February 26, 2009

Is it Unschooling or Not?

TopsyTechie is talking about taking the plunge into unschooling next year, calling it a semester-long experiment. I always enjoy hearing about people who are willing to try something new for their kids, and since I'm partial to the whole unschooling world, I'm excited for them!

And it reminds me that I use the term "interest-led learning" to describe my version of schooling. So is it unschooling or not? In the comment section of one of my posts last week, Traci and I got into a little discussion about this:
It's funny how this homeschooling continuum works. On one end you have the ultra structured "school-at-home" crowd who follows the teacher's guide mercilessly. On the other end you have a complete hands-off, wild child view of unschooling. Many are purists and cling fiercely to their end of the continuum, but most of us find our place somewhere between the two.

I realize that to most of the homeschooling world, if you don't follow a pre-packaged curriculum, you are called an eclectic home schooler, or a relax home schooler, with the assumption that you have books and subjects that you cover most every day. The term "interest led" is used by some. I just checked google for "interest led home school" and my blog came up second on the list behind Life Without School. So there must not be too much out there if I'm number two.

My point is, no one home schools the same way. The best we can do is find what works for our family. I agree that kids like structure (depending on their personalities) and as long as we parents are sensitive to what they enjoy and how they learn, not forcing them through an assembly line but letting them follow their interests, we are on the unschooling end of the continuum--maybe not as close to the end as some would like, but we have a whole lot more in common with unschoolers than we do with those on the other end.
So we "unschoolers" are double misfits. First, we buck the system by keeping our kids home, then we turn our backs on A Beka and Bob Jones. Does anyone understand us?

If you choose this path, be prepared to either calmly and joyfully explain your schooling choice or just keep it under wraps. I've done both.

Some Related Posts:

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Homeschooling and College Scholarships (how I communicated Peter's unschooling)

Answering a Few Questions

A Look at Interest-Led Learning

Day to Day

Three Kids, Three Learning Styles

My Education Philosophy

About Me


Unknown said...

This is an interesting subject. I am involved in two "unschooling" groups and this same discussion has come up more than once about what "unschooling" really means. Does it mean you unschool everything? Even parenting? What does "hands off" mean? Many unschoolers do not consider themselves "hands off" parents but very involved. Does it mean you can't provide any curriculum type materials unless the child asked for them? What if the child asks to go to school? Is that following their "unschooling" desires and you are listening? So many questions.

We all fit somewhere, but what is most important isn't what you call your homeschooling style, but that you are comfortable with it. What works for one family may not work for another. As a family you have to figure out where you fit and then go for it. Follow where your heart takes you with your homeschooling journey. When you do that, it seems the people around you also feel comfortable with your style because they see your family progressing in life together.

gina said...

I call what we do "unschooling" as according to wikipedia it means child interest led learning. Here is what I have said on the subject so far http://unpinkacademy.blogspot.com/search/label/UNSCHOOLING

Only two posts, because my blog is pretty new, as is this homeschooling journey. :)

At the moment we "use" (the girls do them - in any order they please)some workbooks, because my daughters ENJOY them. If and when it becomes a chore... and the novelty is starting to wear off I think... we'll do something else. Deschooling is a tricky part of this whole homeschooling/unschooling path and something we are working on now. (We left PS at Christmas break).

I choose the unschooler over relaxed or eclectic- because we don't follow a set curriculum or even timeframe/lesson plan. Every day we do what Shaye and Mackie feel like.

Jena said...

Cathy and Gina, thanks for your great comments.

Cathy, I like what you said about following your heart and doing what works for your family--exactly!

And Gina, thanks for letting us know that Wikipedia has "interest-led" in their unschooling definition. Your school sounds just like what we've done. I'm sure there are A LOT of families like us out there.

Traci said...

I agree! I feel like a misfit most of the time. As a Christian I even have had a tough time with that group because I am in inclusive person. If I'm with the unschoolers I'm looked at as odd because I'm a Christian and I use some curriculum. I have friends in both camps and it is frustrating to discuss much.
I was given some curriculum last year and one piece was an A Beka spelling book. I have taught using A Beka in a private school setting and hated it! But I do like the spelling. Very challenging! But I would never use the entire curriculum. Way too confining for my kids. As I type this I have one in the kitchen creating a drumstick out of a super ball and wooden skewers with Tupperware. The other is finishing her bookwork and will move on to the stuff she really likes...playing with her sister and reading.

Jena said...

I've used A Beka and Bob Jones and other very schooly curriculum, but like you, Traci, I'd never use the whole thing. It's great for picking and choosing for areas your kids want to study and want school like activities. But like you said, they are very constraining and demotivating in the long haul. Use them as long as they are useful, then be willing to change and move on if your child is just not benefiting from it.

Thanks for the peak into your morning. :)

Letitia said...

Thanks for posting this. It's nice to know you aren't the only one who doesn't have much place to "fit in". We already felt that way in a lot of places with children ranging from 22 to 7.
Your post gave some clarity to some terms I have wondered about. I think many people think of unschooling as totally abandoning their children to do whatever they want. We are certainly interest led in most things, and a little hands off in others, depending on the child. But, certainly not hands off in parenting!

Jena said...


Your comment reminds me of http://www.ChristianUnschooling.com. That's a new website based on the idea of balancing parental influence and unschooling.

Anonymous said...

See I've been confused about exactly "What" we are too! If being labeled in public school isn't enough, we're even labeled as homeschoolers!

We don't use boxed curriculum, but do use SOME "brand" stuff (like Story of the World & Apologia Botany) But then again, we don't do school-at-home either. It's interest led, relaxed, eclectic....

(sigh) we homeschool

Anonymous said...

I know this is all somewhat new, and I'm going to really screw up the terminology if I try to wax eloquent about why I think my family will benefit from unschooling, but the carrot that is dangling out in front of me is the opportunity for them to go "deeper" with their learning. With any type of structured curriculum it always feels like you are just getting a taste of everything without REALLY learning anything. The both both have such intense curiosities about things that I am excited for them to have the chance to follow those interests as far as they will take them. Whether that is unschooling, interest-led learning, or anywhere in between, that is the part that excites me.

Amanda said...

Hi Jena!

I don't really call myself a "radical" unschooler anymore, but I do respect the philosophy behind it. And while unschooled kids may look like wild children (usually the highly sensitive ones who hate haircare), the radical unschoolers I know are anything BUT "hands-off." One reason I'm not more radical is because it's completely EXHAUSTING!

So much of the radical talk centered on things like bedtime and food and letting go of control of EVERYTHING. I tried to do that, and found my inner control freak going a bit crazy. Better for my kids to have a bedtime, then to learn that Mom is psycho. I think we have to be realistic about our own personalities and what works in our own homes.

Most of my friends are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. They do school, but they're generally relaxed and have fun, too. Or they don't do school, but Mom's highly organized and the kids are fairly scheduled with other activities.

Anyhow, I'll stop before my comment is as long as your post! LOL.

Jena said...

Hi Nikowa, great to hear from you. I've always used brand names curriculum here and there too--can be very useful. Topsytechie, that's a good observation about curriculum only letting you go so far. It will be fun to see what your kids do without those restraints. And Crunchy, Hi! I loved your description of wild children being more about hair care! ha! I've had a couple of those. :)

I love seeing how we all describe our schooling. It really is freeing to just be ourselves and realize our kids are learning, and that's all that matters.

Khakismum said...

Oh, I'll jump on this bandwagon! ;-) I consider myself a relaxed-eclectic-interest led-homeschooler. How's that for a label? We follow some cobbled together curriculum and just go with the flow. DD is in so many activities and groups, many days she doesn't have time to do formal school. But I don't fret too much. She is such an experiential learner that I believe she learns more from her "doings" than her lessons. If our kids are happy, well adjusted, and showing signs of continued learning and improving, then they are fine...at least that is what I keep telling myself! :-)

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