When people find out that we unschool, they are often curious as to what that means, why we chose that method of education, and what an unschooling life looks like.
I have been familiar with homeschooling since adolescence, because my sister and I were both homeschooled at various times; she homeschooled through high school and I homeschooled through part of middle school. Both of us hated school so much at different periods that we were pretty desperate to get away from it. Thankfully, our parents understood this, trusted our feelings about it, and accommodated us. We were both very good at the grades part, but hated the bullying, the peer pressure, the feeling of oppression (I think we both innately had the understanding even as teenagers that we were in a toxic indoctrination system), and more. I ended up going back to public school for high school, and I loved it, simply because of the social aspect, which was not part of my homeschooling experience since there were not many homeschoolers in my area. So already the seed was planted that there were options, and that things could evolve as we went along. No choice was forever. Or, it could be. We were free to pick and choose whatever worked for us at the time.
When my first child was a baby, my husband and I discussed our options. I knew I didn’t want my kids going to public school. I realized that I disagreed with the philosophy of the education system as we know it today, and felt that there was a better way. Children are born with an innate desire to learn, and the fastest way to turn off that desire is to associate some kind of stress, or negative, with it. For example, bad grades, stressful tests, being taught something before they’re ready to learn it, which happens far too often in traditional education systems, etc. I wanted my kids to always love learning and to be able to take responsibility for their own learning. I wanted them to have positive interactions with people, no peer pressure or bullying, at least until they had a solid foundation of a strong sense of self-worth and could be more resilient if that were to occur at some point in the future.
My sister was already homeschooling her six-year-old daughter, and she had discovered and decided on unschooling, rather than using a curriculum. The more she explained to me what that was – a child-led, interest-based, learning-through-living lifestyle, where parents follow their child’s lead and provide the resources needed to further their child’s understanding of whatever they were interested in at the time – the more it made me realize how similar it was to the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s play-based Te Whariki Early Childhood Curriculum. We had become familiar with Te Whariki because every Playcentre and Early Childhood Education center in NZ follows it. (Playcentre is this amazing parent co-operative organization with centers throughout NZ, where kids come to play and the parents get to stay. All the fun of preschool without the separation trauma. The parents work cooperatively to manage the center, along with an ECE teacher who is employed by Playcentre to implement the Te Whariki curriculum.)
In the Te Whariki curriculum document, it states that the term “curriculum” is used to “describe the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development.” In a stimulating environment conducive to learning, children will learn. Pretty simple.
Once I had the idea of child-led, interest-based learning on my radar, I started to realize that a lot of what is “learned” in school is merely regurgitation of information, memorizing facts just long enough to take the test and then promptly forgetting them. I realized how frequently that would happen to me when I was in school. I started to realize that *true* knowledge comes from exploring things that we are interested in, when we are READY to learn it, and are able to learn it in context so that it is relevant to our lives.
I knew that I wanted my children to have a rich, stimulating, emotionally healthy, fun and interesting learning environment with lots of variety. I wanted them to really enjoy learning, and to be able to learn about things as they become interested in them, so they are able to learn about things in context and when they are ready to learn them. I wanted my children to be able to learn about life and the “real world” as they are IN it, exploring new things and places constantly. Thus, the decision to unschool was made.
I explain in more detail what our unschooled life looks like in this post.