|I Live Therefore I
Learn: Living an Unschooling Life
|by Pam Sorooshian
|Unschooling is both easy and difficult to
describe. The easy answer is that unschooling means "not
schooling," but it is a lot harder to explain what we do instead
Unschooling means not depending on the usual school methods. It
means no lesson plans, no curriculum, no assignments, no quizzes or
tests, no required memorizing, and no grades. It means that the parent
does not become the child's schoolteacher - it means not creating a
miniature classroom in the home.
|Instead, unschoolers focus on living a rich and
stimulating life together. Seriously, that's it. We do not
"school"; instead, we concentrate on living a life filled
with opportunities and possibilities and experiences. Children are
born learners. Literally. What unschoolers aim for is keeping that
love of learning and intense curiosity alive as the children grow up.
|How do we do this? In practice, it is
going to look very different for each unschooling family. "We
follow our interests," is the unschoolers' anthem. Each
family's interests will lead to all kinds of learning - history,
math, writing, music, reading, science, and all the other real-life
subject matter that is valuable and interesting. But we won't think
of them as "subjects." We'll just think of them as
interesting and fun and fascinating and something we want to pursue
further or not. One thing will lead to another and life goes on and
kids learn and parents learn and life is full of opportunity
everywhere we look.
It is natural for people to learn - each in their own way. It is
natural for children to want to understand the world around them.
They also want to join the adult world and become competent and
capable adults themselves. They'll strive for this in their own
Unschooling parents work on creating a home environment that
supports their children's natural desire to learn and grow. Each
child is unique and experiences the world in a different way than
any other person and expresses himself in ways that are different
from every other person. There is no curriculum in the world that is
designed specifically and dynamically for any particular child, but
an unschooling lifestyle can, in effect, provide a 100-percent
individualized learning experience. Unschoolers aren't likely to
learn exactly what the professional educators and textbook
publishers think they should - so, in that sense, they may have
"gaps" in their learning. But they'll learn so much more,
too, that is not included in those lists of "learning
standards." What is important for one person to learn is not
necessarily important for another. We don't really have any way of
predicting what will be important to know in the future. We do
know that learning that is forced or pressured is not lasting. Most
of what kids are "taught" is not truly "learned"
in any kind of lasting way.
|Unschoolers also have in mind a lifelong timeline for
learning. We don't worry about whether a child is at "grade
level" because we know that children are learning something all
the time and that they will eventually learn whatever they need to
know for whatever reasons they have. We don't worry that they'll
miss something important because, if it is important, they'll
realize that and find a way to learn it.
A true unschooling slogan is, "Life is learning, learning is
life." Unschoolers simply do not think there are times for
learning and times for not learning. They don't divide life into
school time or lesson time versus play time or recreation time.
There is no such thing as "extracurricular" to an
unschooler - all of life, every minute of every day, counts as
learning time and there is no separate time set aside for
|Unschooling takes an intensity and focus
on living life with a great deal of gusto on the part of the
parents. Unschooling parents develop a high level of sensitivity to
their children in order to know what to offer, when to support, when
to back off, how busy they want to be, how much solitude they need,
when to nudge them a bit with encouragement, when to get more
involved, and so on. Unschooling parents always have their kids and
their interests in the back of their minds, thinking always about
what would interest them; bringing the world to them and bringing
them to the world in ways that "click" for that particular
child. Unschooling parents trust that the child will learn without
|We could do the curriculum - I could put together a
few hours per day of "school work," insisting that my
children do it. But I've read everything I could get my hands on
about learning and I've had 30 years of teaching experience. I know,
deep down inside, that any coercion in learning creates either open
resistance, passivity, or apathy, and I don't want to create any of
those in my children. Learning feels good - it might be challenging,
but it is also pleasurable. Coercion feels bad, and trying to learn
under coercion is not pleasurable, even when we make the best of it.
Children who have experienced the pleasure of unforced learning show
the effect in their incredible creativity, confidence, intensity,
focus, persistence, self-knowledge, and strong sense of personal
|Unschooling parents want our kids to
discover their life's passions and to jump into them with both feet,
with confidence and trust in life and themselves. We want our
children to know, deep inside themselves, that they are strong and
capable and can make their own individual choices. We want them to
be willing to buck the mainstream culture and buck the
counterculture. We want them to think for themselves and do what
they think is right and good and worthy and valuable.
I think, most of all, we want them to love being alive - now and
in their future.
|The Role of the Unschooling Parent
- Show respect for all of a child's interests equally.
- Keep the child in mind as I go through life, so that I notice
things that might be of interest to that child.
- Find ways to include the child in my own daily life - live a
more "open-book" life than the norm.
- Follow up on things the child is interested in - and do this
in a wide variety of ways, not only by "getting him a book
- Live a family life that is rich with experiences of a variety
of kinds both at home and outside the home.
- Have resources around the home that are interesting and
stimulating - things that will encourage exploration of ideas.
- Discuss things - spend time in conversation. This is probably
overall the most important parental "action" involved
- Have a playful attitude - play together, have fun, appreciate
the amazing world around you. Don't be cynical, be able to be
amazed and find the world a fascinating place. This is the most
important attitude for an unschooling parent.
- Be self-aware of your own thinking and behavior. Purposely
stretch your imagination - question your own assumptions, check
your own automatic impulses.
- Be very observant of what your child is really doing - don't
view him/her in a shallow superficial way. Recognize that there
is a reason for a child's actions, that a child is "born to
learn" and is always learning. Get to know your child's own
special favored ways of learning.
- Wholeheartedly support a child's passions even if, to you,
they don't look like "education."
|Principles of Unschooling
- Learning happens all the time. The brain never stops working
and it is not possible to divide time up into "learning
periods" versus "non-learning periods."
Everything that goes on around a person, everything they hear,
see, touch, smell, and taste, results in learning of some kind.
- Learning does not require coercion. In fact, learning cannot
really be forced against someone's will. Coercion feels bad and
- Learning feels good. It is satisfying and intrinsically
rewarding. Irrelevant rewards can have unintended side effects
that do not support learning.
- Learning stops when a person is confused. All learning must
build on what is already known.
- Learning becomes difficult when a person is convinced that
learning is difficult. Unfortunately, most teaching methods
assume learning is difficult and that lesson is the one that is
really "taught" to the students.
- Learning must be meaningful. When a person doesn't see the
point, when they don't know how the information relates or is
useful in "the real world," then the learning is
superficial and temporary - not "real" learning.
- Learning is often incidental. This means that we learn while
engaged in activities that we enjoy for their own sakes and the
learning happens as a sort of "side benefit."
- Learning is often a social activity, not something that
happens in isolation from others. We learn from other people who
have the skills and knowledge we're interested in and who let us
learn from them in a variety of ways.
- We don't have to be tested to find out what we've learned. The
learning will be demonstrated as we use new skills and talk
knowledgeably about a topic.
- Feelings and intellect are not in opposition and not even
separate things. All learning involves the emotions, as well as
- Learning requires a sense of safety. Fear blocks learning.
Shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety - these block
|Pam Sorooshian and her husband, Cyrus, have
three successful grown-up unschooled daughters, Roya, Roxana and Rose. Pam is
on the Board of Directors of the Home School Association of California and
occasionally speaks at conferences about unschooling. She is an active
participant and a moderator of the AlwaysLearning Yahoo group. Her blog contains fun math-related games and ideas
as well as comments about unschooling. Pam teaches economics and runs the
theater box office at Cypress Community College in Southern California.
© Pam Sorooshian
Posted with permission of the author.
originally appeared in the April 2005 HSC (HomeSchool Association of