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Unschooling – Radical Moves in Education

Radical Unschooling is capturing the attention and imagination of parents and educators the world over. Simply put, unschooling is the polar opposite of schooling.

It comes under many names including, natural learning, child centred learning, discovery learning, self education, autodidactic learning, or child-directed learning! Confused? Basically unschooling places the child in charge of their own education. The thinking is a child is just as capable as an adult about how to pursue knowledge.

This type of education is a somewhat radical approach, but proponents of the movement are heralding its success as it seems to overcome common learning barriers such as learning disabilities, behavior issues and failure in the classroom due differences in developmental capabilities.

So What is Unschooling?

Unschooling is much more respectful of the child in that it is a more effective use of the child’s time, is less oppressive because it does not force subjects on the child that do not interest him or her and it allows more intensive, in depth learning and exploration. It is believed that institutional education skims the surface of many subject areas, leaving a shallow coverage and a one-dimensional view or knowledge base of topics whereas unschooling allows children to delve deeply into one, two or more subject areas that interest them.

Unschooling teaches a child how to not only learn, but how to educate himself or herself. If, as an adult, an unschooled child finds that there is a subject that was missed in his or her education, this knowledge can be more easily obtained because they will know not only how to obtain the education but also how to acquire it on their own. This lends to a more successful, independent person who can easily transition from life to learning and vice versa. Angry Girl at school, School Sucks!

Why Unschool Your Child?

Advocates of unschooling offer many reasons for following that educational route. Many believe that curiosity is a natural, instinctual part of human makeup. We are curious by nature and when we allow this curiosity to guide us, we learn better, faster and more solidly than in an institutionalized environment where every peg is expected to fit in the same size hole, regardless of a child’s learning style, background, intellect and interests. It is believed by unschooling supporters that when it comes to education, one size definitely does not fit all.

Homeschooling vs Unschooling?

What is the difference between homeschooling and radical unschooling? It really depends on your approach and ideas about education and learning. I tend to think of radical unschooling as one end of the continuum of homeschooling. (Although there are many who would disagree with me!) Some parents want to use a standard curriculum, but have more control and creativity about it's delivery. Some parents want far more creative control, and have a more child centered approach to education. Then at the extreme end of radical unschooling you have the parents that are totally against formal schooling or curriculums in any form and are very motivated to follow and facilitate the directions the child is going in.

To some extent I can relate my own experience in a variety of schooling, ranging from state schools, to alternative schools, through attending University as a mature age student in New Zealand, mature aged students are not required to sit entrance exams for most subjects. I have long been a believer in self directed learning, and have always been highly motivated to find out informally how to do the things I am interested in. But on the other hand I couldn't say I didn't learn some interesting or useful information at more formal educational institutions, but I will say, I found the method of teaching incredibly frustrating much of the time.

My children had a preschool environment based on child centred learning - Playcentre in New Zealand, which had a high ratio of adults (parents) to children, offered a wide range of activities, but was unstructured in terms of curriculum. Based from birth to school age, Playcentre is based on the premise that children learn through self directed play. You can read more about my experiences with Playcentre here.

Components of Successful Unschooling

There are several components of unschooling that make it an appealing educational option for many parents and children. Each of these components works together to make the experience rewarding, enhancing of character and augmenting of knowledge.

Bushwalking Activity With Unschooling Dad The Child is the Teacher: In unschooling, the child is their own teacher. They are left to explore various subjects that interest them and learn on their own time in their own way. This is the first step. The child guides his or her own education.

The Parent is the Facilitator: The parent is not as much a teacher to the unschooled child, as they are a facilitator. The parent acts as a guide, lending help when needed, offering lots of activities and experiences, and sharing in the child’s excitement for learning.

The World is the Classroom: To the unschooled child, the entire world is a classroom! There are no limits, no boundaries. Every experience, every nuance, every encounter can become a highly stimulating lesson and deepen the educational experience.

Learning how to Learn: In the traditional classroom, many students are educationally stunted as they are forced to adapt their own unique learning styles to what the institution deems to be the correct style. It is because of this that so many children fall through the cracks or do not reach their educational potential. Unschooling allows the child to not only identify their own learning style, but also to explore it, strengthen it and utilize it to increase their knowledge base.

Starting from the Cradle: Unschooling starts from the moment the child is born. From the cradle, a child is learning. Each time the parent or parents interact with the child, each time a family member plays with the child, each time mom takes the child for a walk outside, he or she is learning. Every single source of stimulation, no matter how implicit or explicit, is an opportunity to learn. Often, it is the oppression of institutional education that dulls this skill and robs children of their own natural desire and ability to learn.

The Cons of Unschooling

Probably the things parents worry about the most, is what happens if my child wants to go to college? Or how do they fit back into the school system. Or what about Math? There is the mistaken belief that radical unschooling means parents are just fairly passively going with the direction the child is exploring, and don't play any role in presenting information or topics. The argument is how does a child come across the knowledge and topics they might need to learn about?

But parents involved in unschooling, actually work pretty hard to present a range of activities and ways to extend their child. The key to successful unschooling, is offering lots of variety and wide ranging activities so a child can explore in ways that just aren't available in a classroom. Allowing your child the freedom and facilitating their extension in a topic carries a wealth of learning opportunities. Parents learn all sorts of things alongside their child, you do not have to be the expert in everything, you are more likely to be showing your child how to find out about things, how to question, how to explore possibilities.

Another concern with unschooling, is what happens if a child is not motivated? Basically, this would not be a concern unless you were wanting a child to cover the curriculum (which wouldn't be unschooling). If a child is following what they are curious about, and the parent is providing lots of variety and experiences, then learning is taking place regardless. No child is going to want to sit starting at a wall doing nothing. If they have shut down and withdrawn into a world of computer games for example, then start there - expand on the kinds of games, learn how they are designed and developed, start a dialogue with developers etc. All children will have some kind of interest that can be a bouncing off point.

Total believers in Unschooling, would argue any kind of institutionalized or formal learning is irrelevant, and undesirable, and a child who grows up unschooled will have all the necessary resources and motivation to learn. Child Centered Learning

Make Unschooling Work for You

If you choose to homeschool, radical unschooling or otherwise, the key really is flexibility. Many parents still want their children to be able to fit back into the education system at some stage. Many are comfortable with homeschooling until high-school, some as far as college, with special tutoring to pass required exams.

You may start with radical unschooling while your children are young, then graduate into a curriculum as your children get older. Parents who want to get back into the workforce may not be able to devote 15 years to facilitating your child's learning, but maybe available for the first 8 years. Only you can decide what is best for your family.

There is no greater gift a parent can give to a child than trusting in them enough, believing in them enough and loving them enough to turn them loose on the world and allowing the freedom to learn in their own way the things that incite passion and curiosity within them.

Other Articles you may be Interested in:

Unschooling or Homeschooling?
This article talks about the advantages of homeschooling and how to deal with any disadvantages.

Information and tips about Young Kids Starting School
Despite the advantage of Homeschooling, it is not suitable for all families. This article looks at general developmental stages for school kids and tips for supporting them in school.

Information and tips about Pre teens.
The Pre-teen stage is a transitional one. Lots of ideas and tips in this article.

Importance of Reading To Children
The title says it all! Read about how important reading to children is, and lots of tips and ideas of how to broaden and make reading fun.

Teaching Children to Read
Lots of ideas for teaching kids to read, make it fun, drop the pressure!

List Of Childrens Books
Help me spread the word about the importance of reading, and let's build a huge list of recommended childrens book, reading resources, parenting books, and book reviews.

Share Your Stories or Ask Questions!

Share your homeschooling activities here!
What homeschooling activities other parents doing with their children. Get inspiration and share your success stories.

Share your experiences of homeschooling or ask questions
What are the advantages of homeschooling or Unschooling from your personal perspective? Do you have any questions you like to ask experienced homeschoolers, or parents using the unschooling model? Feel free to answer any questions and make comments on other posts too!

Resources for Parents

Super Skills 4 Kids
Is our home study course designed to help young kids set goals, envision the future they want, and achieve anything! If a child wants to work on a behavioral goal, Super Skills is a perfect tool, or they may want to learn a practical skill like giving talks in class.

Super Skills 4 Kids is packed with tools and comes with a bonus workbook. I've had many parents say they use many of the techniques for themselves!

Disciplining children.
For more ideas on how to discipline a child read my article on disciplining young kids and teens.

Do Children Misbehave?
More ideas on handling misbehaving children, and understanding their needs.

Ask Annie Parenting Questions
Online Coaching with Annie - Do you have a question about your young kids? Need some help with behaviour issues or challenges with school? (please ask any unschooling questions on the homeshooling forum - see above)

You can also read what other parents are asking, and comment on our readers contributions, or my answers. Lots of tips and gems in these.

Click the link above and scroll to the bottom to read what other parents have asked.

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Visit her website, she has lots of activities that would be perfect for Unschooling as well as beautiful books.

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