Unschooling: An Alternative to Traditional Education
Across Australia, around 20,000 families have registered to home school their children, with more making the switch from school to home-based learning every year. Home education offers families more freedom and flexibility than school-based learning. It allows parents to choose how, when, where and what their child learns.
There are many different ‘ways’ to homeschool, from the traditional ‘school at home’ approach to more relaxed ways of learning. The concept of ‘unschooling’ is becoming a popular choice among homeschoolers, with many choosing to ditch structured lessons in favour of informal child-led experiences. But if you do a scan of the comments on any social media post about unschooling, you’ll quickly see that some view it as a radical, reckless, lazy or irresponsible approach to education.
So, what exactly is unschooling?
Unschooling, also known as natural learning or independent learning, is an unstructured, informal approach to learning. It based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn. Unschoolers don’t think that structured learning experiences, like the lessons that occur in a school classroom, are necessary. Instead, they believe that learning will happen naturally when children are allowed to explore the topics they are interested in. Parents don’t take on the title of ‘teacher’ or ‘educator’, but instead work alongside their child and support them by providing their children with time, space and resources to explore the topics of their choice.
The nickname ‘unschooling’ is used because this approach to learning is seen as the opposite of school-based learning. Unschoolers view school-based learning as restrictive and rigid, and most disagree with the idea of a prescribed ‘one-size-fits-all’ curriculum that maps out what should be learnt and when. A lot of unschoolers are parents who have previously sent their child to school but decided that it wasn’t the right fit for their child and have moved to home-based education.
They see unschooling as a better choice because it allows their child to explore ideas of their own choosing and learn at their own pace, rather than being told what to learn and when.
Many people think that unschooling is all about removing all boundaries and limits in a child’s life: basically, letting children do what they want, when they want, without restriction. This makes people uncomfortable, because it goes against what the experts keep telling us: that children need the adults in their life to put in place firm boundaries and consistent consequences. While there are ‘radical unschoolers’ who do believe in a ‘no limits’ lifestyle, others take a more moderate approach. A lot of parents who are unschooling agree that this is an approach to learning, not an excuse to practice ‘unparenting’.
They describe unschooling as removing restrictions on learning, but still having authority as parents to make rules and decisions for their children.
There are some educational experts who agree with the concept of unschooling, however others are staunch opponents to it. One argument against unschooling is that it’s unrealistic to think that children can learn efficiently without some level of explicit instruction, and others think there will be gaps in a child’s learning because children are, well, children and they don’t know what they need to learn or may choose to engage in activities that don’t further their education.
Some people believe unschooling doesn’t teach children about general life skills they might learn in a school, like being able to complete repetitive, boring or unpleasant tasks. There are also questions around whether some parents are looking for an easy way out, choose to say they are unschooling simply because they see it as less intensive and demanding than more traditional approaches to homeschooling.