8 March 2010

unschool monday :: so how does it work?

The image most people get in their heads when we tell them big owlet learns at home is us diligently sitting around the table each morning, pencils poised at 9am, ready for a day's work. They expect we'll do loads of beautiful craft. Maybe we'll go for a walk at lunch time. When I explain unschooling to them, the image they most likely get is us sleeping in, doing nothing in particular, waiting for big owlet to announce what she'd like to learn today. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but a whole lot more fun. Here's us starting our day one morning towards the end of last year. Little owlet had asked how the holes get in the bread. Big owlet wanted to know too. The short answer is yeast. But what does yeast do? So we looked up an experiment that could demonstrate yeast working. They get it now. Experiments involving balloons are particularly popular and effective around here... especially before 9am. Its true, much of our best work is done in pyjamas. I know we're not alone in this. You wake up, have breakfast and the questions start and before you know it, its lunchtime and you are in your pyjamas and you have 30 minutes to get to gymnastics...

Natural learning is organic and free-flowing. You can't plan it. Questions come, you answer them. You use the resources you have at hand. If an interest lasts for a while, you go to the library, visit the museum, speak to people. If the interest has passed, often its because the lesson has been learned for now, and you move on. Its not always about waiting for your child to call the shots though. You do normal family stuff. You can encourage interest by doing regular day-to-day things, celebrating festivals, living. Unschoolers will often talk of the word strewing. Perhaps you might find an old box of toys in the cupboard for your toddler and leave it out for them to find, then watch with delight as they discover and explore it. It works in a much similar way for school aged children. We might visit the library and I will choose a secret stash of books that spark an interest or a memory. We might plan a surprise trip somewhere, watch a movie. Sometimes it doesn't work, the time isn't right, but usually an interest is sparked. Children love to learn about new things. Unschooling works for many reasons, but one is because we know our children. We get what makes them tick, what interests them. We can follow their lead. One of the struggles as an unschooling parent, particularly one who has spent 20+ years in the education system, is learning when to hold back and not try to push what we think they should learn. Giving children the space to take charge of their own learning and decide what they need is truly the greatest gift of all. I suppose this why there are as many approaches to home learning/home educating/unschooling as there are home learning/educating/unschooling families.

So what's it like in owlet town? Around here, we are inspired by the seasons. Big owlet went to a steiner kindergarten for two years and many of the rhythms there fitted within our family life really well, so we are occasionally inspired by them. On a typical day we get up and have breakfast around the table. We spend some time cooking, painting, crafting, listening to music, playing on the computer, reading... we'll have morning tea together about three mornings a week, with a teapot and cups with saucers and a candle and some flowers. Its a lovely way to pause and enjoy each others company and celebrate an ordinary day. After lunch we'll usually go out. For a walk, or to the park, or to ballet or gym, or a friend's place. Some days we decide to spend the whole morning at the botanical gardens instead, or the beach, or wherever. Its a great way to shake things up if we feel in a rut. We look at the seasons and what's going on around here. We set up a nature table and change it at the beginning of each season. We write a list of activities we'd like to do during the season. Its a little like the activity advent calendar we have each year and great to have there if we want some inspiration. We celebrate festivals. From a bunch of different cultures, including our own. We talk. We play. We parent. We live.

I've had some requests for a list of my favourite links, books etc. about unschooling. I thought I'd share it here. Its just a beginning list of my faves and things that have inspired me along my travels. I hope you find it useful too...

The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith for a good practical overview.
The Unschooling Unmanual for some inspiring articles
Just about anything by John Holt, but particularly Teach Your Own
Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream for a great practical look at an unschooling family, day to day.

The Natural Child Project
Sandra Dodd
Beverly Paine's Homeschool Australia website
HEN - the Victorian home education network
Joyous Learning Australian home ed. forum.
Liberated Learning another Australian home ed. forum.
The Parenting Pit
I Was Unschooled
The Unschooled Life Lecture on youtube by unschooled artist Astra Taylor.

There are loads, but three of my faves...
Majikfaerie It was while reading her blog two years ago that I realised we could do this...
Mackville Road
SouleMama... no introduction necessary, but she makes unschooling look so lovely and do-able in the most inspiring way. Her books are handy around here too...


  1. I wish I lived at your house! Sounds like such fun.

  2. It's so interesting. I feel like screaming every time a politian says "everyone wants the best education for their chidlren" as many parents couldn't care less about it & very few back it up with homework or help at home. It's fascinating how many times teachers say to me (my children are academic) that they approach things differently as they come from a really happy creative home. They are learning so much in school holidays as they ask a gazillion questions & i bother to answer them. We make our own dough & pasta so they love yeast experiments (very easy to play around with in Darwin!!) Love your work, love Posie

  3. I love the concept, but we are both working parents. Out of interest how do you teach numeracy beyond the basics of adding and subtraction etc? What happens when it comes to qualifications? Here in UK you have to have shedloads of exams to get even basic jobs nowadays. Dev x

  4. I will come back to this post Lauren, it looks like you have put a lot of good info in there.
    I can't believe though, that just this evening, we did the balloon/yeast experiment at our house!
    just had to let you know!

  5. Always so inspiring. :-)

    I like to bookmark these unschool mondays so that I can refer back to them.

  6. Hi Dev,

    Yes we are fortunate to have found a way to afford for me to stay at home to do this. I talked a little bit about numeracy and qualifications in my post last week, but basically we cover a concept as it comes up. So big owlet has covered number patterns, basic multiplication, basic division, addition, subtraction, time, currency, fractions, statistics, measurement, volume and geometry without being prompted. I expect that the numeracy skills that apply to daily life will come up first and more difficult stuff will be approached if she has a need or interest. If we can't help her, we will find a tutor. If she needs a qualification, we will help her work towards that. Many of the universities here will take home educated students on direct entry based on their abilities and maturity. She can also go to college if she chooses and there are several pathways there that don't require examinations from an early age. We are not getting too ahead of ourselves just yet, but will wait for her interest and need to show where she needs to be rather than placing her in the system just in case.

    Hope that makes sense... I'd be happy to answer any further questions you might have.

  7. Beautifully, sensibly and informatively put. Thank you so much for the resources that you're providing me with!!

  8. Thankyou thankyou for all the info and the links Lauren. I feel like my world is changing since I started to read 'Teach Your Own'.


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