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Unschooling: Learning from life

Have you heard about unschooling? Unlike homeschooling, which you’ve probably heard of, unschooling is a life-long parenting and educational approach that centers on how children learn best. Also known as independent, experience-based or natural learning, unschooling as a concept is quietly growing nationwide. Come find out more about this learning and parenting style and see if it’s right for you.

Kids running outdoors


Born learners

Babies are born natural learners. A baby hasn’t studied a textbook to learn how to recognize her mother’s scent and no teacher has taught her to roll over. A baby’s natural curiosity about life and her surroundings teach her what she needs to know and her caregivers provide support and guidance along the way.

Once a child reaches the preschool years and beyond, learning begins to take place within a certain block of time from standardized materials inside a building. The responsibility for this learning falls upon the shoulders of teachers instead of a child’s caregivers and an established curriculum is followed — to the benefit or the detriment of the children involved.

What is unschooling?

Unschooling doesn’t have a curriculum or a standard, like classroom learning or even homeschooling does. Each family decides what works best for them and their children. Memorization, timed tests, spelling words, book reports, worksheets — the staples of mainstream education are generally not a part of unschooling households.

Learning for unschoolers comes from doing real things — following natural interests. Learning about history, making music, exploring artistic mediums, playing with numbers, reading and developing a love for books, experimenting in the kitchen — these encourage independent ideas to form and learning to take place naturally.

Sandra Dodd, an experienced mother of three who provides online support for unschooling, sums it up best: “The way adults tend to learn things is the way people best learn — by asking questions, looking things up, trying things out, and getting help when it’s needed. That’s the way pre-school kids learn too (maybe minus the looking things up), and it is the way “school-age” kids can/should learn as well. Learning is internal.”

Objections to unschooling

As with any educational or parenting model, there are extremes — radical unschooling allows children to decide what to do with every aspect of their lives, such as what to eat and when to go to bed. Parents in those situations are completely hands-off and the lack of guidance and rules (aside from safety) raises eyebrows among other parents and experts.

Some critics of unschooling equate it to unparenting as well, which isn’t the case. There is a middle ground, however: Melody, mother of two young girls, said, “We are in the middle of the unschool spectrum — both kids attend organized classes and we practice reading and math but in a fun way.”

On why she chose to unschool, Melody said, “My husband and I are life learners and enjoy learning along with our children. They are also young and I want them to fully experience childhood before being bogged down with academics.”

Pam Sorooshian, experienced unschooler of adult children, said, “Learning happens all the time. The brain never stops working and it is not possible to divide time up into “learning periods” versus “non-learning periods.” Everything that goes on around a person, everything they hear, see, touch, smell, and taste, results in learning of some kind.” Even if you don’t choose to unschool this is so important to keep in mind. Your child is always learning, and you are always learning. Don’t waste it!

Read about homeschooling



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