Defining "unschooling" presents a challenge. John Holt created the term to refer to any sort of learning or teaching done outside the traditional school system.
Unschooling now refers to a specific approach to homeschooling---a child-centered, learner-directed approach. Unschooling is the process of supporting your child in her growth as a genius.
We confer the honorific title "genius" only on those rare people who we believe were born with a mysterious something extra: great brilliance, original vision, incredible determination.
"Great brilliance" is a little hard to define. We've found out now that we can't test I.Q. very reliably after all. But even if we could, it only measures one very narrow range of knowing and doing. So we'd better call "great brilliance" a special case of "original vision": intellectual vision, as opposed to the artistic or musical kind, or a dozen other kinds of vision we have or haven't discovered yet: political, emotional, athletic, humanitarian...you name it.
If you've ever listened to a very small child---if you're a mother, for instance---you know that they say some pretty strange and amazing things. That is because they are trying to tell us what the world looks like, seen for the first time, from a point of view that has never existed before.
You have probably forgotten what it was like to walk into the first grade. You'd just had five years of solid experiences---seeing things; knowing things; feeling, hating, and loving things. But schools are not designed to learn from you; they are designed to teach you. Inadvertently, they probably gave the impression that your knowledge, tastes, opinions were of zero value.
Just by ignoring who you were, they canceled the whole rich inner world you had brought in with you. All they saw was a blank board that they were going to fill up with everything worth knowing.
All the people we call "geniuses" are men and women who somehow escaped having to put that curious, wondering child in themselves to sleep. Instead, they devoted their lives to equipping that child with the tools and skills it needed to do its playing on an adult level.
That is the essence of unschooling: NOT putting your child's genius to sleep, and supporting him in acquiring the skills to express his original vision.
The most important, and the most difficult thing to do is staying out of your child's way. At times, it can be difficult to suppress the impulse to "show" him how to do something, or to correct his approach or make things easy. Interfering in this way can actually impede your child's learning, not enhance it.
Refraining from interfering in your child's "do-nothing" time is as important as respecting his work. These times of quiet contemplation and reduced activity are crucial: it is during this time that people process what they've learned and integrate it into their worldview.
Quiet time is an integral aspect of self-discovery --- apparent periods of laziness can actually be the most fruitful intellectual and spiritual discovery times. Imagine a sand art frame...first you shake it and the result is a chaotic pattern of colored sand and water; then you let it rest. The sand falls to the bottom of the frame forming intricate and beautiful patterns which would never be revealed if you continued to shake the frame. The same applies to our process of positively integrating information so that we can make sense of the world; time for reflection and contemplation is a critical part of the process, allowing the patterns to be revealed.
Above all, unschooling is about trust --- trust that your child will learn what she needs to know, trust that he is learning even when it seems like he does nothing but read comic books, trust that the desire, and need, to learn about the world and make sense of it is a drive that can NOT be ignored.
"With this Unschooling.com site we're hoping to support and defend and promote and encourage unschooling in all its many shapes and forms."
Unschooling or Homeschooling?
An overview of the history behind the terms "homeschooling" and "unschooling".
"We are an informal network of people who are learning to trust our own and our children's ability to choose the best ways to learn and grow."
Buying a Homeschool Curriculum
Tips for evaluating curricula and making the best choice for your family.
Designing a Homeschool Curriculum
A five step guide to designing your own curriculum.
Your Child's Learning Style
Identify your child's learning style.
©2000-2013 Barbara L.M. Handley