If you’re new to homeschooling and wandering through your unschooling friend’s home, you may wonder,
“Where’s the school room?”
You might expect to find a designated room set up to mimic a classroom - perhaps some ABC border up near the ceiling or a chalkboard or workbooks brightly displayed in a color-coded IKEA shelf.
Not finding anything like this, you may ask,
“But where do the kids learn?”
Your unschooling friend will probably just smile and open her arms widely…
The unschooler’s home doesn’t look like a school room at all. Instead, it’s full of opportunities for the family to engage in activities that promote curiosity and learning in whatever part of the home that makes the most sense. Unschoolers don’t typically break up the learning into subjects. Real life doesn’t do that, so we don’t either. Art and history and reading and math all weave together through various activities.
The next logical question you might ask your unschooling friend could be,
“Can you show me? How does this work?"
Time for a Tour!
Let's look at a few key rooms and what how learning happens in there for unschooling families.
A lot of time is spent in the kitchen...
- ABC magnets if kids are young or story-building/poetry magnets for older kids (reading/spelling /creative writing)
- Notes/reminders to each other often are left here. (reading/writing)
- Photos of fun activities, postcards of people they’re connected to that don’t live nearby (building relationship bonds, social studies)
- You may see a project partially completed here on the table because learning isn't confined to 30-45 minute intervals.
- A basket/bowl in the center of the table may hold paper/pencil games, dice, magnets, pattern blocks - whatever is the current interest
- A folding table may be over against the wall for moving those unfinished projects and giving them a little more time - because mealtimes need a little space too!
Kitchen items give opportunities to learn math & reading skills.
- Simple adding, subtracting and/or doubling recipes, kids learn practical applications of math for volume, estimates, temperatures, time.
- Measuring cups teach fractions and conversions
- Dishes/silverware, cups/pots/pans/serving bowls give the chance to sort or learn more about shapes & volume (geometry & math).
- Cookbooks provide opportunities to read, but also recipes can give glimpses into other cultures or time periods.
Food is way more than tasty fuel to keep us going in a day.
- Kids get the chance to feel, taste, or notice variations in colors.
- They can learn about storage, hygiene, health, costs, farming practices.
- Science experiments are often done in the kitchen because of handy sinks, water, trash cans
- Kids play with food coloring, learning about primary/secondary colors, volume, matter, physics.
- Baking, and how certain ingredients cause different things to happen
- The use of different appliances give practical scientific info - microwave heat vs. ovens vs. toaster ovens, refrigerator/freezer
Cozy spots to read, talk, play games, watch TV
- Learning to love reading, listening to stories, and the experience of reading is important to unschoolers.
- Cozy chairs and couches for reading and conversations - pillows, blankets
- Rugs and floor pillows near bookshelves
- Chargers for phones or tablets and opportunities for online exploration
- Speakers to allow for Audiobooks to share and music to enjoy
- Designate a shelf/box for library books so it’s easy to keep track of them.
- Flat surfaces for playing games are common
- The current interest may be noticeable from the books or items found here.
Television & Desktops
- In spite of the anti-technology wave, unschoolers often see television as making the world more accessible to children. Science and history channels can provide stories about life through the ages in all parts of the world. NatGeo-type channels can bring animals information to learn about and photos to inspire. (Science, History, Social Studies)
- Desktop computers are often in public areas making sharing the topics and discussing what they’re finding easy on kids and parents.
- Technology is here to stay, so unschooled kids are learning how to navigate while still at home with parents to help. Learning how to research on the internet, how to safely save passwords, work on spreadsheets, create photo montages for the holidays - the opportunities are endless!
- Easy access to programs that can show how household finances work, budgets, banking and useful life skills are incorporated into daily life as they come up. (Math)
Uninterrupted thinking time.
- Bedrooms often house treasures that need to be out of sight from younger siblings.
- Comfy bed and pillows make pondering Big Life decisions or daydreaming and playing with little ideas to see where they might lead.
- Making it their own. This room gives kids the opportunity to carve out their own place in the world, thinking about their own preferences and what they like. This will expand over time - but they get to learn more about themselves too. One child’s room may have Broadway showtunes playing with a Cats or Hamilton poster on the wall! Another may have a model of the solar system with posters of the Milky Way or moon phases. Choosing inexpensive options allows for changes as interests change.
- Bedside tables might have favorite books or journals with colorful pens - depending on their personality and interest.
- Parents' bedrooms can be a refuge from all the excitement in the rest of the house. Unschooling parents who yearn for a minimal approach or a clutter-free home, can often make that happen in their own room. Perfect for self-care!
Not to be overlooked!
- Large wall maps sometimes are hanging to show places around the world. Identifying places with postcards - where you’ve been or where you know someone lives makes the world more relevant.
- City maps near the garage door may be helpful when you have new drivers living at home. Pushpin the places they go frequently, looking at various routes, talking about traffic patterns at different times of day, if there’s enough gas in the tank to get there - or enough money in the bank account to pay the gas price. Miles per gallon, tire pressure, speed/distance are all example of learning Real World Math.
- Bookshelves in hallways may be helpful to store science kits, art supplies, last year’s interests, seasonal items. Sometimes these are used when something doesn’t need to be really handy - or maybe the opposite is true! Maybe hallway shelves are a perfect place to give each child a shelf for their library boxes - on their way to or from their rooms!
A few things that might make any home better!
Games often play a big part in unschooling families
- Sometimes games are kept in a nearby hall closet, but often on book shelves or in cabinets nearby. The “nearby” aspect is important as unschooled kids learn a lot through games.
- Kids also learn a lot about taking turns, working cooperatively, winning and losing gracefully - as well as the “subject” that is the central topic of the game.
- The 30K Unschooling Mom2Mom FB group collected a list of their favorites:
Games - Unschooling Favorites
A term you'll hear in unschooling circles - parents "strew" items that might be of interest to the child, simply expanding their world if they are curious about it.
- This collection of items rotates on various flat surfaces of unschooling homes. It may be something cool from nature, found on yesterday’s walk, a joke book to share with mom while she fixes dinner, or a garage sale item you ran across that relates to a topic that one of the kids has been playing with.
- Unschool Strewing Calendar is a fun way for any homeschooling family to interject a celebration each day of the month! It’s a printable PDF available at Patreon!
- Pinterest Ideas for Strewing
These can be found in a variety of places - usually a high-traffic location. It's the most efficient way to communicate what’s going on.
- Scheduling the “have-to’s” like sports practice or doctors’ appointments then it’s easier not to overbook yourself or slide something fun/interesting in on your way home from the dentist.
- Use different colored pens to identify different children’s activities - or whatever color-coding works for you.
- Kids learn months, days of the week, holidays. They can see how long it’s been between activities or until the next - a nice reality check and often developing patience. Parents often keep their calendars on their phones - missing the opportunity for kids to see and learn about all things calendar-related.
From John Holt’s book,
"What Do I Do Monday?"...
Let me sum up what I have been saying about learning. I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and openness of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it. What then can we do about it? How can we create or help create these conditions for learning?
A Few Final Unschooling Thoughts
- Skip the lesson plans - let interest dictate your steps. Don’t get wrapped up in what the neighbor kids are doing or what Aunt Jenny thinks your kids should do. YOUR kids know their brains. Learning stays with people when it’s in context and it helps them make sense of the world!
- Save the money! Buy books, magazine subscriptions to magazines or kits by mail, family passes to various museums, season passes to local theatre - instead of pricey curriculum that may look good in the marketing materials but gather dust on your bookshelves! Or worse, be the source of countless power struggles and melt downs!
- Library cards can be lifesavers. Even the library itself can be pretty fascinating. Just keep track of those books so the late fees don’t kill you!!
- A TIP: If open shelves full of colorful games and books are too visually overwhelming for you, opt for cabinets with close-able doors or gathered curtains to minimize the “visual chaos”. 😉
- Stories are fabulous ways to learn and come in many formats. It’s not always about the books! Audiobooks, YouTube, conversations, dictation (kids dictating their stories to you) - all great options!
- Valuing Conversations are unschooling parents’ superpower. Make sure your home gives lots of opportunities for the kids to share what’s going on with them, ask questions that interest them, connect on topics that are relevant to their lives. This insight, while you can’t really anticipate a lot or plan it all out, will show any parents what their next step is to help a child learn and grow.
- Opportunities pop up in a variety of places! When we aren’t stressing about getting those lessons done, we are much more likely to notice what’s happening all around us!
The truth is, unschooling homes can get a tad messy. We like to call it the “lived in” look - because that’s exactly what it is! Kids and projects, coming and going in various places. No, we probably won’t be invited to a photographic montage in a House Beautiful magazine! But unschooling families don’t separate life from learning. Our kids are learning everyday all the time, out in the community and at home!
Unschooling Guides are helpful tools to see how Unschoolers approach various topics of concern. Even if you’re more of an eclectic homeschooler, you’ll find awesome ideas, practical suggestions, and quite a bit of inspiration!
A Quick Phone Call? Sometimes hopping on the phone with someone who's done this can help you get a little clarity on how unschooling could work in your home. And, yes, occasionally people aren't ready to become unschoolers - but they're interested in incorporating some aspects of it!
Building An Unschooling Nest - My YouTube video on this topic.
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