The Unschooling Unmanual
In terms of education, I describe myself as a life-long learner. My brain is always on the go. I'm always coming up with new questions and searching for their answers. I love to learn - at least I love to learn what I want to know more about. Coming from a family where everyone has a college degree, often more than one, and education is the result of a formal school system, The Unschooling Unmanual, available through naturalchild.org, presented me with a personal challenge. It gave me a look into a branch of homeschooling where education doesn't mean memorizing history dates, doing multiplication tables, and taking tests, but where children are free to learn what they want, when they want, and at their own pace.
For the attachment parenting families who choose to unschool, I can see the benefits: You trust your child to make his own path in life, and you're relying on your child's natural curiosity and love of learning to guide him to make his educational choices.
"We had already experienced what attachment parenting could do for our children and our entire family, and now we wanted to expand that philosophy to their education," writes Nanda Gestel, who has lived in the U.S. and Ireland, and now lives in The Netherlands with her four boys. "The underlying philosophy behind our decision was our holistic approach to parenting and education. Unschooling allows each child to take their own unique learning path. By following their hearts and pursuing their own interests, they learn to take responsibility for their personal growth."
Written for Parents by Parents
A collection of personal essays by eight writers, including API Advisory Council member Jan Hunt, The Unschooling Unmanual strives to both support parents who have made the decision to unschool their children and inform parents who are considering it.
All the Big Questions Answered
An article by Daniel Quinn, author of the popular novel Ishmael, answered many of the questions that initially popped into my head when I think about unschooling:
How will children learn without a formal school structure?
"It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs. Of course, anyone who has had a child knows what an absurd lie this is. From infancy onward, children are the most fantastic learners in the world. If they grow up in a family in which four languages are spoken, they will be speaking four languages by the time they're three or four years old - without a day of schooling, just by hanging around the members of their family, because they desperately want to be able to do the things they do. Anyone who has had a child knows they are tirelessly curious. As soon as they're able to ask questions, they ask questions incessantly, often driving their parents to distraction. Their curiosity extends to everything they can reach?"
But will they be motivated?
"...the desire to learn is hardwired into the human child... It's genetic. ... Children don't have to be motivated to learn everything they can about the world they inhabit; they're absolutely driven to learn it."
Will they learn the same things as children in formal school systems?
No, they won't all learn the same things, Quinn writes, but most high school graduates also will not retain much of the education they received while in school. "The people who are horrified by the idea of children learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it have not accepted the very elementary psychological fact that people (all people, of every age) remember the things that are important to them - the things they need to know - and forget the rest." Quinn goes on to write how he attended a very well-known prep school, graduated fourth in his class, and today couldn't receive a passing grade in more than a couple of the dozens of courses he took. He added that although he studied classical Greek for two years, he is unable to read a single sentence aloud today. What he has learned and remembered is what he's doing in his life, not what he learned sitting in a classroom.
Unschooling is Child-led Learning
The reason unschooling - also known as natural learning, experience-based learning, and independent learning - works is because it encourages a child to learn what she wants when she wants to, writes Quinn. Learning doesn't become a boring experience, because the lessons are selected by the student's interests. They learn to read and write, do math, appreciate history, understand science, and more as they explore their topic of choosing. For example, a child who's interested in learning about the ocean might want to visit the library for a book on sea life and if he needs to learn to read in order to absorb the information, he'll do so during his quest to explore the ocean. This idea of self-led teaching is strange to people accustomed to formal schooling, because most curriculums are not organized in such a way.
An article by Jan Hunt, author and director of The Natural Child Project, answers another basic question:
How do you know if the child is learning anything?
Perhaps the top untrue assumption of unschooling families is that there is no teaching happening, when in fact the teaching that is happening is just not the same that would happen in a formal school system. While she doesn't structure the school day or use a curriculum, Hunt writes how she is continually helping her child learn by answering questions, encouraging creative problem-solving, finding resources and information related to her child's interests at the time, demonstrating ethical qualities such as honesty and responsibility, and modeling the joy of learning through her own discussions, research, and reading.
"While it is not impossible for a conventionally schooling family to pursue the kinds of activities I have described, it is simply more difficult to do so when parents and children have so much less time together, and when even after-school hours are taken up by projects, homework, and other school-related demands," Hunt writes.
And how does Hunt know her child is learning? She is involved with her child as he leads his own educational journeys, just as "any parent of a toddler could almost certainly tell us how many numbers her child can count to, and how many colors he knows - not through testing, but simply through many hours of listening to his questions and statements. In unschooling, this type of observation simply continues on into higher ages and more complex learning," Hunt writes.
The Unschooling Unmanual, A Great Introduction to Unschooling
Much of the rest of The Unschooling Unmanual continues to define exactly what unschooling is, how it differs from formal schooling, and the joy that parents experience in their child, their families, and themselves as they embrace natural learning as a viable alternative to other educational opportunities available. The Unschooling Unmanual is a great book to get an introduction to unschooling as you explore the educational part of parenting your growing child.
"Unschooling isn't a technique; it's living and learning naturally, lovingly, and respectfully together," Hunt writes. "For parents who went to school, unschooling can be a challenge, but it is also our best opportunity to learn to trust our children's natural love of learning."
This interview originally appeared in the The Attached Family, an online magazine of Attachment Parenting International. Reprinted with permission of the author.The Unschooling Unmanual