🗺️Off-Road “UNSCHOOLING”🚙 . . . when your child takes the wheel!

Welcome to our new Summer Series for 2021! In case you missed our intro post outlining all our free resources and summer itinerary, here it is!

🌻What in the world should I do with my kids this summer?🦋

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“Unschooling” and Other Gems

We do not consider ours to be a strictly “unschooled” family. If we did, I would have titled this blog as such, but of course, I did not. While we love many aspects of unschooling, and even as it is stretching us and challenging us to step further and further beyond the boundaries of traditional education methods, we do not believe that unschooling is the only inspired way to homeschool. Indeed we do not believe any single alternative education model to be *necessarily* superior to another. Notice I said alternative . . . we DO believe just about every alternative education model to be superior to the standard model 😆 , but I digress.

Unschooling is not alone in its effort to abandon the “norm” and forge a new path. In fact, there are many “denominations” if you will of alternative classroom as well as Homeschool models that have chosen to unsubscribe entirely from standard education, and each do so with truly inspired flare!

Step into a Montessori classroom and be at once captivated by the order, simplicity, and buzz of children in “flow” . . .

Tread into a Waldorf school garden and witness the enchantment of free play and unhindered childhood whimsy . . .

Sit in on a read-aloud with a Literature-Based Homeschool Family, and be swept up and carried lands away . . .

Stand at a vintage school desk singing “America the Beautiful” and be overwhelmed by the depth of heritage-steeped education . . .

Tramp alongside an Unschooled family through the woods and feel the stirring of your soul as you humbly enter nature’s classroom . . .

How can we possibly begin to compare and argue the efficacy of these alternative education models? Homeschooling isn’t what it used to be my friends! We are no longer limited to that one shelf at the grocery store of yesteryear labeled “natural” or “organic.” Our industry has boomed! We have the best educational nutrition for our children’s minds, bodies, and souls all at our fingertips . . . and it’s practically overflowing off the shelves! Plus it comes in any size, flavor, and bearing whatever *nutritional* labels we could possibly imagine! We have the luxury to select something specific to our preferred palate, or the freedom to explore and sample throughout the aisles, taking home a vibrant collection to stock our pantry. From there we can select ingredients at will and let loose our creativity as we cook up our own unique combination of textures and flavors to feed our family!

This is precisely what we have done with ~Our Holistic Homeschool~ . I have spent the past six years since our son was born devouring alternative education books (you know, after I realized that the standard model just wasn’t going to cut it). Montessori, Waldorf, Classical Education, Charlotte Mason, Literature-Based Learning, Creative Homeschooling, Eclectic Homeschooling, Unschooling . . . there’s been a lot to pour through! Some titles I read in an afternoon, others I read (and re-read), pencil and notebook in hand, over the course of a week or more. And many are yet to be cracked open; smiling down at me from their shelf, waiting to teach me something new. I can honestly say that in the pages of each alternative-education book I have read thus far, I have found at least *a few* gems of wisdom to carry home with me. These I lovingly add to our unique and ever-growing collection . . . some crystal, some obsidian, some gold, and some still unidentified, yet too beautiful to resist.

The richness of home-education literature I believe to be a true testament to our Homeschooling community. I am forever awed by how varied and uniquely beautiful is the tapestry of inspired education that we parents and education-enthusiasts are continuing to weave! Feast your senses, choose your gems, and hold them close my friends! This is your journey. These are your treasures.

“One of the most beautiful things about choosing to educate your children at home is that is affords you the freedom to explore and experiment. And, not incidentally, it allows you to observe your children, because you cannot truly know how your child responds to a particular learning style unless you are there to witness its effects.”

Homegrown, Ben Hewitt

So . . . just what is “UNSCHOOLING” anyway?

Answering this question is a post, if not a book, in and of itself. The fact that there are dozens of books on the subject of unschooling is proof of it’s breadth. But here are a few (albeit slightly and appropriately vague) nutshell definitions for you:

Wikipedia: “Unschooling is an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Often considered a lesson and curriculum -free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.”

Unschooling Rules, by Clark Aldrich: “Children are not raw materials to be made into productive citizens by ‘the system.’ Children are beautiful living souls, as much angel as devil, each deserving of a hero’s journey through life, where they can strive and fail and grow up to change the world.”

Home Grown, by Ben Hewitt: “Unschooling cannot and should not adhere to any particular definition. It should be as fluid, imprecise, and individualized as the families and children practicing it. In this regard, it is the antithesis of contemporary institutionalized education, with its strict adherence to schedule, standardized testing, and age-group learning. The definition Penny and I have settled on is ‘learning through living.’ It is perhaps no more precise than what Wikipedia offers, but it feels most accurate and honest to us.”

Aspects of Unschooling that we absolutely 💜LOVE💜:

1.) It’s intentioned for the child.

I never imagined being a Homeschool parent. But then I became a public school teacher. Anyone who has ever taught in the public education system will tell you (at least when prodded) that the kids are rarely held as the priority of the school. Oftentimes kids get whatever is left over at the end of all the standards, regulations, red-tape, and school management issues. When I was teaching middle school Language Arts, we had professional meetings after school almost every week. I would come home after those meetings exhausted and thoroughly disgusted, reporting to my husband that yet another meeting had come and gone in which the CHILDREN were never even brought up. This was the norm, not the exception. And we wonder why our nation is in the state that it’s in.

Unschooling isn’t just focused on the child . . . it unshakingly blocks everything else out!

2.) Intentional separation from standardized education.

Unschooling is about feeding each child’s unique interests — supporting, nurturing, and protecting the child in whatever he or she is driven to explore. It is a stand against a one-size-fits-all model. It is a stronghold against standardization. After witnessing the soul-beating methods of the public school system, unschooling is more than a breath of fresh air for me. It’s pure life and liberty for children lucky enough to be given a chance of it. Any education model that holds the child higher than the school, higher than the scores, higher than the standards — an institution that values joy — I believe it to be nothing short of scholastic salvation for a child’s soul.

3.) It’s holistic.

Unschooling is focused on educating the whole child — not just his mind. In unschooling, a Socratic dialogue (as a random example) is not held higher on the totem pole of education than learning how to build a fire, bring a meal to a neighbor, identify a blue morpho butterfly, kayak down the river, cut a dovetail notch, or paint the sunset. Unschooling is a safeguarding of free, holistic childhood development. Unschooling is a philosophy of trust that a child will, on his/her own accord and merit, pursue his/her unique destiny when given the freedom, space, and solace to do so.

4.) Teaches us that life is learning and that learning is life.

The idea of “school” becomes superfluous once you realize that the entire world is life’s classroom. It takes some time and practice, but it’s more than worth it! After a little experience, this on-the-go schooling will become second-nature as every walk, every drive, every visit, every book, every meal, every song, every encounter with creation offers a treasure trove of learning opportunities to you and your child. Inspiration and conversation will abound as you encounter organic, spontaneous learning all around you. All it takes is some time and space.

5.) Interest-Based, Creativity-Cultivating, and Love-Centered.

Announcing to a class “today we are learning about . . .” inevitably evokes the question: WHY? The answer is often as uninspired as the announcement: “because it’s the next bullet point on the curriculum/standards.”

Unschooling works in quite another direction. Rather than introducing a topic and then proceeding to lecture on it . . . unschooling takes a child by the hand out into the world and invites the child to see, smell, listen, taste, and feel. It is the child who selects an object or element of interest. It is the child who asks the adult about it. It is the child who thinks of something to do with it.

6.) Champions kids and their parents!

Unschooling, more than anything, is a philosophy of trust that parents and children, together, are capable of organically learning, growing, and ultimately fulfilling their God-given destinies. Without the confines of the system. Or the conglomerate that dictates it.

Where we part ways with Unschooling:

1.) An Entirely Free-Form Schedule.

While we are in no way against other Homeschool families having an unset schedule, our family prefers a little bit more structure. We don’t follow a daily schedule to the letter, and the exact times we begin our different subjects and activity blocks varies somewhat day to day. However, the kids and I have found that we thrive best when we follow a pretty consistent “first we . . . next we . . . then we . . .” schedule. And that goes for our summers as well!

2.) No desk work or assessments. Ever?

As an educator and alternative-education enthusiast, I can honestly tell you that I’m pretty anti-worksheets and tests. This is based on both the research I have done, as well as my personal observations that worksheets and testing alike simply don’t inspire a love of learning *in most kids*.

There’s just one problem . . . our son LOVES them! He enthusiastically runs to his desk each day and excitedly opens his thick workbooks to start the day’s lessons. And little sister is starting to follow suit. So, once again, it always but always depends on the child. And this IS a core value of unschooling.

3.) No set curriculum.

I have a love/hate relationship with curriculum. First of all, a lot of it . . . um . . . sucks. And that which doesn’t suck often underwhelms. I love the idea of all organic learning; pursuing passions at will and cultivating creativity with reckless abandon. But there are a few inherent problems with this: Firstly, this can require a LOT of time. Which is great . . . but also I have to make dinner, and fold clothes, and . . . you know . . . be sane. Secondly, this reckless-abandon education can get out of hand. I realize this is a great thing when it comes to love and learning. But the house can really take a beating, and mama (or papa) right along with it! If all learning is interest-based and the timeline is entirely wide open, the entire house (not to mention Homeschool budget) can quickly be overtaken with activities and projects. And oftentimes these projects are abandoned before completion. In short, it’s all just a bit too messy for this mama.

Our curriculum compromise is as follows:

  • a “read-as-you-go” daily curriculum that both my son and I love!
  • freedom to skip or replace sections or lessons as we choose
  • ability to enrich lessons with lots of hands-on manipulatives/activities/projects/experiences

4.) *Some* Unschooler’s inclusion of screen-based “academics” (specifically video games)

Call me old-fashioned if you wish, but I cannot sanction screen-based activities such as video games under the umbrella of academia. Not even if the child, you know, chooses them 😆 . You gotta draw your line in the sand somewhere, and this is where I choose to draw mine.

To be honest, I don’t even like video games too much even as an after-school activity. Not to say that I believe an occasional game or two to be necessarily bad . . . I just don’t think it’s all that . . . you know . . . good. I feel the same way about mac n’ cheese. Good for a treat? Yeah, sure. A good staple for our kids’ diets? Not so much. No, not even if the child chooses mac’ n cheese. Which they will. Every single day. But may I be so bold as to point out that perhaps that is why these children have . . . parents? I’m all about wild and free education, child-chosen activities, and interest-inspired learning! But to go so far as the rapidly-growing group of unschoolers who not only permit video games in their child’s unschooled days, but actually commend them; qualifying them as equivalent to a recreational sport, and sanctioning them as academic . . . well, quite frankly . . . this idea defies every ounce of common sense and child-rearing instinct in my body.

As a low-screen family, we will continue to keep screen-time in the “pleasure” or “down-time” category of our chosen activities. And we will continue to applaud those families out there who champion an entirely screen-free home. We may never drive our whole wagon train down that path, but we will continue to be awed, influenced, and inspired by such pioneering.

Tune in for our next post: “The Unschooled Summer” as we discover together how to unlock insatiable curiosity!

Thanks for reading!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

5 Replies to “🗺️Off-Road “UNSCHOOLING”🚙 . . . when your child takes the wheel!”

  1. Best explanation and critique of “unschooling” I’ve ever read. I understand it now!🤣 We often learn best when something sneaks up on us and surprises us. But then the real world has deadlines and structure so kids have to be prepared for that. Allowing for wonder and experiment while instilling work ethic and ability to see a task or assignment to completion is daunting. Just like life! I like comparing a well rounded education to good nutrition. Great post!

  2. This is such a thorough post. Thank you for sharing this! I am interested in going down this path, so I appreciate how you broke down the different types of learning styles and your perspectives on them.

    1. You are so welcome! Thank you for your feedback 🙂 I’m so glad that it was a helpful post for you. Education and Homeschooling is a truly inexhaustible topic . . . I’m amazed daily by how much I still have to learn. Thank you for following along with us!

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