Monday, 13 June 2011

Unschooling... Why we do it ...

It's probably time I got around to this post. 

I write quite a bit about homeschooling. But I haven't written too much about "Unschooling".

 It is a perspective on learning and life in general which has engaged me for sometime.

I remember when I first started reading articles by John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and other proponents of the term "unschooling" I felt this light bulb go on in my mind.

Tilda and the goats

However I must offer a disclaimer... These are just my own musings on Unschooling and really just a way of clarifying my thoughts on the subject...

The beauty of the concept is it is free, adaptable and open ended. 

Therefore... there are no rules.

Finding Fairyland

For example...

I absolutely love Rudolf Steiner's educational philosophy and we apply much of it to our homeschooling life.

I also embrace many of Charlotte Mason's ideas such as the value of learning through the use of "living books" as opposed to textbooks (though we have used the odd text book now and then when it has served a particular purpose.

Her endorsement of outdoor learning is something I try to practice as often as possible (in other words, when it's not raining here in merry England.

But that is the beauty of it!

For us Unschooling is a non formulaic "way of living" rather than simply a homeschooling perspective.

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For me, essentially, Unschooling is a whole-hearted, non judgmental embracing of life.

It is also a whole hearted, non judgmental embracing of children.

Whatever their character, sensibility, temperament or interests, they are accepted unconditionally instead of molded to fit any preconceived ideas I might have about who they should be, how they should be, what and when they should be interested in learning.

It is also an embracing of the natural curiosity and interest in the world that we are all innately born with until perhaps we are told that we "should" be learning something else instead.

I believe that children have a fantastic ability to seek out activities that they know their own particular personalities "need" to develop a full understanding of the world and how they will fit into it.

Matilda and Cottontail

My children and I enjoy following our passions wherever they may lead.

In fact when I indulge my own passions and interests such as gardening, needlework, painting reading or writing it sparks their interest too.

For example the girls started taking an interest in knitting when I was spending time in the afternoon and evening knitting baby clothes last year.

 Emmy has now well surpassed me in crochet.

It is often assumed that handwork is somehow inferior to academic work but I have seen first hand how handwork has helped my little girl Matilda who had speech delay to develop skills which have boosted her confidence and interest in what are perceived to be conventional academics.

Tilly absolutely loves stitching on embroidery hoops, knitting, latch hook, hand spinning and weaving and spends much of her day on these things.

And I love that I am able to allow her the time she needs to do these things.

She also spends an awful lot of time, playing imaginatively, drawing, and resting.

All these things are important to her learning about the world in her own way.

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Unschooling is expansive.

It has no edges, no hurdles, no hoops to jump through, no scores.

It doesn't value one particular set of skills and talents for example... (maths and science) over others (art and dance) like the school system is often want to do.

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Unschooling is flexible.

 It fits around momentous life changing events such as having a baby.

 It is able to thoroughly engage with the experience of the moment as it is not constrained by deadlines and timetables.

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Unschooling doesn't measure an experience by it's educational worth.

The categories between play, work, learning and experiencing merge.

I find Unschooling naturally takes nourishment from everything.

Then it moves, gently and organically to the next experience.

And maybe, this is the thing I like the very most about Unschooling.

It is organic.

 It is process.

It is not simply goal orientated, pass the test, earn that certificate, jump through that hoop!

It is all about journeying. Together. Parent and child.

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It does not make education an imposition of schedule, task or curriculum. 

It is open ended and pregnant with possibilities.

 It is an unfolding, a becoming a discovering of self.

And in that sense it is actually very practical and applicable to "real life."

It is a learning how to live, function, make choices, manage time, life and normal social situations as you grow.

And the best thing? This learning takes place in a warm, nurturing, loving atmosphere of family and community.

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When the day awakens me it feels like I am going on an adventure.

I don't know exactly where we will end up, but I do know that we will be enjoying the journey getting there.

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Life begins early in the morning.
 Boo runs to the harp and starts playing "The Sally Gardens" which she picked up by ear after hearing Emmy play it on her Irish whistle the other day. Tilly goes upstairs and watches part of "Swan Lake" on you tube and rehearses her routine for the ballet show she'll be performing in July. Emmy picks up a book on anatomy, she wants to delve deeper so she does some online research. Fina finds her paint set in the craft cupboard and some white paper from the desk and starts painting a story she has asked to me to read aloud to her.

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We flow on to lunch.
 Emmy finds a recipe for Cous Cous she would like to try.
We make it together, the little ones chop up some bananas and strawberries for pudding.
Emmy changes the baby and the girls play with her while I do the dishes.

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It's sunny so we go to the park.
The little ones meet up with some other homeschooling kids and they play for a while.
Emmy takes the camera, takes some photos that she will later edit on photo shop.
We pop into the library on the way home.
The girls watch a documentary about Wolves while I finish dinner.
Tani comes home we eat and chat about the day.
Emmy works on her blog and her Bush craft website.
She irons her clothes and polishes her shoes ready for cadets.
The little girls take dip in the bath and get ready for bed.
Boo reads the younger ones a bedtime story.

And so it goes...

Free flowing, full, fun and un-schooled.

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Edited to add this link which has some fantastic articles on unschooling. How it works, why it works and even why it may not come naturally.


  1. Lovely post and the most most beautiful photos. Thanks x

  2. This is a most wonderful post and approach to life. While we would be considered 'homeschoolers' vs 'unschoolers' (although I'm not a fan of labels!)after reading this post I find we are a most delicious combination of the two. Our days are filled with creating, animals, nature, books and life. I've never felt the pressure to involve the girls in extracurricular hobbies when there are so many wonderful options all around them. You'll never hear my kids say they're bored, in fact it is unacceptable in our home! ;)I'm in the process of figuring out our next step in our homeschooling journey and mentioned unschooling the other day, urging my followers not to judge it harshly. I'm going to share more about our homeschooling journey in upcoming posts and with your permission would love to include a link to your post. I think it's important for people to read. Far from neglecting your kids, you're inspiring them to simply be who they are. :)

  3. Thank you so much Simply Smitten for leaving such a lovely comment! I also don't like labels which is probably why it took me so long to get around to writing a post specifically about unschooling:)
    You are most welcome to link to my post by the way :)

  4. Lovely, Suzy.
    I love how your specifically expressed that it's open-ended and has no edges. A beautiful, ethereal wrapping.

    There are so many reasons why it works... as many reasons as people and needs and moods and opportunities and fanciful wishes.

    Wonderful capture of that.

  5. This is the most beautiful and eloquent description of this lifestyle/learning style I have ever read so far :). And I just read Simply Smitten's comment and am in total sync with her, too. I haven't talked about our unschooling lately either as I am struggling with the word and labels too. But you are inspiring me to go ahead and lay it all out. May I link to you, too when I do?
    Thanks so much Suzy for your inspiration and your words :).

  6. Thank you MJ, for these kind and lovely words.
    I found it hard getting past the label aspect of it too. I really want people to understand unschooling a little better.
    Absolutly MJ you may link to me :)

  7. Suzy thank you so much for this very thought-provoking and beautiful post. I've been thinking a LOT lately about my 13-year-old daughter's development, and her discoveries of what she is most attracted to and wants to pursue. It's nice to hear your belief that children will find their way.
    I would be very interested to learn more about your unschooling / homeschooling / thoughts in general about bringing up children.

  8. what a beautiful and heartfelt description of your day and your decisions. This seems like a perfect fit for you and your family:) I am eager to learn more about unschooling and incorporate it into my day..perhaps I will be an unschooling mom one day!! :):)

  9. Beautiful post. I've just now had a moment to sneak back and read it properly and it is just lovely and reaffirming of our choices and our days too. Thank you. xx

  10. Suzy, I followed a link and discovered your blog! I have been enjoying your posts very much.

    "When the day awakens me it feels like I am going on an adventure.
    I don't know exactly where we will end up, but I do know that we will be enjoying the journey getting there."

    You have said that so well. That's just how I feel each morning as I contemplate the day ahead with my family. God bless!

  11. Hi, I just discovered your blog quite by mistake, but I love it!
    We are a homeschooling family in New Zealnd, and I have been very much following a Waldolf homeschooling style. But at times it is hard following a curriculum and we find ourselves leaning more and more towards an unschooling style, so it's really interesting readind about your experiences. Are you still continuing with the unschooling weeks ?


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