Unschooling is Working

We are those weird parents who not only decided to homeschool, but to unschool. If you are not familiar with unschooling it’s homeschooling with out recreating school at home. We do not have any set curriculum that we make our son sit down and work through. He learns though life or learns what interests him.

Some would say we aren’t even homeschoolers or unschoolers becuase our son also goes to school three days a week. The school he is attending looks nothing like any other school I’ve ever been to. It is a “free school” or “democratic school”. These schools are an evolution of the Sudbury School model. Free does not mean it costs nothing. Free refers to the freedom of the students. The school is a private, not-for-profit school and most students pay full tuition, though the school does its best to provide opportunities for families that can not afford the full cost to attend.

From their website:

Free School  usually refers to a school in which the students choose for themselves how to spend their time.  At the Village Free School, there are no required classes, no compulsory evaluation and no strict age separation.

Since this fits so well with our unschooling mindset and our son enjoys his time there, I don’t see this as a conflict with unschooling. This is unschooling in wider community for part of the week so that Ace and I can get some work done, and its awesome!

The benefits from the free school have been more than we expected. His confidence has grown significantly. There’s no way to know that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, but I think being in such a supportive environment where he can be himself without being punished or shamed has been huge for him. Mark is incredibly sensitive, and I fully believe that even under the most wonderful public school teacher he would suffer in a public school. There simply are not enough resources to support a kid like him who would not qualify for any kind of special ed or special support, but is very sensitive to so many things.

In the free school there are teachers who focus on each age group, but any adult who is around and available will support a child who needs it at that moment. The teacher to student ratio is low enough that kids who need extra adult support (like my kid) are able to get that. I’m pretty sure Mark hangs out with the adults more than the other kids most days! Everyday when I pick him up he has to do rounds and hug every single teacher he can find. They are gracious and never complain about being interrupted, even if he is clearly interrupting something. In his few months there he has created deep bonds with people outside his family, which is a new thing in his life, and I think that is what has really helped him to become a more confident person.

At the same time Mark is learning more than I can quantify. I’ve been sitting here writing and watching him teach his grandmother how to play King of Tokyo, a game listed for ages 8 and up (he’s 6). He has a full understanding of the rules, and explained them. In the game you roll dice and need to get multiple of the same number or symbol to collect resources. You get two rolls and can re-roll any number of dice to try and get the combination you want (think of poker).  He’s quite good at understanding what to save and what to re-roll. He’s already won most of the games he’s played! In the game he’s reading confidently out loud, doing math, and strategizing. Even if he wasn’t able to do all this at this age, I’d still be happy with unschooling becuase…

Children are naturally curious!

They do not need to be coerced and bribed into learning and we are disrespecting them by reducing their accomplishments to a grade level! What does grading children at school accomplish? Competition, shame, pride (often not the healthy kind), burnout, anger, frustration, low self image. (tell me more in the comments!)

Children will learn if we allow them to and support their natural interests, no matter what those are. Shutting down one interest in the name of learning something that an external force deems more important can damage the love of learning. I experienced this in my own life, and see it in both kids and adults all the time. Think back to all the times you were bored in class either becuase the material didn’t interest you or because you had already mastered it. Non-compulsory education will always outweigh compulsory education in quality and efficiency. Its how free adults learn all the time and it can work for children as well.

I wasn’t totally sold on unschooling when I first learned of it, but the longer we allow our son to be free in his decisions of what to learn and when and how, the more convinced I am that almost all children would learn better this way. With modern internet and libraries all a child needs is a supportive adult to walk besides them in life and help them navigate the world, sharing some wisdom and learning alongside them. Unschooling totally works and we will be unschooling for a long time to come!

Feel free to ask your unschooling related questions here or on my Facebook page and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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Building robots out of legos during one of our many snowy days this winter!
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