So the other day a few homeschooling mamas were talking together at our co-op, and one of the new moms starts asking the usual “So what (curriculum) do you use?” question. As 2 of us were sharing some ideas, she looked at us both and said “Oh, so you ‘unschool’, right?”
My friend and I looked at each other as it slowly dawned on us that yes, our methods and approaches could probably be described that way. So I guess…(gasp!) we were closet unschoolers!
As you might know, I’ve been homeschooling for 20-ish years. I’ve used a bunch of different approaches during that time, and honestly my homeschooling methods look quite different than what they did when I first began.
Pulling our kids out of a traditional school setting (which admittedly they had only been in for a year or two), our first attempts pretty much replicated in our dining room what had been going on in their schoolroom: standard textbooks…50-minute class periods…even desks! Everything except homework. This worked well for our daughter, but as our eldest approached middle school, and then high school, my husband and I realized we’d have to change things up a bit. Our son had very definite interests, and a learning style that was vastly different than my own and how I had been approaching my teaching methods.
So we began to experiment. That was when we discovered Konos and hands-on activities, and unit studies, and delight-directed learning, and well, real life learning! I discovered that I did not have to be tied to a specific curriculum or even textbook to complete a course of study; as a matter of fact, that was when I started to consider textbooks as another form of reference, rather than a source. To help put my fears of “learning gaps” to rest, I scoured publishers’ websites, and printed out the Scope and Sequence from WorldBook Encyclopedia to use as a basis for what topics to cover in each grade, which was available either as a basis for our studies or something to consult when we needed some inspiration.
We got dad and his shop involved in this effort, and discovered that after our son had worked on a car all afternoon (which was his passion at the time), he was much more open and interested in “hitting the books” to research a problem he was having, or figure out some mathematical equations that were involved with the engine, or journal about the process he was in the middle of. It was just amazing to see him bloom, and learn in his own way!
Now up until this time, you have to realize that we would never have considered ourselves “unschoolers”. My husband and I both come from families who are seriously vested in the traditional education system, and while our folks were trying to be supportive of our efforts, we knew they all had serious reservations. Because of our own upbringing as well, we looked upon the term “unschoolers” with disdain. “How,” we queried “could you EVER have serious learning going on without consulting a bona fide school book?” How could your child manage college? How could they have a successful LIFE, for crying out loud?!
Watching our son grow and bloom in this environment, we began to use a more varied approach, and I guess you could say we began to consider ourselves eclectic homeschoolers. We began to seek out different environments for learning, and broadened our definition of the classroom to include:
- science studies at our local zoo, aquarium and science center
- phys ed classes at the YMCA
- co-op classes at our local homeschool support group
- video formats of subjects such as Latin and Spanish, which we all watched together
- unit studies, including some that centered on holidays and vacation destinations
Our approach to studies broadened, as well, studying history through extensive readings in historical fiction, and participating in group classes in a program that combined history, science and the arts in specific time-periods.
We began to develop a lifestyle of learning, and I hoped our kids were beginning to see that by taking this approach to education, their whole life ahead could be considered a classroom. If they could take this concept and make it their own, we would never have to worry about gaps again. My role as a teacher was no longer trying to “fill their bucket” with knowledge, but to help them find tools of their own to fill it with whatever specific information they would need down the road. Truly a life-altering concept!
As technology has developed, I’ve found that we need to focus more and more on teaching our kids to use it effectivly, and helping them weed out the junk by developing discernment. Because we have now added an online component to their learning options, and also because they need more-advanced research skills as they progress, our homeschooling has taken even now another transition in appearance. Even though “traditional unschoolers” shy away from book-learning, I’m beginning to think some Logic, discernment and ethics studies might be in order in this environment.
So I guess this conversation, unplanned and unanticipated, was a good thing. It caused me to review and assess our journey, summarize what we’ve done over the years, and helped me to leave you with some wisdom you can use in your own homeschool.
The body of knowledge available to us today is growing at such a rapid rate that there is NO format or book or course in use today that will not result in gaps.
As we become more and more of a tech-driven society, much of the information we will ever need in day-to-day life, or even a career, will be available to us on the internet.
We need to give our children the tools to be educated tomorrow, and that will very definitely look different than it did “back in the day.”
If unschooling is something you’d like to explore, let me suggest that you move on to these posts:
- 10 TED Talks Your Teen Needs to Watch Before Graduation
- Using The ARDA To Learn How to Research
- What Your Teen Must Do to Have a Successful Gap Year
- Creative Electives for Your High School Student
What do YOU think about unschooling? Was it ever an approach you’d considered? And please, if you’re also a “closet unschooler”, please introduce yourself in the comments below – I’d love to meet some of you!
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