|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 of schooling.
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 natural ways.
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
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 external pressure.
|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 responsibility.
|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
- Find ways to include the child in my own daily life - live a more "open-book" life than the
- 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 on it."
- 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 in unschooling.
- 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 creates resistance.
- 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
- 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 the intellect.
- Learning requires a sense of safety. Fear blocks learning. Shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety -
these block learning.
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.
This article originally appeared in the April 2005 HSC (HomeSchool Association of California) magazine.