Unschooling: My Experience
My musings as I try to figure out how unschooling fits in with my worldview and conservative religious beliefs.
Home Education Magazine: Five Steps to Unschooling
"Some people understand unschooling as soon as they hear about it. Others wander about in a fog of
confusion, wondering how unschoolers can be so certain about something that seems so counterintuitive to everything we've
picked up about how kids need to learn. Maybe a few, well-defined steps in the unschooling direction could lead out of at
least the very pea-soupiest part of the fog."
Unschooling Unlimited: A Few Words About Unschooling Math
How will they learn math if you don't teach it from a book?
Well, my BFF is homeschooling her son, and helping to homeschool her nephew, and us to do some stuff
together, so I'm going to have to be more organized than I thought!
You know, if I had been able to do it from the beginning I think unschooling and I could've gotten
along real well - but my kids have been to school and have expectations about learning that aren't met by unschooling.
Think I waited long enough between posts? Well, I'm here now.
I just can't go for the radical unschooling thing. There are limits in life, and there are limits in my home.
What we are going to start with next school year is this:
School Hours 10-3
Free choice of approved activities
List of approved tv
List of approved computer stuff
Journal/Log daily activities in journal
And other stuff that comes up.
Saturday - 4/13/07
Rachel does a greater variety of learning things each day, but Daniel takes everything
he does into great depth. I'm able to identify knowledge and skill building activities on their part and record them
as "assignments" in Homeschool Tracker. By keeping a record, I'll be able to point out the children's natural learning
opportunities to their father, and assign grades for a transcript in the future.
Sunday, 3/18/07 - I talked with Jay and the children about unschooling. For MY comfort level (which is just as
important as the children's) TV channels will be restricted (no MTV, no Disney, and some others) to limit their junk watching
and encourage either watching more quality programming or other activities.
To those who would criticize the limiting of the TV channels:
1) Would you like it if someone restricted your channels and basically told you that you aren't good at picking out
programming that is good for you?
I probably wouldn't care, and I would know my own decision-making abilities regarding television and
that what someone else thinks doesn't alter the truth. I would work within those parameters successfully. And
I do police my own TV watching. I love to watch sit-coms, but there is so much vapid drivel in them that I limit myself;
and find that I enjoy watching other things that are more stimulating for my mind or doing things.
2) You are not giving them the choice of whether they should watch those channels or not. How are they supposed
to learn decision-making skills if you don't let them make decisions?
You're right. I am giving them no choice in the matter at this time. Later, I will
relax those restrictions. The children still make choices about the programming before 10 in the morning and after 3
in the afternoon. They also make choices in every other area of their lives. Providing protective decision-making
for a child is a parent's resposnibility.
3) (No question) I don't believe in "no rules." The entire world works under rules. There are
God's requirements of us, laws of nature, international agreements, national laws, state laws, and even county and city laws.
If God established a system of rules and assisted the human race in developing social rules, who am I to say that my child
should not have to obey and function effectively under someone else's rules. I'd rather they learn about rules and the
consequences of disobediance at home, than from someone else who doesn't have their best interest at heart.
My hubby is non-commital. I don't think he approves, but is going to let me do what I want. I'm excited to
be able to just relax and enjoy spending time with my kids rather than worrying about if they are doing this project or completing
that report, or answering questions such as, "If I just do this many will I pass?"
Learning through living. On the job training. Learning on a need-to-know basis.
Comments as I Read Sandra Dodd's Website
Sandra Dodd's website has some great advice on it about unsschooling, but I am not comfortable with
all of it. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn about unschooling to visit this site, but be ready to pick out
what may conflict with your worldview - in others words, don't throw out the baby with the bath water; take what you like
and leave the rest; and any other metaphors or cliches you can think of.
I'm going to quote some things I like, and don't like and give MY personal views:
(BTW, Dodd has included comments from a variety of people, not all these things come directly from
her, but do come from her website)
"If a child is happily playing a computer game or watching TV for the *entire* time that that
child would have been in school, that child is infinitely better off than if she was unhappily at school."
Keep in mind, as I say that I agree, that I am tremendously codependent and uncomfortable with the
idea of anyone else being...uncomfortable! That being said, I don't believe children have be having laughing-out-loud
hysterical-excitement fun to learn, but I do believe that their learning is significantly hindered by trying to deal with
It's impossible to concentrate on algebra when all you can think about is if that huge
over-grown football player is going to beat the crap out of you after school, and where, and how you can avoid it, and while
daydreaming that suddenly you became a natural karate expert in the next few minutes and kicked his butt.
Diagramming sentences doesn't mean much when you had a big fight with your mom that
morning and you both said ugly things and all you really want to do is call your mom and say your sorry and make sure she
still loves you, but the office won't let you call unless you're sick, and if you go home saying you're sick you'll not only
be lying, but have make-up work on top of everything else.
The culture of the Incas is really boring compared to all of the sudden realizing what
you could have done in the soccer match last Saturday that would have worked against that really good kid. Right now
all you can do is go over and over in your mind so you don't forget it before you can get outside after school to practice
I know a person who used to say, about my son, "he's a kid, what does he have
to be stressed out about?" Everything. Pleasing adults, pleasing friends, getting better at what they like, getting
away from what they don't like, what will happen if their routine is upset, will their non-custodial parent remember to come
get thim this weekend, why is Grandma in the hospital, will my parents still love me when the new baby is born, .................
"The main goal is raising happy kids. Everything else is a
My main goal is raising healthy kids, and that means they will
be able to understand that not every moment is happy and fun, and they'll be able to accept that and live a productive life
"If you have no money, love and trust are better than school."
Amen! Money is highly overrated; it is merely a tool, not the end product.
"When a relative treats your child unfairly or unkindly, protect your child. Once in awhile,
say things (nicely) you would've liked to have said in retaliation when you were a kid. Just imagining it sometimes works
Adults don't have to back each other up just because they are adults; and especially
not when one is wrong. Tactfully defending your child to another adult in his/her presence helps them to learn to defend
themselves and reinforces to them that you really are interested in what concerns them.
"If your child asks you not to do something, don't do it. "
Okay, now. Let's qualify this: if your child asks to not to tickle or tease him, don't; if
your child asks you not to comb out her woefully knotted hair, and you don't, you're being negligent - JMO.
"I'd rather have dentures than horrible memories of a parent forcing me to brush my teeth."
I can't agree with this on any level. This is pure out-and-out negligence.
"Learn something you always wanted to learn. Actively engaging in life is great for creating happy
energy. Happy energy is the most wonderful thing in the world to be around. I want my kids to want to be around me."
Absolutely! Kids need to see that learning is a life-long activity that can be thoroughly enjoyed
by people of all ages and abilities.
Suggested "no bedtimes, no chores, no eating controls, no limits on media"
I can't go for this either. Early on you will make more decisions for your children about this
than later on; you should be including the child's input in the decision, and gradually turning that decision over to them
as they mature, BUT teaching your child that they don't have to do anything they don't want to do is just as harmful as never
letting learn to make decisions about things.
"Parent's job (since it isn't the controller of the child) is something like being the Provider
of Joy. When in doubt, go for the option that offers the most joy."
I suppose this is a worldview issue. In my worldview, heavily based on Christianity, joy is icing
that comes from a correct relationship with God, not something able to be provided by one human to another. Joy, contentment,
and true peace cannot be provided from an outside source, and the Holy Spirit is our inner source for this. Sometimes,
providing the most "joyful" option for my children is what's right; but a steady diet of ice cream instead of vegetables,
allowing them to joyfully run over others feelings instead of teaching them manners, or joyfulling spray painting professional
wrestling mottos all over the outside of our house is, again, blatent negligence. In my worldview, it is a parent's
job to provide some control and guidance. Read what have to say elsewhere on this page about humanism vs. theism.
"Principles over Rules - you must model principles (rather than enforce rules) therefore you must
LIVE them (which makes you a better person). Some examples: Freedom, Golden Rule, Kindness, Respect'
Role modeling is one of the best ways to teach your children what is appropriate, and I think most
of us will agree that if we lecture one way and act another - the kids are going to follow how we act.
From Merriam-Webster, 2004
Principle: 1) a general or fundamental law, doctrine or assumtion; 2) a rule or code of conduct; 3)
the laws of facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device; 4) the primary source; 5) the active part
Rule: Noun-1) a guide or principle for governing action; 2) the usual way of doing something;
3) the exercise of authroity or control; Verb-1) Control; 2: to be supreme or outstanding in; 3) to give or state as a considered
decision; 4) to mark on paper with or as if with a ruler; 5) to be extremely cook or popular
Law: 1) a rule of conduct or action established by a custom or laid down and enforced by a governing
authority; the whole body of such rules; 2) the control brought about by enforcing rules; 3) the revelation of the divine
will as set forth in the Old Testament; 4) a rule or principle of contruction or procedure; 5) the science that deals with
laws and their interpretation and application; 6) the profession of a lawyer; 7) a rule or principle state something that
alwasy works in the same way under the same conditions
Policy: a definite course or method of action selected to guide and determine present and future decisions.
I suppose when I think of rules and principles and such it's like this: 1) Suggestions are requests
with no negative consequences for not following them, and "principles" falls under that in that principles
are a personal ethical or behavioral code, and not enforced by anyone but self; 2) Rules, laws, policies & procedures,
and guidelines are all various forms of a mandanted social ethical or behavioral code that can be followed up by negative
consequences from an outside source.
Both being guided by a personal code and a social code are a part of life. Where and when are
children to learn about following the laws of their land, accepting unchanging laws of nature, and holding themselves responsible
when they are punished for doing something against the social code? The family is the fundamental social unit and this
is where is starts. You need not be terribly strict to start teaching children about respecting social codes, but you
certainly don't want some stranger to be the first to administer a negative consequence to your child.
IMNSHO - Parents ARE to be controllers of their children, to some extent. I'm not letting my
two-year-old play with matches; I'm not letting my 9-year-old watch x-rated movies, and I'm not letting my teenager spend
"quality" time with the local drug dealer. I'm to protect my children, and I do that by controlling them when they may
not like it. They'll have "joy" later when they realized their mother loved them enough to put up with their crappy
attitudes about the decision, rather than letting them do something dangerous.
"Create a Rich Environment: strew stuff they might like (but
don't be attached to them liking it) ~~~ Ride the Waves: of interests and passions (yours and theirs), as well as the flow
of the day ~~~ Follow Your Heart: and encourage them to follow theirs. ~~~ Creative Brainstorming: about any situation until
everyone's needs can be met as well as possible."
These are some powerful suggestions that works not only in unschooling
but in any situation where you want you children to be the best they can be.
"Sometimes the real message behind "I'm bored" is "I'm little
and feeling agitated and vaguely unhappy and I don't know what I can do to get over this uncomfortable feeling. What would
you do if you were my age, in this house, on a day like this?"
"Maybe it’s not physical need, but intellectual need. Boredom
is a desire for input which unschooling parents should welcome. It’s a child saying "How can I add excitement to my
life?" This can be a big opportunity to introduce a new subject, activity, or thought-collection."
"Maybe it’s an emotional need, and the parent’s undivided
attention for a little while will solve the problem. A walk, some joking, a hug, inquiries about progress on the child’s
projects or plans or friends might serve many purposes at once. If after a walk and a talk the child is not quite refreshed,
you still had that time together, which made "I’m bored" a useful invitation to bonding."
"Sometimes "bored" means tired, low on energy, needing a break
from conscious thought and responsibility. Arranging a nap, or putting on a soothing video (even for older kids—a romance
instead of an action flick, or light drama instead of comedy), leaving a pillow on the couch and herding the rest of the family
in other directions might result in an unplanned but needed nap."
I also see bored as a great-problem solving opportunity for the child.
I see my daughter walking around the house looking at everything, going outside, checking out new books or TV shows.
Sometimes bored is just a great way to develop creativity.
More Comments as I Read Sandra Dodds Website
Check out http://sandradodd.com/seeingit. It's called "Unschooling: You'll See It When You Believe It." It's very insightful and gives
some good practical advice for beginners to unschooling.
"This is why some of us dislike the term "child-led" or "child- directed" learning — unschooling
is not child-led or child-directed learning — that makes it sound like the parent should just be a "follower." Not so
— parents are active participants and part of the job of an unschooling parent is to keep the child in mind and to fill
his/her life with just the right amount of interesting new experience, chances to repeat experiences, down time, and so on."
This excerpt is from http://sandradodd.com/nest. I think it is a particularly useful concept in unschooling. It is not telling them what
to do, but providing them with knowledge of their options, and facilitating their usage of their options.
If you are considering unschooling, please visit Sandra Dodd's site. I've found it to
be very informative and helpful. http://sandradodd.com/unschooling.html
Thoughts About Unschooling
Qualifier: I am still exploring what "unschooling" is and whether I can be a part of it.
My thoughts and opinions may change over the course of this exploration.
Feb, 21, 2007 - I subscribed to a list-group at Yahoo that is about "unschooling." I wanted
to see if that was a viable option for me and my kids. Today, I am really wondering because, as I understand it, unschooling
is basically trusting children to focus on the areas they need to learn in at any given time with no schedule, no requirements,
no assignments due, & no grading. One member stated that unschooling is about trusting your children. The
concept is humanistic in worldview. (Humanist meaning focusing on human values or interests).
My worldview is theistic, focusing on the values and interests of God. There are times when
these two worldviews coexist peacefully, but there are other times when they clash dramatically.
If you are reading this and you have a primarily humanistic point of view, please feel free to contact
me if I have included misinformation about humanism.
My particular "brand" of theists believe that each person in born with a sin nature. It
is there naturally, and cannot be overcome without the intervention of God.
In my thinking, humanists don't believe people are born bad.
My theists believe that the Bible instructs the parents to instruct and teach the children;
including, issues of black and white, absolute right and wrong.
Humanists are more interested in allowing others to come up with their own personalized ethical formulas.
Apparently, one premise of unschooling is NOT teaching your children, but just offering guidance
when they show an interest in something.
2/28/07 - The more I hear from "unschoolers" the more uncomfortable I become with the idea.
The idea that children know what is good for them all the time or that they will make the right decisions according to
their needs at any given time does not sit well within me. There are moments, and they become more and more frequent
as a child grows older, where they are able to decide what is best for them, or to safely bear the consequences of wrong decisions.
But there is a very loud contingent of "unschoolers" who talk like children should have no restrictions or demands ever placed
upon their freedom.
What I have imagined as the result of this unbridled freedom has been reported by at least one young
lady who was unschool from the git-go to the end. She was having trouble adjusting to the demands of a traditional college
(which she chose to attend) and the typical expectations of an employer. She was so used to doing as she pleased that
doing what someone else pleased, when she thought she knew better, was foreign and distasteful to her. "That's
how 'life' really is," I told her. "When you work for someone else, it's not about doing things the way you see they need
to be done, it's about doing things the way the corporation, or your boss, or your customer thinks that it needs to be done."
On the other hand, I have seen plenty of public, private, and home "schooled" kids go on to be great
decsion-makers when opportunities allow. Lots of these "schooled" kids have no problem knowing what they want or need,
despite being told what to do and when to do for school. So what are the "unschoolers" fighting against? It's
not like "schooled" children don't learn. Perhaps they could learn more with a little more freedom; but that doesn't
mean total freedom means the ability to learn everything. And it doesn't mean "schooled" children don't learn anything.
I can understand, however, the desire to avoid the highly structured scope and sequence that is used
in so many schools. Presumably, this came about from some sort of research that showed what age was optimum or average
for children to learn things? I don't know. I realize some of it is common sense: kids will know how to add before
they figure perimeter, and vocabulary usage starts with very basic coos and graduates over time to more sophisticated phrases
But why this kind of literature before that kind; or this time period of history before that time
period; why recorders before pianos or guitars? So many things about scope and sequence seem like arbitrary placings
of topics done just to assure everything is covered. And why have reading, then math (with word problems that look like
reading, but apparently aren't), then composition (where we learn how and when it's appropriate to use ordinal or cardinal
numbers and whether to use numbers or words to describe them); then history (which involves a timeline that apparently has
nothing to do with math because we do math at another time), et cetra.
Now, let's think about other aspect of "schooling" that is attacked by "unschoolers."
First, schedules: schedules are not a "schooly" thing - they are actually a life thing. There are 24 hours in a day,
and the human body body requires an average of about 8 hours of sleep per day. That's a schedule. Your body generally
gets hungry at certain times, and eliminates at certain times. That's a schedule. When you have a job, you work
a schedule - it may be variable - but it revolves around when the place of employment is open and when you are needed.
That's a schedule. You have to plan your errands around when the locations are open to take care of your business -
because they have schedules and make you stick to their schedules. So schedules aren't inherently "schooly."
They didn't dome about because someone decided public education was a good idea.
In order to bring my kids and I together when we are able to work cooperatively on learning, we have
the schedule of 10am - 3pm Mon-Fri for school. This means that I'm not mad at them for not being up and schooling at
7am when I'm at my best, and they aren't trying to figure out how to do something that needs some guidance at 9pm at night
when I am in bed, but they are at their best. This "schedule," set by me, is simply a statement of times that we are,
as a group, relatively alert enough to engage in learning activities together, yet is not so restrictive that they don't have
plenty of time to pick and choose from when planning their activities for the day.
Now, let's look at freedom for children to choose what is learned when & whether it is taught
or not. Before "schooling" was an issue, parents taught their children to pick up toys and belongings and put them away
as the parents saw that the child was developmentally able to do so. And children learned to set the table, clear the
table and help with the dishes, when the parents determined this was appropriate. And children learned to help
with the chores (on the farm's schedule, or the household's schedule), when they were old enough to help, as determined
by their parents. Was all this wrong? If children didn't want to help with chores, or learn how to do them, was
it wrong of the parents to teach them anyway because all family members were expected to be responsible?
It is my own opinion, based on what I have heard and read, that many radical "unschoolers" themslves
have problems with the concept of authority and that anyone should have any, ever. So in the name of freedom for their
own children/families they claim that any use of authority to "coerce" a child is completely wrong. The word "coerce"
is, in fact, thrown around quite a lot, by radical "unschoolers." In it's simplest definition, to "coerce" is to force
someone to do something. But in English, the meanings of words are never simple - and when "coerce" is used by the average
person they mean that the force is applied with malicious intent. Parental force, or coercion if you prefer, that comes
from the love of the parent and concern for the well-being of the child does not fall under the "malicious" connotation of
the word "coerce."
I suppose I get my dander up when radical "unschoolers" make broad sweeping statements that sound
like all children are alike and learn best in one way. This is one of their own complaints about "schooling," that it
doesn't differentiate between children's different learning styles and expects all children to "learn" the same way.
But I have to bring up the point that the world does not revolve around any one person: including
a child and his learning style. Sometimes a person has to learn something they don't want to learn, from someone who
only knows one way to teach it - and that's not the way they learn best. That doesn't mean they won't learn it.
It does mean that the child will engaged in some problem-solving strategy to make the information presented fit the framework
of his mind. Problem-solving, by the way, is another thing "unschoolers" say children don't learn when coerced
John Holt is a name I have heard used in conjunction with "unschooling." He supposedly coined
the term and the concept of doing it instead of schooling. While undoubtedly bright, the man described himself
as eccentric, and followed his observations of children to illogical and broadly generalized conclusions. One example,
pulled from the John Holt Page website: Holt observes a child climbing who stops, a man comes to the child and lifts him the
rest of the way. Holt's observation is that the child did not need or want help from the man. While it may be
true that the child did not need or want the man's help learning to get to the top, that type of example cannot be generalized
to children only need help when they want it; or should only have help when they want it. When a child is learning to
use an expensive or dangerous piece of equipment, we don't wait until the child destroys it or himself before we
give him instruction in proper usage.
If left to himself, my own dear son would not ever want help learning to do the laundry. He
would not learn to do it, if given a choice. Due the needs of the family however, he has been coerced into learning
to do the laundry. Was this wrong for us to force him to learn something useful and helpful to the family so that he
can fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the family? Would it really have been better to allow the child to appear
in public in dirty, crusty, sweat-stained, stinky adolescent unwashed clothing? Or would it be considered neglectful
not to teach my child how to clean and dress himself appropriately for the company he keeps?
He learned it. He learned it well. He does it. He doesn't hate it. But if
given the choice, his father or sister or I would have been coerced 1) to do his laundry for him until he moved out,
or 2) to endure smells and sights that were unpleasant at best.
3/17/07 - As I further consider the different aspects of unschooling, I've decided to do this as
a next step:
1) Bring up the idea with kids of them setting some educational goals & planning
to reach those goals
2) Mutually decide on quality programming hours where media would be restricted to educationally
and socially fortifying resources (no MTV or Disney Channel, for instance)
3) How they want to handle evaluation, grades, and other schooly stuff
I think this would be a good next step for us.