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Unschooling is a type of homeschooling that is focused on student-driven learning.  Sometimes it is even called delight-driven as students do what “delights” them.

If the first time you saw the word ‘unschooling,’ you weren’t quite sure what it meant, you’re not alone. Is it like the ‘unbirthday’ mentioned in Alice and Wonderland? Does it mean throwing out every conventional idea you have about the school and burning all your textbooks?  Don’t worry, and don’t light that bonfire just yet. Here’s what you need to know about unschooling.

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is a type of homeschooling focused on student-driven learning.  Sometimes it is even called delight-driven as students do what “delights” them. Basically, it’s homeschooling but without a structured, pre-determined curriculum or a concrete agenda. Is your brain itching over this? Here’s an analogy that might help:

A traditional school is incredibly structured. There’s a rock-solid schedule where students all learn the same curriculum pre-determined for them in advance. Everyone reads the same textbooks, completes the same homework assignments, and takes the same tests. Teachers determine when and what will be learned and how. Think of traditional schooling like words etched in stone. You can’t erase anything, and it’s pretty difficult to add changes unless you’re an expert. And the student doesn’t get to pick the stone.

Unschooling, on the other hand, is very fluid and dynamic. There isn’t a set schedule, and learning happens naturally. The curriculum is not pre-made but is instead created based on students’ goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Homework might not be the same for everyone (if done at all), and students often show what they’ve learned by working on projects or creating things rather than taking exams. Think of unschooling like words written in the sand. It’s easy to wipe something away and start fresh, add parts here and there, or start over whenever you desire. And you don’t have to be an expert to change things around. Most importantly, the students are in control of the writing stick essentially.

Which is better? Unschooling or traditional learning?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a traditional approach to learning. A regular schedule and structured routine can be comforting and fulfilling for plenty of students. Lots of homeschooled students use a structured method, and they enjoy it and do well!

Likewise, unschooling is also a successful teaching and learning method. The freedom to explore learning without being tied to an exact curriculum or hard time limits allows many students to grow. And unschooled students are also successful learners. Unschooling isn’t the same thing as complete freedom or telling your kids they can do whatever they want to all day and call it education. There is still guidance and supervision involved. The key difference is that the student pursues their interests with the parent or teacher offering guidance.

Your educational style should be dependent on your kid. What do you think would work best for them? What do they think would work best for them?

Why is unschooling a good learning method?

Unschooling works. Why? Here are two good reasons: First, it teaches kids how to teach themselves. Second, kids like this learning method’s freedom, so they are motivated to challenge themselves and succeed.

So how does unschooling make kids their own teachers? It puts the responsibility of the curriculum on their shoulders. Kids get to decide what they learn and when they learn it.

A kid who wants to be an engineer can decide they want to focus on math and science. They can spend their time working on car repairs with a parent, taking online math courses, and building structurally sound bridges out of Popsicle sticks. They don’t have to take time in traditional language arts classes. That doesn’t mean that they won’t learn English- it just means that they’ll learn language skills relevant to their own interests. This can be a varied experience. Some unschooling families mandate specific core lessons, like math, while letting the student guide others.

Next, why is this method motivating? For some kids, the pressure of upcoming exams or the knowledge they have to get a good grade can feel intimidating or defeating. It’s easy for some kids to dislike school as a result. With unschooling, kids can focus on the subjects they excel in. There’s less fear of failure, and there aren’t traditional exams that might crack their self-esteem.

Some great examples of unschooling:

  • Is a child interested in computers? Let them build one. First, they can research the parts on the internet. Then read up on various types of computers and design their own from a kit. Does this mean they take time out to learn circuitry? Sure. Reading happens with a purpose. Science and independent learning flow naturally. Steve Jobs started in a garage.
  • Future chef on your hands? Let chemistry and writing flow from the kitchen. Young entrepreneurs might even start their own baking businesses. Math is derived from calculating amounts and writing from working on recipes. Baking chemistry is all about bases and acids. There are many learning resources for kids interested in the culinary arts.
  • Your child is interested in French? Perhaps they want to work on this all day in an immersion environment for weeks. Perhaps you incorporate French culture and European geography at the same time. Add a little history from the French perspective.

Is this an all-or-nothing way of doing things?

No! Many families are “partial unschoolers.” This means that while covering some (or most) material more traditionally, they make time for their children to delve deep into certain subjects and pursue passion projects. This can be a strange concept to begin for many families, but many homeschoolers adopt some component of this philosophy with time. The freedom to choose how to learn is enticing.

How can I start unschooling?

However, you desire! Yes, that’s a broad answer, but it’s the truth. If you’re adjusting from traditional schooling to unschooling, you’ll probably need time to deschool. Every child is different and has different goals. Ask your child what they are curious about or what field they want to improve. Then work together as a team to come up with a good way to learn more. Don’t get hung up on schedule or structure. Talk about what you think would be good learning or teaching experience, and go from there!

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