Unschooling: Rekindling the Desire to Learn


Unschooling is an educational philosophy that believes we often learn better through our natural, “real world” experiences, rather than in a controlled classroom environment.

This includes learning primarily through play, games, household responsibilities, work experience, and real-world social interaction.

Unschooling differs from traditional schooling because it asserts that standardized curriculum, uniform grading methods, and other forms of traditional schools are counterproductive toward maximizing a child’s education.

Traditional schools tend to have a “one size fits all” mentality to education, while unschooling recognizes that one individual can be very different from another.

The philosophy behind unschooling includes several key ideas:

Children are natural learners

Children are naturally curious and ready to learn. In many ways, schools may inhibit this curiosity by “forcing” education onto students in an unhealthy way.

When students are forced to learn only one standardized curriculum, they have a lot less freedom to pursue their individual interests. As a consequence, many students get bored or frustrated easily in classroom environments. And even worse, they begin to develop negative feelings toward education in general.

Unschooling believes that outside of the classroom learning – especially hands-on, “real world” activities – delivers a much more active, engaging, and valuable form of education that aligns with children’s natural learning abilities.

We don’t need to “force” kids to be educated, we just need to tap into their natural desire to be curious and learn. This often means making education practical and relevant to the real world.

People learn in different ways

Unschooling also criticizes traditional teaching methods because different people often learn in different ways.

Because of this, schools often have a hard time adapting to different “learning styles” and maximizing time spent with each student as an individual.

When a teacher’s time is divided between 25+ students in a single lesson, they can only realistically focus on one style of teaching for the entire class at a time. And their time spent working one-on-one with each student is usually very limited.

Many students may be missing out on important information because it isn’t being taught to them in a way they personally understand. Unschooling advocates a more “individualized” method that can better cater to each students’ needs independently.

Learning how to learn is more important than any specific subject

Unlike traditional schooling, unschooling doesn’t necessarily believe that there is an “essential body of knowledge” that needs to be taught in schools. For example, many people will say that subjects like math, science, and writing are of paramount importance in a child’s education.

While these subjects are very important to learn, proponents of unschooling assert that fostering the desire to learn is more important than any one subject.

Once a child learns to love learning, they will be much more motivated to expand their body of knowledge at their own free will.

At the end of the day, the child who loves learning will probably end up learning more about math, science, and writing than the student who just learns these subjects to get by in school, because they are obligated to.

The importance of social integration

Traditional schooling is also criticized because many believe that it limits a child from living a rich social life.

Many unschoolers find that traditional schools have too much age segregation, low children to adult ratios, a lack of contact with their community, and rigid school rules, which ultimately contribute to an unhealthy social environment.

Instead, unschooling encourages social integration by allowing children to connect with a diverse range of different people in different age groups. Uschooling takes a “community-based” approach to learning, which involves children being active participators in their community throughout a range of different social contexts – whether it’s at home, at work, volunteering, joining a club, playing sports, or other extra-curricular activities.

Unschoolers also believe that giving a child some freedom to choose who they associate with (or not associate with) is key toward cultivating a successful social life in the future.

The role of parents and teachers

Unschooling doesn’t mean there are no parents, teachers, or “authority figures” in a child’s life.

These authority figures play an important role in unschooling. Unschoolers acknowledge that parents and adults often have more experience and knowledge than children. It is therefore expected that parents will “guide” the curriculum by introducing children to different subjects and activities.

Despite unschooling’s emphasis on individual interests and allowing children more choice over their curriculum, it is not a completely “hands off” approach to education.

Parents and teachers can and should play an active role in their child’s life, especially at a young age. As the child continues to grow, parents should strive to find a balance between guiding their child’s education, but also giving them more responsibility to independently pursue their own interests.

Viewing the world as an “open classroom”

A big theme in unschooling is that the world is an “open classroom.”

Children are encouraged to think of the life as one big learning experience, and parents help this process by providing their children with resources, advice, and ways to plan new activities and pursue new goals.

The “open classroom” method allows children to develop their own natural curiosities toward life, even if these interests may differ greatly from one child to another.

Practicing a more “unschooling”-based attitude

As good as unschooling may sound, it can sometimes be difficult to put into practice.

Many parents may find it too difficult or overwhelming to take so much responsibility over their child’s learning – especially since unschooling requires a very active and attentive role for parents.

Other critics worry that many parents may not be able to provide a good enough education, or students won’t be able to effectively learn without a more controlled setting.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to try unschooling without doing more research. I do think, however, that there are some valuable lessons here for any parent to learn. Even if you end up sending your kids to more traditional schooling, many of these things can be still be practiced during after school hours.

You may also discover that you’d also benefit from taking a more “unschooling”-based attitude in your own life and in your own education. After all, just because you may finished going to school doesn’t mean you stop learning.

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