Does Unschooling Really Work? (And The Role of The Unschooling Parent.)

One of the biggest worries parents face when making the transition to autonomous learning for their children, is the aspect of trust.

Can I trust that I’m doing enough to support my child?

Can I trust that they will learn all they need to know?

Can I trust that this is healthy and positive for my child?

As parents, it goes without saying that we want the very best for our children. It can be hard to step out on unknown paths without feeling we could be making a horrific mistake. We don’t want to get it wrong. We don’t want to fail them.

As an unschooling parent you will face a lot of curious, accusatory and even angry questioning from outsiders.

“Why are you refusing to offer him an education?”

“How do you suppose he will learn to read/write/multiply without being taught?”

“Are you crazy?!”

My own son is currently 4 years and 3 months old. He is actually not due to start formal schooling until next September, 9 months from now. Had we planned to home educate with a curriculum, we may have decided to hold off until then to start “teaching him what he needs to learn.” However, being firmly set on the path of unschooling, we are already immersed in learning and will continue in much the same way.

It is interesting to me how we have so much trust in our children when it comes to so many aspects of their development. We trust that they will learn to crawl, walk, talk, express feelings appropriately, ask questions, share, and generally develop into wonderful human beings.

Of course there are exceptions to these developmental milestones and where the child has a disability of some kind they may reach these milestones much later, never or only with the right support and appropriate therapy to aid them. But, for the majority of children, we expect them to reach them and they do.

Yet there is such a fear that without formal teaching, so many other skills cannot be learned in the same natural process.

I am fortunate to say that I have been watching the miracle of learning unfolding for my son since the day he was born, and have come to be rewarded for my trust in him.

This past 18 months, he has taken great leaps intellectually. He has delved into his interests with no pushing or prompting from anyone but himself. He has spent months soaking up all there is to learn about a variety of topics. First it was diggers and machinery, then dinosaurs, then space, which is still ongoing, and also under the sea, marine life, submarines and tectonic plates.

My role in all of this has been as nothing but a supporter. I have read him the books he chose from the library. I have looked up answers to his questions (learning plenty myself!) and joined in discussions he initiated. When I’ve seen something that I know he would love (Such as the article on the upcoming mission to Mars in the latest focus magazine) I’ve shown it to him and read him the bits he asked me to read. I have never taught, pushed a topic or coerced him into pursuing any of it. It comes entirely from his own curiosity.

And an interesting thing has been happening this past month or two. Out of the blue he has suddenly become very interested in numbers and letters. He has begun counting his fingers, his toys, pieces of food and just about anything else. He has started doing basic subtraction, trying to figure out how many he has left if he takes two from five, or three from eight. He has been asking repeatedly about which number is more and which is less, then taking that information and using it in discussions later.

He has been asking me to point slowly and read words individually. He can recognise several letters and tell me which words begin with them. He asks me to write down words for him so he can look closely at them. Without any pushing from me, he is beginning his journey to learn to read.

The role of the unschooling parent is neither one of ambivalence, nor teacher, but instead one of supporter. In the same way we move toys and obstacles aside and hold out our arms in welcome for our newly walking toddler, we continue to play an active role in our child’s learning. We find the books they ask for, we take them places where they can see first hand the answers to their questions. We listen to their theories and we know that there are never any stupid questions or ponderings. We support them. But we don’t teach. They don’t need it.

They are learning constantly and the only thing we can do to aid this process is to support them, and to TRUST them.

Unschooling works.

Trust it.

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4 thoughts on “Does Unschooling Really Work? (And The Role of The Unschooling Parent.)”

  1. Hi, we are a way off deciding what we will do with our daughter (not quite two years old). Homeschooling is much more appealing than actual school but unschooling feels even better. Following her lead and helping her when she shows interest in something feels so natural. My question to you is what, if any, resistance did you come up against from family members and friends (I couldn’t care less about anyone else), and how did you deal with it? I love reading your posts and books. Thanks for the inspiration and good luck with bubba number 2!

    1. My family were first disbelieving that we would follow the whole thing through – we told them when he was a baby, and then discouraging. I dealt with it in the same way I have dealt with all resistance in our parenting decisions, from cosleeping, to full term breastfeeding, and this was by offering information and the science to anyone who was genuinly interested, but remaining firm and confident in our choice. I never minded talking about it and explaining the benifits, but it was never up for discussion. They have all slowly accepted that this is what we have chosen and they have no say in that.

  2. While this sounds great, there are things everyone needs to learn that they won’t want to.

    Also, say your son wants to be a chemist. He needs a high school diploma to get into college.

    You have to use the system at some point.

    1. I don’t know where you got that, but my son does not want to be a chemist. Also, you are mistaken about college entry. Yes, SOME colleges require certain qualifications, all of which can be obtained without school, but these days there are actually plenty of colleges that welcome home educated children without qualifications, stating that these children are often far more able to think critically and come up with creative ideas. They don’t learn to think inside the box by following passions and interests.

      If my son should need GCSE’s in his future, I have no doubt he will think sensibly about what he needs to do and perhaps even do something he doesn’t particularly enjoy (such as an exam on a particular subject) as a means to getting where he really want to be.

      There is a huge difference between doing something because you are told to, and doing it because you know you need to to get something you really want in life.

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