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Unschooling: What Is It?

By Larraine Roulston:

In 1977 John Holt, author and teacher, coined the word “Unschooling,” which he defined as “learning that does not look like school learning, and learning that does not have to take place at home.” He believed that “there is no difference between living and learning … it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate.”

It is believed that children actually learn best when they are self-motivated.unschooling main Parents who homeschool have the same mindset. For example, they open doors for their children by strewing things about the house to see what tweaks their curiosity. Will it be an atlas or microscope or musical instrument; or those storybooks, puzzles, fabrics; or games with numbers and problems to solve? As well, their homeschooling will often incorporate areas of the school board’s curriculum. However, when a child learns without the restrictions imposed by a curriculum, he or she does not distinguish between a time for lessons and a time for play: every minute offers a learning experience. Other names for unschooling include “natural learning,” “life learning,” “experience-based learning,” “delight-driven learning” and “independent learning.”

Based in British Columbia, the SelfDesign Learning Community is an example of a distance/distributed learning school where unschoolers can feel welcome and be free to follow their passions. SelfDesign (SD) encourages children to be curious, to voice opinions and to pursue their interests at their own pace in their own homes and neighborhoods as well as in the SD online community. Two benefits of unschooling are the lack of scheduling and the freedom to travel. SD Learning Consultant Sue Lucy relates that she has worked with families who have travelled to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Central America as well as throughout North America for extended periods during the school year while maintaining their weekly reporting. Imagine the rich exposure regarding world geography and other cultures that these children can experience first-hand.

unschoolingI suppose I did some unschooling myself a few summers ago when we had our grandson stay with us for several days. We were camping when a big owl perched itself on a nearby branch. The boy’s uncle, a professional filmmaker, upped the excitement by taking lots of photos. Later, we headed for the nearest library to find books about owls. The week was filled with “wise words” as we all discovered the owl’s role in mythology, geography, nature and habitat. Together we even read a Hardy Boy book entitled The Clue of the Screeching Owl. When the story ended, my grandson wanted to read it again. Surprisingly, I too found the second reading just as much fun, this time discovering and discussing how the clues were laid out. As the book’s chapters were in Roman numerals, we also seized the opportunity to teach him that system. Since the exotic numbers were a part of his favorite story, he was intrigued and anxious to learn. Once home, our grandson was pleased that he could understand his family’s old-fashioned Roman numeral clock.

Traditional education systems do not always serve the personalities or reflect the learning curves of all children. Learning is a process that should be both enjoyable and challenging. Unschooling is an activity anywhere, at any time. As summer is approaching, take this 2-month opportunity to observe your child’s play, offer suggestions and see where they lead.

Related links:

Larraine authors illustrated adventure books on composting. Visit www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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