Unschooling is simply living a full rich life, offering opportunities to your child to learn and grow. For unschooling to work at its optimal level, the parent must be engaged with the child, probably more than if they chose another learning modality. Children are natural learners. They want information. But they do not necessarily know what’s out there in the world.
That’s the parent’s role in unschooling. The unschooling parent keeps one ear to the child listening for their interests and questions, and the other to the community, and now with the internet, the world, searching for creative opportunities that feed that desire to learn more about a topic.
Before you say, “Hey, that’s just good parenting!” I would agree that many good parents do this… on Saturdays, or in the summer, or during the school breaks.
The difference is that unschooling parents recognize the benefits of doing this full time. Learning only happens when the learner is engaged. If the learner is not engaged, an incredible amount of time is wasted – wasted time on lesson preparation as well as wasted time on trying to impart knowledge to someone only halfway listening. I’ve heard people say, you cannot just pour knowledge into a child’s head and expect it to stick. That’s the truth.
So instead, unschoolers have broken free from the notion that curriculum and scope and sequences are necessary. They’ve realized that quizzing, grading, and artificially dividing life up into “subjects” are props that schools use. It’s familiar to us, because most of us went to school. But that's about the mechanics of “school”, not the essentials of learning.
Opportunities abound in everyday life for parents and children to interact on a variety of topics. It’s very clear to parents whether the child grasps what they are talking about. A real conversation allows for the topic to be explored and expanded upon – certainly this is a richer assessment than a 10 question quiz.
One could even ask the necessity of quizzing at all.
When we, as adults, want to learn something, we simply explore the resources, reading and practicing. We don’t set up quizzes for ourselves to see what we learned. We simply learn. Quizzes were set up to replace conversations that would find out how much a child knows. And they are poor substitutions.
Setting up the learning plan is an aspect of teaching not learning. Teachers need lesson plans to be able to show their principal that they are “keeping on track” with the predetermined curriculum plan. These are contraptions that the teaching profession needs in schools, not in home schools. And because in unschooling, the focus is on the child’s learning, and not the teacher’s teaching – they’re completely unnecessary.
Unschooling is trusting yourself and trusting your child; and that takes a good amount of nerve. When a parent sends a child to a school or even decides to go with a particular curriculum, they are handing over their trust and their child to the school/curriculum. A “leaving it to them!” mentality sets in and for many families, this is a relief.
Unschooling families don’t want to go that route. They are willing to shoulder the responsibility for the education of their child, because they have faith that learning is something that humans naturally want to do – and their children are no exception to this rule.