23 July 2012

unschool monday :: a different paradigm


I received a lovely message from my friend, Polly, last week. I haven't replied yet as I've been mulling over what to say (in amongst nursing sick owlets). The question she asked is one I often get, so I thought I might answer here in case others find it helpful (hope you don't mind, Poll!)... Polly wanted to know what we loosely base our education system on and what are the guidelines or benchmarks by which we know our owlets are 'achieving' for a certain year... 

I could say what we tell the education department when we register each time... That we are aware of the curriculum and have contact with schooled children the same age as our children. That we nudge them along in the right direction in order to keep up. I could say that we have purchased various workbooks and forms of curricula to peruse and strew if we need to. I could demonstrate that the owlets are often ahead in various areas where they are expected to achieve and perhaps need some more nudging in others... But really, that is not what we are doing here. When we actually break down what unschooling is and how it works, we are working on a completely different paradigm.


There is no benchmark for an unschooled child. Unschooling seeks to nurture the whole person and the child's vision of herself. What I want for their future is not important. We are seeking to nurture people who are interested in the world around them and everything in it. We are nurturing curiosity and a love of learning through living their experiences. A question or a thought process comes up, we explore it and all of the many questions that come from it. We follow that thought until it becomes another one, and so on. If I set a list of rules and benchmarks for an owlet to achieve, we move to a different method of learning. We begin to tell them what to learn. This method may be perfectly suited to other owlets, but, so far, not mine. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if they sat a NAPLAN test, but really, I can see that the things they are learning about are often quite different to what they learn in school. They learn things as, and when, they need and not always to a specific timeframe. The basics, like reading, writing, arithmetic... they happen along the way, naturally, as they follow their interests. They need to learn more, as part of living. The other stuff, if they are exposed to it and show interest (usually they will), they learn as par for the course... Our job is to help make life interesting and expose them to as much stuff as possible, following their interests along the way...


So... What happens when an owlet wants to go to school, or uni and they need to prove they can achieve certain benchmarks? If one of them is keen to go, they will do the work necessary to be where they want to be. If I were to want to take up study or work somewhere, I'd do the work to make sure I was on track. If I needed extra help in a certain area, I'd ask for it. Maybe I'd hire a tutor..?

How do I know the owlets are getting an education that is well rounded enough? It is well rounded enough for them. They are becoming the people they want to be. The people they already are. I'm here to help them access it. If there are gaps, they'll find them and fill them. Really, they will, and they do!

Some reading on the basics of Unschooling. What it means, how it works.

John Holt - What is Unschooling? 
Research on Unschooling
Pam Sorooshian - I Live Therefore I Learn : Living and Unschooled Life
Earl Stevens - What is Unschooling?

Thanks for reading along with Unschool Monday. If you have a question for me, or one of the other participants on the linkup, ask away! I'm happy to try and answer here next time. If you feel like linking up, it'd be lovely to have you on board and see how unschooling happens at your nest. xx


  1. The university question is an interesting one which gets asked often, in fact we asked it of ourselves when we first explored school free life. Except we answered it very quickly as my husband teaches bridging courses at the university. These are the courses offered by every university for people wishing to pursue an academic course who have not newly emerged from Grade 12. They're not a mystery, call your local university and ask. My husband has taught shearers, refugees, paramedics, stay at home mums and gasp, yes, home schooled teens.

  2. Really liked this: "There is no benchmark for an unschooled child. Unschooling seeks to nurture the whole person and the child's vision of herself. What I want for their future is not important. We are seeking to nurture people who are interested in the world around them and everything in it. We are nurturing curiosity and a love of learning through living their experiences."

    Awesome comment Kestrel, it's great to hear about that side of things and be able to let others know :) I find the university thing quite interesting because huz and I both did education "right", but after all that time and money we find ourselves in occupations we didn't need uni to get into anyway. I think the uni question just goes to show how limited our understanding of what our worlds can be is, on account of having been raised in school-think. Perhaps our unschooled children will find more weird and wonderful ways of living that none of us can imagine because we weren't unschooled ourselves.

  3. great minds think alike. I wrote about the monitoring process this week :)

  4. Great comments on a great post :-)

    Thanks for such an eloquent answer to such a common & generally well intentioned question xxx

  5. It is so hard for the schooled to get their heads around this idea. It's hard for me (an ex-teacher) to be brave enough to "let go". But I love this idea - for my kids and their passions and interests. Thank you for explaining it so eloquently (and loving the other comments too - bridging courses - who'da thunk??).

  6. My daughter goes to a mainstream public school but I find your comments always inspiring and insightful. I don't think we will ever go down the unschooling road but I often use ideas and links from your lovely blog so my three little girls get a bit of the freedom and nurturing you describe... thank you!

  7. I love reading your blog and especially your unschooling posts. Our family is preschool but we do intend to school them. However I think there is so much to take from unschooling philosophies to apply to life in general.

    So I have a question... Have Disney Princesses invaded your nest? I have a nearly 4 year old who is princess-crazy. This obsession leads to hours of imaginative play, colouring in, reading and story telling. But conversely there are so many negative associations with the princesses - antifeminism, consumerism, external beauty etc.

    Does unschooling embrace any interest? Or would it limit/redirect some?


  8. This is a great post! I wrote on a similar theme earlier this week. I feel that one of the greatest strengths of unschooling is that ability to follow individual interests when they occur, and that the goal to have all children learn the same thing by the same age is the odd (preposterous, even) idea :).
    Some of those school children already know the things they are being "taught" (they picked it up elsewhere), and some still don't know it even after they are "taught" it (maybe not interested enough to absorb the info).

  9. Well said, Lauren. Love unschooling!!! xx


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