Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Wow, it has been a long time. There are many reasons for my blog absence, and perhaps I will go into them in a later post. For now though, I want to write a few things about homeschooling. They are, of course, merely my own thoughts and experiences. I don't presume to say this applies to anyone other than our own family.

As I've probably mentioned, I homeschool our three boys- now aged 8, 6 and 4. I do not believe in doing "school at home"- if I wanted to impose timed classes and pre-written curricula on my children, I would seek a good school for their education. It would certainly be easier on me. Instead, our learning is very fluid, completely integrated into our daily life. We do not have separate time for "school", or even designated "school days". I do not have an external curriculum for my children to follow. I do not write lesson plans, administer pop quizzes, or assign projects. Instead, I actively seek to create an environment for my children that is varied, interesting and enriching, full of exciting and challenging experiences. I listen to them, and I seek to answer their questions as accurately and completely as I can, at the level (or just slightly above) they can understand.

I often ask questions and introduce ideas or experiences that might spark curiosity or further questioning from my children, but I do not force them to memorize facts in order that they may spit them out accurately later. If, after answering a question, the child is still interested in a topic, I will continue the conversation and often seek media to help me illustrate and expand on the topic. I have been pleased with the information that they retain, but the real payoff is in making connections between ideas and developing a less quantifiable, but more fundamental understanding of how the world works.

My approach is based on the ideas and theories of the educational researcher John Holt, who wrote extensively about education from the 60s until his death in 1985. He is considered by many to be the founder of the "Unschooling" movement- a term he coined to describe learning that did not take place in a school or a school-like environment. (As I recall, despite the fact that he came up with the term he said he felt it was rather inadequate, as it is based on what the method is NOT instead of describing what the method IS. He said it was the best he could come up with in one word. But don't quote me on that. I don't feel like hunting up his exact words right now.)

Unschooling, while still a young and controversial movement, has continued to grow since John Holt first introduced the idea. It is a difficult movement to pin down, since it is still defined more by what it does not practice, than by what it does. This is because the unschooling approach is extremely individualized, responding to the interests and needs of individual children and families, rather than imposing a standardized external model. It's hard to define something that looks different for every practitioner. In addition, unschooling is, in practice, often nearly inseparable from parenting methods, making it that much more difficult to study the effects of the practice without being influenced by the widely varying personalities and familial experiences of the unschoolers themselves. Are positive or negative results of unschooling due to the philosophy and educational practice, or are they moreso the result of parental practices? Is it even possible to separate the two? I don't have the answers to these questions. My concern is, "Is it right for my children?" I think, at least in the realm of "education", that it is.

I am often questioned, sometimes vehemently, about the advisability of using such an untested and controversial model for educating our children. "How can that possibly work?" "Kids don't know what they should learn!" "How will unschooled kids ever adapt to the real world?" "They will have huge gaps in their education." "They will grow up and feel that you failed them." "They will not be equipped to compete in a changing and extremely competitive, cutthroat world." "Show me evidence that this method works." "You aren't challenging them enough." "I need proof that they are learning." And so on, and so forth.

I have been tasked with finding evidence that Unschooling "works". That Unschooled kids can grow up to be successful, productive adults. That they can adapt to a world which seeks to impose external requirements and frameworks, requires one to be on time, and often requires one to work hard at something one does not like, in order to reach a goal. That Unschooling will not leave kids struggling to compete in a world that does not cater to their individual interests. Unfortunately, there has been little (if any) standardized research done on Unschooling and its results. I am continuing to seek and read what information I can find, and I am compiling a list of links relevant to this research. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I welcome the help. :)

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PS- I should note, that I am not strictly an Unschooler in my actual homeschool practice. I do require my children to complete some "educational" tasks, even at their sometimes objections. The older they are, the more likely I am to impose some "forced" "learning" activities. My 8 yr old is in second grade this year (his birthday is in October), so I require him to complete some coursework in an online curriculum called "Time 4 Learning". My 6 yr old is in first grade, and I "force" him to sit down with me and work on reading from time to time. I question them occasionally on topics (such as money value, geography, or subtraction for instance) to see for myself how easily and completely they seem to remember and understand those things. I also administered the standardized CAT test at the beginning of this school year, which is not very "Unschool" of me. ;) I plan to administer a standardized test yearly, to help me keep track of "expected" learning and to help reassure my relevant detractors.

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