You Might Be an Unschooler and Not Even Know It

When I first realized that homeschooling was an option I was only 15 and the concept totally called to me.  I just knew that was what I wanted to do with my kids.  At the time, many people still had never heard of it and the bookstore had only one or two books.  Now, of course, Libraries have homeschooler programs, bookstores have whole sections, and almost everyone know what homeschooling is (and has an opinion on it).

Unschooling is still a bit of an enigma to most – even among homeschooling families.  I personally don’t prefer the term unschooling since it focuses on the negative (we aren’t schooling) instead of the positive (holistic learning).  The semantics of what homeschoolers call themselves is complex* but the main idea of unschooling is that of an at-home-education that does NOT replicate a “schooling” experience.


If you have a 1 year old you are probably unschooling

Does your average day with your toddler look like this?

After breakfast you do 30 minutes of flashcards with animal words on them.  He wants to chew on them but according to the research-based flashcard developer he should know 30 cards by sight by 18 months.  Next, your toddler wants to play with blocks, but you’ve purchased a hefty-priced curriculum to teach him about shapes and blocks are only cubes!  So, you pull him away from the blocks for the alloted 30 minutes of manipulation with the expensive shape magnets you purchased from Curriculums-R-Us.  After his nap is time for literature.  You purchased a special set of books that introduce children to reading – focusing on sentence structure and parts of speech.  Your toddler is wired after his nap and wants to bang on the pots and pans he pulled from the kitchen cupboard instead.  A battle to get him to sit and listen to the books ensues.  You perservere because your homeschooling group swears that this has helped their kids get into Harvard.  Later that night, he brings you his copy of I Love You Stinky Face that Aunt Mildred bought him.  You tell him no, of course, since that has no educational value.  You had scheduled that Monday night bedtime books would be all about colors so that’s what you do.

Sound absurd?  That’s what “schooling” does (and some who choose a very narrow vision of schooling at home).  It supplants the child’s natural curiosity-driven learning in favor of researched, purchased, and controlled curriculum.  Unschoolers completely reject the entire concept of this method.

Unschoolng is a paradigm shift where you trust that humans (yes, even children) learn effortlessly and naturally and do not need external forces to “teach” them anything or guide what they “should” learn.

 In a 1 year old it sounds absurd but by the time a child is 5 or 6 we just accept that this is the one and only way that learning can happen and thus the only way to guarantee your child will be successful.  Unschoolers let learning happen to 5 and 6 year olds the same way you probably do with your toddler.  Let’s look at how learning happens for most toddlers.

Aellyn wakes up and has pancakes cut into squares.  She spends half an hour eating because she is stacking the pancake squares into little columns.  She sings and wiggles while she eats with joy.  No one is telling her not to play with her food or to hurry up and eat.  She experiments with shoving her finger into the peach slices you gave her with the pancakes – this is wonderfully hilarious to her and takes another 10 minutes.  Next I dust the living room.  She intermittently copies my actions with a towel, wiping up surfaces with me, and taking random books out of her book basket and “reading” them to herself.  At one point she brings a book over to me and says “pees” (please) and I pause in my cleaning to read her a silly story.  After her nap we go to the park and run, swing, slide, and touch (sometimes trying to eat) rocks, dirt, leaves, grass, and mulch.  Each thing she picks up I give a name.  If she can’t reach it she says “zat” (what’s that?) and I give her names for that too sharing her attention.  During bathtime we sing a made up songs about body parts while we wash.  We sing Itsy Bitsy Spider and she claps and pantomimes the hand actions until we are both pruney and it is time for bed.  We read a bedtime story called This Is My Dance (from Kindermusik International) that has a rhyme refrain at the end of each page.  She sways and claps and giggles during each singing part.  When we turn over the last page and I say “the end” she does the sign for “all done.”  We taught her all done but she made this connection to “the end” of the book meaning it was all done herself.

So, which of these sound like your average day with your toddler?  If it is the later then you are unschoolers!  I’ll be talking over the coming months about how this idea translates into teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

*I use the term homeschooler in my daily life because people know what it means (well, then know with piles of misconceptions on top).  If I’m talking to homeschoolers I prefer the term holistic education which I’ll talk about in the future. ^back up

(thanks to Hobo Mama for the idea about using anchor links to do footnotes (which works but still doesn’t alleviate Arwyn envy)).

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5 thoughts on “You Might Be an Unschooler and Not Even Know It

  1. Wonderful! the discription of Aellyns day makes me smile. I’m totally on board and so glad that Aellyn will not be attending public schools.


  2. Great post! Your first description of a toddlers day reminded me of those “your baby can read” commercials. I can’t stand them! It’s amazing to me how many people buy a preschool curriculum for their 2year old.

    Yay for unschooling!


  3. Pingback: New York Times endorses Obama for president - Top News, Music, and Sports - The Blog Conglomerate

  4. I like to say “learning through play” over ‘unschooling’ 🙂 Sounds like a fun day you had, my little one is only 5 mths, but I look forward to lots of playing and learning in the near future….


  5. Pingback: My Homeschool Philosophy: Part 1 | Baby Dust Diaries

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