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What is Unschooling?

We ‘un’ school.

But what does that mean?

For us it means this:

We do not approach learning the way most think of when they hear the word ‘school’. We eschew the traditional approach of going into a building filled with resources and plans, teachers and administrators, who are doling out a mandated curriculum during an inflexible time frame without much consideration for individuality all in the name of education. 

It could be concluded that if we don’t ‘do school’ then we must be lazy, unmotivated people who just like to sleep in and not be bothered with schedules or commitments. While part of that may be true, we do LOVE our sleep and appreciate waking up when our bodies are ready and not by mechanical beeping sounds that, truth be told, feel like torture machines, the rest is just not the case. Being classified as unschoolers puts us in a small, but ever increasing group of people who are seeking alternatives to the traditional method of education. It feels rebellious and scary to belong to such a niche group, but every time I consider the alternatives to this way of living, I simply can not find any reason to change the way we are going about learning.

What do we do instead?

As unschoolers we are very involved, intentional, and interested in things that are relevant and important to us. Life, including our thoughts, ideas, and interests, is our curriculum.  Live and Learn as they say.  So, when things interest us, we pursue them and I don’t mean we read a book or two then test our knowledge and move on. I mean, we dig deep. We read, watch videos, talk about the interest, participate in the interest if that is called for. Our approach is not the inch deep mile wide way, we are more the mile deep kind of learners.  Does that mean we skip over some things? Yes. We don’t seek to learn a little bit about everything out there. That is overwhelming and not sustainable, so we zero in on topics becoming mini-experts to a degree. We are also active in our community and utilize the many free resources available to us.  A couple of years ago I organized a volunteer group for middle schoolers. Every month we gather with 15-16 other middle schoolers to do volunteer work that helps our community in some capacity. We have made cookies for our local police officers at Christmastime, we have made blankets for Project Linus, made cards and banners for sick kids in the hospital and so much more. Our days evolve according to our individual needs and pursuits, which looks different week by week. There are days when we stay home and do whatever strikes us: lay around, watch videos, take walks in the neighborhood, bake, draw, read together, play games. Sometimes we take day trips to the mountains a few hours away or head off to the beach for a couple of days. Sometimes we spend the entire day with our friends, going to a greenway to ride scooters or longboards, then getting lunch or ice cream together. Maybe we visit a museum or science center, maybe we lounge at the pool, maybe we buy canvases and paint, or visit the garden center for a few more plants for our expanding garden, or just run necessary errands like grocery shopping or taking an animal to the vet. And yes, sometimes, we even enroll in classes–not for the sake of meeting some curricular goal, but because we actually want to be there.  Our life is filled with learning opportunities regularly and we are not short on interactions with others. The kids meet people of all ages, not just those with the same age, which gives them a rich social experience on top of their freedom to chose the direction of their lives. Above all else, unschooling is about trust. We respect that learning happens all the time and doesn’t have to be mandated or coerced. Our life goals probably look very similar to others, we just go about fulfilling them in a different way.

For more reading on unschooling you might like this.

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