Unschooling and How & Why We Home Educate

So good to hear how much readers are enjoying our weekly unschooling posts about what we've been up to, especially with the recent tabloid furore about the methodology.  Whilst we do limit screens (Lara's condition is badly affected by strobing and flickering screens), we do generally follow an unschooling approach to home education (homeschooling in USA and Australia, not here).  So what does that mean?

To us, unschooling essentially means following the children's lead, picking up on their interests, and learning through life rather than sitting down with a curriculum and a series of workbooks.  Providing them with a rich life, lots of available resources and learning opportunities, and taking advantage of all opportunities to maximise living and learning together is key.

Once we began our attachment parenting journey seven years ago, school became an increasingly unlikely option.  Why would we hand our two year old over to a nursery for our 'free' hours?  Why would we allow our four year old to be caged for hours in a classroom every day when what she so obviously needed was freedom and space?  To us, it just didn't make sense, and the more we read and researched, the more we were drawn to home education, and then to unschooling.

We already lived consensually, involving the girls in decisions and discussions, letting them decide when to eat, sleep, learn, play, dance, run, sing, scream!  And just look at how much they learned without anyone telling them how: to walk, run, skip; to speak, build a vocabulary, discern meaning, correct their own grammar.  So why assume that ends at age 4/5, and only instruction will help them learn from then on?

Once we trusted that learning was happening, constantly, every hour of every day, we saw it.  And they soon found their own interests, and wanted to know more, developed skills and, most importantly, a thirst for learning.

As an ex-primary teacher, once teaching the very children (Y1/2) I now don't believe belong anywhere near a school, it has been hard for me.  I still think "But, they should know x,y,z by now" and have wobbles.  Then I think of the tests, the teaching to a restrictive curriculum, teaching to pass tests and impress inspectors, the antiquated system that is designed to churn out proles for the Empire, not free thinkers.  And I remember.  I remember why.

Why they need to be free, why they need to run and climb and explore, why they need to play.  Why the countries with the best educational results don't start formal learning until age 7.  And how much our girls love their life, how much they laugh, and how much they learn, every single day.

So, how do we do it?  We still practice an unschooling philosophy, but have begun a slightly more structured approach to our mornings some days of the week, at Lara's request.  For her, predictability helps, and a systematic approach to maths or reading makes the teacher part of me feel better too!

We are magpies, taking elements from different philosophies of learning, such as Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Steiner Waldorf and Reggio Emilia.  Creativity, free thinking, classical education, independent learning, these are the things that really matter and we do all of them every day.  But those real life opportunities don't disappear, so our learning never stops.

No week is ever the same, and we are out and about all the time.  We have memberships coming out of our ears: National Trust, WWT, English Heritage, Royal Academy, RHS, Chiltern Open Air Museum, Merlin Pass, Weald & Downland Museum, not to mention all the free museums both locally and in London.  I'm not sure how they'd ever fit everything in if they spent hours in school too!

As for the ubiquitous socialisation question, is anything more unnatural than being with 30 other people the same age as you while an adult tells you what to do?  Does that happen in any other situation than education?  Why can't a 6 year old be friends with a 4 year old and a 10 year old, kids her own age and more, a number of adults, and a lady in her 80s?  Surely a broader experience will be beneficial in so many ways, emotionally, socially, educationally.

The final word should, perhaps, go to employers and universities who are crying out for home-educated children.  Self-starters, they know how to research, they have a thirst for learning, and they bring a completely different skill set to children who have followed instructions in school for 12-14 years.

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