Monday, June 15, 2020

Unschooling Happened

Real homeschooling would involve trips to Kew Gardens,
learning photography, about plants, and Chihuly. 
Unschooling is a thing. Really. And it's allowed in places where homeschooling is legal, which is in most of the world these days.

Unschooling is leaving your child to his or her own devices in an information  and experiential rich environment and trusting that they will educate themselves. Perhaps with some gentle guidance and a few rules like only educational screen time during the day, a certain amount of out of house time, obligatory chores that promote useful skills, etc...

The rich environment could include books; the internet; the library, museums; available adults who are willing to engage; group activities like scouts, a choir or orchestra, swim team; family experiences like travel, camping, religious rituals and celebrations, cooking, gardening; play with other children; a part time job; and anything else that provides stimulation and opportunities to learn anything at all.

The coronavirus lockdown is nothing like homeschooling. It's temporary, we're not set up for it, we can't use the library, museums, go on nature walks, etc... There's distance learning from the schools, and regular parents have their own work to do. It's a sad but true fact that only families in which one parent can do flexi-hours from home, can do homeschooling. Most families don't have this choice.

Most important of all, there are at least seven different methods you can adopt for homeschooling and/or combinations thereof. It can take a while to explore the options and see which method works best for your family. For example, recreate a classroom at home and follow the national curriculum with textbooks and a weekly schedule. Co-op learning with other families and each parent teaching their field of expertise or passion. The Charlotte Mason method of real literature and learning till noon followed by outdoor pursuits in the afternoon. Place Based Learning uses the local environment, community and culture. Remote online learning. Umbrella or theme based learning. You get the picture, it's not just staying at home and working through the textbooks.

Despite all this, a lot of unschooling by default has taken place over the last three months. In our home I had lots of online teaching going on. DD also had some remote lessons but also a lot of free time during which I wasn't available to occupy her. Add to this that she's an only child and I'm almost dying of guilt as I write this. I admit that there was far too much screen time and not enough no baking, balcony gardening, art, teaching her to sew and knit, playing the recorder or piano, learning a foreign language, board games, jigsaw puzzles, or reading aloud.

All of the above were mentioned by various mother friends on facebook as a job well done. I let it go and put my trust in the theory of unschooling. Largely my trust was misplaced but I was surprised by some definite indications of unschooling success.

1. DD suddenly got interested in world affairs. She became obsessed with the corona numbers and statistics. She listened to Trump's daily media briefings in order to analyse how vague and ignorant he sounded. She told me about the murder of George Floyd before any of the protests had spread around the world. She gave me an hour by hour update as events unfolded in the US. She knew all about racism and white privilege, and started expressing strong opinions about the racism in various tv series and movies she watches.

2. She asked me to help her get rid of her lisp and stop saying f for th. I showed her how to place her tongue and she's been constantly practicing. It's almost perfect now.

3. She has been reading more, out of sheer boredom. And also because I say no treats until she's read a chapter in English and three pages in Hebrew. Ok, so that's not exactly unschooling, but I've noticed that more reading is being done without the bribe incentive.

4. She has decluttered and organised her whole bedroom, deciding what she wants to keep and what needs to go. She's started making her bed and hoovering the carpet because she likes a clean and tidy environment.

5. One day she wanted to make sushi so we bought the equipment and made it. We tried a few times with grilled salmon and tinned tuna - because I didn't trust the raw fish that was available. We don't love it but we know how to make it.

6. I've noticed an inclination towards documentaries on You Tube and Netflix. So far DD has watched the whole series of History 101 and Explained. She also chooses to watch Sky News Live at least once a day. And of course she doesn't just watch these programmes, she asks questions and we discuss them.

So we didn't do half or even a quarter any of the things I'd planned for us to do during lockdown. But it seems that a bit of unschooling magic happened. Not much but enough to renew my interest in unschooling as an alternative method of education.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Unknown. I appreciate you reading and your comments - whoever you are. xxx