The whole world offers opportunities for a person to learn.
It’s time to see THIS as exactly the education a person needs.
Instead of worrying what to "count" as educational, I'm here to tell you:
Most of us are moving in the direction of our interests… and when we need more information, we find what we need to accomplish what we want to do. Maybe it’s searching out a YouTube video, or googling some articles, or finding someone in our community that can show us. We really have a variety of ways to learn what we need to do what we want to do.
And kids can do this too. If we let them.
Except curriculum companies push certain topics and skills. They require accomplishment by a certain age - not before and not after.
Whether or not it’s in context to the child’s life, isn’t relevant.
Whether they’re interested in a topic, nope, doesn’t matter.
Usually that’s where the curriculum implies or says directly,
“You MAY need this some day, so memorize this now.”
And, as unschoolers - and even educational researchers - all know, when it’s not relevant, it usually doesn’t stick. Why did we memorize so many random things for the quiz on Friday, only to have forgotten it all the next week?
And how about your own retention now as an adult?
It would be interesting (albeit a bit discouraging) to know what PERCENTAGE of information we actually remember from our own school days. Sure, people can pop off a few random facts we recall… but over all, I’m thinking most people’s answer will be, “Not much.”
Unschoolers approach this educational task in a completely different way.
Knowing that the learner decides what they’ll retain - and relevance and context matters most in this - we encourage kids to engage with the world. What that means is diving into interests. Even if it’s Pokemon or sharks, legos or Barbie’s. Following their interest will inevitably take them to a place where they DO need a skill or a concept they don’t have yet. And then THAT will be the catalyst they need to WANT to learn more. Not because mom or dad says “Someday you’ll need it” but because “someday” is TODAY.
I can hear your questions bubbling up about the basics, or how they certainly can’t cover EVERYTHING.
But before we dive into that, I should stop to introduce myself.
I’m Sue Patterson from Unschooling Mom2Mom.
My own kids are grown now (32, 30 and 27) - all off on their own young adult adventures. They were unschooled. We started as a mainstream military family, and school just didn’t fit. I thought, “I can certainly do better than THIS!” So we dove in.
And... in spite of wanting a more creative sparkly approach, I found myself wanting to duplicate pieces of school - I just didn’t know any better.
But over time, I learned to let those ideas fall away. I learned to trust my kids more. I learned to trust MYSELF more. And I learned that unschooling really does work. That’s why I do this podcast, offer group coaching, courses, guides, and books. I want you to have access to all the information that can help YOU make this work in your family too. It won’t be exactly like mine - it was never meant to be. Unschooling is what a TRULY individualized approach to learning looks like.
So… back to this week’s topic - and your questions about it. Leave a note in the comment if this makes sense - or if you have more questions along these lines that you’d like me to cover in future podcasts. Or join my Creating Confidence membership and get your questions answered right away! Nice to have choices, right?
Engaging with the world offers so much more. Unschooled kids are weaving life and learning all together in a hands-on experiential way. When they can follow their interests (whether it’s a deep dive in a particular area or dabbling and flitting from idea to idea) this helps them learn about their own preferences - how they learn best, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy
You really don’t have to slog through curricula to “cover” typical subjects or get into arguments with your kids about “wasting their potential” or “doing what needs to be done.”
Because here’s what no one is telling you:
Embracing a life on their own terms can lead to MORE open doors and fewer expensive missteps. How many disasters could we have avoided if we had learned to not just do what others told us was “best for us” and take the time to know what we want. I get it, that would mean being brave enough to chart our own course - but you can help your kids learn to do that - and develop the courage they need with these smaller steps. And you're right there offering scaffolding.
Learning more abstract concepts is so much easier when their brains are more mature and they see the value in learning it! Plus, having their younger years to play with concepts gives them the opportunity to have a pile of really individualized information for those later abstract concepts to “hook” onto. That’s why we often had trouble ourselves with more abstract ideas - we had no experience or past knowledge to help us make sense of it. But that won’t be the case with a child who is living a full rich life.
Two concerns usually emerge when I talk about this with parents.
The first is…
What about The Basics?
The basics ARE the basics because they usually show up in our daily activities. We need some of these basic skills. We don’t always need them at eight. And we don’t always even need them at 14. But when they surface, the kids have a reason to learn them. They’ll WANT to learn them so they can do the things they want to do.
And if these basic ideas AREN’T showing up in regular life, you can go in two directions..,
Expose kids to interesting places and experiences where they might be exposed to the ideas.
Or accept that it’s not really all that necessary to know. Because you and the kids are happily clicking along without it right now.
I think the thing that might calm your fears more about this, is the concept that doors don’t close on learning. We’re all learning all kinds of things right now - as adults! No one “prepped” us for all this technology… but we wade in and figure it out. That’s what the kids are doing as they play. If they need to understand fractions to do something as a teenager, it’s not as if it’s too late… sorry,, you didn’t learn it at 8. And even though NOW you’re interested and ready to learn it - easily and without resistance - sorry… no can do. You didn’t do it at 8, with years of redundant practice (probably making you hate math or think you’re no good at it) so, nope. You cannot learn fraction now.
See how silly that sounds?
Our brains can learn whatever we want whenever we want. And that’s the key - “when we want.”
That reminds me of parents who say,
“My kid is so smart! But only in the things he WANTS to know more about. He won’t do the things I show him or expose him to.”
That’s more information to support the concept that
All Learning is Really Up to the Learner.
None of us enjoy being forced to learn something we see as irrelevant or of no consequence in our lives. And that’s often the case when we want our kids to memorize some random fact like some country’s capitol or what the largest river is in the various continents…. If we travel (or if we play games that center around travel or geography) we might WANT to know these random facts… because they wouldn’t be random to us at the moment. See? When the learner needs it, they learn it.
Sometimes parents worry about getting into college if you opt for this kind of unconventional path. Unschooled kids get into college all the time though. They may not have done a boatload of worksheets and quizzes, but they lived full rich lives - and subjects weave through their days all the time.
In fact, the college admission office is much MORE likely to want an applicant who knows themselves and brings a variety of interesting life experiences and relevant skills to the table.
- It might help to read a little more about deschooling.Deschooling I have some resources to help you peel away the arbitrary aspects of the school experience, and see how it’s ok to focus from the learner’s perspective.
- I even have an ebook called, Everything Counts, that breaks down hundreds of activities putting them into subject categories so it’s easier for you to SEE how daily life has tons of math, language arts, science, history, technology - all the subjects you’re worrying about!
- Lastly, I have a membership group where I’ve created a variety of tools to help parents do this. All as part of your monthly membership benefits. And, of course, multiple weekly coaching calls to walk you through them!
So if this is where you struggle - you have so many options to help you untangle it all.
My final thought to share with you on this is this:
Artificially dividing up the world into subjects
is similar to putting speed bumps all over a road that doesn’t need them.
Life doesn’t separate into subjects, so why should we?
Hope that was helpful as we walk along this unschooling path together. Reach out if you need more support. And I’ll talk to you again next week.
Want to listen to past podcasts? Or read along?
Here you go:
Everything Counts ebook
When we first start unschooling, it's hard to imagine life without subjects. But instead of saying, "Hey, trust me!" I want to show you how so many subjects weave through the kids' (and your!) daily activities.
Click the link to see what I'm talking about - you'll love it!
Unschooling Guide: Deschooling
This is a fabulous PDF to guide you through the deschooling process. With articles, journal pages, coaching inspiration and ideas, you will have the tools and strategies you need to finally tackle your own deschooling!
Click this link to see more details!
You Need a Supportive Community!!
My Creating Confidence Membership Group helps sooo many families overcome those feelings of isolation. We really weren't meant to do this all by ourselves.
After25 years of talking with families on this unschooling journey, I have a lot of information to share with members. And I've cultivated a wonderful community of unschooling parents who can brainstorm with you, offering you places to vent or celebrate.