Making The Transition To Unschooling

May 11, 2023

About three months into my family's homeschooling journey back in 2020, we discovered that what we were doing was not sustainable.

I had found an amazing online all in one homeschool curriculum that was totally customizable to each student. We did this for the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year. And I loved it!

But my boys did not. They were 7 and 11 at the time. So 2nd and 6th grade.

This made me very sad, and at first I tried to coerce them to participate anyway (gently, but still forcibly.)

I have always been a "schooly" person. I was good in school and I always did what was expected of me. So when my boys didn't follow suite I was actually quite disappointed. I was excited to "play school" with them and implement my own school routine at home. In fact, I spent hours making sure each of my boys' curriculum had all the right courses at their appropriate level. That their workload for each day wasn't too much, or too little. I even scheduled in time for breaks and chores.

But when all of this didn't work, it was a very tough decision for me to scrap it. I kept thinking: "Maybe they're the ones that need to change? Maybe I need to make them like it?"

In all honesty, I was choosing the curriculum and structure over what was best for my boys.

And I believe that the reason I was feeling that way was partially because I had a poor view of what education was.

I thought that we need strict school structure and curriculum; that actual learning happened during a set time and place.

Boy was I wrong.

After that three months of failed curriculum-based "school at home" style of homeschooling, we decided to "take a break" and then try again with something new, maybe a new curriculum, a different schedule, a change in mindset, something.

Well, spoiler alert, we are still on that "break" and we probably will be indefinitely.

I can't think of anything that is better than what we are doing right now. We fell into this "unschooling" category of homeschooling. No curriculum, no schedules, no arbitrary rules or lessons. Just living life and learning along the way, how nature intended.

You see, humans are hardwired to learn.

It's how God created us.

We live, and we learn.

We crave knowledge.

We figure out how to solve problems.

We naturally learn more about the things that interest us.

If you think about school as the only way to "get an education," then you are both under-valuing our innate need and drive to learn, and over-estimating school's actual impact and worth.

I read in a book recently that talked about how people nowadays trust in the school system so much that if we started implementing a walking course for every 6 month old baby, a couple generations from now people would believe that humans would never learn to walk without walking school.

That's where we are right now with reading, writing, and math.

When I started looking into this, I came across this website about unschooling academics and it really helped me understand that these skills are easily picked up just through daily interactions with the world around us. I started to look for the academic value in each activity that my newly unschooled children chose. It was getting exhausting, really, trying to keep track of all of the bits of information I could categorize as "educational."

It's so hard to imagine how children can possibly learn these basic academic skills without formal instruction. But it happens, all the time. We just don't see it, or rather, we don't think there is anything to see, so we don't look.

This is especially hard if you yourself did really well in school, perhaps you have an overinflated sense of school's importance or influence in your life? (I am talking to myself here). I truly believe I have gained more useable knowledge in the years after high school than I did during my whole 12 years in the public school system.

Our job as a homeschool or unschooling parent is not to shove information into their heads and call it education, it's to establish an environment in which we can foster their natural love for learning. We get to provide resources that benefit them.

If you plan some elaborate school year curriculum complete with worksheets and projects and crafts, but they don't enjoy them, and therefore do not learn anything or retain any of the information they learned, what's the purpose?

I like to think that I am preparing my sons for the real world. And in the real world, no one forces me to complete a worksheet of a hundred math facts in five minutes, so why would I do that to my children? What does that prepare them for? A test? For what? Not for real life, that's for sure. If anything, it makes them resent math rather than viewing math as a useful and relevant problem solving tool.

What also helped was my own deschooling. I had to unlearn everything I knew about education and what children actually need in order to become productive and successful adults. I realized that since not every person ends up pursuing the same career path, let alone the same life path, there's really no need for everyone to have the same education. We don't need to know everything that is taught in school, and most of it we just forget right away.

So the way I see it, why waste the time in the first place?

Instead, focus on what interests your child, and spend the time learning about that.

I have a white board hanging in our dining room with a few quotes on it to keep us focused. I don't even remember where these quotes came from, they very well could be my own or partially my own. They say:

"Learn by living. You will learn what you need to know, when you need to know it."

"Every person has gaps in their education, it's ok!" That's what Google is for...

"Learning can only happen when you are interested. So figure out what interests you, and let's learn more about it!"