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Understanding the Concept of Unschooling
For parents who are helping their children with schooling at home during the COVID-19 crisis, knowing more about the concept of unschooling as a support to their online classes can be helpful and enlightening.
The term ‘unschooling’ was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the father of unschooling. Often considered a subset of homeschooling, unschooling has received less media attention.
Today’s more progressive educators tend to think that the early days of public education were intended more as instruments to manage mass population, rather than a purposeful method that addressed the individual child’s educational needs and learning style like those of many private schools.
Although the late 19th century saw changes with the progressive educational movement, it still lacked many of the features that people like John Holt and John Taylor Gatto adopted later as better ways to engage children in wanting to learn. That’s when unschooling and other related educational concepts began to appear.
Critics of unschooling see it as a rather extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their schooled peers. Proponents of unschooling say the exact opposite is true: that self-directed education in an open, natural, free environment better equips children to handle the real world much better. Supporters of unschooling, it seems, have a great deal in common with many modern day educational methodologies.
Advocates of unschooling have experienced the positive aspects of the method, first-hand and offer a point of view that highlights these features:
Freedom and Flexibility
Unschooled children are free to explore and learn about subject matter that interests them within a flexible schedule. Visits to museums and other places of interest are generally relaxed and informative.
Natural Hands-On (Real World) Learning
When a child is allowed to learn through hands-on, real-life situations, he or she learns the facts and not just how to manipulate a process. Before a child is school age, learning happens naturally as part of life.
When children are free to explore what they love to do and enjoy doing, there is very little stress and plenty of inspiration and discovery.
Unschooling creates an environment where children are nurtured and allowed to grow and learn naturally. The emphasis is placed on learning and relating rather than finishing a chapter or passing a test. Learning how to collaborate builds relationships and social skills.
Love to Learn
The learning may be child-led, but the parents still become quite involved in their child’s education through guidance (not control), by placing learning opportunities within the child’s path. Unschooling is sometimes referred to as “stoking the fires of learning”.
When a child is interested in a topic, it’s a natural progression to learn about everything associated with that topic. Learning, then, becomes easy and natural, opening the potential for grasping concepts at a much higher level than in the confines of a set curriculum.
Unschooling allows every child to learn at his or her own level without competition. It works extremely well with parents of multiple-grade-level children.
While many people don’t agree with the benefits of unschooling, the downside is narrow compared to the upside. Some of the most common rebuffs are these:
Lack of Structure
Because unschooling does not spell out details of what needs to be learned, people looking for more instruction and guidance probably find it difficult. Also, the so-called lack of structure could actually refer to lack of imagination on the part of who is teaching.
Lack of Proof (No Standardized Testing)
Part of the idea of unschooling is to get away from standardized testing which has not proved very successful in public schools. Just because the child moves around from first grade level to fifth and back, does not indicate failure. Without a quantifiable method of proof that their child is learning, some parents feel out of control.
Critical Eye of Others
Anything different will always attract criticism, even if it’s an innocent comment from a loving grandparent or uncle, so the concept of unschooling opens the door to doubters.
Spoiled Child and Learning Gaps
Critics of unschooling say it’s chaos and educational neglect in an environment the child controls, which suggests the child is undisciplined and spoiled, without learning how to cope with conflict or being told no.
What comes to light in this story is how many of the concepts of unschooling mirror the educational tenets of Yorktown Education. We believe that children flourish when allowed to advance based on their personal and academic performance — not based on grade level or age.
We advocate independent and critical thinking within a nurturing environment.
Our students learn self-management early on and develop a ‘love of learning’ from the very start. We take great pride in the fact that many of Yorktown’s students graduate early, heading off to college with the advantage of being measurably ahead of the curve.
Take a look at some of Yorktown Education’s Video Testimonials and discover for yourself what our students and parents have to say. Then give us a call and let’s talk about how we can make an astounding difference in your child’s education.