My children were unschooled for most of their schooling years. My daughter was unschooled right up until she decided to go to school in 10th grade. She jumped righ into high school, from having no formal curriculum, no history of textbooks, study, homework or anything normally associated with school. Yet, from grade 10 through grade 12, she excelled at her work and consistently placed on the deans list. She is now set to graduate with high honors.
Why? Because unschooling is a uniquely independent approach to learning. It allows the child to observe and discover on their own, without the need to “switch gears” in the middle of a thought (as is done when, in class, a bell rings to indicate it’s time to move to the next class, regardless of what was happening in the present class). In unschooling, a child learns by necessity. So when life events require it, the learning happens. For instance, when planning a road trip, it may be good to know how long the trip will take if the distance is x and the speed is y. This one calculation, based on a real event in the child’s life that actually has meaning to her, is more impactful that a few weeks of studying the concept of division for an hour a day.
My son was also unschooled, but started trying out school in the middle of 7th grade at a local Waldorf School. Waldorf fit him well. It had the pace and flow that fit him best. His method of learning during his unschooling years amazed me. Somehow, he went from not reading at all to voraciously reading books one after the other. He learned to read late, and I was concerned. But as he encountered “reading,” mainly through playing video games, he was learning. It culminated in a young man who can read and write at levels well above grade.
Where he might have struggles is in study skills. Waldorf, as most schools do, requires certain things to be done on certain schedules. Homework, assignments, and projects need to be done and he needs to work on it, but he finds the discipline hard to come by at times.
But he still shows great talent, interest and curiosity. He still learns on his own, maybe more than through any homework assignment. He still has the mind of an unschooler, just like my daughter. They put more confidence in themselves and their own abilities than in the “system.” They know that everything is open for debate, and that formal education isn’t the only way to learn. They did not have to suffer the endless years of rote learning that comes with a lifetime in the early school years. I’ve seen how this can demoralize kids, and how it can deaden their attitude toward learning. They no longer depend on themselves, and instead expect others to impart learning upon them.
It doesn’t hurt that their mom and I practiced attachment parenting. We did not let them “cry it out” or leave them in a crib to experience needless fear, loneliness or abandonment. We co-slept and it was a lovely thing. They left that nest when they were ready, and they were stronger for it. They actually gained greater independence as a result, because they learned to depend on their own judgments.
We did not have the need to hit or even punish our kids, because we were able to communicate what we needed when we needed. Respect was mutual and flowed both ways. And now, as young adults, even though as a family we gone through some difficult times, I have the greatest faith in the abilities of my children to make it in this world. Yes, they are still gathering their skills, but they get it.
They got it.