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Differentiating between Unschooling and not educating


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ETA: changed the title for clarity

 

This is an  X-post, and many of you have already read it.  But given the other thread might be deleted or titled in an unsearchable manner, I've decided to pull my post out so that it might help someone one day.....

 

X-post

 

I will stick my head out and differentiate between unschoolers and Notschoolers.

 

I was an unschooler for my first 3 years of homeschooling, and ran the unschoolers group here in town for 4 years.  I have met and been good friends with many unschoolers.  I have read every unschooling book I could get my hands on and done quite a bit of personal thinking and reflection.  This is my take:

 

I personally believe that all kids have a right to an education, and I am willing to define it.  I think it is unfair to children to say that it is undefinable, and that anything counts.  Horrible parents lose their kids to social services; we as a society have found a way to draw a line in the sand.  And I believe that we need to do the same thing with education.

 

NZ has a very good system for evaluating home educators, until 5 years ago (when National came in), all home educators were evaluated in person on a rotating basis, so about every 5 years.  The law is fair; it requires that homeschool students are educated "as regularly and as well as public school." Clearly this must be interpreted, and here in NZ it has been interpreted as educating for at least 40 weeks a year (not a problem for unschoolers as they educated year round), and that all multiple learning areas are included in the education environment. This society has decided that all children are entitled to an education; and a democratically elected government has defined it with these 7 learning areas:

 

Language (Maori or English)

Numeracy

Social studies (understanding people and society)

Science (understanding the natural world)

Arts (chosen from: music, dance, theatre, art )

PE

Technology (understanding *how* society runs. This is NOT a computer class (although it could be); kids study the things like how a grocery store works: growers, distributors, store management, etc; or how gasoline gets to your car; or how mail gets to your house; etc

 

So when evaluating if you are providing an education, the evaluator is looking for evidence in all these areas.  I have gone through a review while I was an unschooler, so I know that *how* you achieve the above does not matter.  I also know that if you fail a review, you are given 6 months to improve your game with the help of the ministry before your children are returned to school.

 

I'm going to give 4 examples based on unschoolers I know.  2 city dwellers and 2 rural dwellers.  One is a pass and one is a fail in each category.  3 of the 4 have had reviews (the 4th one I am just guessing at).  I'm talking about 9 - 12 year olds here. 

 

Rural dweller #1

This family works a farm.  The kids help with the animals and the farm maintenance and their small farm market.  They cook, sew, draw.  The kids are surrounded by books in the home and read when they are ready, which has been up to 10 years old.  The parents read and discuss the newspaper over breakfast.

 

This is a pass:

Language - they do learn to read (writing is weak but is often associated with drawing)

Numeracy - through cooking and sewing and the farm market (never getting to algebra, but learn elementary maths)

Social studies - newspaper reading

Science - farm work

Arts - drawing

PE - farm work

Technology - how a farm works

 

rural dwellers #2.

This family lives rurally with a big yard, but does not actually run a farm.  The dad works and the mom is very busy with her babies/toddlers and generally running the home.  She does not include her older kids in home management, but rather kicks them outside to play every day for all day.  They carve, build forts, play in the river, play imaginary games, etc. 

 

This is a fail

Literacy - none, older kids do not read and are not being taught to read

Numeracy - none, not even in cooking etc.

Social studies - none

science - biology from being outside

Technology - none

PE - playing outside

Arts - carving perhaps?

 

These children are not being educated.

 

City dweller #1

A good friend of mine unschoolers her children in the city.  They have a print rich home, the kids learn to read when they are ready.  They do a lot of activities in the city: swimming, dance, drama, karate, art museums, etc. The mom reads a lot to her kids - whatever kind of books they want.  She talks to them all the time as she does errands, talks about how things work in general.  They cook, sew, play with some pretty cool computer programs (video, architectural, games, etc)

 

This is a pass

Literacy - print rich home and her children love writing stories

Numeracy - through maths, sewing, architectural persuits

social studies - read alouds

science - read alouds

technology - computers and errand discussions

art - drama, dance, museums

pe - swimming, karate, outdoor fun

 

city dweller #2

This child typically plays video games all day long.  He does go to swimming lessons and drama class.  This child could read, but did not ever do it.  Mom was too busy setting up her new business to do any read alouds.

 

This is a good friend of mine, and she failed her review.  She was given 6 months to change her game, did so, and passed the subsequent review.

Literacy - none.  not ongoing

math - none

social studies - none

science - none

technology - computers

art - drama

PE - swimming once a week, but nothing else

 

My point is that you CAN define education.  It does not need to look like what I had as a child or what I provide now.  It does not need to set the kids up to do/be anything they want in life.  It does not need to cover specific topics or be completed to someone else's timetable.  It does not need to be provided in a certain way or create specific outcomes.  But it must be an education.  Children deserve no less.

 

Ruth in NZ

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I think that the unschooling movement hasn't done itself any favors in their choice of a name.  Defining yourself by what you aren't is likely to lead to confusion.  If you asked me what my religion was, and I answered "I'm a not-Buddhist", well, you'd be likely to be confused.  I haven't heard the term "not schoolers", around here we have "unschoolers", and "radical unschoolers", each of which is a pretty broad brush.  I would challenge the unschoolers to try to come up with a more term that more closely describes what they are, not what they aren't.

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I think some of the confusion stems from the use of the words school / schooling to mean education. All unschoolers are not-schoolers in the sense that they don't view schooling of any kind to be the optimum method of education. Therefore it's not usually helpful to assess unschoolers in terms of school-based criteria such as how many hours they did math or how many tests they passed. However, as with Ruth's examples, it's perfectly feasible to assess whether or not a certain amount of education in certain areas is occurring. (And,  contrary to what some unschooling writers assert, some topics are more desirable than others.)

 

Terminology has always been an issue. Unschooling was originally coined to differentiate those families from 'school at home' home schoolers, because in the unschooling view, home schooling is closer to 'conventional' schooling than it is to unschooling (home schooling is a change of setting, unschooling is a paradigm change). It is, however, called many other things, for example life learning, world learning, child led learning, free-range learning, or natural learning. Some don't even use a word, explaining that since life and learning are inseparable, what they are doing is just life.

 

Of course, it's difficult to change how others label you. People will call me an atheist whether I like it or not (just as if I spend a substantial portion of my day actively avoiding those pesky beliefs in the existence of gods and goddesses), simply because theism is more normal, just like schooling is more normal.  On the other hand, I don't get called a non-communist, an anti-equestrian, an un-bassoon-player or an a-Justin-Bieberist, because those aren't sufficiently dominant.

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I think that the unschooling movement hasn't done itself any favors in their choice of a name.  Defining yourself by what you aren't is likely to lead to confusion.  If you asked me what my religion was, and I answered "I'm a not-Buddhist", well, you'd be likely to be confused.  I haven't heard the term "not schoolers", around here we have "unschoolers", and "radical unschoolers", each of which is a pretty broad brush.  I would challenge the unschoolers to try to come up with a more term that more closely describes what they are, not what they aren't.

 

I don't know if it was an Australian thing or a 90s thing, but when I was a child it was called 'Natural Learning', I didn't hear the term unschooler until I was a teenager, and I had the same issue with the term as you do, since I also consider myself an 'unschooler' inasmuch as I do not 'do school'. Anyone who veers away from workbooks could quite easily be called an unschooler by it's true definition, without being one by it's implied meaning.

 

Thank you for this post Lewelma. There's not many people willing to actually draw a line. I have come to see unschooling as a viable, valid option, but growing up the only unschoolers I knew as a child were like the two families who failed their reviews. I didn't meet any real, succeeding unschoolers until I was an adult. 

 

At the risk of stepping on toes, do you think there is a point at which the exposure to a subject is insufficient to count? For example, a child with no learning disabilities, age 15, who has still had limited or no exposure to, say, fractions outside of basic cooking, or anything beyond that level. I suppose, at the very least in math and language, I find myself setting 'minimum requirements' in my mind. Given your examples, do you think that is true, or is any exposure at all enough to count as education? I hope that question makes sense, sorry, toddler is being awfully distracting right now!

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Math is a tricky one, I think, because it's one of those things where we don't use a ton of higher level math in real life if we don't go into a STEM field; fractions, basic functions, number sense, etc. will get you through most of life just fine.

 

But if your kid does want to go into a STEM field, and it's quite a lucrative and wide-ranging field, and you haven't gotten past basic fractions by 15, when the kid starts to think about career options, it seems to me (as a not-quite-unschooler-but-certainly-not-a-traditional-homeschooler) that it would be really hard jump that far in a shortish time.

 

But I might be wrong about that, maybe an unschooler who unschools math can educate me :)

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  I haven't heard the term "not schoolers"

 

Oh, I just made it up.  It refers to people who are not educating their kids.  They are not unschoolers, they just don't educated at all. 

 

You don't have to *teach*, you do have to *educate*.

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I wouldn't say that "any exposure" counts as education.

Education in its most general sense means learning in order to be prepared for adult roles and responsibilities. You can debate what level is required, but surely we'd all agree that certain things are needed by all adults, while others are a matter of opinion and personal/family expectation. For literacy, everybody needs to be capable of things like writing a job application, filling out a form, reading instructions and timetables, etc. We don't all have to be able to write poetry, read middle English or create a doctoral thesis. For numeracy, we need to know enough to balance our budget and take the correct medication dosage. We don't all need to do calculus or analyse statistical trends. 

My understanding of the unschooling theory is that if something is needed for real life, it can be learned in real life, as long as kids are fully engaged in family life and not impeded from learning things. If a kid passionately wants to pursue a particular vocation, she will naturally be motivated to learn the necessary extra skills that entails. If they aren't interested in these 'nice but not necessary' things, they should not be compelled to learn them.

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At the risk of stepping on toes, do you think there is a point at which the exposure to a subject is insufficient to count? For example, a child with no learning disabilities, age 15, who has still had limited or no exposure to, say, fractions outside of basic cooking, or anything beyond that level. I suppose, at the very least in math and language, I find myself setting 'minimum requirements' in my mind. Given your examples, do you think that is true, or is any exposure at all enough to count as education? I hope that question makes sense, sorry, toddler is being awfully distracting right now!

 

 

Math is a tricky one, I think, because it's one of those things where we don't use a ton of higher level math in real life if we don't go into a STEM field; fractions, basic functions, number sense, etc. will get you through most of life just fine.

 

But if your kid does want to go into a STEM field, and it's quite a lucrative and wide-ranging field, and you haven't gotten past basic fractions by 15, when the kid starts to think about career options, it seems to me (as a not-quite-unschooler-but-certainly-not-a-traditional-homeschooler) that it would be really hard jump that far in a shortish time.

 

But I might be wrong about that, maybe an unschooler who unschools math can educate me :)

 

If a parent chooses to unschool math through highschool, IMHO one of two things will happen:

1) Kid becomes interested in engineering, realises that she needs math, and asks to learn it

2) Kid's never asks to learn math, her career options are limited, and she chooses a different field

 

I don't think that the minimum requirement in each subject needs to allow your student to enter any field possible.  That's like saying that all schools should require music just in case a student wants to be a musician.  We all make choices for our kids, and each of these choices restricts options.  The difference being, of course, that having only a middle school math education restricts your job possibilities way more than not being able to play the piano.  However, I do think that you can set a floor in all subjects, which is exactly what NZ has done.  What exactly the floor is in maths I am not sure, as I have never known a highschooler that went through a review.

 

I will also say that I do not think that kids can get a highschool level math education just *through life* unless the parents own a business and have their children fully involved in inventory, accounting, taxes, purchasing, financial planning, etc.  So out of all the subjects, people are the most worried about math for unschoolers; and I think that is a fair assessment.  I think that the vast majority of unschoolers will not get past about 7th grade math (fractions, decimals, percents) which is basically what is used in everyday life.  Of course there will always be exceptions that prove the rule.

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If a parent chooses to unschool math through highschool, IMHO one of two things will happen:

1) Kid becomes interested in engineering, realises that she needs math, and asks to learn it

2) Kid's never asks to learn math, her career options are limited, and she chooses a different field

 

 I think that the vast majority of unschoolers will not get past about 7th grade math (fractions, decimals, percents) which is basically what is used in everyday life. 

 

Do you view this as a problem?

Could not learning math they are never going to use be an advantage in terms of allowing more time to pursue things that will be more relevant to the child?

 

Asking because I'm unsure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I think I wasted a lot of time doing math I have never used since leaving school. The last two years I spend on it could have been spent on other subjects or on doing more music, which I liked and was good at.

 

On the other hand, I believe that the minimum level of public numeracy could, and should, be increased. Many people are currently 'functionally innumerate' - they cannot interpret even the simplest statistics, or calculate how much a 15% discount will save them. Many parents are incapable of doing a body weight dosage calculation for their kid's medication (hence the charts on the bottles). I'm a reasonably numerate person (despite not enjoying school math), so the kids get the exposure all the time. I will say to whichever kid is helping with the shopping "OK, so this one is 15% off, but that bulk container is $x so that's still cheaper on the per gram price", or whatever. I'm not sure how kids pick things up if the parents don't know it. I guess they might learn from other mentors?

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Do you view this as a problem?

Could not learning math they are never going to use be an advantage in terms of allowing more time to pursue things that will be more relevant to the child?

 

Asking because I'm unsure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I think I wasted a lot of time doing math I have never used since leaving school. The last two years I spend on it could have been spent on other subjects or on doing more music, which I liked and was good at.

 

On the other hand, I believe that the minimum level of public numeracy could, and should, be increased. Many people are currently 'functionally innumerate' - they cannot interpret even the simplest statistics, or calculate how much a 15% discount will save them. Many parents are incapable of doing a body weight dosage calculation for their kid's medication (hence the charts on the bottles). I'm a reasonably numerate person (despite not enjoying school math), so the kids get the exposure all the time. I will say to whichever kid is helping with the shopping "OK, so this one is 15% off, but that bulk container is $x so that's still cheaper on the per gram price", or whatever. I'm not sure how kids pick things up if the parents don't know it. I guess they might learn from other mentors?

 

I'm a bit unsure also.  On one hand I think that we as a society need people who can vote, and to vote intelligently in today's world you need to understand statistics.  Most hot button issues have strong underlying statistics that need to be understood to form an informed opinion.

 

On the other hand, should we hold unschoolers up to a standard that others are not held to?  What about Olympic athletes. How much time do they really spend on algebra?  What about child actors?  Child musicians?  etc.  If you are amazing at one thing, you are allowed to drop other things.  But is that a fair standard?  I'm not so sure.

 

I do think that parents need to go in with their eyes open.  If you unschool but you want your kids to have the options that come with a high school math education (doctor, engineer, computer scientist, social science, etc) you are going to have to do something else for math starting in 7th grade.  Those are the facts.  Once again, there are exceptions, but they just prove the rule.

 

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I'm absolutely sure it depends on the reviewer. But the man who reviewed me when I was an unschooler was pro homeschooling and had seen enough families that he seemed quite capable of differentiating the bottom 5% and offering them help. He really looked for evidence of the seven areas of learning and converted my then very wishy washy language into educational jargon for me. And just an FYI, at the time, my older boy did no formal maths (age 7). I had nothing at all to show the reviewer to prove/demonstrate my approach, but he was skilled enough to ask the right questions.

 

I still hold firm that some people do not educate their children, and they need to be held accountable for their children's sake.

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No, life isn't over at 18, but you will laid a very difficult road for your child to travel if at 18 she decides she wants to be an engineer and only has a 7th grade math education. I think it is a reasonable assumption to say it is just not going to happen. Parents do limit their kids options,and I think we need to accept that. I limited my son's educational opportunities when I moved to NZ because the universities here are not as good. My eyes are open to that. I don't think it is too much to ask that unschooling parents recognize that only studying math through life will limit their kids options for the future. If they don't want that limit, they need to do it a different way. We all make choices. Perhaps the child will more likely be a life long learner, perhaps the child will not have the severe anxiety that I did as a child from being tested all the time. There are pros and con's to all choices. You need to recognize both, and choose the path with your favorite pros and most tolerable con's. If you don't like the con that you child will not have the option to be an engineer or doctor, then you need to walk a different path.

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If a child doesn't get past middle school math it's not just limiting his career in a STEM field, it's going to keep him from going to college at all--here you have to have completed Algebra II to get into college. I know college isn't for everyone, but personally, I would never feel comfortable closing doors to my child by not providing a good foundation for math in the years leading up to high school. Not learning math up to this point is going to limit you in life.

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I think if you wanted to go to university and had covered all subjects except math through your own personal interests, you could at age 17 spend a very intensive year and learn algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2 and then apply. I don't think it is likely or easy, but not impossible. A lot of unschoolers get into university from what I understand (although I have no stats to back this statement up).

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In New Zealand you don't need maths to go to university though. I left school at 15 without any qualifications then later did a English and maths to 6th form (G11) and science to 5th form (G10) then went directly to a STEM degree. I did well but it would have been a lot easier if I had finished high school. I feel my job as a parent is to ensure as many doors as possible are left open for my child.

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Interesting story, and great that you got to spend time cultivating your gifts.

 

In Australia, we don't really have a generic list of prereqs to get into uni, such as a foreign language and so many higher math credits. You only have to have the prereqs for the course you want, ie if you're doing vet science, you'll need some bio, but if you're doing fine arts you won't. Also, school results aren't as crucial because you can get in based on work experience and other types of RPL. There are also various bridging courses you can do if you if you don't have the previous study (or the confidence). For example, when I went back to uni after a long break I did a crash course in biochem that pretty much covered a year of high school level stuff in a month or two. So yeah, not really a disaster if you don't have the results you need: worst case scenario would be an extra year of intensive study to fill in anything you're missing, and it's pretty common for kids to have  gap year in any case.

 

For those stateside, this is about two unschooled girls and how they prepared for college. They're not on the STEM career track, though. I seem to remember reading something a while back about unschooled kids doing STEM degrees, but I don't remember where it was or what the conclusion was.

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 I think my kids are decent in math, but I cannot in 100,000 years imagine them asking to learn math.  Sometimes it feels like I'm dragging an elephant through mud.  But I don't care.  I could not live with myself knowing they weren't given math instruction. 

 

 

Same here. In fact, this is the only subject I am 'militant' about getting done every school day, because everything else can be caught up on relatively quickly.

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 I think it's a real gamble to expect that 1.) the child will ask 2.) they will possess the extra-high level of motivation required to catch up and 3.) that they will have the organization, follow-through, ability to delay gratification etc., required to complete the extra work.

 

Guess which executive functioning skills my sons have trouble with? 

 

They both have significant attention issues, but no diagnosis need be present for these skills to be problematic with teenagers.

 

For those reasons, I would never take that risk with my kids with math. 

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This kinda bothers me.  I think my kids are decent in math, but I cannot in 100,000 years imagine them asking to learn math.  Sometimes it feels like I'm dragging an elephant through mud.  But I don't care.  I could not live with myself knowing they weren't given math instruction. 

 

The rest of it I think is wide open in terms of how to do it.  There IS even some flexibility with math learning.  But to say that a kid will wake up one day and decide he thinks math might be useful?  The learning curve could be insanely steep.  I myself didn't have a very good math education.  I'm learning now and I'm seeing ti is possible to learn it now.  But I'm not under any time pressure. 

 

 

I was a student who asked to do math!  By 8th grade I knew, if I was going to college it would be in a science field.  So when I started high school I knew that I wanted to be done Calculus by the time I graduated.  In order to do that I had to get special permission from my principal to take Geometry and Algebra 2 in the same year so the junior and senior year I could take pre calc and AP Calculus.

 

In regards to the 2 options the previous poster suggested I agree with those but I see a third option being available and there are probably others too.  If a parent knows their child is likely to need certain levels of math in their future careers the parent  has the option to discuss with the child the pros and cons of taking advanced math classes in order not to limit their career opportunities in the future.  If a child is left on their own to make a decision like that without any guidance its easy to understand why they wouldn't continue with math.

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I think that the unschooling movement hasn't done itself any favors in their choice of a name.  Defining yourself by what you aren't is likely to lead to confusion.  If you asked me what my religion was, and I answered "I'm a not-Buddhist", well, you'd be likely to be confused.  I haven't heard the term "not schoolers", around here we have "unschoolers", and "radical unschoolers", each of which is a pretty broad brush.  I would challenge the unschoolers to try to come up with a more term that more closely describes what they are, not what they aren't.

I like the term unschooling. It is definitely not meant to mean uneducating.

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I can see more now how it might work than a year or so ago. When DD got passionately interested in reptiles and started pushing to a higher level, it led to her doing more writing, needing more math, etc by choice. In her case, we'd already been working a solid curriculum in those areas, but I admit that I have backed off some this year on the areas I see her really working in hard on her own (for example, I don't feel a lot of need to give her writing prompts because she's getting that through research, so instead we're focusing on the editing process, structure, and so on using what she's working on research wise). Similarly, right now she's working on statistics using an AP statistics textbook and multiple resources at the same time as pre-algebra, because she needed statistics to understand what she was doing at more than a "put numbers in a calculator in this order" level. 

 

Having said that, I suspect she'd never do history beyond ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and never read a fiction book that wasn't fantasy by choice if she had the option to do so.

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My first exposure to natural learning/unschooling was through the experience of a (much younger) friend.  He attended Clonlara day school, and never had any interest at all in mathematics.  Clonlara never pushed the issue.  Then, when he was 17, he developed a fascination with computer programming and decided he wanted to attend MIT.  His coach gently pointed out to him that to be accepted to MIT, he would need near perfect scores on the maths section. 

 

He made it his mission to learn math and asked his coach for resources to learn what he needed to know.  Six months later, he made a near perfect score on the SAT and was admitted to MIT the following year.  Yes, he had to be a very bright young man to pull that off.  But he did it - because his natural learning education taught him *how* to learn what he needed to know to do what he wanted to do; he had done it many times before with somewhat less academic topics.

 

 

Math is a tricky one, I think, because it's one of those things where we don't use a ton of higher level math in real life if we don't go into a STEM field; fractions, basic functions, number sense, etc. will get you through most of life just fine.

 

But if your kid does want to go into a STEM field, and it's quite a lucrative and wide-ranging field, and you haven't gotten past basic fractions by 15, when the kid starts to think about career options, it seems to me (as a not-quite-unschooler-but-certainly-not-a-traditional-homeschooler) that it would be really hard jump that far in a shortish time.

 

But I might be wrong about that, maybe an unschooler who unschools math can educate me :)

 

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Heh, yeah - us too. 

I have the greatest of respect for unschooling and we use quite a lot of Holt's insight in our building of our homeschool lifestyle - and some of our dearest friends are unschoolers.  But that not how *my* mind works, nor how my husband's mind works (he's the at-home parent, so it matters a great deal).  When I encountered the concept of classical education, it clicked.  I went to school looking for something that looked like that and was deeply disappointed with my experience as a student in the schools of the 1960s (which were experimenting with a lot of unschooling concepts at the time).

 

So, we are classical educators with a large side of unschooling inspiration.  ;)

 

I kinda feel the same way about most subjects. Kids may enjoy them, but not enough to actually want to ask for them. I guess that's why we're not unschoolers. :)

 

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My first exposure to natural learning/unschooling was through the experience of a (much younger) friend. He attended Clonlara day school, and never had any interest at all in mathematics. Clonlara never pushed the issue. Then, when he was 17, he developed a fascination with computer programming and decided he wanted to attend MIT. His coach gently pointed out to him that to be accepted to MIT, he would need near perfect scores on the maths section.

 

He made it his mission to learn math and asked his coach for resources to learn what he needed to know. Six months later, he made a near perfect score on the SAT and was admitted to MIT the following year. Yes, he had to be a very bright young man to pull that off. But he did it - because his natural learning education taught him *how* to learn what he needed to know to do what he wanted to do; he had done it many times before with somewhat less academic topics.

But the problem with stories like this is that it makes people consider it a backup option for their children. Sure it is possible, just not probable. It is possible that I will win the jackpot lottery but it is not probable. I just would not want people to make educational choices based on these kind of stories.

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In New Zealand you don't need maths to go to university though. I left school at 15 without any qualifications then later did a English and maths to 6th form (G11) and science to 5th form (G10) then went directly to a STEM degree. I did well but it would have been a lot easier if I had finished high school. I feel my job as a parent is to ensure as many doors as possible are left open for my child.

Just an FYI, dont know about the past, but today NZ universities require a pass on the NCEA1 math exam as a basic entry requirement for ALL majors. To translation into americanese, this exam covers 9th grade algebra and half of 10th grade geometry, and a half year of statisitics.

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 I think it's a real gamble to expect that 1.) the child will ask 2.) they will possess the extra-high level of motivation required to catch up and 3.) that they will have the organization, follow-through, ability to delay gratification etc., required to complete the extra work.

 

Ideally, the child who learns in a natural setting would inquire about those skills that are not only interesting, but the skills that support them. One of the benefits of not scheduling subjects is to open the calendar to accommodate the child's interests. Having full days, weeks, months and years to explore things of interest offer opportunity after opportunity to not only identify problems, but brainstorm possible solutions. I'll give you two examples that are not at all meant to be generalized into The Way Things Work, but simply How It Worked In The Albeto Home:

 

Child one, brilliant in science. Came home from b&m school and spent hours and hours and hours pouring through biology text books. Eventually he found microbiology was really interesting because that explained what he found so cool. He learned microbiology was the mechanics, and neurology specifically is most intriguing. Along the way, he discovered chemistry equations in his books were not obstacles to skip over, but clues to this world of fascination. They were codes of more information, and he decided he was going to decode this. Chemistry requires some higher math, and calculus became his personal challenge. This is a kid who, in 6th grade, couldn't understand the concept of negative numbers while we faithfully did our math lessons at the table. They didn't *mean* anything to him. They didn't have any application. They were yet another Thing That Must Be Committed To Memory in order to move on and do what was truly interesting (Grandma's rule, right?). Clearly he cannot learn to be a neuroscientist at home, so he's preparing for college classes. He'll catch up whatever subjects he didn't spend time on (like language arts), spending one or two semesters to fulfill requirements. In the meantime, we spent those six years doing other things, things that inspired him and motivated him to learn all kinds of interesting and useful things.

 

Child two, typical in every way. Some subjects were difficult, some were easy. Came home from b&m school in the same grade as older bro. I saw that at b&m school she learned the very useful skills of Waiting Quietly Until Being Given Directions, Sit Quietly If You Don't Know The Answer And Wait For The Teacher To Move On, and 30 Minutes Of Play Can Be Crammed Into 20 Minutes Of Recess If Some Girls Simply Follow Along With 100% Obedience. After a few years of doing our version of World of Warcraft (guitar hero, tv, visiting different cities, reading books, exploring our region, anything we wanted and could do), she realized certain things interested her more than others. She had to learn all over again how to entertain herself, how to play (which is an enormously important skill for human development). In this process, she too learned to identify problems and come up with solutions. Each solution is not equally viable, so learning how to predict which solutions are more likely to be successful became a skill she was learning without even knowing it. At a certain age she decided she no longer wanted to be home, she wanted to jump into school and be with kids her age. She identified the problems (certain subjects not on equal par with peers), and solutions (which math lessons would be best for her). She was motivated to do the same thing as her brother - learn math - but for different reasons. For her, math isn't coded information that is a challenge to decode. It was a requirement to get into school and keep in school. She does enjoy her math well enough, the class is fun, she likes the groups she works with, she thinks of math as various Professor Layton games. When she's no longer required to take math, she probably won't, and won't look back. 

 

I share both these examples because in my opinion they reflect the goal of our educational philosophy: learning happens through play, by following interests. We naturally support what we're learning by becoming familiar with those things that contribute to this experience. Identifying problems and potential solutions, and working with others in effective, socially appropriate ways are all means by which we achieve the goal - whatever that goal happens to be. Being at home allowed me to step in when they needed help. It allowed me to see if they had troubles getting along (which, if you think about it, is a problem with no viable solution - I helped them find solutions). It allowed me the freedom to introduce them to things they didn't know about, and take them places they couldn't get to on their own. I became the person who held back the curtains to let them peek through, and if they wanted to go through, I helped. Some curtains they couldn't care less about, others they ran through sprinting. 

 

I can't say we're successful yet because none of my kids are in college. I know kids who went to college only to burn out because they didn't have the skills to survive. In my opinion, one of the benefits of this kind of learning style is to gain the proficiency at those skills in life that people tend to take for granted until they realize they don't really have them. I don't mean skills like recognizing stress and avoiding binge drinking (although I do mean that), but more along the lines of working with others, knowing how to take initiative, being resourceful, responsible, recognizing problems are challenges not character flaws. Things like that. Academic skills, like math and science, are learned along the way, but intellectual skills, like recognizing the relationship between numbers of things, and the scientific method, are learned in the same way language is learned - through full submersion, not scheduled in 35 minute blocks. I see working on executive functioning skills in the same way - allowing the constant opportunity to work on it at the natural pace of the child, in an environment that provides internal motivation to learn. 

 

I will admit, I am not familiar with how people "unschool" some subjects but formally learn others. I don't know how that would work and I have no experience with it. In my experience, that would be more difficult and the child would loose out on the benefits unschooling can provide. That's not to say it's worse, or not legitimate or anything like that. I don't mean to pass judgement on it because I don't know enough to make a judgement call. But the concerns raised in the post I quoted here are, in my opinion and experience, addressed in an environment in which the child is allowed to pursue his or her interests without the kind of arbitrary cut-off that conventional schooling requires in order to make way to keep on schedule. 

 

How that differs from "not schooling" I don't know. I think Isabella made this point so well, though. No need to muck it up with my continued ramblings. 

 

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FYI, the term unschooling alludes to a TV commercial that some of you are probably too young to remember: coke and pepsi were battling it out over which was the best cola and 7-Up came up with the slogan "uncola".

 

John Holt proposed a form of education that was as different from what was going on in the schools as 7-Up is from cola.

 

I won't call myself an unschooler because of Sandra Dodd trauma further complicated by D ayna M artin trauma, but I have friends who embrace the term and are far more structured than I have to be because of their family configuration, employment schedules, and other circumstances. I also babysat a little girl who longed for lessons and schoolbooks but her parents seemed to be more attached to their no-curriculum dogma than actually nurturing their kid's interests, so I chose not to follow in their footsteps when my now-K'er asked for "school at home" last summer.

 

He's only 6, but right now he is every bit as passionate about Math as some kids are about horses or dancing or Minecraft, so I reserve judgement. I have also seen similar stories to the one Misti describes.

 

It is possible to learn college prep math as an adult (BTDT), but it takes a bit longer than your teens need and it can be a bit embarrassing when you're excited about something that's so old hat to most of your contemporaries.

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I largely agree with Ruth's descriptions -- with one caveat. The fails in both categories might be acceptable for a period of a time, like a few months, or possibly even a year, especially if the kids are still fairly young (like under about 12). I think a year of building forts and playing with siblings outside or even playing video games, especially during a family crisis (such as Mom having a new baby or a difficult pregnancy, or after a bad public school experience, or the like -- something out of the ordinary) is not going to be the worst thing in the world and won't generally be permanently crippling. If that's the way of life year after year, that's different, and yes, I think parents can do a disservice to their children. I think you need to be able to provide a rich environment for your children, whatever that means, whether that's child-led or parent-led or a combination of both, whether that means textbooks or workbooks or living books or audio books or readalouds or many trips to the libraries or lots of outside activities or lots of other things, but if you're not able or willing to provide such an environment, for extended periods of time, for whatever reason, you need to be doing something different.

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Well, 'you' are not going to have to do something for your child's maths :)

 

Instead, if your child wants to go into a field like the ones described above, they can choose to explore ways to meet that goal, with you as a facilitator.

 

Or they can choose not to!

 

Life isn't over at 18.

 

My husbands parents homeschooled him with a strange hybrid of better-late-than-early unschooling and Robinson curriculum from age 6 to age 13-ish. After about 14, he was 'not educated' by the standards being used here. His parents also said, and still say, oh well, he can go teach himself ______ and get a job in it because they taught him how to learn! They also blocked him from being able to do an official apprenticeship with similar logic that they still stand behind, insisting the paper is meaningless because he has the skills and can teach himself what he needs to know on the job.

 

I agree that learning how to learn is a great and important goal. It's one of my highest ones. But do you have any idea how much harder it is to learn when you are working full time with a family that you actually want to see occasionally and children who both need raising and don't understand leaving daddy to his work? He wishes, more than anything, that he had gone to university for what he actually wanted to do as a teenager, however he lacked the skills, had little encouragement, and was busy working full time for his families business, believing his parents when they said he could learn what he needed to when he needed it and figuring he could go to uni down the track.

 

Yeah he could go to uni now, but I cannot work (I am disabled and while I am capable of work itself, I am basically unemployable) and he wants to spend his time watching his children grow up, not running between full time work, university, and trying to squeeze family relationships in there somewhere. He has talked about going to uni in 10 years or so when the kids are older, but it will still be a MUCH bigger commitment than it would have been to do it as an 18yo living at home with minimal responsibilities. He could have chosen not to marry and have children so early, but then instead of closing the door on higher education it would have been closing the door on having a family under the timing and plans he had. Either way a door was closed, a BIG one.

 

He is also extremely fortunate to have the job he has because he is completely unqualified, officially, to do anything. And because he learnt 'on the job' like his father said, he has huge gaps in his basic knowledge. He has to ask his workmates to teach him things which he should have learned as an apprentice (all the while he is doing work which none of them are capable of in other areas, there's a reason he has a job there, he is one of the best in the country at what he DOES know, but he has no way of proving that except a few lines under the heading 'experience' in his resume). He can't go back and get formal qualifications because in this field his choices are apprenticing, which he is far too skilled in some areas to do, or a university degree, which has the problems stated above. His workplace is considering aligning to ISO standards in order to land a big contract this year, and if they do his job may be in jeopardy because he is a liability, he has NO qualifications, which makes him an insurance risk and a standards risk, and his high skills in some areas are so rarely used they may not be worth the consequences when they could simply send out for that work. Getting a job at another workplace with no official paperwork is very, very hard.

 

The point of this post being, no, he can't just 'go learn whatever he wants' because there is a huge difference between learning as a teen and learning as a father and husband. As good as it is to say life doesn't end at 18, life sure does get a lot busier and more complicated after that point. By not using that time to it's full potential, it can make it downright impossible to change anything as an adult.

 

If an unschooler closes a door on certain opportunities for their children, then that is their choice to make. All parents have to make decisions which will open and close doors at some point. But acknowledge that is what you are doing and prepare for it. These families need to understand how much harder some things will be once they transition from teen to adult. My husband is currently teaching himself math through khan academy to bring him to a high school standard. Meanwhile he works a job he hates but can't risk losing because he has no other skills. If he loses his job his options are retail and service, or possibly computers if he can find a company who is willing to consider someone completely self-taught over the hundreds of graduated uni students who apply.

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My husbands parents homeschooled him with a strange hybrid of better-late-than-early unschooling and Robinson curriculum from age 6 to age 13-ish. After about 14, he was 'not educated' by the standards being used here. His parents also said, and still say, oh well, he can go teach himself ______ and get a job in it because they taught him how to learn! They also blocked him from being able to do an official apprenticeship with similar logic that they still stand behind, insisting the paper is meaningless because he has the skills and can teach himself what he needs to know on the job.

 

I agree that learning how to learn is a great and important goal. It's one of my highest ones. But do you have any idea how much harder it is to learn when you are working full time with a family that you actually want to see occasionally and children who both need raising and don't understand leaving daddy to his work? He wishes, more than anything, that he had gone to university for what he actually wanted to do as a teenager, however he lacked the skills, had little encouragement, and was busy working full time for his families business, believing his parents when they said he could learn what he needed to when he needed it and figuring he could go to uni down the track.

 

Yeah he could go to uni now, but I cannot work (I am disabled and while I am capable of work itself, I am basically unemployable) and he wants to spend his time watching his children grow up, not running between full time work, university, and trying to squeeze family relationships in there somewhere. He has talked about going to uni in 10 years or so when the kids are older, but it will still be a MUCH bigger commitment than it would have been to do it as an 18yo living at home with minimal responsibilities. He could have chosen not to marry and have children so early, but then instead of closing the door on higher education it would have been closing the door on having a family under the timing and plans he had. Either way a door was closed, a BIG one.

 

He is also extremely fortunate to have the job he has because he is completely unqualified, officially, to do anything. And because he learnt 'on the job' like his father said, he has huge gaps in his basic knowledge. He has to ask his workmates to teach him things which he should have learned as an apprentice (all the while he is doing work which none of them are capable of in other areas, there's a reason he has a job there, he is one of the best in the country at what he DOES know, but he has no way of proving that except a few lines under the heading 'experience' in his resume). He can't go back and get formal qualifications because in this field his choices are apprenticing, which he is far too skilled in some areas to do, or a university degree, which has the problems stated above. His workplace is considering aligning to ISO standards in order to land a big contract this year, and if they do his job may be in jeopardy because he is a liability, he has NO qualifications, which makes him an insurance risk and a standards risk, and his high skills in some areas are so rarely used they may not be worth the consequences when they could simply send out for that work. Getting a job at another workplace with no official paperwork is very, very hard.

 

The point of this post being, no, he can't just 'go learn whatever he wants' because there is a huge difference between learning as a teen and learning as a father and husband. As good as it is to say life doesn't end at 18, life sure does get a lot busier and more complicated after that point. By not using that time to it's full potential, it can make it downright impossible to change anything as an adult.

 

If an unschooler closes a door on certain opportunities for their children, then that is their choice to make. All parents have to make decisions which will open and close doors at some point. But acknowledge that is what you are doing and prepare for it. These families need to understand how much harder some things will be once they transition from teen to adult. My husband is currently teaching himself math through khan academy to bring him to a high school standard. Meanwhile he works a job he hates but can't risk losing because he has no other skills. If he loses his job his options are retail and service, or possibly computers if he can find a company who is willing to consider someone completely self-taught over the hundreds of graduated uni students who apply.

I think perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from your husband's experience is that the ability to learn will not exempt someone from the need for a credential in the job marketplace.

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I can see more now how it might work than a year or so ago. When DD got passionately interested in reptiles and started pushing to a higher level, it led to her doing more writing, needing more math, etc by choice. In her case, we'd already been working a solid curriculum in those areas, but I admit that I have backed off some this year on the areas I see her really working in hard on her own (for example, I don't feel a lot of need to give her writing prompts because she's getting that through research, so instead we're focusing on the editing process, structure, and so on using what she's working on research wise). Similarly, right now she's working on statistics using an AP statistics textbook and multiple resources at the same time as pre-algebra, because she needed statistics to understand what she was doing at more than a "put numbers in a calculator in this order" level.

 

This is just the kind of story that made me fall in love with unschooling. Your dd's passion is just beautiful.  It reminds me so much of the kids in the Teenage Liberation Handbook.

 

My unschooler friends and I have spoken throughout the years about just this kind of passion.  We had all read about it, but none of our children seemed to have it.  It left us all scratching our heads, wondering how to encourage it. (My older son only found his after being classically schooled from age 9 to 12).

 

I do think that passion can drive so much learning.  But the unschoolers I know, although loving the idea of following a passion to ignite learning, ended up doing more of the learn through life model, rather than the learn through your passion model.  Perhaps this is because their kids never had a passion, perhaps it is because the parents were unable to see what was in front of their nose. I'm not sure.  But what I have personally seen in both unschooling and more traditional homeschooling is 70% of children with no passion, which is not really so unexpected.  And given that some unschoolers rely on passion to drive education, it has left them uncertain how to educate their children.

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Well, 'you' are not going to have to do something for your child's maths :)

 

Hee hee.  I just saw this.  You are definitely right.  5+ hours yesterday.

 

I actually have the opposite problem, trying to decide how much math I will allow my son, because it is at the expense of learning in other areas.

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Abba12, I'm sorry your husband didn't have a good experience. However, what you describe is not unschooling by any definition of the word. Not allowing him to pursue an apprenticeship, not encouraging him, requiring (or pressuring) him to work in the family business if that wasn't his choice - this is the opposite of unschooling. Child-led doesn't mean no support or advice from parents. Most unschooling parents would be having ongoing discussions with their teens about various career / further study options and how to pursue them (and over here, one of our registration requirements is that career planning must begin by the time the home educated child is 14 years old).

 

I know we're not supposed to be judgmental and all that, but from what I have both observed and tried personally, a good quality unschooling education takes just as much time and effort from parents as, for example, a good classical education. If you are actually having all those important conversations about life with kids, learning about them and their interests, doing the outings, games and activities together, facilitating and encouraging their self directed learning, carefully strewing, providing a rich environment, supporting all their interests, giving them necessary guidance in all areas of life, helping them to access formal learning programs, materials and teachers when they want to, and so on and so forth, it's a big job. As I said, I would not interfere except in extreme circumstances, but privately I would very much doubt that it can be done well without fairly consistent parent/mentor availability. If the person in charge of home education is engaged in demanding full time work or study of their own, I'd suspect it's really not unschooling they are doing, but rather putting the kids' education on the back burner while the other activity takes precedence. 

 

 

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Abba12, I'm sorry your husband didn't have a good experience. However, what you describe is not unschooling by any definition of the word. Not allowing him to pursue an apprenticeship, not encouraging him, requiring (or pressuring) him to work in the family business if that wasn't his choice - this is the opposite of unschooling. Child-led doesn't mean no support or advice from parents. Most unschooling parents would be having ongoing discussions with their teens about various career / further study options and how to pursue them (and over here, one of our registration requirements is that career planning must begin by the time the home educated child is 14 years old).

 

I know we're not supposed to be judgmental and all that, but from what I have both observed and tried personally, a good quality unschooling education takes just as much time and effort from parents as, for example, a good classical education. If you are actually having all those important conversations about life with kids, learning about them and their interests, doing the outings, games and activities together, facilitating and encouraging their self directed learning, carefully strewing, providing a rich environment, supporting all their interests, giving them necessary guidance in all areas of life, helping them to access formal learning programs, materials and teachers when they want to, and so on and so forth, it's a big job. As I said, I would not interfere except in extreme circumstances, but privately I would very much doubt that it can be done well without fairly consistent parent/mentor availability. If the person in charge of home education is engaged in demanding full time work or study of their own, I'd suspect it's really not unschooling they are doing, but rather putting the kids' education on the back burner while the other activity takes precedence. 

 

 

Oh I am well aware what they did wasn't unschooling and I don't assume unschooling looks that way at all! I was using it as an example of not educating under the 'label' of unschooling, and how their idea of unschooling is very different to what it is or should be. Just adding to the debate on where unschooling ends and not educating at all begins.

 

I do think it is relevant for people to understand that it is not as simple as just learning something as an adult though, and that as good as being able to learn is, planning on your life path involving formal education as an adult is a very risky position to take. That's why I think even unschoolers need to attain a certain minimum in math and english, because it's much harder to catch up and learn what they need to do what they want to do once they are adults with responsibilities. 

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I am sure my third grader would drop math like a hot potato if I let her. While it seems very feasible for a kid to catch up on high school level math, how does a child catch up from basic addition? It doesn't seem possible. I feel like she would easily ignore kitchen math. Unless you are making "daily math" some sort of required thing, or maybe you are putting in so much effort that it looks super fun?

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My older son LOVES math. Now. He didnt a couple of years ago. Why? Because he was learning the basics and hadn't got to the fun, puzzle aspect of math that he adores so much. It is like when he began piano. He would often complain that it was "boring" or "hard". And I said something to the effect of everything sucks when you're bad at it, but what I meant was, until you gain SOME proficiency, many things seem to be boring or too hard.

 

I remember when I started practicing yoga when I was 21. I had spent my whole life playing racquet sports and was strong but ridiculously unflexible. In the middle of e first yoga class, I remember thinking "this is so dumb, I hate yoga, I can't do yoga, yoga isn't for me, my body doesn't work this way." :D After class, I swore I wouldn't be back. But I DID Go back, and spent months learning the basics, struggling, failing, struggling, failing. It was hard for me. But now, have been practicing for over 20 years, and it is a truly joyous thing for me. And I never would have realized that if I had given up.

 

Kids have to learn to push through the difficult parts to get to "the good stuff" which for me is when they hit a sort of Flow in their experience. flow takes practice, effort, and time. Some kids naturally put that time in, others need encouragement to stick with it to reap the rewards. Now my son can translate his experience with piano into other areas that he struggles with, and realize that he CAN push through. Yes, some things he will decide he just doesn't like, but IMO it takes some time to realize that.

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I am sure my third grader would drop math like a hot potato if I let her. While it seems very feasible for a kid to catch up on high school level math, how does a child catch up from basic addition? It doesn't seem possible. I feel like she would easily ignore kitchen math. Unless you are making "daily math" some sort of required thing, or maybe you are putting in so much effort that it looks super fun?

 

Values and relationships are as unavoidable as vocabulary. Math is the language that communicates and explores these values and relationships. One learns this naturally, but only as much as is required or desired. The ideal would be for the parent to foster the child's interests, and introduce them to the kinds of experiences that explore this language more than they would get alone. In this way the unschooling parent is the mentor, the one who guides and inspires. Secondarily, one would learn it as a means to an end - credit needed to apply to college. 

 

Here's one link that might help explain this: http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/academics/math/unschoolingmath.html

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My older son LOVES math. Now. He didnt a couple of years ago. Why? Because he was learning the basics and hadn't got to the fun, puzzle aspect of math that he adores so much. It is like when he began piano. He would often complain that it was "boring" or "hard". And I said something to the effect of everything sucks when you're bad at it, but what I meant was, until you gain SOME proficiency, many things seem to be boring or too hard.

 

I remember when I started practicing yoga when I was 21. I had spent my whole life playing racquet sports and was strong but ridiculously unflexible. In the middle of e first yoga class, I remember thinking "this is so dumb, I hate yoga, I can't do yoga, yoga isn't for me, my body doesn't work this way." :D After class, I swore I wouldn't be back. But I DID Go back, and spent months learning the basics, struggling, failing, struggling, failing. It was hard for me. But now, have been practicing for over 20 years, and it is a truly joyous thing for me. And I never would have realized that if I had given up.

 

Kids have to learn to push through the difficult parts to get to "the good stuff" which for me is when they hit a sort of Flow in their experience. flow takes practice, effort, and time. Some kids naturally put that time in, others need encouragement to stick with it to reap the rewards. Now my son can translate his experience with piano into other areas that he struggles with, and realize that he CAN push through. Yes, some things he will decide he just doesn't like, but IMO it takes some time to realize that.

 

I see two educational philosophies at work here, they have the same goal but attempt to achieve that goal in opposite ways. One is to give the child raw skills so that when they find something they enjoy, or are faced with something required, the can engage (hopefully) somewhat successfully. The other is to give the child the liberty to explore what they enjoy, learning necessary skills along the way. I don't think either one is right or wrong, more or less successful. It's a different path that comes out at roughly the same end. You learned the skills required to enjoy yoga without being compelled to do it. You choose a goal, you wanted to succeed, you were internally motivated to reach your goal (however that looked to you). You identified problems, potential problems, thought about differen solutions and applied those solutions you determined would be most successful for meeting your goals. Preschoolers do this all the time and we don't bat an eye. They identify a goal, they work at it, they modify it as needed, they seek help or are inspired by other goals when problems arise. The idea of unschooling is that this learning process doesn't stop at the convenient age where school lessons begin. 

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I can see more now how it might work than a year or so ago. When DD got passionately interested in reptiles and started pushing to a higher level, it led to her doing more writing, needing more math, etc by choice. In her case, we'd already been working a solid curriculum in those areas, but I admit that I have backed off some this year on the areas I see her really working in hard on her own (for example, I don't feel a lot of need to give her writing prompts because she's getting that through research, so instead we're focusing on the editing process, structure, and so on using what she's working on research wise). Similarly, right now she's working on statistics using an AP statistics textbook and multiple resources at the same time as pre-algebra, because she needed statistics to understand what she was doing at more than a "put numbers in a calculator in this order" level. 

 

If I had a crazy gifted and/or passionate kid, I'd say there's 99% chance we'd be on the unschooling bandwagon all the way (I love reading the stories about your budding herpetologist, I just don't have kids anything like that...).  I think this is part of the problem with some of the unschooling success anecdotes.  It does work wonderfully for kids who learn well by osmosis and/or are passionate about really digging deep in some subject and then make all those awesome connections.  But most kids aren't that kid, even if left alone to their own devices, even with strewing and rich environments (although I'd definitely say those up the chances of success).  They may never develop a passion, and they may never pick up much of anything by osmosis.  I think either just gifted or just passionate can both work well with unschooling, and if the kid is both, then it really makes sense just to get out of the way...

 

But it's just not universally applicable to all kids. I went to a homeschool to high school talk where some homeschooled kids now in college told their stories.  One boy spent his high school years pretty much in his room being delivered pizza under the door.  I think he did have some books in there.  He emerged, went to Cornell and successfully double-majored in Physics and Japanese.  That's a lovely anecdote, but hardly a replicable plan for homeschooling high school for most kids...

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So far my 3 oldest are passionate about things that won't seem to translate well into making good money someday.

 

1. Art.

2. Video games.

3. Athleticism.

 

If I let my oldest do whatever she wanted all day, she'd pitter around drawing, knitting, painting, rearranging her room. My second would play video games non-stop. My third would bounce off the walls or bike all day.

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I think people need to be careful saying, my kid would just waste time if I let them do whatever they want. Part of the unschooling philosophy includes the idea that the more children are "forced to learn" the less self motivated they become, even in areas that interest them. I think most unschooling philosophers will freely admit that a child who is used to having things planned and being told what to learn/do will initially appear to "waste time" if those structures are removed. It takes time to relearn to initiate and self motivate. I would guess that you only can really start to get an idea if your child would self-initiate learning math, etc...after you have given them a year or so of not being forced to learn anything.

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I can see more now how it might work than a year or so ago. When DD got passionately interested in reptiles and started pushing to a higher level, it led to her doing more writing, needing more math, etc by choice. In her case, we'd already been working a solid curriculum in those areas, but I admit that I have backed off some this year on the areas I see her really working in hard on her own (for example, I don't feel a lot of need to give her writing prompts because she's getting that through research, so instead we're focusing on the editing process, structure, and so on using what she's working on research wise). Similarly, right now she's working on statistics using an AP statistics textbook and multiple resources at the same time as pre-algebra, because she needed statistics to understand what she was doing at more than a "put numbers in a calculator in this order" level.

 

Having said that, I suspect she'd never do history beyond ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and never read a fiction book that wasn't fantasy by choice if she had the option to do so.

But your daughter is profoundly gifted, isn't she? I can see it working for kids like her, but I am always curious to see how unschooling is motivating for "average" kids.

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So far my 3 oldest are passionate about things that won't seem to translate well into making good money someday.

 

1. Art.

2. Video games.

3. Athleticism.

 

If I let my oldest do whatever she wanted all day, she'd pitter around drawing, knitting, painting, rearranging her room. My second would play video games non-stop. My third would bounce off the walls or bike all day.

 

Actually number 3 is a money maker these days. There is a HUGE market for physical therapists and personal trainers to work with youth athletes to give them an edge. I am in a lower cost of living area and people parents will pay $75-$120 an hour depending on the education level of the trainer/coach. If I could give my 15 year old self advice it would be to go into this field and specialize in movement. 

 

I actually sat down and figured up how much money people would have for their child's education if they saved what they were spending on coaching, personal training and league fees for their kids. Even if the child got the elusive Division I full ride scholarship, the parents are spending more in coaching fees...

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 things that won't seem to translate well into making good money someday

 

Herein lies, what I understand, to be one of the paradigm differences between conventional schooling and unschooling. Unschooling doesn't have as a goal: High School Diploma ---> College Degree ---> Job. It has a different goal that might look something like: Become Independent, Self-Sufficient, Respectful, Resourceful, Compassionate, Socially/Economically/Politically Aware And Responsible, Productive, Genuinely Happy. Of course this would differ from parent to parent, and ultimately between parent and child, but therein lies the other component to unschooling. The goal is to nurture a young human to develop into a virtuous, respectable adult human (however that is understood to look). These virtues, like hard work, not giving up, developing a thick skin and appreciation for critical review, would be more of the focus throughout the parent/child relationship than teaching/learning academic skills. The idea is that with one's character shaped with skills to identify, prevent, and overcome obstacles, "making good money" is a side effect. Spending time doing what you want, having a nice place to call home, having a family and caring for the kids, vacation to Europe, etc, these are all goals that require economic stability. Ideally the person will have learned, and been working towards these goals, long before Graduation Day. 

 

I think for most of us on this forum, we recognize college as a wonderful resource where lots of information can be learned in one, convenient location. Internships are available, meeting others with the same interests, picking the brains of professors whose work one might find interesting is a fantastic opportunity not to be missed. By the time the student is ready for college, they would ideally know what their interests are, having years to explore those things that caught their attention and gravitating towards some. That's not to say not getting into or graduating college is a failure, especially if it doesn't have the best opportunity to learn the particular skills one needs to live an independent, self-sufficient, satisfactory life. If another avenue is, the student and parent would ideally be exploring these alternatives.

 

As far as your children's interests, and any children's interest, we know that children learn through play. This is why exposing the student to new experiences is a key aspect of unschooling. Play evolves as the child matures. One thing children learn as they grow and mature, is that adults live independently from their own parents. Another thing they learn is that people have money to spend on things they like. Another thing they learn is what they like to do with their time more than other things. The ideal unschool environment would take these interests your kids have and allow the child free range to explore them, experience them, experience things that are related to them, learn different details, learn who has done fantastic things in through these interests, learn what their siblings, parents, friends, and neighbors enjoy. Interests are changed through exposure, exposure to new experiences and different people. The student would figure out, by about the time they're a teenager that they can see themselves living independently in the future. They may start to think about what they'd like to do once they have the freedom a driver's license gives them, or what they would do with money from a job, or what kind of job they could see themselves doing. Part of maturity is recognizing these things and planning for them, and part of the responsibility of the parent is to make sure these ideas are genuinely understood. We do our children no favors by neglecting their future needs by not helping them learn how to prepare for them independently. 

 

On a personal note, I've noticed with my kids (now all teens), their interests change over time, but they tend to maintain a particular theme that holds more interest than others. There may be secondary and tertiary interests that seem to vie for attention. Imagining which one they'd like to do full time happens naturally the more they learn about the details of their field of interest, and the lives and contributions of those people who are (or once were) in that field. In our home, playing video games resulted in subscribing to video game magazines, watching documentaries, reading interviews, familiarizing ourselves with the biographies of major contributors to gaming and computer sciences in general. During this time, my kids were introduced to details like the production of games, the many details that go into a game, the computer script that is the language through which video games operate. Along the way they learned about the public policies that dictate the production of the games and the politics that restrict certain things. The influence large corporations have over industry, nationally and internationally, became more interesting and important than sitting on the sofa playing the next game. Playing games are fun, but there's a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes of which most of us are comfortably ignorant. The student who has no restrictions on following their interests get the privilege of peeking behind these curtains long before their peers even know they exits. They already know that power comes with knowledge (they learned that before they learned to ride a bike).  That gives them lots of time to sort things out in their heads and make plans for the future. And all the while, the supportive goals like owning a home or renting and apt in a safe neighborhood, living with a sweetheart, planning vacations to ski, snorkel, or attend various conventions are all woven into the great big tapestry that's been developing this whole time. 

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I am sure my third grader would drop math like a hot potato if I let her. While it seems very feasible for a kid to catch up on high school level math, how does a child catch up from basic addition? It doesn't seem possible. I feel like she would easily ignore kitchen math. Unless you are making "daily math" some sort of required thing, or maybe you are putting in so much effort that it looks super fun?

 

If a child is hitting middle school, doesn't know basic addition (conceptually at least) and doesn't have a serious LD, I think you are entering the realm of not educating.    

For us, it wasn't a matter of sitting down and doing kitchen math or making a huge effort to make it look fun.  It was a matter of reading lots of books, discussing subjects of all kinds, and basically spending time with them exploring math (along with a gazillion other things).  Even though my kids were not working through a math curriculum, they still were interested in measuring the perimeter of our yard and figuring out how many laps would equal a mile, graphing various odd things, weighing shoes, comparing distances, making pendulums, and on and on..  You might think your kids wouldn't be interested in these things...but  I saw a huge shift in what the kids pursued when we relaxed on "schoolwork".   My kids didn't sit down and do an hour of math a day, but we spent a lot of time exploring math concepts.  They loved being read to and I read so many math readers (story based math books) while they were playing with moon sand or math blocks.  They did not complete a math program until grade 8.  But, they were not still stuck in elementary lvl math.  They knew plenty--they do not have to start from basic math.  I think this is a common misconception.

 

As my kids hit middle school, they decided to formalize math (we did discuss this in detail, over a long period of time, concerning careers and college, etc, but I told them I'd support whatever path they took--by that time I knew that in their free time they do not just play video games all day, although I can understand why parents think their kids will do this if they haven't seen the shift).  When they were in grade 9, they decided to try the public high school (here you can enroll part time).  Now I have an 11th grader in AP Calculus BC and a 10th grader in Honors Algebra 2.  They love their math classes and their teachers always comment on what incredible problem solving skills they have.  Both my kids are in gifted category and have LDs (dyslexic and they are aspies too), for the record. 

 

My older son LOVES math. Now. He didnt a couple of years ago. Why? Because he was learning the basics and hadn't got to the fun, puzzle aspect of math that he adores so much. It is like when he began piano. He would often complain that it was "boring" or "hard". And I said something to the effect of everything sucks when you're bad at it, but what I meant was, until you gain SOME proficiency, many things seem to be boring or too hard.

 

I remember when I started practicing yoga when I was 21. I had spent my whole life playing racquet sports and was strong but ridiculously unflexible. In the middle of e first yoga class, I remember thinking "this is so dumb, I hate yoga, I can't do yoga, yoga isn't for me, my body doesn't work this way." :D After class, I swore I wouldn't be back. But I DID Go back, and spent months learning the basics, struggling, failing, struggling, failing. It was hard for me. But now, have been practicing for over 20 years, and it is a truly joyous thing for me. And I never would have realized that if I had given up.

 

Kids have to learn to push through the difficult parts to get to "the good stuff" which for me is when they hit a sort of Flow in their experience. flow takes practice, effort, and time. Some kids naturally put that time in, others need encouragement to stick with it to reap the rewards. Now my son can translate his experience with piano into other areas that he struggles with, and realize that he CAN push through. Yes, some things he will decide he just doesn't like, but IMO it takes some time to realize that.

 

I totally get this..but my kids also love math now and they didn't have push through the boring parts of it associated with elementary grade math curriculum.  They can learn the basics in a much more open format and go on to appreciate the fun parts.  Missing out on that at the lower math levels has not hindered their ability to apply themselves and work through struggles of higher math.   With a musical instrument we have a clear connection between practicing on the instrument and improving.  With math though, we assume that it is practicing with worksheets (or curriculum x) that leads to the eventual improvement, but I think this is just the way we are trained to think since it is what seems to be working for most students.  Most kids don't get to stop doing math curriculum in elementary grades so we have little data (beyond anecdotes such as my own!) to support another method for them to gain the foundation needed to go on to enjoying higher level math.  The potential problem I see is that some kids get totally turned off from math and start to think they are real math idiots when they actually may have strong math talents but not be well suited to elementary lvl math curriculum.  They don't push through.  This is what I saw with my son an incredibly self directed and motivated person.  But elementary math about killed his desire to learn.

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I think people need to be careful saying, my kid would just waste time if I let them do whatever they want. Part of the unschooling philosophy includes the idea that the more children are "forced to learn" the less self motivated they become, even in areas that interest them. I think most unschooling philosophers will freely admit that a child who is used to having things planned and being told what to learn/do will initially appear to "waste time" if those structures are removed. It takes time to relearn to initiate and self motivate. I would guess that you only can really start to get an idea if your child would self-initiate learning math, etc...after you have given them a year or so of not being forced to learn anything.

 

I want to second this. The thing people miss when they say 'my kid would just play computer games all day' is that that child is already burnt out from hours of schoolwork. There's a big, big difference between what a child chooses to do with their 2 hours of downtime a day, vs what they do with their 12 hours of downtime a day. Just like moving from school to homeschool requires an 'de-schooling' adjustment period and the children are often far more interested in things after that time, going from a traditional educational setup to an unschooling enviroment requires a certain amount of time as well. If your husband has worked all day he doesn't want to come home and begin working on the kitchen DIY project. But if he has two weeks of vacation time, he is likely to not only do the kitchen willingly, but WANT to do it and be EXCITED to do it. His dreading of the task after work has nothing to do with the task itself, and everything to do with being tired and not wanting to do one more hard thing when he could be relaxing and tuning out for awhile.

 

I use the same theory in relation to screen time. If a child only gets to go on the computer for half an hour a day, then they are going to use that half hour every day, they are going to push for more time or try to stretch it out, because they view it as a desirable and limited thing. If the computer is always accessable, sure they will go through periods of using it all day, but they will also go through periods of not using it. They know it is always there and available, so the draw to it, the 'need' to use it when it's available before the opportunity is 'lost' is gone. Thus, they have the chance to learn how to use it as a tool to benefit them without the obsessive need to get on every chance they get. Of course, some kids need more guidance than others, and parents need to teach kids responsibility, good choices and habits, and how to be in control of it. There is still a learning curve that parents must be involved in. And this is just like unschooling. A child who has been reading history books all day is not likely to 'waste' their precious time off reading about biology when they could be reading whatever fluff book they got from the library which is easier and 'more fun' (immediate gratification and a mental break). But a child with nothing to do all day will have the energy and interest to pick up the biology book because it looks interesting and they are bored of the shallowness of the 'fluff' books. Being bored is not a bad thing, it's a necessary step from shallow pursuits to deeper, meaningful activities. Many unschooled kids have learnt that those sorts of time wasters are not fulfilling, and get boring, and while they, like everyone else, will indulge in them from time to time, the ones I have seen have passed the point of sitting in boredom and begin looking for more. Again, not all kids will pick this up as naturally as others, but with parental guidance and mentoring I think most kids are capable of it.

 

Now whether that is truly the best thing for a child is another matter, I think unschooling can be very successful in it's goal but I do not unschool, so it's possible to disagree with the philosophy itself. But to say that most kids would not have the self-motivation to do it is rather unfair and unrealistic because it is missing the entire point of the method, and in some ways only proving their point by giving more examples of children who school traditionally and have very little natural curiosity because of it. My husband is not unmotivated to do hands on, household projects, he is just unmotivated to do them after a day of work in his limited free time. He loves doing the projects when he has the freedom of time to do them without feeling like he is missing out on relaxing or working himself to the bone.

 

NOTE: I am not an unschooler, so if I am completely on the wrong track with my analogies here please, someone who does unschool correct me :) This is just my understanding of it from my limited exposure to the philosophy

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But your daughter is profoundly gifted, isn't she? I can see it working for kids like her, but I am always curious to see how unschooling is motivating for "average" kids.

 

I have the opposite concern; I have 2 school age kids, and both are more or less highly gifted (dependent on subject, to an extent).  I have this fear that if I just let them go in their own directions (they're 8 and 5), I'd be failing to nurture their gifts.  What if they never got interested in math, or writing, even though they've got the capacity for that?  Wouldn't I be denying them the potential development they don't even know they have?

 

So currently we do a sort of hybrid; the things I'm really afraid of neglecting - math and writing, basically - I insist on, and at their level (Life of Fred is good for this as they don't even see it as math, half the time).  Everything else I have left more or less to interest, although I read them SOTW daily.  My daughter is learning Attic Greek and my son is playing minecraft, and they have probably 3 hours a day of actual structured school work, if that.  

 

I lean sometimes toward more freedom and less structure, sometimes I think ack! and start making plans for 10 online classes next year.

 

 

Also, I think the relative business of the parent doing the homeschooling might have some impact on the quality of any kind of schooling, but especially present in unschooling.  My husband and I run a small business from home; it takes up a lot of my time.  I also have a baby and toddler.  I feel that if I unschooled, I'd never have time to provide all the enrichment, conversation, engagement, observation, mentoring, etc. necessary to properly educate/nurture 2 gifted kids.  With some structured curriculum, I can feel like I've done some educating even on busy days.

 

I love the careful and deep explanations of unschooling I've read here, I just suspect that (in my case anyway) it could easy slide into not-schooling, because of how busy we are and how easy it would be to neglect and say to myself, oh, they're doing fine.

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