On the one hand, the Unschooling Approach is defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who concluded that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. Holt believed that both desire and curiosity are destroyed by the usual methods of teaching.
In his book Teach Your Own, Holt wrote: “What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.”
On the other hand, unschooling refers to any less structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources, and adults who model a lifestyle of learning and are willing to interact with him. Formal academics are pursued when the need arises. Christians who favor less structured schooling, but with definite goals, prefer to be called “relaxed home educators,” not unschoolers.
Some questions to ask yourself before trying the Unschooling Approach:
1. Am I comfortable with few pre-set goals and little structure?
2. Do my children have strong interests in particular areas?
3. Does my family have a lot of natural curiosity and love learning?
Strengths of the Unschooling Approach:
Takes little planning
Captures the child’s “teachable moments”
Children have access to the real world, plenty of time and space to figure things out on their own
Children are less likely to become academically frustrated or “burned out”
Children can delve into a subject as deeply or as shallowly as they desire
Provides a discipleship model of learning
Creates self-learners with a love of learning
Weaknesses of the Unschooling Approach:
May neglect some subjects
Hard to assess level of learning
Lacks the security of a clearly laid out program
Is extremely child-centered
Difficult to explain to others
May be overly optimistic about what children will accomplish on their own
Resources for the Unschooling Approach
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith tells how to use the whole world as your child’s classroom. Fun to read, the book is a compilation of input and advice from many families who are unschooling their children.
Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax. The story of California goat farmers whose interesting, encouraging, unorthodox methods of home educating their four adopted sons won the boys scholarships to Harvard and Yale. Contains an outline of the course of study they used.
Christian Unschooling “If you are new to homeschooling – BUY THIS BOOK! It will save you years of frustration and confusion. If you are a veteran homeschooler trying to unschool – BUY THIS BOOK! It will comfort you, inspire you, encourage you, and always be at hand when you need a word of wisdom and an optimistic opinion of what you are trying to do for your children! It will thoroughly explain unschooling to you in an easy-to-understand way!”
And of course, you can’t study unschooling without reading books by John Holt, the “father” of unschooling. His books are wonderfully thought-provoking and give you a real appreciation for the natural learning ability of your children. Read all of these! How Children Learn, Learning All the Time, and Teach Your Own .
Also highly recommended: Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School
The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood is full of ideas for Christians to home school in a more natural and unstructured way. Mary covers how to teach all of the subjects from elementary ages through high school with an eclectic approach rather than by sticking rigidly to prepackaged curricula.
Also, see the From Home School to Home Business CD set. In her sessions, Mary explains how to use a relaxed home school approach for all ages.