The unschooling philosophy German

Please, please, as someone new to this all. What exactly is unschooling philosophy? And what do you base this on?? What are some significant resources for its roots???

tablesaw.jpgJohn Holt noticed and wrote about natural learning in the 60s. He didn't invent it, of course ;-) It's always been there but he was able to cut through a lot of nonsense that was getting in the way of people seeing it. He progressed from school reform to recognizing that without freedom to choose then learning can't happen.

Frank Smith has also written about learning even though he didn't know about unschooling :-) The Book of Learning and Forgetting is short and a very easy read.

I guess I'd never really thought about the philosophy of unschooling specifically to write it out! A philosophy is sort of a package of principles. And principles are ideas that are accepted (hopefully because someone has experiences and thought deeply about the ideas!) as true.

The principles of unschooling are that humans are born learners. That children will learn best when given the freedom to learn what, when and how they want.

That doesn't, of course, tell anyone what to do. Principles are what help us decide which choices support our philosophy and which choices run counter to it.

Some people hear the unschooling principles and see them as limiting, as preventing them from doing what they feel is best or want to do and equate that with closed-minded. But we all have guiding principles that limit our choices to the choices that we feel are right. If we didn't have principles it would be okay to shoot our neighbor for running his table saw at 6AM on Saturdays! But we voluntarily limit our choices of solutions to that problem because we recognize that some of them violate our principles. (Or values or ethics or philosophy or get in the way of our goals in life.)

The principle that some are having problems with is that when children are treated with the same respect that we give to other human beings, life (and unschooling) is enhanced.

It's not a principle anyone should just accept. But those of us that are living it have experienced life with and without that kind of respect and know how wonderful the change can be. Those who have only experienced conventional parenting are only guessing at the effects it will have on children and family life and are rejecting the principle without experience.

I've been researching all the different Homeschooling methods ... and I must admit that they all appeal to me in different ways.

The goals of unschooling are different than all the other methods you mention. The goal of unschooling is not education. It is to help a child be who she is and blossom into who she will become. Learning happens as a side effect.

Just as people plant vegetable gardens to raise vegetables. Along the way pollinators come and it's even a vital part of the process, but the purpose of planting the garden isn't to attract pollinators.

The purpose of the other homeschooling methods is to give to the child something that appeals to the parents. In a way formal educational methods are like those cool educational toys that parents want to give their kids for their birthday. What you're buying with a curriculum is an image of what you want your child to be. The image may be as simple as being prepared to be whatever they want to be. And yet it is still like picturing your child playing with the super deluxe Erector set you're planning to give them. But what if the child has no interest in Erector sets? What if what the child really wants is a Nintendo system?

I think many parents see education as a gift they can give their children. But what if the recipient doesn't want the gift? If the purpose of giving a gift is to satisfy some need in the giver for the recipient to have the gift, is it really a gift? If the gift giver has emotional stake in the recipient appreciating the gift and the effort involved in providing the gift, is it really a gift?

I think it would be helpful for parents choosing formal education to see it honestly. Despite the pictures of happy children using the various formal curriculums, it's not about giving a gift. It's about meeting parents' needs. It's about molding and shaping a fellow human being against their will into something we want them to be.

That sounds harsh, but if it weren't against their will, then the children would choose to do it on their own. If it weren't against their will, there would never be instances where the parent is coercing the child to do something for the curriculum that the child doesn't want to do. There would never be instances where the child can't say "I don't want to finish that."

Unschooling is about giving them the freedom to be who they are. Formal education is about molding them into something we think is valuable to be.

The thing is my DS LOVES structure. He likes to know what is happening next, and what is expected of him.

Unschooling doesn't mean it must be unstructured. The days can be as structured as your family needs them to be. What isn't structured, though, is learning. If your family has a lot of activities, you can structure home time into the week. But it wouldn't be unschooling to set aside a specific time for them to do math or workbooks. If a particular child would like to set up their own schedule to do that, then it's fine to help him set it up and help him adjust it to meet whatever goal he's trying to meet, but the schedule is his, not the parent's to enforce.

Sometimes when I'm making dinner I'll get out dough to play with, or paper and crayons, and he asks me what I want him to make. I tell him to make whatever he wants. Right now he's in a preschool program, it's pretty structured and he loves it.

I think if everyone had independent creator in them, there would be no picture book illustrators, or product designers, or wallpaper designers, or architects, or programmers, or ... All those creative careers depend on being given a goal with boundaries to work towards.

Doing anything you want can be overwhelming. Working around natural limitations, meeting some predefined goal in your own way can be challenging and inspiring. So when he asks, think of yourself as the picture book writer and him as the illustrator and give him a spark to run with. If you're not good at thinking up things spontaneously, brainstorm a wild list of things and keep it in the kitchen.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with no structure.

Who is the homeschooling for? Them or you? Whose needs is homeschooling supposed to meet? Theirs or yours?

I don't want to force my children to learn anything that does not interest them. But I am not sure I have it in me to totally let them do whatever they want.

Because you're unclear on what your goals are. And you're intertwining your needs and agendas with their needs.

Is it still unschooling if you include typical school activities, textbooks, workbooks etc if that is what the child wants to do? My oldest loves workbooks. He does not do them in order; he will flip through them and do the pages that interest him. For a while it was the numbers pages, but now he is doing the alphabet pages.

If the child has full freedom to choose to do it or not, choose to do it in whatever manner they want, then it's unschooling.

But I think I'd also be aware that I might be getting satisfaction out of seeing the workbooks being done and make sure I was being as attentive in meeting their other needs. For instance I'd want to be aware that I readily replacing finished workbooks, but setting a lower priority on things I saw as less important like making the trip across town so they can buy the video game they'd been saving for.

So if I pull together a unit study when he shows an interest and lead the learning is this still unschooling?

The short answer would be if the child can say "No thanks, I'd rather go watch TV" and you be perfectly okay with that then it's unschooling.

The longer answer would be that in an unschooling home where the child and mom are both confident that learning from life is best, some formal bit of learning might be fun. But since you're unsure that unschooling will work, doing a unit won't help you or your son feel more confident. It will be dangling your feet in the water and calling it swimming.

During my research I've discovered Reggio Emilia, an Italian method of early childhood education. Here's a link that I found interesting. This sounds very unschooling to me ... but would it still be considered unschooling if you sent your children to a school?

It sounds like you're uncomfortable with unschooling but want to stretch the definition of unschooling to encompass your comfort zone. What is it about unschooling that you want? Ask yourself why you want to be able to call this unschooling.

Unschooling will make you uncomfortable. You can't have the benefits of child chosen learning without letting go of control. You can meet your need for guarantees by sending them to school or using some formal educational method, but you have to let go of the illusion that it has anything to do with child chosen learning.

You can let them do some choosing and you do the rest, or let them choose from a selection of things you feel are worthwhile, but it won't be unschooling any more than eating some meat is vegetarianism. (You might try an eclectic list for that style.)

Though there are benefits to be had by being mostly vegetarian over eating a heavily meat based diet, by letting the kids choose some over choosing everything for them, there are benefits that you need to give up. One of which is the label vegetarian and the label unschooling.

As for the school, if a child can go when they want to and not go when they don't, if they can do whatever they want to when they get there and can say "No, I'm perfectly happy doing what I'm doing" to activities suggested, then I guess it's as close as a school could come to unschooling. (That's the theory behind Sudbury Valley schools.) But since schools aren't the whole world, and can only present a slice of the world, they have to use some value judgments on what is better or more important so it would be pretty impossible for a school not to have an agenda. It may match your agenda which is generally the criteria parents judge a school by. But does it match your child's agenda?

Some of my goals for her education include reading the classics and mathematics.

The goals of unschooling are different than those of school or academic-leaning forms of homeschooling.

Our goal is for our children to be happy and pursue what they enjoy. Most people have that goal too, but they believe children need prepared to do what they enjoy. Unschoolers know that people will do what they need to do to do what they enjoy when given the freedom to do it.

Your life could look like unschooling if your daughter loved the classics and math. But if she didn't then the options in reaching your goal could include some unhappiness on her part, doing things she didn't enjoy as much as others, in order to get where you wanted her to go.

So I guess what I'm asking is, how involved are you and your kids in weekly lessons of some sort or how involved are you in homeschool groups that provide kid interactions, etc.?

I think the answer doesn't lie in what our kids do but in what your kids need. My daughter likes to stay home so dragging her to activities would be cruel. But it would be cruel to treat a child who loved outside activities the way I treat my daughter.

The question isn't what do kids need but what do your kids need.

Betsy: Tom Peters, who co-wrote the book In Search of Excellence, said that companies that wanted to empower their workforce and excel needed to have management structures that were simultaneously loose and tight. Sounds contradictory, but I think there are parallels to unschooling, which we sometimes talk about in such confusing ways. It could be the contradictions that make it confusing.

In unschooling, parents have to be both "hands on" and "hands off", simultaneously. On the "hands on" hand, parents have to be connected to their children, involved with their lives, and also have to be engaged and available. But on the other hand (the hand that's "off") parents need to be confident, trusting, patient, and permissive. By "permissive" I mean they need to permit their children to be themselves, rather than nudging them and nipping them too much towards being some other type of more conventional or better paid person.

I am doing a lot of reading and trying to figure out which way will work for us.

It might be worth examining what "works for us" means to you.

Perhaps one factor that sets unschooling apart is that unschooling is doing what works for the child. Well, it needs to work for the family too! But it should work in terms of maximizing a child's joy not in minimizing a parent's fears.

People often say we should do what feels right. Go on gut instinct. But what feels right is often what minimizes our fears. That isn't so bad except that we're full of fears that seem to make sense but aren't based in reality or are only valid when certain factors exist.

For instance we may fear that they won't read or learn math. We may fear that they won't know enough. We may fear that they will have gaps and doors will be closed off to them. We may fear that without a solid foundation of education, they'll be useful only as Wal-Mart greeters.

Too often we parents end up compromising our children's happiness so they can ease our fears. If we fear they won't read we might make them read for "just" 10 minutes a day. It doesn't seem like much to ask of the child because the fear seems so huge.

But since the fear is valid only in school, the potential consequences out of school -- that the child will come to dislike reading or they will feel bad about themselves because they can't do what "everyone" can -- become significant and something to be avoided.

If we fear and another person doesn't, it seems more reasonable that the person is clueless or living in la-la land, than that our fears might not be real. The fears sure feel real! Unschooling means holding our fears up to examination. It means being uncomfortable while we work through our fears. It means looking at how other people deal with those fears.

Because the rewards for children of growing up in freedom and joy are well worth it :-)

And what makes the transition [to unschooling thought] happen, I think, is the mom changing her perspective and the filter through which she's seeing "just living." One day you'll see something glorious that you wouldn't have noticed before.

Which ties in with the post I had on seeing differences within similarities.

It's natural to divide things up and categorize them such as "This is learning," and "This is playing." Our brains want to categorize things so we don't have to think so hard about what something means. We can mentally put it in its category and immediately know a lot about it. That's a good thing. We don't need to relearn what we know about an animal every time we meet a new cat. We already know lots about cats and just fill in what's unique about this cat.

But sometimes categories blind us to differences within a category and the similarities between categories.

So when we discuss unschooling, we try to help people reexamine their concepts (categories) of learning and play, usually by telling people to eliminate the categories themselves so they can start fresh. Just call everything living and you'll start to reorganize your categories without the divisions imposed by school.

I think it's possible that if a list was created for Unschooling Without TV, there would be some interest in it. (But not me.)

And before people start nodding, I'll ask this:

Is discussing how to restrict children's access to something they enjoy part of the unschooling philosophy?

That doesn't mean an unschooling family can't be organic vegans without TV who wear only purple cowboy boots. But those are other philosophies pasted on top of unschooling. (Or unschooling pasted on top of other philosophies.) Those are, in fact, limiting the unschooling philosophy.

Unschoolers can limit unschooling however they want. But asking the whole philosophy for guidance in limiting the philosophy in ways that are counter to the philosophy is to water the philosophy down.

Undoubtedly that's getting read as "this is unschooling" and "that isn't unschooling" and people are thinking "Who are you to say who is an unschooler and who isn't and what unschoolers can and can't do?"

But I'm not saying that.

I'm talking about the philosophy, the ideal, the idea, the concept, of unschooling. The thing people look to to help them decide what course is right for them.

A life philosophy might be "love one another as we love ourselves." Against that we will weigh the decisions we make in life. Those who adhere to the philosophy strictly will try to find a way to "love" a child abuser (e.g., love the innocent child that was damaged to create the abuser but without condoning their current actions or something like that). Those who don't adhere strictly to the philosophy can still use it as a guiding principle and adapt it when they feel necessary.

But, if the philosophy is altered in order to allow something that's counter to it's central issue, then discussion of it is only useful to those who water it down the same way and useless to those who want the full-blown version.

Love everyone except those who are trying to hurt us is not the same philosophy as love everyone. The philosophy is fundamentally changed in profound ways. The philosophy's founders knew it was hard to love your enemies. They didn't include "except for enemies" for a reason.

Unschooling is about a child having confidence to learn what they need to learn from whatever interests them. It doesn't mean "whatever interests them, except for things mom doesn't like." Moms don't like lots of things. Why couldn't it be Unschooling without going into cities? Or Unschooling without plastic? Or Unschooling without unnatural foods?

It is hard to unschool with TV or all terrain vehicles or pop culture if those are counter to a parent's personal philosophy. But we shouldn't warp the philosophy of unschooling so parents can feel comfortable while practicing two philosophies that conflict. Those conflicts are their responsibility to work out, not the responsibility of the two (or three or more) philosophies.

It's like taking a child that wants to learn carpentry and formulating a set of lessons for them on how to build a HOUSE. Maybe the child just want to learn how to use a hammer today. Maybe tomorrow they'll want to build a small birdhouse.

Or they wanted to build a bird house and they're given hammer lessons because no one can build anything without learning the fundamentals of hammering.

How we respond to our unschooling children shouldn't be based on generic answers to generic questions. That's school think. Unschooling involves knowing who your child is and finding out what they want to know and then helping them get it.

Okay, so where can I find a concise (or, heck, wordy!) report or list of the goals of unschooling. Laid out plain and simple, so I can get it! LOL

That's the cart before the horse. ;-)

What are your goals?

There aren't goals of unschooling. (Though I may have worded it that way.) But there are goals that unschooling can help us achieve. Living life joyfully. Self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Pursuing dreams. Providing an atmosphere for natural learning. And so on.

I want results that please me overall.

What kind of results? Are they feelings of progress through academic knowledge? It doesn't need to look like school to get those same feelings that kids are making "academic progress".

And I'm not criticizing it. It's just a different goal than what unschoolers have. If you have different goals than unschoolers, then it won't make sense that we're giving up that sense of progress and the semi-guarantees of more academic styles of homeschooling.

My goal is to live today joyfully. If my daughter can explore what she enjoys, that will prepare her for doing what she enjoys. Just as using English as a 2 yo is the foundation of a 3 yo's English. But a 2 yo doesn't need to prepare or practice to speak as a 3 yo or a 6 yo or 20 yo. They learn what they need as they need it ... because they need it. :-) Even though a 2 yo will one day become someone who might need to ask a librarian for help finding a book, they don't need to practice for it. ;-)

Life rarely throws us a curve where we need to go from knowing nothing to knowing everything tomorrow. If kids are allowed to pursue what interests them, then they acquire the skills and knowledge they need for those interests as they need them.

If, on the other hand, kids are being prepared for tomorrow by getting the knowledge they might need one day, it's much more difficult and takes much longer. They end up having spent time on things they never use.

Society has convinced us that it's in the best interests of kids to acquire a particular body of general knowledge. (It's what schools do.) But schools were originally set up to provide general knowledge not because kids need that body of knowledge (though most teachers are convinced that they do) but because it's an efficient way to raise the population's average level of education. It's a factory process concerned not with any one item on the production line but on the output as a whole. There will be some tremendous successes. There will be some scrap. But what's important is how it all averages out.

If schools were concerned with each individual child, they would provide each child with an individualized education focused on that child's strengths and desires and interests.

But they don't. They can't. It would be too expensive.

And what I think makes me nervous is ... illiteracy, I guess.

Unschooled kids learn to read when they are ready and when they need to. Usually it's around the same age as schooled kids 6-8. Sometimes earlier. Sometimes later. But by 18 those unschooled kids who learned to read later are indistinguishable from those who learned to read earlier. (In school naturally-later readers would have been shamed and humiliated -- just by having "specialists" focus even kindly on something that they couldn't do -- and convinced that they couldn't read or that reading was dumb.)

How do unschooled children learn long division? What do they do to practice it?

I recognize that the world is full of numbers and opportunities to manipulate those numbers. My daughter is figuring out how numbers work because she wants the information manipulating the numbers will give her.

By using math in real life she understands the context and can see why she needs to do something. On a math paper 34-17 doesn't mean anything. It doesn't have any affect on her life if she gets it right or wrong. (Which is why schools need to impose artificial consequences on getting things right and wrong.) But in real life, her purpose might be to figure out if she has enough money to buy 2 toys. So she might subtract the price of one toy from what she has or she might add the prices of the two toys together. She wants the information and has a stake in extracting what she needs from the data she has. How she goes about it isn't important. What's important is gaining enough understanding of why she's doing what she's doing. And the understanding is pretty much built in to the problem because it's a problem in real life. She won't make the mistake of subtracting the price of one toy from the other. She won't add the price of one toy to how much she has. It wouldn't make sense.

But in school-style math where the numbers are taken out of context, there isn't that feedback that the process you're using doesn't make sense. Sometimes you add. Sometimes you subtract. The only difference is in what you're told to do.

School-style learning (in math programs) focuses on the mechanics of manipulating numbers. The designers hope that by doing enough problems kids will understand, but the goal is on getting the kids to be able to perform the operations. If they do happen to understand why they'd doing something that's a potential side effect not the goal.

It's really hard to explain! Learning by using does work. But the process doesn't look at all like school-style math learning.

Learning math from life is the way your children learned English. English was a useful tool to get what they needed so they got better at it as a side effect. And that process worked pretty well!

Learning math school style is the way children learn (or don't learn!) a foreign language in school. It's memorization without needing something.

Needing something for a right now purpose provides the opportunity to understand. And that's what's lacking in school style learning.

What about algebra and other higher mathematics? I'm reading a lot about the practical uses of what we learn, and I agree wholeheartedly BUT ...
the brain work that goes into learning and knowing how to do abstract number exercises like algebra, increases the ability of the brain to think about ANY subject. It's GOOD for the brain to "workout" by doing abstract stuff.

But is it the algebra that is a good workout or are people who are naturally good at algebraic thinking able to get a good work out from it?

Running is a good exercise. But is it the running that's good or having the capacity (or potential capacity) to use your legs and lungs in that way to get the benefit from running that's good? Someone on crutches can't get much out of running!

Algebra is good if a child wants that type of brain exercise or enjoys that type of accomplishment (even if they find it difficult). It exercises something the child finds natural to exercise.

But if it isn't natural, it's like trying to exercise a body part that doesn't exist.

There's a word for that type of study but I've forgotten what it is. Researchers will look for a positive result and then try to find the factors that are different between that and the negative result. Like why does this group of people have unclogged arteries and this group of people have clogged arteries.

It's a useful type of study but it does have it's weaknesses. It tends to focus on what the factors are rather than why those factors might be common to that group. Are Mediterraneans healthier because they use a lot of olive oil or because their bodies process fat differently?

So is it algebra that is the benefit or is it having the ability to use algebra and having access to algebra that is the benefit?

And so, how would an unschooling family get algebra across to the kids?

There is algebraic thinking in life. The thinking part is the most important in understanding. It's using algebra and understanding why you're doing what you're doing. And when a problem is in context, the what and why are pretty obvious.

When we were flying from Boston to LA we stopped in Pittsburgh. It took us an hour to get to Pittsburgh by plane. It takes us 11 hours by car. We had 5 more hours to get to California. Kathryn, who was 10 at the time, said "Do you know how long it would take to drive to California? It would take 66 hours."That's algebraic thinking. (Which someone neatly described as using what you know to figure out what you don't know.) The context of the problem supplied the sense of how the numbers needed to be manipulated. Her curiosity supplied the desire to manipulate them.

Once there's understanding, doing it more formally is loads easier if the need is there. Trying to do it formally without understanding it is very very difficult. Which is why it takes years for schools to teach kids math. (And schools often fail!)

There are unschooled kids who have needed formal math for college who have learned high school math in 6-9 months. The need was there. The background of having used math in context was there. That made the formal part much easier.

When kids know that whether they know something is their choice, then acquiring it is a lot easier. It's also easier if they don't have years of experience with learning it being difficult. It's just something they want to learn, or are required to learn to get to something they want to learn, so they learn it.

I "make" my kids do their math ... lying in a puddle of sunshine on the front room floor, wrap-ups in the recliner, Math Minute drills, etc. Right now, the two younger ones are playing dominos ... MATH! but would unschooling REALLY say not to give them seat work to practice their basic number skills, and on a consistent basis? If I waited for them to come to me asking how to divide ... well, I sure wouldn't hold my breath!

I assume by putting quotes around "make" you mean you don't need to hold them down and force them. But ultimately in your family they don't have a choice not to do math in some way.

It's a pretty picture you paint. It might be similar to if your husband loved to watch you snuggling with a baby in a rocker in the sunshine and decided the best reason to have another baby is so he could delight in the image that brought him joy. And the cost to you wouldn't be part of his equation.

If you didn't make them would they be doing it on their own? Even if it looks peacefully satisfying, if the kids don't have a choice, then the outward look isn't nearly as pretty on the inside. They're just making do with what they are permitted to have.

I'm not saying you need to change. I'm just describing the difference. If what you're doing works fine, there's no impetus to try out something that will probably not feel very satisfying to get to what we feel is a better place. You need to want to get to that place we feel is better in order for the changes you'll need to make to feel worth it.

And freedom, respect, flexibility, and less tangible things too.

I guess in my mind, these things went without saying. I know, you can't read my mind.

And I think these things that go without saying need to be noted and brought up front.

If you talk to public schoolers, they'll say "Of course, I want my children to be happy and find joy in life. That goes without saying."

But when it goes without saying, it gets forgotten in whatever it is you're worried about getting done. People get so focused on the academics of school and let living life (what kids have left after school!) take care of joy.

As Sandra said:

I think learning happened better here when our focus changed to their mental health and feelings of contentment.

When we change our focus from the future or academics or whatever it is that worries us to focusing on whether our kids are joyfully living their lives, great things happen :-) And then the future takes care of itself.

Parents who are new to homeschooling take a while to learn that schooling does not produce education. The parents who "school" their children have not yet realized one fact: Schooling actually prevents children from becoming educated.

If you redefine the word educate to mean something more along the lines of gaining wisdom, there's truth there, but I think by using a word that people associate with the end product of school (and those are the definitions in my dictionary) you're just going to confuse people ;-) I had 17 years of schooling and I think of myself as educated.

What unschooling offers is something better than educated. It helps people grow into who they are rather than shaping them into some externally held ideal. (Which is what educated connotes.)

I don't mean to offend anyone, but unschooling sounds a lot like Montessori schools. The prepared environment approach, allows children to serve and learn on their own. Let the children follow their own interests. They will learn when they are ready.

I think unschooling is similar to what Maria Montessori envisioned originally. (I haven't read that much, just absorbed a bit so I don't know for certain.) But the Montessori schools now only pretend to advocate free exploration. The "prepared environment" is very goal oriented. The children are allowed to "play" in only certain ways so that they can "discover" what the materials are designed for them to discover.

Unschooling isn't like that. Ideally there shouldn't be a "prepared environment". There should just living life. But most of us have been trained to view the world in terms of work and play, e.g., Disneyland and TV are fun, non-fiction books and museums are educational. We tend to focus our lives on getting through life in order to get free time to enjoy. So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously. We need to rethink the work before play maxim. We're trained to believe the laundry or grocery shopping must get done and the board game or book can wait for "free" time. We're trained to get through the life maintenance stuff as quickly as possible so we can have free time. But laundry is opportunities to discuss sorting and measuring and the cost/benefits -- and perhaps experiment with! -- hot versus cold water. (Is the impact on the environment and budget worth the benefit -- if there is! -- of cleaner clothes with hot water?) At the store there are scales to weigh things, signs that identify where fruit came from, labels identifying nutrition and ingredients, sales, unit pricing.

And we need to be more aware that learning isn't in a resource but in the interest a child finds in the resource. Something "educational" isn't educational unless the child is interested in finding answers to those particular questions. A child who loves Fairly Odd Parents will learn a lot more from watching that than going through the experiments one by one in a science kit he has no interest in.

So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously and with more curiosity than we might normally feel inclined. Rather than feel like we need to drive the kids to be more curious about life, we should be more curious. We should put on the CD of digeridoo music because we're curious not because we think it would be good for the kids to hear.

Which is a long winded way of saying unschoolers need to "prepare the environment" so everyone can learn, not just the kids.

Rather than me just waiting for her to ask the magic question, "Mom, may I learn such and such?" Can she possibly know what she really wants? What I mean is do USer's just strike the match for the child and see if it burns and if not, then stop or do you wait for your child to ask for the match?

One of the hard parts of unschooling, I think, is in turning our thinking around from thinking in terms of subjects to thinking in terms of exploring interests. The "subjects" should be the tools we reach for to make sense of what we do, not the goal themselves. History is meaningless unless we have the questions we want answered that history can provide. (Like being interested in the Little House series and being curious about why Laura's life was as it was.)

The point in life is the bird house, not the hammer. As a side-effect of building a bird house we learn how to use a hammer. The hammer is meaningless without the uses it gets put to. And learning how to use a hammer is even more useless if it's learned for the sake of learning how to hammer "just in case". Learning that way in fact limits someone's concept of a hammer because it then becomes a tool for pounding nails. It won't be a tool for cracking nuts or a paperweight or to whack a wrench to loosen a bolt or a prop to test center of balance.

That's inadequate but, like a problem in percentages you've walked through for your daughter out loud, it is a foundation, a beginning.

Is it not considered USing if I introduce things for them to do, like math, and maybe nudge them to see if they are ready.

Unschooling is providing what the child needs today in order to achieve what he's trying to do. He needs to have what he might need in reach and accessible.

When your kids were learning to speak, did you speak to them as an adult, concerned that they had to learn words like corporate takeover, radio astronomy, medulla oblongata, cartesian coordinates or they'd never make it in the world? Or did you talk about the things they were interested in, naturally immersing those words and subjects in the proper context of language even if they didn't totally grasp every word you were saying and yet naturally at a level that wouldn't confound them totally?

So an unschooler doesn't think in terms of leading a child to what he needs to know so much as making the opportunities to need those things available. That can sound like an impossible task! How can we possibly surround them with everything that's in a 9th grade science book? Well you can and you can't ;-) That science book is just a distillation, just a tiny portion of what is in your child's life right now. The chapter on astronomy may go in and trickle out unless the child has looked up with a wondering parent and looked for constellations or given the time to notice stars come in different colors or asked about the first "star" that appears at sunset or tried to find the various figures in the moon that other cultures have found. It really doesn't need to go further than that (though, of course, some kids may). It will create a sense of wonder and curiosity and good feelings about the night sky that will be a foundation for learning more. A textbook chapter the child has no interest in initially might spark an interest that would have been sparked by the night sky but it's as likely to leave another child with no desire to learn more.

What you supply them with isn't the information, but the sense of wonder -- you'll need to recapture this too :-) -- and the resources to explore wherever their interests lead them. It doesn't mean you need every educational product on the market. It can be just a mom who can say"Let's go look it up with Google.' :-)

Last updated: April 2009