There have been a lot of challenges surrounding our traditional education system and many modern parents believe that not all children benefit from such method of learning. This is why alternative education, such as homeschooling, is born. But while homeschooling is gaining popularity, there is another approach to learning that’s shaping up: the unschooling approach.
What is Unschooling?
According to “The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom” by Mary Griffith, unschooling is simply learning what one wants, when one wants, in the way one wants, for one’s own reasons. Because the learning system is learner-directed, teachers’ or parents’ assistance is only sought when learners desire it. With unschooling approach, children learn as they grow through life, with lessons based on their own interests.
Homeschooling vs. Unschooling
With a homeschooling approach, parents act as teachers — they design lessons, assign projects, and give tests according to the standards set by the government. But instead of going to school, the children learn from home, or from anywhere they are.
On the other hand, unschooling is a child-led educational philosophy. It means putting the learner in-charge of what he/she wants to learn, based on what interests them the most. Parents are there to help facilitate learning when needed, but unlike with standard schooling, they don’t impose any subject or lesson from a curriculum when the learner is not yet ready. Giving of tests and assignments is also optional.
Why this New South Wales mom chooses both learning methods
Deep Tuesdays was fortunate to have a conversation with a mother from New South Wales, Australia who prefers and practices the unschooling approach, mixed with homeschooling method, for her two young children.
Mycah Padilla, a mom of two, says she uses an eclectic approach to educate her kids. The eclectic approach means using different styles of learning instead of getting bound to a single method. She gathers curriculum from different sources to meet her children’s unique educational needs. Thus, the combination of homeschooling and unschooling.
There are several factors that affect her choice of eclectic approach:
- They are registered homeschoolers
“Although I lean towards the unschooling approach, we are registered homeschoolers. We are required to meet the benchmarks set by the government. For ease of re-registration, I chose to use some bookworks as physical proof [that we meet the requirements]. However, pure unschoolers can get registered and re-registered too — though I am not yet that confident because we’ve only been officially homeschooling for about 8 months now.”
- Personal schooling experience
“I haven’t personally fully de-schooled myself so I still have a traditional schooling mindset, but I am slowly working my way to it.”
- Desire to meet her children’s educational needs
“At this stage, I couldn’t find one curriculum which entirely meets my children’s educational needs. So I’m more inclined to using a little bit of every learning approach that I find helpful for my kids.”
Mycah chose to home-unschool her children because this is what she thinks is best for them. This learning approach also allows them to have quality family time together, even with her husband working on a rostered shift.
“We have done a good amount of research about homeschooling and unschooling; and for us, the pros outweigh the cons. Also, my husband and I are not yet ready to subject our children to influences outside our home, especially in this highly secular society.”
Mycah’s maternal instinct also tells her that her children are not yet ready for extended sit-down bookworks. She knows that the combination of homeschooling and unschooling method is developmentally right for her children, who are just 6 and 5 years of age.
“I don’t give the kids assignments or tests. With the educational approach that we use, we are not required by the government to take exams. Taking of national tests is optional — whoever wants their child to take the national test may do so. In our case, we are not yet considering that option for now. I think my children are too young for exams.”
With these contemporary educational approach, children are more likely to enjoy learning and not hate it. They will be less stressed because they are not forced to learn things that they are not interested in. They will not be exhausted by projects, deadlines, and exams. They will not be pressured to compete with the progress of the other kids. After all, learning should be fun, interesting, and engaging — it is not created to burn out the learners.
How to get approval for this kind of home education?
Mycah is one of the lucky few who are living in a country that is open for this kind of contemporary learning system. Another good news for New South Wales-based parents is that the homeschooling application process is not that complicated.
“We initially filled out a form which asks for children’s information and our reason for homeschooling. This application was submitted to the Department of Education, then a representative visited our home after a few weeks to check our place and assess our learning plans. We got approved on the spot.”
Here are the typical requirements to get a homeschooling approval from the Department of Education in New South Wales:
- Learning plan or curriculum designed by the parents
- A space that’s conducive to learning (kitchen/dining table for sit-works will do)
- A well-looked after child (the child should not look malnourished or abused)
- Toys and other appropriate play equipment
Mycah says she chooses their curriculum herself. Their curriculum is inspired by various educational approaches. The materials that they use include Sonlight Education Ministries, Masterbooks, Apologia, Wonderland of Nature, Science kits, and Reading Eggs. She also plans to add a hands-on Science curriculum soon.
It doesn’t matter if you have a big space in the house or not, as long as you have an area that’s conducive for learning. In fact, there are families that get approved for homeschooling even if they are constantly travelling or living in a caravan. After all, true learning doesn’t only happen inside a four-walled room.
What their typical school day looks like
Homeschoolers and unschoolers may have a different learning routine from the kids who go to traditional schools. Also, the typical home/unschool-day may differ from one family to another.
“Our school day in the morning starts with a devotional. The devotional book that we’re using relates science to God. They then do their chore of tidying up their beds. Then they play while I prepare breakfast.”
While they are having their breakfast, Mycah would read a book to them about the nutritional value of the food that they are eating. This allows the children to appreciate each food while learning the importance of such nutrition to their bodies.
“They ask a lot of questions about what they eat… Sometimes, their questions blow me away! But I’m grateful because we’re in the information age, and Google is very helpful.”
Their mornings are usually for book-works — they tackle reading, writing, and math. Sometimes, they go to educational-related activities. Early afternoons are usually reserved for free play, while late afternoons are for reading stories of interest. Their school-day schedule is flexible — as long as their assigned book-work is finished, they can move on to their preferred activity.
Other Social Activities
Some parents may think that homeschoolers/unschoolers are less socially active compared to their traditionally schooled peers who meet their same-age classmates in school during school days. Well, this is not really the case for Mycah’s children and for other homeschoolers and unschoolers.
In fact, they have a homeschooling community and the kids meet together to facilitate group learning. They learn science together, do nature walks, engage in free play, and visit key community organizations. The children learn about body safety, positive self-image, and even basic first-aid such as CPR and wound dressing/bandaging.
They also learn arts like tie-dye and were able to make their own toys using wood and carpentry equipment. Mycah’s kids were able to visit the fire station and attended a fire safety training. They learn to plant succulents, make their own macrame, and do other science experiments together with the other home/uschoolers.
In addition to their typical academic learning, Mycah also lets her kids take supplementary music lessons, join sports, and attend Sabbath school in church where they can learn about history and character-building.
Challenges associated with these modern learning methods
Both homeschooling and unschooling are unconventional ways to educate children. While a traditional schooling can be very tiresome for most learners, taking any of these contemporary learning approaches can still be challenging, especially for parents who are new to these methods. According to Mycah, her biggest enemy is her being too self-critical.
She still feels self-conscious when she gets weird looks from other people when she tells them that her kids are homeschooled, and that their learning principles are combined with the unschooling approach, which is more liberal.
“I understand their apprehensions because I was traditionally schooled myself, and in our society, homeschooling and unschooling are regarded as going against the norm and they are quite unconventional. Some people would ask me why we chose this method out of curiosity, some out of amazement, and others just out of plain ignorance — but I try to understand them all.”
To cope with these challenges, Mycah reminds herself the reasons why they chose this learning method in the first place. She is also grateful to have a community of homeschooling parents, a platform where they can share insights and seek advice from each other.
She appreciates the amount of time she and her husband get to spend with their children, and most of all she loves to see her kids enjoy learning. For her, to find joy in learning is the most effective form of education.
Find Out What Works Best For You
While homeschooling and unschooling are a unique approach to learning, these methods are not designed for everybody. While homeschooled and unschooled learners are doing lesser sit-works compared to their traditionally schooled counterparts, there are some kids who learn best when they are taught using the conventional way.
Do plenty of research about the different educational philosophies available in your state/country. It’s best to be fully informed about all your possible options before you make a decision.
Should you decide to take the unconventional path, find like-minded people for support, guidance, and encouragement. There will be others who will question the choices that you make, but remember that you are your children’s parent. No one knows their talents, abilities, needs, and inclinations better than you do. This means you know what’s best for them to meet their educational needs, may it be traditional or unconventional.
Whatever path you choose, enjoy learning with your child. Don’t let anything, not even the pressure of society’s demands, rob them of their childhood. After all, with proper care, love, and guidance, every child blooms in his/her own time.
Deep Tuesdays sincerely thanks Mycah Margret Padilla for unselfishly sparing her time to share her thoughts and experience about homeschooling and unschooling.