Families around the world are a great deal more familiar with homeschooling today than they were just a few months ago. In fact, many of these families received a crash course in home learning in response to the global pandemic.
Nonetheless, a related topic remains something of a mystery for most families. This topic is “unschooling.”
If this term isn’t one with which you’re familiar, then you’re not alone. The unschooling movement remains a relatively small one in the U.S. However, a growing body of evidence is suggesting that there may be benefits to students who are allowed to explore learning at their own pace and in accordance with their developing interests.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly what it means to be “unschooled.”
What Is Unschooling?
For most people, the concept of the four-walled classroom is a familiar concept. Whether that classroom is located in a traditional school building or around the family’s dining room table, the classroom is the place where students go to learn.
Unschooling takes that concept and sets it on its ear. This philosophy posits that learning happens everywhere, all around us, all the time. It isn’t necessary to sit in one place with an instructor in order for learning to happen. Instead, with unschooling the student is free to follow their own passions and the pursuits that interest them.
By pursuing an interest in any subject, the student is exposed to many concepts. While the may be focusing on Medieval England, they may touch on topics like politics, economics, science and history. Thus, all learning is interconnected.
Unschooling may go by many names such as:
- Child-led learning
- Delight-directed learning
- Interest-based learning
- Total-freedom learning
- Unbridled-curiosity learning
Call it by any name that you prefer, the central concept remains the same. Kids who are unschooled are largely free to pursue their own interests when it comes to learning, and they rarely spend time in a formal classroom environment.
The Background on Unschooling
While it may not be familiar, unschooling is not an especially new concept. Educator and author John Holt, who passed away in 1985, coined the term when he came to believe that the typical educational model that is pursued in the U.S. was actually a hindrance to learning.
According to Holt, all humans are born curious and have the ability to learn. Unfortunately, experience in traditional classrooms leaves many people feeling disillusioned as their educational efforts are restricted and controlled.
Because a large number of students are being educated at once, it is essential for teachers to cover subjects encompassing a broad range. Out of necessity, the coverage of each of these subjects must remain shallow. There simply isn’t time for an in-depth exploration of every topic.
What happens when a particular student becomes fascinated by the history of Japan or the basic concepts of mathematics? They would love to read and explore more about these topics, but the traditional educational system demands that they turn their attention elsewhere.
The student’s curiosity is stifled, and they may never find sufficient time or energy to take a deep-dive into the topics that really fire their interest.
The unschooled child, on the other hand, may be given free rein to spend days, weeks or months on the subject or subjects of their choice. This not only deepens their understanding of the topic but also may provide benefits that go well beyond the obvious.
How Does Unschooling Work?
Unschooling looks different in every home where it is practiced. Some parents use unschooling on a limited basis only for certain subjects that are chosen by their children. Other parents strive for a balance between unschooled and homeschooled subjects. Still other parents pursue a radically free environment in which the student is fully unschooled.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t structure. It just means that the structure may look different in every instance. A student may decide that it’s time to buckle down with a homeschool course in algebra when they are preparing for a college entrance exam. The emphasis and the approach really depend upon the student and their goals.
What Are the Benefits of Unschooling?
Proponents agree that several benefits may be gained for students who are unschooled. These may include:
- Enhanced critical thinking skills
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Stronger retention of subject matter
- Increased self-motivation
- Emphasis on natural talents
According to The Foundation for Critical Thinking, critical thinking is “based on universal intellectual values” and is an “intellectually disciplined process.” It is through this process that information is conceptualized, applied and analyzed.
Basically, this concept refers to the ability to engage in clear and rational thought. A person who is adept at critical thinking can recognize the links between different ideas, determine how relevant certain arguments are, identify inconsistencies and approach obstacles in a systematic manner.
Clearly, critical thinking is an important skill for everyone to possess. Evidence suggests that unschooling encourages kids to respectfully question everything. Accordingly, they learn to ask questions and foster curiosity without fearing punishment.
When examined closely, it becomes clear that much of life involves solving problems. From figuring out how to pay the bills to what to make for dinner, even mundane chores can be viewed through the lens of problem solving. It follows then that problem-solving skills are even more critical for life’s bigger questions.
Employers look for workers who are problem solvers, and entrepreneurs can only succeed when they are good at tackling the obstacles that life throws into their path. Accordingly, it makes sense that you would want to teach your child to be a problem solver, and that’s precisely what unschooling can do.
Most people will probably agree that throughout their academic career, they “learned” subject matter just so that they could pass an upcoming quiz or test. Once the test was taken, much of the topic was permanently erased from their mind.
In reality, this is just the way the human brain operates. It sheds information that it does not repeatedly use. Although you may retain the odd Revolutionary War battle date somewhere in your data banks, you probably wouldn’t call yourself an expert on America’s war to win its independence from Great Britain.
Unschooling is different because it allows students to take a deep dive into the topics of their choice. Before they are done, that student just might be an expert on the Revolutionary War or at least some aspect of it.
Another student might focus on ornithology while yet another becomes fascinated by psychology. The beauty of unschooling is that the student is free to pursue their passion, learning all sorts of information in a variety of ways. Those interests are allowed to change and develop with the passing of time, with the student going in-depth on a variety of subjects.
Motivation frequently is a problem in traditional classrooms. That is mainly because students are being forced to study subjects that don’t interest them. Moreover, they are being told precisely how to explore the subject without any latitude with regard to the books they read, the documentaries they view or the assignments that they complete.
Unschooling is different because students are allowed to blaze their own trail. When the topic genuinely is interesting to the student, it’s easy for hours to pass by in learning enjoyment. The student is free to go off on tangents or focus on really small aspects and details as their attention is captured and redirected.
Consider it as you might a piano student who discovers an interesting new chord. They begin to experiment with the chord, using it different ways and putting it together with other new notes and chords. Before long, they may have written an original composition, and it’s all because they had the freedom to explore.
Everyone has some natural abilities that deserve to be honed and nurtured. Unschooling lets students explore the things that they are good at with incredible depth.
It’s also worth noting that this aspect of unschooling can be enormously appealing to students who have learning disabilities. This is because unschooling does not dictate a particular learning methodology. Instead, the student is free to learn in the manner that makes the most sense for them. Accordingly, students of all abilities may excel with unschooling.
Make Prodigies Music Part of Unschooling
If you are exploring the use of unschooling principles for your kids, then you may want to discover how Prodigies Music can help. Our informative and engaging lessons are designed for kids of all ages so that they can learn at their own pace.
The lessons are suitable for everyone from the casual learner to the child who is interested in pursuing a career as a musician. Providing all of the fundamental groundwork for a music education, these lessons are fun too, ensuring that the student’s motivation to continue learning remains high.