“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”John Holt
Unschooling is a method of homeschooling that is child-led and interest based. It does not follow a set learning schedule, it does not have a set curriculum, and it doesn’t have learning goals the children are supposed to reach. Unschooling is allowing a child to take charge of their education through the pursuit of their own interests and curiosities. Unschooling is the lighting of a fire rather than the filling of a pail – it is creating intrinsically motivated learners who know their own passions. Unschooling is play. It allows children to dive deep into subjects, work on long term projects, and learn the interconnectedness of the different topics they pursue.
This idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me, “If we didn’t make children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” Even worse, they say, “If I weren’t made to do things, I wouldn’t do anything.”John Holt, How Children Fail
We all know the importance of free play (or is that just my child development degree speaking?)- it supports emotional, cognitive, and social development. A child can not develop to their full potential without unstructured play. But at what age did we decide this is no longer valuable? As children age, we step away from seeing curiosity and play as a necessity. But the truth is, even as adults, play is healthy. The New York Times even wrote an article on adults needing to play, stating play has immense benefits, “including improved stress management and an improvement in our overall well-being” (NYT). Depression and anxiety are at an all time high in adolescents, yet research has found that number is lower in homeschooled kids. We have to take the pressure off children and adolescents and allow learning to unfold.
“Our rapidly moving, information-based society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. You don’t learn those things in school.”Wendy Priesnitz
Unschooling focuses on allowing the child to develop their critical thinking, research skills, and their role within the world. Unschoolers learn real world, life skills daily, rather than memorizing or regurgitating old information from a worksheet or text book. Learning is hands on and builds on past knowledge rather than following a set curriculum. This allows children to engage deeper and create useful life skills.
It is important to note unschooling IS NOT leaving your child alone. It is not isolating a child. It is not ignoring their needs. Unschooling can only be effective when a child is well cared for and has support in their learning process. The unschooling adult should be available regularly to answer questions, provide resources, or to scaffold learning.