooling?
I love the freedom we have with unschooling. My kids and I tend to be night owls and pretty much always have been. We have no set bedtimes or wake-up times. We have no deadlines (other than self-imposed). I enjoy that we can do things any time of the day (or night), we can travel any time of the year, and that the world is our classroom.