7 Steps to Unschooling

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Self-Taught!



Editor’s Note: Maybe this is the first time you are educating your kids at home. Maybe you’ve thought about it before, but felt too nervous to try. 

Susie Bright, a writer and mom who lives in Santa Cruz, went beyond traditional homeschooling by “unschooling” her daughter, from first-grade through high school graduation. Unschooling is a style of home education that allows the student's interests and curiosities to drive the path of learning. Rather than using a defined curriculum, unschoolers trust children to gain knowledge organically. 

Here’s her advice if you want to experiment by doing away with schedules and syllabi. 

 

Autodidacts, homeschoolers, self-taught do-er’s have an a-ha! moment they’ll never forget.  Once they see the centrifugal force of natural learning, outside the the coursework of the mainstream school system, they never gave it up. It’s the fount of critical thinking and invention. 

When you think about some of the most powerful things you’ve ever known and done, I bet you’ll see that many did not spring from a school desk.

If you’ve been on a school-day treadmill for years, it might take a moment to take this in. After all, many of us love our children’s teachers, and love the childcare that allows us to collect our own thoughts every day. But here we are, quarantined in the Corona-shelter. No need to panic that your brood is going to turn stupid and inert. Not in the least. 

Human beings are natural information-seeking machines; we love to find out. We have incredible capacity and ingenuity. Sure, first we crave the taboo treats, but you can only eat so many chocolate bars. How many snacking hours are possible? Not as many as you fear. 

Then comes boredom. “I’m BORED!”  It’s the first sign that inertia is ending! Self-generated curiosity is about to explode, if you don’t get in the way. No rescues for boredom, only the fateful next steps the children take themselves.

Ready for what comes next? 

1. Explore. Whatever you do with your children, no matter which direction they set in motion, they will figure out and explore every dimension of their interest. It will lead to paths you never would have guessed at the start. A passion for, say,  pizza — will leap into every corner of the arts and sciences. Yes, start with something, anything, they adore, and follow the subject like a breadcrumb trail. Learning was never meant to be broken up into 30-minute blocks of reading, writing, ‘rithmetic.  Welcome to unschooling.

2.  Journal every day, with a big empty notebook and your favorite pens, markers, pencils. Even if your kids don’t know how to write – they like to pretend they do. Go with it. Our hand/eye self-expression is so important.  Show them how to write the day and date at the top of a new page, and set aside time to have them draw or write whatever they like. It’s not to share, unless they want to. It’s not to be corrected. They figure it out, they always do. You might like to do it alongside them, in your own daily journal, for a half-hour or more every day.

3. Clean the house. Learn and teach every part of how one cares for precious stuff: their laundry, floors, blankets, beds, toys and tools. Teach them what all the soaps and oils and potions do. Get out the ironing board, the mop. Yes, it’s science class. You may recall that many of our ancestors did this for a living, starting when they were 6 and 7. It’s thrilling at any age to know how to take care of your stuff and to take care of other people. Priceless.

4. Cooking. Everyone splits up the week to make communal meals and special treats. There are recipes and videos for how to make everything! If you’re an "assistant" to a new cook, let them figure it out as much as they can. Don’t steal that pleasure! Sure, there might be a few weird meals, but they’ll want to make their favorite dish with more passion than anyone. 

5. Sing. Sing out loud. Sing new songs, learn new lyrics, write them in a song book! Every day people are poking their heads out a window or door and singing with others, often at the same time. Find out who in the neighborhood (maybe it’s you!) wants to sing too, or just begin on your own. It’s contagious. Your kids will be curious about who composed the song of the day, what kind of music it was inspired by. Enjoy reading about your artist. Record it all and podcast it, if you like!

6. Read out loud every day. All of you. Something each of you pick, that you find fascinating. A fairy tale, a comic, a news story, a poem, an advice column. Everyone in your home will be reading aloud and listening to each other. If you want to do a play or something with multi-parts, go for it! 

7. Get outside every day. Maybe you’ll see a flower or fruit growing outside and be inspired to grow one of your own in a pot, in the window, in a garden. If you’ve never gardened before in your life, pick something you are absolutely crazy about. A beautiful rose? Your very own watermelon patch? Get started.

 
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