I am unschooling my children. Unschooling is defined by people in different ways. Some may look at this blog and gasp at how I can use that word to describe our educational philosophy. It is true though. I define unschooling as natural child-led learning. This is found from the first moment your baby opens her eyes. I believe unschooling should be part of every educational experience.
We are eclectic homeschoolers and unschooling is only part of our educational philosophy. It has great merits and it is what I use until the child nears age 5. Around the age of 5 I add structure to my children’s learning. This doesn’t prevent unschooling because unschooling is not something that is done for a few hours each day. It is a lifestyle. It is about providing the child with access to educational materials and toys. It is about entering in discussions and conversations to stimulate learning. It is feeding a child’s interest. It is about demonstrating curiosity. It is a lifestyle of learning.
Because we have parent-directed instruction, it does not negate unschooling. Unschooling is a lifestyle that still exists outside formal schooling. In fact, formal schooling can incite new interests that are pursued after formal schooling is finished.
At age 6 and 8, it was not uncommon for my boys to finish their structured work for the day and go right into chasing after their own educational interests. One son might go off and blog or play a computer phonics game and another might go off and read a book or surf astronomy sites online. These are things I encourage.
Here is a picture of my daughter at 26 months. At that age she was structure-free. One day she wanted to draw in her chair. As I put her in her chair I asked her if she wanted to play with the letters that I was putting away because she had asked about them earlier that morning.
She had fun looking at all the letters and wanted me to name many for her. This was followed by a drawing session or should I say a scribbling session where she asked me to draw some things like ice cream and color a fish.
Earlier in the day she came up to me with her MagnaDoodle toy and “wrote” her ABCs. Little moments like these show me that there is no need for structured learning in the early years. But my all time favorite moment was her pretend library chute where she proceeded to slide her books down her “chute” to the floor.
I know some may say that she is interested in letters or writing because she is around older siblings in school. While there may be some truth to that I don’t believe it is the whole story. Her interest was actually sparked by watching a couple of Signing Time DVDs. My oldest son was unstructured until age 5.5 and had a head full of science. He had also started to read on his own. He had no exposure to academics other than the unschooling lifestyle.
Fast forward to today and my little girl is now 7. Her days are filled with a mixture of structured learning and unschooling. She will spend hours drawing, acting out stories, blogging, or writing her stories down. Because I’m homeschooling three kids, I do some structured instruction with her at various times during the day.
Now that my boys are 11 and 13 years old, they spend more time in structured learning. That still doesn’t prohibit a lifestyle of learning. While their educational interests are built-in to their structured school day, they will often want to further pursue those interests in-depth on weekends or at times during the day when they aren’t involved in any structured learning.
Unschooling is beneficial. It is important. I do think it helps foster a love for learning that extends through a whole life time. I believe learning should be fun although there will always be some things that won’t be enjoyable. Structured schooling has introduced new interests and enabled my children to learn how to work through something difficult. Unschooling provides a lifestyle of learning that drives my children’s interests and creates a sense of curiosity about the world. I believe combining structured schooling with unschooling provides my children the best of both worlds.