What is unschooling?
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling that allows a child to follow their own interests instead of the parent dictating what the child will learn. The child leads in that they decide what and when they will learn. Parents who choose homeschooling tend to be unhappy with the structure of traditional schooling and want to allow the child to live more freely with less stress.
Is unschooling an extreme approach to homeschooling? Sometimes. It definitely doesn’t suit everyone. Unschooling is more of an absence of educational structure, and more of an extension of natural family life, perhaps with a little bit of adventure thrown in.
There are many different approaches to unschooling, which is more of a philosophy than anything else. As with most homeschooling, it can be as different as one family is from another. Within the philosophy are many sub-types of unschooling:
- Radical unschooling. Radical unschoolers do not follow what they call “arbitrary rules” such as bedtimes and chores. In the family dynamic, a child has as much say as a parent. Their entire educational philosophy comes from a parenting style that gives total freedom to the children.
- Self directed learning. Self-directed learning allows children to take the initiative, without any assistance, in determining their learning needs, goals and choosing educational materials.
- Strewing. In the strewing philosophy, parents take a more passive aggressive approach in planting (or strewing) educational materials throughout the home in order to “spark an interest” or encourage learning.
- Activity based unschooling. This can consist of students choosing activities and programs outside of the home to participate in. They might be clubs and competitions such as speech and debate or a science-based club, or more formal such as classes in calculus or basket weaving. The structure or educational opportunity exists, but the student decides if they will participate in the educational activity. That said, it is not unusual to find an unschooler taking a difficult maths class at a local co-op or community activity centre.
- Part time unschoolers. This is the most common form of unschooling and many homeschoolers adopting more formal philosophies will also include unschooling for some of the time. This is simply because it rounds out the child’s education and opens opportunities for the child to follow their interests and strengths. Homeschoolers who have hours left over in their day will often “unschool” during this time. They are free to do whatever they like although a parent may add some parameters such as “must be educational”, “must be outside” or “must not be disruptive”, etc, as mum or dad might be working from home or the baby may be sleeping.
What does unschooling look like?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, no two unschooling families will look the same. One home might have no rules with children sleeping in, and staying up all night watching TV and playing video games. Another may have a schedule of outside activities chosen by family members at the beginning of the year that they follow until the school year ends. Still another unschooling family may spend the morning feeding farm animals and the afternoon on leisurely reading.
Is unschooling successful?
Unschooling is a difficult educational approach to quantify. In a 2011 study, a man named Peter Gray and his colleague Gina Riley surveyed 232 parents who unschooled their children, (defined as not following any curriculum). The respondents were overwhelmingly positive, saying that unschooling improved their children’s general well-being and learning, and enhanced family harmony.
This led Gray to wonder how unschooled children themselves felt about the experience, and what impact it may have had on their ability to pursue higher education and find gainful and satisfying employment. In 2013 he solicited responses from 75 unschooled students. All but three of the 75 respondents felt the advantages of unschooling clearly outweighed the disadvantages. Very few had any serious complaints against unschooling. The biggest problems seemed to be dealing with the judgement of others.
Can unschooling be goal oriented?
It absolutely can. There are families who consider themselves unschoolers who have a checklist of milestones and skills they expect a child to cover each year. While it is up to the child what activities they will do from day to day, by the end of the year, they are expected to have done all of the activities or learned all of the skills from the checklist.
Being registered for homeschooling will require meeting the 8 KLAs, and can provide some guidance on what is needed to an extent.
Can you unschool for some of your homeschooling?
Yes. Some families start off with another form of homeschooling and move to unschooling. Some pick and choose formal subjects and then allow the student to unschool for the rest of their education. For example, a family might decide that they will teach reading, writing and arithmetic formally, then leave the child to their own devices for the rest. Similarly, they may decide to unschool up to a certain age and then move into a more formal method of homeschooling. Or vice versa, laying a disciplined foundation in the early years and gradually letting the child take charge over their own education.
Can unschoolers get into university?
Yes. It is very possible to get accepted, get scholarships, and eventually graduate from university or TAFE. You would need to include a good deal or documentation and record keeping, specifically on the parents behalf, or take some Open University units. TAFE has accepted students in the past who have never been to school (mine included) and offers literacy support for those who need it. The discipline required to fit into a structured learning environment and hand things in on time is probably the most challenging part for an unschooled student.
Learn more about other homeschool philosophies