John Holt (1923-1985) was an American educator, who through his work with children formed some set ideas about the way people learn best. He advocated for education reform, home education and coined the term unschooling. John Holt believed learning should be self directed, and that children like all people want to learn about the world around them, therefore didn’t need to be pushed to do so. In an interview with Marlene Bumgarner, John Holt said “Basically that the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we need to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.”
Unschooling is often defined by what it’s not, not school, not replicating school at home, not curriculum based learning, not timetables, not enforced book work, not ‘schoolwork’. Most importantly unschooling is not un-parenting, unschooling actually works best and possibly only works when children are partnered by connected and engaged people.
So what exactly is unschooling ? For my family unschooling is more than just an educational philosophy or method, it’s a lifestyle. Unschooling is cramming our lives with as much curiosity, adventure, new experiences, connection with nature, fun and laughter as possible, it’s following our interests and creating environments within our home, community and world that support learning. We work in partnership to build connected relationships that enable us to thrive in our own way and time.
Unschooling allows my children to follow their interests no matter how insignificant that might seem to outsiders. My experience has been that viewing the world with the perception that learning is everywhere has opened many doors I’d not have thought possible. We have traveled within Australia and overseas, visited museums, art galleries, science centers, experienced different cultures, watched theater and opera performances, explored national parks, spent loads of time in nature, climbed mountains, snorkeled, researched everything from cars to bees to superhero’s and the list goes on. I see myself as a facilitator of my children’s learning it’s not my job to tell them what to learn, rather it is to support them in learning what they want to learn and from there the connections will come.
Unschooling doesn’t mean no formal lessons or teaching, rather it’s choosing when those things might be useful or necessary. For me the idea is that parents/adults help and guide children to learn what they want to learn, sometimes that’s through sharing information, sometimes that’s showing them how to do something, sometimes it’s organizing resources or requested lessons, sometimes it’s backing off and letting them do it themselves and sometimes most importantly it’s following your own curiosity.
While I focus a lot on my children learning, there is another really important part of unschooling. Modelling the behavior we want to see, if we want our child to read, we need to read, read for ourselves, read to our children, listen to audio books, visit the library, by immersing ourselves and our families in literature and children can’t help but want to read. If we want our child to be curious, we need to be curious, follow our own interests, show our children how amazing and interesting we think our world is and they will see it too.
Our life is best summed up in this quote, “So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously and with more curiosity than we might normally feel inclined. Rather than feel like we need to drive the kids to be more curious about life, we should be more curious. We should put on the CD of digeridoo music because we’re curious not because we think it would be good for the kids to hear.Which is a long winded way of saying unschoolers need to “prepare the environment” so everyone can learn, not just the kids.” Joyce Fetteroll
Some other great definitions of unschooling can be found here and here