What is the Unschooling Method of Teaching?

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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Unschooling is a learning method sometimes used by people who have chosen to homeschool their children. Unschooling, also known as natural learning or child-directed learning, focuses on the child's natural interests and goals to create a learning environment in which children educate themselves. Homeschooling differs from the unschooling method in that homeschooling follows a set curriculum, with parents replacing traditional teachers as mentors and counselors. Unschooling, on the other hand, offers a child the freedom of learning what he or she considers important or useful. Parents, for the most part, either stay away or give general advice only when asked.

In unschooling education, children learn through hands-on experience, which includes anything from visiting libraries and museums to reading books, asking questions, and doing online research. In unschooling, real-world experience takes priority over curriculum, as defenders of the method believe that, given the freedom, children will choose to learn. Take for example a child's interest in computers. He could research how they work and what they can do (science), who invented them (biography), what were the first computers like (history). Or it could lead to him studying computer programming.


The term unschooling was first used by John Holt, an educator who fought hard for school reform and eventually warmed up to the idea of homeschooling as the best educational option. Holt is the author of many books on education, including the bestsellers How Children Fail (1964), How Children Learn (1967), and The Underachieving School (1968). Holt became the spokesperson for the unschooling method, going as far as creating the magazine Growing Without Schooling.

Unschooling is not a deterrent to a college education. In fact, many universities see homeschoolers as self-motivated and "in love with learning," which makes them ideal candidates for acceptance. In lieu of a high school diploma, unschooled children can present a portfolio to their college of choice, including CLEP Achievement Test scores, samples of work done in the past, letters of recommendation, out-of-school achievements, etc.


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Post 3

@pleonasm - If you are homeschooling someone, just be aware that no matter how practical unschooling may be, it won't necessarily prepare them for things like SATs without specific coaching and goal-setting. Unfortunately, most exams are standardized, which means if you don't know the facts they expect you to know, you simply won't pass, and you can't press those magic buttons in the middle of the exam to find the facts.

Post 2

@irontoenail - I suspect too many teachers see students as a barrier to their profession rather than as accomplices who are just as capable of constructing their own learning journey as the teacher (with some help). I've had teachers try to make a project all about my interests and then impose all kinds of structural limitations on it and it sucks all the fun right out of it because it turns back into an exercise of ticking all the boxes, rather than learning for its own sake.

If you want your student to learn how to write an essay or do a statistical analysis, then teach that directly. Unschooling is supposed to be a journey that they get to entirely plan

and produce by themselves (with whatever help they need).

In this day and age, the most vital lesson a person can learn is how to learn. Most information is freely available to everyone at the touch of a button, so there's no need to memorize facts. But learning how to find those facts in the first place is the trick.

Post 1

I think this will only work to a point. A child who is fascinated by the arts will indeed be very thorough in researching them, but won't necessarily learn how to write an essay or calculate figures pertaining to the topic they love. I think that harnessing their enthusiasm is always vital, but then a skilled teacher must direct it into something constructive, rather than just skimming over it.

So maybe unschooling methods could be used as a way to teach broader topics, like asking a student to produce a statistical analysis of the record sales of their favorite band or something like that.

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