Ten Tips for New Unschooling
|by Jan Hunt
|Parents new to unschooling often have
mixed feelings. While they may be excited about this educational
choice, they're left with one question: "Now what?"
Because unschooling is different for every family, and even for
each child, there are no set guidelines. And since few modern
parents were unschooled in their own childhood, they may feel
uncertain about how to begin, and wonder about their ability to
create a rewarding learning environment. This uncertainty is based
not only on the parent's lack of personal experience with
unschooling, but also on the many false assumptions about learning
that their school experiences instilled in them years before.
When today's unschooling children become parents themselves,
they will naturally have confidence in this approach. Most
unschooling parents have to trust a process that they themselves
never experienced directly. Fortunately, unschooling is such a
joyful process that this trust develops naturally. Parents can
move quickly from "Now what?" to "This is so
Here are ten tips for making a smooth transition:
1. Let the Child Lead
New unschooling parents can feel overwhelmed by the assumption
that everything is in their hands. They assume that it is up to
them to choose the topics for each day. If that were true, most
unschooling parents would burn out quickly. Fortunately, the
reality is just the opposite. The best way to help a child learn
is to respect and support her need for freedom - she will know
what is of most interest to her at every moment, and will
naturally make that clear. Trust that your child knows best what
she is ready and eager to learn, and then help her to find
whatever materials and information she needs.
Perhaps the best analogy is to a reference librarian, who waits
until she knows what the library patron is looking for, and then
helps her to find it. No reference librarian tells the patron what
to learn, though she may make suggestions once she knows the
patron's interests. Relax and let your child take the lead!
|2. Everything is Educational
Parents who are just starting to unschool can feel intimidated by
the assumption that educational activities must be scheduled into
each day. Because they have attended school, they learned the
invalid but relentlessly taught lesson that some things are
"educational" and others are not. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Everything in life is educational! Every
single thing the child does brings about learning, and the more
fun he is having, the easier the process will be. Even those
subjects that seem hard for schoolchildren, such as grammar and
math, will come about easily and naturally as they are needed in
|3. Freedom is Essential for Learning
Forget everything school taught you about the importance of
"maintaining focus". Keeping children focused in school
(even if it takes drugs to do it) meets the school system's needs
- it makes it easier for teachers to manage the classroom. But the
use of force - of any kind - interferes with learning, because the
child feels coerced, monitored and frustrated. Children are
naturally aware of many things at once - there is so much for them
to learn and think about. We should treasure their spontaneity and
curiosity, not expect them to stay focused on what we think they
should be learning. An unschooling child stays happily focused on
whatever interests her in that moment - and that is the best way
to learn anything.
4. Rest is as Important as Activity
Research has consistently found that significantly more learning
takes place when there are rest breaks in the activity (adults
given breaks remember more material than those given no breaks).
The human brain needs time to process information. Don't assume
that the child is ever "doing nothing" or "just
playing". Just because we can't see the processing doesn't
mean it isn't there. Activity and rest are equally important parts
of the learning process. A child recuperating from school or other
stressful experiences will also need downtime to recover.
5. Trust Your Child's Built-in Timetable
School schedules and expectations often interfere with learning.
An unschooling child will learn what he needs to know, at exactly
the moment he is ready, and in the way that feels most right to
him. Because schools push children to learn things without regard
to their current interests, students can develop a lifelong
aversion to those subjects. When a child learns about something
when he is most interested, that interest can last a lifetime.
Schools focus so much on their current agenda, they seem to forget
that the child is preparing for life - not just for next Friday's
|6. Happiness Forms the Best Foundation for
Have no expectations about what an unschooling child should look
like. She will not look like a school child. She will not be
intimidated by authority figures. She will look freer and happier,
and will express her needs and feelings in more mature ways. Trust
that the unschooling child is developing in the most natural and
beneficial way, and learning about life in the way children
learned for millennia before public schools existed.
7. Trust Your Child's Learning Style
Remember that each child has his own unique way of approaching
learning, and whatever that way is, it's the very best way for
him. My son taught himself the alphabet by creating each letter
with his whole body. I was glad he wasn't in a classroom where he
would have been told to sit down! Trust that your child's learning
style, whatever it may be, is the right one for him.
|8. Unschooling is for You Too
Unschooling does not only benefit the child - the whole family can
learn together. Watching a child learn with eagerness and delight
can help a parent to heal from difficulties experienced in school
years ago. Topics that the parent grew to dislike in school can
now be more fully understood and appreciated. In this way,
unschooling parents can rediscover the natural love of learning
they were born with.
9. Enjoy the Freedom
Unschooling is freeing, not just for the child, but for the whole
family. Unschooling families can enjoy quiet playgrounds during
school hours, take family vacations in the fall, and introduce
their children to people of all ages and backgrounds. The family
is also freed from the rigid school schedule and relentless
homework assignments that can cause unnecessary stress for
everyone. Parents can then focus on more meaningful and enjoyable
family activities that build love and connection.
10. Have Fun!
Unschooling at its best is great fun for everyone. Take your cues
from your child. Be on the alert for books, toys, games and
activities you think your child will enjoy. Make them available,
but with no expectations or pressure. Films, board games,
leisurely walks and outings with family and friends not only bring
more learning, but enhance the connection and trust that are
essential to the best learning environment.
Unschooling may feel like a leap of faith at first, but you'll
soon discover that it is far more than just an educational choice
- it's a way of living with children with full respect, trust and
"Little children love the world. That is why they are
so good at learning about it. For it is love, not tricks and
techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true
learning. Can we bring ourselves to let children learn and grow
through that love?"
- John Holt,
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers phone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director
of The Natural Child Project and
author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the
Heart and A Gift for Baby.
|More articles by Jan
articles on learning