Ancora Imparo - I am still learning

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Is Unschooling?

There are so many different definitions of unschooling out there. And when one puts the adjective "Christian" in front of "unschooling," the definition becomes even more varied. There are those who believe that only radical unschoolers are true unschoolers. There are those who believe that relaxed homeschoolers are unschoolers. Then there are those who question how unschooling can be Christian at all.

Not to complicate matters more, but I am going to throw in "my" definition of Christian unschooling - or, in reality, what our Christian unschooling adventures "feel" like.

We began our homeschooling adventure four and a half years ago. Taliesin was three and was, at that time, receiving speech therapy through the public school system (home visits). This speech therapy kind of threw us into homeschooling sooner than we planned, because those from the public school system did not agree with homeschooling a child with special needs. So we began homeschooling in the only way I was familiar with - a traditional preschool program. We knew within a couple of months that this was not working, so I began exploring other options. Thanks to Home Education Magazine and some online groups; we began implementing child-directed methods.

Throughout the past four and a half years, we have implemented unschooling more and more. I have tried the radical approach - unschooling parenting approaches as well. While I totally respect parents who follow this approach; I have found that this was not the best approach for my family - especially after starting a childcare. I have to have rules set. Yes, children should help set those rules and should know the "whys" behind those rules. However, we do have rules, nonetheless. I have seen children in traditional systems that have no rules. I do not want that for my sons. I believe radical unschooling works for many because they are completely natural learners. When we decided to begin a childcare, socialization kicked in. There are children in childcare from all different environments. I naively thought respect comes naturally for everyone. In so many cases, it does not. It not only has to be modeled, it often has to be taught... and taught. When young children see others who do not have that respect, they will try themselves and, all too often, will copy - socialization at its worst. That is when I decided that I have to make rules of respect and require that they be followed. I guess that means I'm no longer a radical unschooler.

There are those who believe if a parent uses any type of "curriculum," this parent is no longer an unschooler. This type of belief works well for Nathanael. He prefers nature-based learning, building with Legos, making inventions, and conducting his own science experiments. However, for children like Taliesin, this is far from the case. Taliesin enjoys some structure. He loves the same things that Nathanael does; but he also enjoys unit studies and lapbooking. He loves Five in a Row and In the Hands of a Child. He even loves trying out the lesson plans I write for college. This is his choice, not something that I require. Am I, therefore, no longer unschooling because of Taliesin's growing into more structured learning? He has been bugging me all day to finish a mosquito lapbook he's been working on this week. Should I not allow him to do this because it is too "traditional"? Whatever the label or lack thereof, I cannot deny him his own way of learning.

Lastly, something that I have been struggling with is the idea that children should be allowed to develop their own spirituality - free from interference of the parents. I firmly believe that children will grow into their own spirituality. However, this does not mean that I will not teach them Christian beliefs and character education. There are fun ways to incorporate spiritual formation into children's lives. One of Nathanael's favorites is the Resurrection Eggs, often used at Easter time. Taliesin enjoys these as well, but he also loves - again - more traditional methods, including memorizing Scripture. Veggie Tales DVDs and cartoons on the life of Christ are also always hits here. As a Christian, I cannot allow an unschooling label to interfere with my Christian beliefs.

I have been reading a book called Christian Unschooling by Teri J. Brown. I am really enjoying it, because I can see myself in a lot of the stories. I believe in unschooling because I believe God created all of us with our own unique talents and interests (I, all too often, see children who have lost that God-given gift because of forced educational methods). I believe that children can direct their own learning. I also believe that we are to train our children in the ways of the Lord. I also believe that respect is essential - from both the parent and the child. Sometimes this can be taught by modeling alone. Sometimes it cannot.

As you can tell, I have been thinking a lot. I have a lot of mixed emotions. I just wanted to share some of those thoughts. Do I still consider us unschoolers? You can bet I do. I firmly believe in child-directed, natural, organic learning - whichever way a child chooses to learn.



宥妃宥妃 said...


Sparkling Adventures said...

We'd love to have you link up with our group of Christian unschoolers! You sound eclectic enough to fit in with all of us!

add your name and website homepage to the link list and grab the Christian Unschoolers button to share on your own site!

Neely said...

You have voiced here my exact thoughts. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. We are Christians yet we are unschoolers. It is definitely an odd combination. We are not radical unschoolers. We use gentle discipline and give our children a lot of freedom. Unschooling is allowing them to follow their interests and if your son wants to do a lapbook, unit study, legos...then so be it. :) That is most definitely unschooling. I find that my family is so different and we don't fit in to many groups. We get along and have lasting friendships but there are not many who are like us. It isn't necessarily a bad thing though. :) Very good post!