Ten Tips for New Unschooling
|by Jan Hunt
|Because few of today's unschooling
parents were unschooled themselves, they may have many fears about
their own competence to create a rewarding learning environment.
These fears are based on the parent's inexperience with
unschooling as well as on the false assumptions about learning
that their school experiences taught them years ago. When the
present generation of unschooling children become parents
themselves, they will have more confidence and trust in the
process. As I often tell my clients, today's generation of parents
have it the hardest, because they have to trust a process that
they themselves never experienced directly.
Here are ten tips for making a smooth transition:
1. Let the Child Lead
Parents new to unschooling often feel overwhelmed by the
assumption that everything is in their hands. They believe that it
is up to them to choose the topics for each day. If that
assumption were true, most unschooling parents would burn out
quickly and send their children to school! Fortunately, the truth
is just the opposite. The best way to help a child learn is to let
him have the reins - he will naturally know what is of most
interest to him at every moment, and will make that clear to you.
Trust that your child knows best what he is ready and eager to
learn, and then help him to find whatever materials or information
he needs. The best analogy is to a reference librarian, who waits
until he knows what the library patron is looking for, and then
helps him to find it. No reference librarian tells the patron what
to learn, though he may make suggestions once he knows the
patron's interests. Relax and let your child take the lead. Once
this concept is fully understood, unschooling becomes easy and
|2. Everything is Educational
Many parents just starting to unschool feel intimidated by the
assumption that educational activities have to be scheduled into
each day. Because they have attended school, they learned the
invalid but relentlessly taught lesson that some things are
"educational" and others are not. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Everything in life is educational. Every
single thing the child does brings learning, and the more fun he
is having, the easier the process will be. Even those subjects
that seem hard to schoolchildren, such as grammar and math, will
come about naturally as they are needed in real life.
|3. Freedom is Essential for Learning
Forget everything school taught you about the importance of
"maintaining focus". Keeping children focused in school
(even if it takes drugs to do it) meets the teacher's needs
- it makes it easier for them to manage the classroom. But the use
of force - of any kind - interferes with learning, because the
child feels coerced, monitored and limited. Children are naturally
aware of many things at once - there is so much for them to learn
and think about. We should treasure their spontaneity and
curiosity, not force them to stay focused on what we think they
should be learning. An unschooling child stays focused on whatever
interests him in that moment - and that is the best way to learn.
4. Rest is as Important as Activity
Research shows that significantly more learning takes place when
there are rest breaks in the learning activity (adult subjects
given breaks remember more material than those given no breaks).
The human brain needs time to process information. Don't assume
that the child is ever "doing nothing" or "just
playing". Just because we can't see the processing doesn't
mean it isn't there. Activity and rest are equally important to
the learning process. A child recuperating from school or other
stressful experiences will need even more "downtime" to
5. Trust Your Child's Built-in Timetable
Learning schedules and school timetables interfere with learning.
If someone starts to warn you that your child "has to
learn..." just tell yourself that he will learn it, at
exactly the moment he's ready to learn it, in the way that feels
most right to him. Even if we could somehow force a child to learn
something sooner, he might forget it, or worse, lose interest in
that subject. Isn't it better for a child to learn to read when he
most wants to do so, developing a lifelong love of reading, than
being forced to learn at a younger age, growing into adulthood
with an aversion toward reading in general? Schools focus so much
on each school year, they seem to forget that the child is
preparing for an entire lifetime - not just for next Friday's
|6. Freedom and Happiness Form the Best
Foundation for Learning
Have no expectations about what an unschooling child should look
like. An unschooling child will not look like a school child. She
will not be intimidated by authority figures. She will look freer
and happier, and will express her needs and feelings in more
mature ways. Trust that the unschooling child is doing things
naturally, and learning about life in the way children learned for
millennia before public schools existed.
7. Trust Your Child's Learning Style
Remember that each child has his own way of approaching learning,
and whatever that way is, it's the very best way for him. My son
taught himself the alphabet by creating the letters with his whole
body. I was glad he wasn't in a classroom where he would have been
told to sit down! Trust that your child's learning style is the
right one for him.
|8. Remember that Unschooling is for You Too
The whole family can learn right along with the child. This time
around, the learning will be more interesting and last much
longer. Watching a child learn in a joyful and easy way can bring
vicarious pleasure, helping the parents to heal from difficulties
they experienced in school years ago. Topics that the parent grew
to dislike in childhood can now be appreciated fully.
9. Enjoy the Freedom
Unschooling is freeing, not just for the child, but for the whole
family. Unschooling families can enjoy quiet playgrounds during
school hours, take family vacations in September, and introduce
their children to people of all ages. The family is also freed
from the tyranny of the daily school schedule.
10. Have fun!
Unschooling at its best is great fun for everyone. Be on the alert
for books, toys, games and activities you think your child will
enjoy. Make them available, but with no expectations or pressure.
Films, board games, leisurely walks and outings with family and
friends not only bring more learning but create the connection and
trust that underlie the best learning environment.
If you can trust the unschooling process and trust your child,
even when that feels like a leap of faith, you'll soon learn how
easy and joyful unschooling can be!
"Little children love the world. That is why they are
so good at learning about it. For it is love, not tricks and
techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true
learning. Can we bring ourselves to let children learn and grow
through that love?"
- John Holt,
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers phone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting, unschooling, and personal matters.
She is the Director of The Natural
Child Project and author of The Natural Child:
Parenting from the Heart and A Gift
|More articles by Jan
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