Thursday, February 25, 2010


It's kind of amazing how many different attitudes about school there are out there.  I've written here before about our explorations to see what options there are when your child doesn't travel the traditional institutional school path very easily.  As we are rapidly approaching the high school years, I've been doing a lot of research.

Lately, I've been reading a lot about the idea of "unschooling."  At its core, it's the philosophy that every child (and adult) is primed to learn naturally, and at an individual pace that may not match the pace of her buddies.  The idea, as I understand it, is that there's no real reason a child has to learn algebra at age 14 or physics at age 17 or multiplication tables at age 8.  One child may be ready for multiplication at age 6, another might not be ready until age 11.  And, the thinking goes, that maybe it's better for kids to learn more naturally, following their interests and curiosity the way adults do.  If a child is interested in outer space, say, she'll be inspired to want to read books about space, maybe learn about the planets and science of the universe, maybe even figure out the mathematical calculations of light years and the physics of projecting a rocket into space.  The theory is that people learn best when their learning is self-directed.

And yet most schools are structured to teach kids, grouped by age, in lock-step, giving the clear message that you are Different if you are interested in other things, learn at a different pace, or don't learn best from sitting at a desk reading a textbook.  I'm beginning to realize that a lot of folks who home-school their kids do so because they want the learning to follow their child's pace, not vice versa.  This article from Psychology Today has some very interesting thoughts about this. 

Once you start examining the idea that learning needs to be internally motivated, and not externally motivated,  it seems an obvious point.  Something I read gave this example:  Say your favorite thing in the world to do is knitting. But your husband tells you that you are only allowed to knit for one hour a day, and that you have to spend every afternoon out in the garage learning carpentry.  Even if you had a glimmer of interest in carpentry to begin with, having it imposed on you like that would probably make you dislike the process and maybe even make you hate going into the garage.  And  you would probably become obsessed with knitting, jealously guarding that hour and trying to add whatever minutes on that you could.

There are all sorts of reasons that imposing that externally motivated learning on kids is practical and efficient, even while it not be ideal for most kids.  Probably some kids fall in love with carpentry, and a lot of kids don't mind what they're doing as long as their friends are out there in the garage doing it alongside of them.  For those of us with kids who don't seem to thrive in that sort of learning environment, however, looking at school-teaching versus independent learning opens up a lot of fascinating possibilities.  

So as we are exploring options for our situation, we're learning more ourselves.

If you are interested in learning more about "unschooling," this site and this site have a lot of interesting information.


  1. Your schooling journey is fascinating to me. My kids would probably do well with self directed learning. I however, would not. They do well in school too, and I do well with them out of the house! Home schooling and unschooling still intrigue me though given how many home schoolers we run into as a military family, and the expected upheavals in the kids' education for the same reason.

  2. If I could teach in an unschool like that, I wouldn't have retired from teaching so early. Thanks for sharing - I didn't know there was a whole movement out there whose ideas so closely aligned with mine!