zenhabits : breathe

The Beginner’s Guide to Unschooling

Post written by Leo Babauta.

There’s nothing I get asked about more as a parent than unschooling, and nothing I recommend more to other parents.

It’s an educational philosophy that provides for more freedom than any other learning method, and prepares kids for an uncertain and rapidly changing future better than anything else I know. My wife and I unschool four of our kids, and have been for several years.

And yet, as powerful as I believe unschooling to be, I’ve never written about it, because the truth is, I certainly don’t have all the answers. No one does.

The beauty of unschooling is in the search for the answers. If anyone had all the answers, there would be no search. And so what I’d love to teach unschooling parents and kids is that the search is the joy of it all.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: what is unschooling? Why should you do it? How do you do it? What should you read? We’ll talk about all that today.

What is Unschooling?

First, it’s a form of homeschooling. But there’s no easy answer to that except in comparison to regular schooling. There’s no one way to do unschooling, and people who do it often do it for many different reasons in many different ways.

However, this is how I describe it — in contrast to school:

Let me emphasize that for a minute: in unschooling, life itself is learning. There is no “doing school” … you are learning all the time.

Unschoolers learn just like you or I learn as adults: based on what interests them, figuring out how to learn it on their own, changing as they change, using whatever resources and learning materials they find, driven by curiosity and practical application rather than because someone says it’s important.

This is how I learn as a self-employed writer, as an entrepreneur, as a parent. It’s how our children will learn when they’re adults. Why not have them learn like that now?

Why Unschool?

Let’s think about what school is about: preparing kids for jobs (and life) in the future … a future that’s probably a decade or more away. Now think about a decade or more of change: how many of us predicted 13 years ago what life would be like today? Did we know about the economic recession, or the changing job market, or the fact that things like smartphones and iPads and ebook readers would be so widespread? And that’s just the start.

If we can’t predict what our kids’ future will be like, how can we decide today what they should be learning to prepare for that future? We’re preparing them for today’s jobs, not tomorrow’s jobs. School teaches kids a set of facts and skills that they might not need in the future.

Unschooling takes a different approach: kids learn how to learn, how to teach themselves. If you know how to learn and how to teach yourself, then you are prepared for any future. If in the future the things we know are obsolete, then the person who knows how to learn anything will be ready to learn whatever is in use in the future. The person who only knows how to learn from a teacher will need a teacher to teach him.

More reasons to unschool:

There are many more reasons, of course, and each person will find her own reasons. These are just a few of mine.

How to Unschool

This is the hard part, because there is no right way to do it, no single way. And parents who are starting out always, always want to know how to do it. I know we did, and the honest truth is, we’re still figuring out the answer.

Why is there no answer? Because every kid is different. Everyone has different needs, interests, abilities, goals, and environments. What would you say if people told you there was only one way to live your life, one way to do your job? You’d hate it, because it would take away your freedom, and also all the fun.

Telling you how to unschool is like taking away your freedom and all the fun out of it. The questions are everything, and the finding out is the fun.

That said, I will offer some ideas of how we unschool, and some ideas of how you might approach things — but these are just ideas to start you out!

Before you get the wrong idea, I should give credit to Eva for doing most of the unschooling work, and being better at it than I am (Eva is really great, though she won’t admit it). She has read more books and websites on the topic than I am, and does the majority of the unschooling on a daily basis (though I do help out as much as I can). I should also give credit to my awesome sister Kat, who inspired us to unschool, and is one of the most amazing unschooling moms I know.

More Reading

This isn’t a definitive guide — I don’t have the experience or knowledge to write that guide. Better people than I have written much more on the topic, and while I can’t provide a comprehensive list, I will share some books and sites to get you started (many are from Eva and my sister Kat):

Update: I’ve created a new blog on unschooling, called Unschoolery.



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