I Didn’t Teach Them That

How much do you think school needs to be like school?  I used to think I’d start homeschool each day with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Now I feel lucky if we start the day with a banana to eat and real clothes on.  Curious people ask me about our daily schedule.  I freeze up like they’ve caught me stealing candy at the checkout lane.—  Uh.  Uh.  Learning and teaching happen in this house.  They do!—  But if you casually drop in for only two hours, you’ll leave saying,  “Those people don’t do school.”  Um.  They are right.  Uh.  We don’t do school.  Snagged.

Unschooling.  If Mowgli is left all alone in a forest and no one is around to watch him learn, has he really learned?  Yes, he has.  A fellow homeschooling mom, Corinne Jacob, corresponded with me about educational philosophies, mildewed laundry (place in the sun to remove the mildew smell), and the best way to exterminate a fruit fly infestation (a jar with old fruit in it and covered with a paper funnel).  She loves to ponder education methods and her husband encouraged her to take her head out of the clouds and write about them.  So she did.  You’ll find her articles on homeschool sites and her own Alternative Tutelage.  She personally implements a bit of an unschooling method and offered to write about unschooling for my blog.  I will run her article over 2-3 posts.

As written by Corinne Jacob with sarcastic, italicized comments from the peanut gallery (me) here and there…

Does Unschooling Really Work?

For most people, the concept of unschooling is difficult to digest. Many times, this bewilderment stems from misconceptions.  (Try this one on for size:  “Those people homeschool because they’re too lazy to take their kids to school.”  Really?) In other cases, people are just so used to the system of schooling that they have trouble believing that it can be abandoned completely. Often, it’s a combination of both that causes people to react with shock to the idea of unschooling. But irrespective of the reason behind society’s non-acceptance, it makes life a lot more difficult for unschooling families.

Unschooling1autumn leaves boy” by Philippe Put is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Contrary to popular belief, unschooling can and very often does work incredibly well. (This is a nice article about a man who did some research on unschooling.  Fun to read!)  Unlike what many people think, unschooling parents are not disinterested, unconcerned or unaware of what their kids are learning. In fact, unschooling requires the parents to be far more involved than parents of schooled and home-schooled children. Yes, children are allowed to watch re-runs on Netflix or play pet games online (I swear when I was sick-on-the-couch-pregnant my kids were down in the basement watching American Pie on Netflix…) all day every day if that’s what they want to do. And yes, the kids are actually learning a great deal when they do so. Not sure that makes any sense? It’s natural to be confused, unless you take some time to really understand what unschooling is all about.

Unschooling, also called interest-led learning, is basically student directed learning. Kids learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it. There is no pressure to learn specific subjects or meet any standards. There are no textbooks, classrooms, teachers or curricula. So do these kids learn anything at all? Absolutely.

Any unschooled family will tell you that the kids are learning from the moment they wake up until they fall sleep at night. The only thing is the learning that happens in these households looks nothing like the learning that happens at school. It is joyful, passionate and exciting. It is actively sought out rather than externally imposed. It happens as a by-product of living out one’s childhood rather than as the primary objective behind one’s childhood.

Perhaps you’ve seen glimpses of it in your own life. Like the time you learned how to decorate cakes by watching tutorials on YouTube, simply because you love making beautiful cakes.  (Or the time you realized conventional medicine put your family on 15 prescriptions and reading about and implementing intensive diet change could and did get you off them.  And you’re mad because you were overcharged for a pharmacy and medical school education.)  Or the time you learned a foreign language as a by-product of your constant interaction with the native speakers of that language. Nobody told you what to learn, how to learn it or how much to learn. You learned what was interesting to you and what you thought was useful, and left out the rest of it. Pretty much exactly how unschoolers learn. There is one difference, of course. You have already studied reading, writing, math and the other basic subjects according to the standards set by the state. Unschoolers are allowed to learn even those basic subjects naturally. And that is what people have trouble accepting. What if the kids never learn to read, or write, or do basic math? How will they ever learn those crucial school subjects if no one is monitoring their learning?  TO BE CONTINUED…


The next unschooling post by Corinne Jacob will explore how unschoolers go about learning the material presented in traditional classes.  Personally, I am an eclectic homeschooler, which means I incorporate many methods of having my children acquire a good education.  We unschool in the areas of science, reading, and art; other areas I refuse to leave to their own devices.  However, I am slowly becoming an unschool convert, allowing my children more independence, while keeping tabs on when they need me.

Think about something that you think you are very good at.  How did you get good at it?  By your own motivation?  By an imposing teacher or parent?  By doing it?  Or reading about it?  I’d love to know!  To explore this idea of how far we can allow our children to learn on their own.

Eat right.  Feed your children right.  Their brains are counting on it.  Oil from whole fish and nuts is better than anything fried in vegetable oil.







11 thoughts on “I Didn’t Teach Them That

  1. Simple Days Making for Exciting Adventures

    Where to even begin? I LOVE the idea of unschooling. I think we pretty much are unschoolers-except that we aren’t. LOL! I still have a little bit of my type A in me and my husband is still 100% type A. He definitely likes to see the kids sitting at the table working. I love seeing the kids learn through their interests. My oldest pretty much refused to read until her received his scout book which he has read cover to cover multiple times. I see how it works. I LOVE this series and I look forward to reading more. I wish I could get myself and my husband on board with unschooling (maybe with a side of math). 🙂

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      LOL! “He definitely likes to see the kids sitting at the table working…” and “…Maybe with a side of math.” I so hear you! It is a struggle with what we know and are familiar with and know “works” versus what we don’t know, but have glimpses of, and have these hazy, cloudy visions of brilliance (not in the IQ sense of the word) in our children. But to let go and trust is unclear. Hard. Suspect. What if it fails? Then I’ve failed them. And then maybe I should have just done it the old, standard, conventional way…

  2. andthreetogo

    I am a huge supporter of unschooling. Honestly, besides the social aspect of Z’s life here in Phuket (which is really a long story and I don’t want to take up your whole day) I would be completely un-schooling Z. In fact I have really been doing so since her birth. Isn’t that really what we are all doing, by teaching through play and arts and crafts and even chores? I really love the chores part… hahah. Anyways, if we were ever to move back to the states, I would be an unschooler all the way. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Does Unschooling Work? | The HSD

  4. My Tropical Home

    I’m going to be unschooling in a few months after we wrap up our 6 year “school at home” journey (out here it’s “indie homeschooling” or “independent homeschooling” – long story). After reading this post and the others on the page, I was curious enough to look up where the word “school” originated from. Interestingly, here’s the word history of “school” if you don’t mind my sharing on your blog from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:

    “Word History of SCHOOL

    You may not think of your education as relaxation, but, believe it or not, the word school can be traced back to a Greek word meaning “leisure.” Ancient Greek scholē, “rest, leisure,” came to be applied to the philosophical discussions in which the best of Greek society spent their free time (of which they had a great deal, since slaves did most of the real work). The meaning of scholē was extended to the groups who listened to a particular philosopher, and later to the set of beliefs held by such a group. When Latin schola was borrowed from Greek, the emphasis fell more on the place where a philosopher spoke, and it is the sense “place of instruction” that was ultimately passed to English.”

    It’s so interesting how far from the original meaning present-day “schooling” has gone, and how “unschooling” is actually a throwback to the original meaning of the word “school”!

    Loved the unschooling series you hosted.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Wow! That’s cool! I enjoyed learning that ! Thank you very much indeed for sharing it! I am very happy (when I step back, lol! when you’re in the trenches it’s kind of rough…) with how our school is going and am so grateful that I have the opportunity to educate my children in this way. I know that is simply not the case in all places, even if I may grumble about this or that going on over here in the States. I wish you a great “schole” with much discussion, animation, desire to learn and broaden horizons and so on! May we step back to the golden days of Greece… (I’d better close. I’m getting goofy.)–Terri

      1. My Tropical Home

        Not sure if I want to go back to Greece…all that humanism is the reason everything has gone nuts in this world. But I am glad to have learned that “schole” was really more relaxed and not what we have now..

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