The particular form of homeschooling we adhere to is called unschooling or lifelearning. This method of learning is based off of a child’s interests, and varies family to family. We are personally spiritual and study Vedanta and various world religions, as well as being into herbalism and ahimsa; these impact what we do on a day to day basis, and how we parent. Some families may not restrict what their kids eat, but because we are aware of how junk food companies market directly to kids, knowing they can get them hooked at a young age, we avoid going to places that sell these types of foods and drinks. It is important to us to have a healthy, happy family.
Because we travel frequently, we are what some call ‘worldschoolers‘ or roadschoolers. We are raising a global citizen, who respects herself and cultures. We believe that travel is an enriching form of education. We ‘slow travel’ and are in one place for several months or years. We love Phuket ( where we currently live) so much that it has become our home, and it will be our home base to discover this part of the world. Our pets are here, and we have a nice little house we rent. We want to learn as much about Phuket as possible before we move on to another country.
I cannot stress enough how unschooling is different for each family. If you are considering following this path, know that it is certainly more organic and natural ( and democratic) then mainstream schooling, but that doesn’t make it always easy. It is easy to let your kids ( if they are very determined like mine) run the show and you in turn begin to neglect your own needs. In our opinion, this is a very bad idea and will serve no one. Sure, you may have to be strict about some things, such as you getting in an hour of alone time a day, or something else that is important to you. Don’t let anyone tell you how to parent, find what is right for your entire family, not just one member. Strive to have balance and mutual respect, and don’t judge yourself, especially if other people tell you you are doing things incorrectly. Ignore them.
Prior to making the decision to unschool, we followed attachment parenting methods of rearing our daughter Kaya, which include co sleeping, baby wearing, extended nursing, etc. We chose not to vaccinate her, and she is almost never sick. We will do this method with all of our children, but there are a few things I regret, one being that I did not take enough time for myself. I was constantly giving and giving, on little sleep and with my creative needs unmet. Kaya is a strong willed, very serious girl ( but with a wonderful sense of love for children and animals) and when she began to hit the toddler age, she got more and more challenging. She didn’t want her father to hold her, nor anyone else. She wanted mom 24/7, but to a very extreme degree. I developed post partum depression and anxiety, and barely got through it. If I could go back in time, I would have had her spend more time with her dad and grand parents instead of only being with me, even if I had to force myself to get the free time I needed, because in the long run, I think it would have helped her feel comfortable with more people other then myself. This is hard to convey, as in the APing, natural parenting community, there is an emphasis on mom being the APer, instead of dad or grandparents. You have to feel what works for you, and take care of yourself, whether you are a single dad or mom, or whatever. In Korea, many grandparents APed until the mom got home from work, then she would take over. In India, our friends have the entire family living at home with them, ready to help with the baby and kids- a house full of cousins, grandparents, sibblings, and stepmoms/dads. How much easier is that, (and what a community of help and love/support) then just having mom slave away?
Balance is the key.
What I like about unschooling is that it is a natural way of learning: by following one’s interests. Children and adults fail to really learn from the memorise-test system that schools use. One just memorises, tests, then forgets. It is a pointless, vicious cycle, and promotes followers, not leaders. We adapt our daily routine to what Kaya is interested in learning. Since travel is a large part of our lives, she is surrounded by different cultures and languages, so she is always seeing how things are done in different parts of the world.
There are many books on the subject of unschooling, and I personally like:
The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith
The Unschooling Unmanual by Nanda Van Gestel
Unschooling: A Lifestyle of Learning by Sara McGrath
Religious and spiritual families can also unschool. I am totally in LOVE with Pagan Homeschooling, a book that anyone interested in metaphysics, spirituality, and earth based lifestyles will LOVE. I can’t thank Kristin Madden enough for writing it. Another spiritual ( but not religious) must have is Nurturing Spirituality in Children, which gives amazing hands on activities to help young children ( and older ones) learn about metaphysical concepts.
The one particular book I know of regarding religious unschooling is a Christian one called Christian Unschooling by Teri Brown. We are Vedantists ( Ramakrishna Order) and interfaith ministers, so even though we are not Christian per se, we still get a lot out of learning the basic teachings of the bible that focus on compassion. Raising Faith Filled Kids is another great addition, as is Sacred Dwelling, both of which are Christian based but can apply to any religion, if looked at in an open minded way.
I also love a few classical homeschooling books such as The Well Trained Mind and The Well educated Mind, which I enjoy for reference and for learning various things I personally find interesting. Remember, unschooling/lifelearning is a whole family activity: it is a way of living.
Q and A
Is unschooling valid as a form of education or can it be abused and turn out illiterate children?
I don’t think there is a perfect form of education, period, although I believe if we have our children’s curiosity burning, they will learn faster than if they do not wish to learn a subject. With regards to if unschooling can be abused and turn into a form of intellectual negligence, I think that is probably possible, IF a parent is not helping their children pursue their interests. I actually was asked about home education by someone here in Thailand, and their take on it was that it meant children didn’t learn to read or write, as in they had no education. Unschooling is not like that. It involves, I believe, a parent who is really interested in the learning process and helps introduce their children to different subjects. The parent in no way has a hands off attitude, but a very hands on one.
Does unschooling mean a child doesn’t take any formal courses or classes?
Not at all, and in fact we intend to enroll our daughter in language classes, if she is willing and interested. Unschooling means we don’t force children to learn a subject and try to find ways to help our children learn essential elements ( such as math) in ways that suit their interests. Let’s say a child dislikes math in a formal setting. This does not mean that they dislike math, it means they dislike the way they are learning it, because they aren’t understanding it. I would try to find creative ways to show the child how math is used on a daily basis, and knowing that say the child loves art, I would find ways to incorporate math in artistic ways or in art class. Maybe I would have them count how many shades of red we are using, for example. The parent needs to be creative like this, especially when advanced levels of math and such.
John Holt has this to say:
“… the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it”
This is the basis for unschooling so what unschooling parents try to do is stop interfering in the learning process, it doesn’t mean we are not involved or that our kids never take a formal class. It means they do, if it interests them.
What is radical unschooling?
We are not radical unschoolers, so I can’t speak for that movement, but according to Mooninmama on this thread:
‘In a nutshell radical, or whole-life unschooling entails applying the non-coercive, child-led philosophy to the rest of family life, including housework, bedtime, hygeine, entertainment media, social graces, etc.’
Further down that thread, AnneArun gives this distinction between unschooling and radical unschooling, and I agree with her on the difference:
‘Unschoolers impose no curriculum or coercion around “learning” while they still might enforce food choices, bed times etc etc.. Radical unschoolers would argue that there is no line between learning and living so “unregulate” everything. Thus giving the child control over bed time, food, tv and so on.’