Homeschooling, Unschooling, and the Early Years

Do you like how my titles sometimes read like research papers? I do it to fool you into thinking I know what I’m talking about.

But I’ve been thinking about this. The idea of unschooling really appeals to me. Unschooling is completely child-led. The child is left to pursue knowledge, and the theory goes that if you do really leave them alone, rather than directing their learning, they will become well-educated as a result of their own pursuits. They will learn things as needed or as desired, and eventually will have collected the requisite knowledge to function in their adult lives. It’s a different way of looking at learning.

It’s not to say there aren’t textbooks – there are textbooks if the child chooses them. The key to unschooling is having a wide, wide variety of books and materials available, to make liberal use of the library and other resources in the community, to present to your child a wide, wide variety of experiences.

But unschooling is not, as I have seen in some places – in person and online – just not doing anything. IMO, anyway, it’s not just living a normal life and assuming a child will be learning as you go. (They will be, assuredly, but how is a child to know that they are fascinated with the Victorian era in American history if they’re never exposed to the idea? Unschooling places a huge burden on parents to make sure they’re providing adequate life experiences to their children, to be interested in things themselves and share them with their children, etc.)

The  more I think about unschooling, the more I realize that I don’t think it works well for the early years. Or at least, a certain POINT in the early years. And at least the total-free-wheeling unschooling.

Early on, perhaps through age 5 or 6, unschooling (or NO schooling) is the only way, IMO. I think formal schooling for preschoolers is not only silly but also detrimental – unless they’re asking for it. Wally – and many youngsters – hit a point when he thought worksheets were DA BOMB. I think formal (group) schooling is not particularly great for 5 or 6 year olds, either, but…

and now I switch to first-person, since I’m no education researcher and my experience is limited to my own son.

Wally has hit a point where he’s not happy just doing nothing. He loves learning. Loves finding out about new stuff. “I never knew that before!” he says all the time (accompanied by “I know everything there is to know”). But yet, he has not developed the skills to really pursue learning on his own. He may observe that a plant has a part above the ground and a part below the ground, but without the ability to read yet, he has no way to learn that the parts have names. And, honestly, it would not even occur to him that they might have names, unless he’s been exposed to the idea before.

I’m being struck more and more at just how much there is to know, and how very little of it he does know, even after 3 years of purposeful exposure to a variety of experiences. (Museums, the zoo, books, movies, educational software.) Some of it, he just hasn’t been ready to absorb. Yet I know that by the time he’s 7 or so, he’ll be better equipped to explore learning on his own. He’ll have had enough experiences to know that there is always more to learn.

At this point, though he is curious, he often doesn’t know where to start. I wonder if he’s just so overwhelmed with the vast amounts of knowledge out there.

I watch him at the Science Center, for example. He will wander from place to place, doing a few things, but not really able to take in much because so many of the displays rely on being able to read. If I help him, asking questions, reading the signs, drawing his attention here or there, then he can take off on his own, asking more questions, or remembering other things he’s learned elsewhere that are relevant, etc. It’s like he needs a starter. The displays that he’s more familiar with, he’s able to take in more.

So, for now, we’re getting a bit more formal with our homescooling. I have details over at Wallyboy. Though we’re getting more formal, we’re still only about an hour (not necessarily including craft time, which can last all day), three days a week. He seems to be thriving with what we’ve been doing, and I think bringing greater organization to our days will only help.

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3 responses to “Homeschooling, Unschooling, and the Early Years

  1. Oops, hit send too soon.
    Guiding, helping, exposing, reading for the child, to the child, etc., all facilitates learning. So just expand this to all you do (which I’m sure you’ve been doing…) and you have unschooling.

  2. I find this all very interesting, thanks for sharing your thoughts! We are not at the point quite yet of having to really figure out what path we are going to take, but I really do love the idea of unschooling. One of my very good friends up in Decorah who studied early childhood education feels very strongly about Waldorf form of learning/schooling. I never really knew much about it before she explained the style of learning, and there are parts of it that really seem close to the same ideas as unschooling, only in a non-traditional class room setting. I wish we had this as an option here in our local area, I would really explore it some more, but I’m pretty sure we don’t.

    So many routes that can be chosen based on what is best for the child and his/her spirit! This opens my mind to the possibilities for sure!

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