Does Unschooling Really Work?

Mary Ann Romans, asked me in the forums about unschooling and what it was exactly that children learn. How is it that kids will get to being the brilliant and capable people that they can be–if there’s no curriculum?

Our Experience With Unschooling

The longer I homeschool, the more towards unschooling I lean. Unschooling is not practical where we live and I’ve mentioned before that I in fact have yet to meet someone who lives in this state and unschools. The regulations are simply too demanding and not even creative wording can sneak in true unschooling.

However, I’ve written before about our son who is gifted. We delayed formal instruction in reading and math for him in part because he was gifted and in part because he was speech delayed due to a series of serious ear infections. While my oldest daughter started learning to read in kindergarten, my son explored concepts in engineering and science. We simply allowed him to explore freely.

Now that he is officially on the books as a homeschooler he does reading, some math and of course literature that includes history and science. But before we ever picked up a workbook with him, he was explaining gyroscopic force, studying astronomy, and doing multiplication (which by the way, he essentially figured out on his own.) He learned chess, with the help of dad but on his own initiative, and can wax eloquent on reptiles ad nauseum. When the bridge collapsed in Minnesota, he suggested that perhaps it was a design flaw that caused the bridge which he gleaned from watching news of the collapse where they said that it was one of the few bridges that didn’t have pillars in the river bed because they would’ve hindered navigation. He is impressive to speak to on all manner of science because he knows so much.

Ah. . .but he’s gifted!

Yes, no doubt Alex has a propensity towards math and science. And some may even argue that we’ve done him a disservice by allowing him to focus so much on science and math. But here are the two things that we’ve come away with because of our ’free exploration’ approach with him.

The first is that he loves school. We have a no school rule on Sundays–that’s family day and we keep the Sabbath. He frequently begs to do school anyways. He associates school with the opportunity for discovery and that just excites him. It’s the lack of being put in a box that he simply loves about being schooled. He even relishes worksheets, handwriting practice, and formal math. He likes it because he sees it as a means to improve his knowledge base and further his ‘investigations’. If you cannot imagine a world where your kids love to do school–I might suggest you take another approach.

The second thing that we’ve noticed with Alex is his broad knowledge base. Had I started formally organizing his studies at an earlier age, I don’t think that he would know so much. He would know what I taught him, but he wouldn’t know as much. There is something to be said for a become an ‘expert’ in a particular area. My interference really would’ve stifled his learning and in turn, I suspect it would’ve stifled his enthusiasm.

I have one more blog in this series where I will share my observations of the three families that I know who unschool their children. Two are very successful and one is not and I’ll examine the reasons why.