In the past I’ve stated that unschooling is much harder for parents than for kids. This is because most parents went to school and are well trained in the belief of doing things the “right way”; of a set catalogue of items that we “need to know” at a given age, etc.
Kids are natural self-directed learners, and if we never interrupt that flow, or if we allow them to go back to it after a few years in a coercive system, they continue it or pick it up with no drama and little effort. It is simply the way learning happens. The job of the parent is to observe how their kids learn, not to impose a particular method on them. The job of the parent is to notice the things their kids like and to which they are drawn and encourage that interest in whatever way they can. It is not to tell the kid what they ‘should’ be doing. Suggestions can always be made of course, with the knowledge and acceptance that they might not ‘stick’.
When I talk to parents who are considering unschooling, we talk a lot about control and the importance of relinquishing it when it comes to their child’s learning. We talk about media and screen time and what and how the kids will learn. We talk about anxiety and fear (the parent’s, not the child’s).
I always get the feeling that what the parent wants is for me to say “Ok, here are the step you must follow in order to successfully unschool,” or “Here is the person with all the answers. They will be able to tell you exactly what to do.”
But I can’t say that, because every child and family is different.
There are unschooling advocates who love media and who see nothing wrong with giving kid free reign on computers, video games, etc. Off the top of my head, Dayna Martin, Pam Sorooshian, Sandra Dodd and I all fall into that category. (See Pam Sorooshians great article on the Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children)
There are also unschooling advocates who focus more on attachment parenting and feel that media usage should be limited (Laurie A. Couture and Michelle Barone come to mind). Laurie is an amazing advocate for the rights of children and anyone who wonders why their child struggles in school should read her book Instead of Medicating & Punishing.
But all of us have elements that “crossover”. I think most unschooling families/advocates practice attachment parenting, whether or not they name it as such or spend a lot of time talking about it.
We all use media to some degree, and our kids use it; some more, some less but it is present.
Bottom line: you can talk to any of us and we will all have a different story to tell; a slightly different path that worked for us and our kids. There is no document that will tell you exactly how unschooling will manifest in your family.
And that is why, in my opinion, many adults fear it. We are programmed to follow the rules, especially when it come to schooling and education. Unschooling says follow your gut & trust your kids and most of us don’t know how to do that anymore.
So here are some tips, some broad strokes, if you will:
1. If you wonder or worry about unchooling being effective, remember what your kids were like as toddlers; or think about yourself after you finished your schooling; were you able to learn something without being taught? Write down a list of things you’ve learned on your own in life. That’s unschooling!
2. If you are really worried about standards or (shudder) the Common Core, just remember that you can alway jump back in to some kind of structured learning (although my suspicion is that most people won’t need to) to fill in any perceived and essential “gaps”.
3. The only “rules” of unschooling include: Avoid coercion. Avoid imposing your own interests on your kids. Don’t demand – encourage. Suggest and then let go. Don’t worry so much.
The details will vary. The joy will not.