If you’re struggling to homeschool your kids or ‘quarantine-school’ your kids during the COVID-19 crisis, maybe it’s time you stop trying so hard and start unschooling.
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling. It’s legal in the USA, and it’s a recognized approach in other countries, too–even in rule-loving France, from where I’m now writing during strict lockdown.
Unschooling is a form of learning that recognizes, respects, trusts, and encourages a child’s self-led interests and natural curiosity. While unschooling families are not all the same (some are seemingly more ‘radical’ than others, especially from the view of non-homeschoolers), it is generally understood that unschooling puts a child in the driver’s seat of his/her own education and learning experiences. To many, including my own family, unschooling is about so much more than academics, it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle where learning never stops. Where everyone in the family is free to pursue their passions and discover at their own pace.
Unschooling allows children to follow their own interests and passions, sometimes to the point of exhaustion–I’m thinking about my own unschooler who would spend 24/7 programming and learning advanced coding if I didn’t periodically remind him to take a break to eat, shower, brush his teeth, and get sleep.
Unschooling doesn’t mean that parents don’t teach their children or ditch books altogether. Parents inevitably do and can teach unschooled children, whether it’s intentional or not. For example, when parents model a deep love of learning, self-improvement, adventure, or creativity, that has an impact on children and can nurture a child’s own natural curiosity, sense of wonder, and desire to understand or figure out how things work. Parent-led teaching (or parent-decided and assigned curriculum) isn’t what defines unschooling. Rather, it is child-led learning that is the insignia of unschooling.
If an opposite exists to public/private school systems–or to those ‘schooling at home’ plans given by schools to students during the COVID-19 crisis, that opposite is unschooling. According to John Gatto, New York City Teacher of the Year in 1990 and author of Dumbing Us Down (if you haven’t read, Dumbing Us Down, you absolutely MUST…regardless of your views on homeschooling or unschooling), schools were designed to manage mass populations. This mass management idea was the brain child of Horace Mann, a politician who argued that “universal public education was the best way to turn unruly American children into, disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” The individual and individual’s interests or learning needs don’t drive the machine in this model.
You don’t need school to learn or to learn well. Recently, Elon Musk, who has 5 unschoolers, made this point, stating that, people “don’t need college to learn stuff,” suggesting that even institutions of higher learning might be far overrated. Other studies suggest that unschoolers tend to go on and do extraordinary things, including becoming entrepreneurs. An institution isn’t the only way for a student to learn, nor is learning only accomplished through boxed or pre-packaged curriculum, workbooks, or piles of school assignments (that make children and parents want to pull their hair out or turn days into long struggles), especially with today’s online resources and opportunities that allow for stimulating, fascinating, creative, and limitless self-led learning.
Stop Trying to Homeschool and Unschool
Falsely, unschooling doesn’t mean you don’t do anything with your children or you neglect them or their education. It does mean trusting your kids and trusting yourself. It means you trust that they have the ability to learn, create, challenge themselves, discover, problem solve, and find happiness or purpose through their activities and sense of self.
Unschooling is more about letting go of things that aren’t working for your children and family than holding onto things that don’t work. It’s about letting go. And trusting.
Trusting your kids. Trusting yourself. Trusting that your kids are going to turn out alright, if not great, when you give them space and time to discover things that make them light up. I explained a bit of my own approach in How Cyndi Lauper’s 80s Hit Guides My Approach to Homeschooling, Unschooling & Motherhood, as well as in a number of posts throughout Wanderschool.
Another unschooling mom and blogger suggests, “Throw out all the things that are coming between you and your children, one by one. And when you reach that peaceful state where joy and love reign, you’ll never want to go back. You’ll know what you’re doing is right.”
So, whether you are on Day 1 of isolation, going into the 3rd week, or completely unsure about this whole homeschooling or ‘schooling at home’ thing, maybe it’s time to let go of all of the schooling pieces that are stressing you, your children, and your family out–and call a time out.
While unschooling and parenthood aren’t always easy, I’ve come to believe from my own experience that unschooling can be a peaceful, harmonious, happy, inspiring, and fun way for my children (and me!) to learn and live. When everyone in the family is learning about things that truly interest them or doing things that they are passionate about, how can learning and life be anything but awesome?
And the best part, unschooling really does create the coolest, most interesting, and inspiring humans.
Let go and unschool! You can do this.
P.S. I’d love to hear about your unschooling experiences. Leave a comment below, send me a note, or connect with me through Facebook or Instagram.