Unschooling Offers Lessons for Adults

Unschooling Offers Lessons for Adults August 19, 2014

kids playing

At the CFAR alumni reunion, a lot of the time was reserved for unconferences/lightning talks, where people could present short to medium talks on topics that interested them (or baffled them).  One pair of attendees talked about their project of unschooling their daughter, which resulted in a lot of thoughtful discussion and questions.

Unschooling is an alternative to run of the mill schools that is very child-directed.  While other homeschoolers may work through the same curriculum and textbooks as their regular school counterparts, unschoolers learn whatever interests them, in the order that it occurs to them to be interested.  (For much more vivid/concrete idea of what this looks like, try this essay).

Some of our discussion was about the merits of the unschooling approach, but I think I got the most out of the how discussion, where we granted the premise that unschooling was a good idea for a little while, and tried to figure out what was needed to pull it off.  Unschooled kids aren’t going to learn math by fiat; they’ll pick it up iff it attracts the aesthetically, they see other people they like taking joy in it, or they need it for something else they’re already doing.

Thus, it makes a lot of sense to me that the family in the article I linked above lives on a farm, where there’s a lot to do.  Their boys have the space and resources to build semi-permanent structures in the woods, and thus pick up information about architecture, physics, math, etc.

If you’re relying on the environment to trigger a yearning to know, it seems logical to either go full rural or to stick to cities.  (Especially cities with adventure playgrounds).  Suburbs, which are nearly empty during the day and don’t include many things to interact with, are a pretty dreadful option, and likely to trigger the scenarios Gracy Olmstead fears, where the self-directed child just plays relatively undemanding computer games, for lack of a better option.

Because I don’t have kids yet, I approached the unschooling discussion as an interesting thought experiment, more than a possible cue to action.  But, as I was trying to come up with strategies and constraints that would help unschooling families, it did seem like it would be useful, even to childless adults like myself, to ask whether out current lifestyle is conducive to unschooling.

If the ticky-tacky suburbs aren’t likely to  prompt kids to learn and explore and build, they probably won’t do much for me, either.  I’d either need to make darn sure my job or extracurriculars are filling the gap and/or alter the environment.  The same goes for all the other prerequisites of unschooling: people who are interested in your interests/joy, people who share their own and answer questions, time and energy to take on challenging projects, etc.

Asking how I’d change my circumstances to improve my hypothetical unschooling helps me identify and alter my environment, so it’s tailored to learners — of whatever age.


Today is the sixth day of my novena to St. Maximilian Kolbe.  Free free to pray along.

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