The new most asked question I get when I attempt to explain unschooling is, “But how does it work?”
This question inevitably reminds me of one of the all time best episodes of “Inside the Actors Studio”, when James Lipton asked the late, great, Robin Williams how his brain works. Lipton said something like, “Your brain – your thought process – just doesn’t seem to work quite like the rest of us. Can you explain to us exactly what it is you do?” Williams then stood up and launched into about 10 minutes of improv featuring a pink pashmina shawl he borrowed from a woman sitting in the audience. After finishing he handed it back, sat down and said, “That’s about as good as I can explain it.”
In the world of unschooling, that 10 minutes of improv looks something like this:
This Fall my daughter is starting a Math class and a Physics class, both of her own choosing. She is in a production of Romeo & Juliet, is learning to play the ukelele and is taking voice lessons. She is also in her third year of learning Spanish, is taking dance and requested a cursive writing workbook in order to improve her signature and cursive in general. In two days she leaves for Not Back to School Camp – her second time there. And once she gets back, she wants to get a job. We’ve already gotten the permission form from the NYS Dept. of Labor, and now it is a matter of finding a place that believes a 14 year old will be a good part time employee.
This summer my son started doing all his own laundry, at his request. He also asked me to show him how to cook various types of eggs so that when he wants, he can make his own meals or snacks. He is searching for an online coding class that will meet his requirements, as well as participating in the Wayfinder Experience in Central Park and continuing to expand his knowledge of Minecraft.
All of these things came about without me ever saying “Hey, maybe you should try [insert name of class or activity here].” No one was more flabbergasted than me when my daughter looked at a list of proferred classes and chose Math and Physics. Or more surprised when my son demanded (yes demanded) to do his own laundry. Both things that seemed to happen out of the blue, but that are actually the result of unschooling.
And to make things even more unpredictable (exciting?!), each family will differ and each kid will have their own unique style and timeline for learning. Just as no two improvs are ever the same, so are no two learning experiences ever identical.
Make no mistake, unschooling “works”. But not in a way that is easily explained to people who are looking for a method, a checklist, a step by step rule book they can follow. Unschooling works much like improv – you never know exactly how it will manifest or where it will take you, but it is always worth the ride.