Unschooling was a theory of education invented by John Holt, which I realized goes hand in hand with the approach I use to raise my children in general.
There are some people called radical unschoolers, and in general their approach, from what I understand it, is that a family is a democracy, and that children get equal say and that no parent should ever force a kid to do anything in life, from schoolwork to chores to a variety of other stuff.
I am not a radical unschooler- it doesn't sit well with my philosophy on life.
I'm not even an unschooler, who believes that you should never make a kid learn anything he doesn't want to, that you should completely do child led learning.
No, my approach to life and learning in general would be unschooling inspired.
Now, I've touched on the topic before on my blog, but again, I wanted to explain what the unschooling philosophy is.
The theory behind unschooling is that children have a natural inclination to learn, and when you force them to learn something, learning becomes a power struggle, and kids end up hating school and learning, and usually don't remember most of what they were forced to learn. Unschooling is child led learning- where the child decides what and when and how they want to learn, and the parents provide the resources or teach the material, depending on what is preferred.
Now, we're not fully unschoolers, because I have certain things I want to make sure my kids learn, and if they don't want to learn those things, I will make sure they learn it by a certain age, but than those core basics, I don't plan on dictating what my kids learn.
The way learning usually ends up happening in my house is that either my sons ask me a question and we end up having a whole elaborate lesson on that first question, or I ask my kids "What do you want to learn today?" and they pick a topic, usually reading, history, or science, and that's what we focus on for the day. But if they say "I don't feel like learning now", we skip it. Or they bring me a book and say "Mommy, can we learn from this book today?"
Learning is an active process, not a passive process. You can "teach at" a child, but unless the child is receptive to learning, they won't learn- it'll just go in one ear and out the other. You can't force a child to learn- at most you can force a child to endure lectures on topics, but will they internalize it? Not unless they want to, usually. And forcing them to sit through lectures that hold no interest for them just creates a bad taste for learning.
There are topics that my kids wouldn't necessarily learn about if I didn't bring them up, so I pique their curiosity and tell them a bit about the topic, and try to inspire them to want to learn a certain subject. Because kids learn by example.
Another aspect in life in which we're "unschooling inspired" is the fact that I don't give my kids baby food, at all.
I do what is called "baby led weaning", whereby I give my children real food from when they're able to sit up and grab it themselves and feed it to themselves. My children don't get pureed foods until they're much older.
There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to baby led weaning- you learn the difference between gagging (totally fine, and common when a kid first starts eating solids) and choking (dangerous, much less frequent). You have to figure out which foods kids are able to hold in their hands nicely and feed themselves and which foods aren't worthwhile until the kid is older and can hold a spoon and feed himself. You learn which foods are soft enough for a baby to eat without teeth, and which foods have to wait until the kids are older.
Baby led weaning is incredible. Babies are able to eat foods you would never have imagined possible. And it really is so much easier than having to buy or make your own baby food.
And its harder because there is more of a mess to clean. But they learn quickly how to eat without making a mess, so that stage fortunately isn't too long.
The theory behind baby led weaning is practically the same as unschooling- don't make food into a battle- let a kid eat when he wants to and what he wants to, and he'll have a much better attitude towards food in general.
When feeding babies with baby food, kids open their mouth for a second, and the parent plops in a spoon of it. The next time the kid opens his mouth, often after a whole "airplane" charade, another spoon gets plopped in his mouth. The kid isn't asked "Do you want more?" typically- the kid is given more until he puts up a fight, refusing to eat anymore. With baby led weaning- if the kid wants to eat, its completely up to the kid- no one is making the kid eat anything he doesn't want to, and when he wants to he can eat, and when he no longer does, he stops.
The theory is that when you practice baby led weaning, your child doesn't have "food control issues" and therefore ends up being a much more adventurous and less picky eater.
I've never seen a study on this done, but from anecdotal evidence- I've done baby led weaning with all 3 kids of mine so far, and all are adventurous eaters who'll eat nearly everything. I also don't know anyone that did baby led weaning whose kids are picky eaters. But of course, its not a guarantee.
The other issue with baby led weaning is that by a kid deciding when and how much he wants to eat, he learned to listen to his body's cues of hunger and satiation. Part of the biggest reason why people have weight issues today is because they learned to ignore their body's messages when it comes to eating, and eat for emotional reasons, not because of hunger. Learning how to eat when hungry and stop when full is difficult once we've started ignoring our body's cues, but if you don't ignore them in the first place, you don't have to relearn how to do that.
Does it work?
We'll see how my kids are when older.
But at the moment, my kids all seem to be healthy- not too heavy and not too skinny- just perfect. So I would guess they're listening to their body's cues.
You might be wondering- what is the connection between baby led weaning and unschooling?
Well, there's the fact that in both of them, there is the philosophy that kids in certain areas naturally will do what is best for them, naturally their inclinations are good, and when you force them to do those same things they would have done naturally, it ends up being a power struggle and then they start disliking it and putting up resistance that wouldn't have happened if they weren't pushed into doing it.
This, by the way, is where we're unschooling inspired, and not completely unschoolers.
Because I don't know if either of those are 100% correct 100% of the time. Just 90% of the time.
I think sometimes kids do need a little motivation to do what they should be doing. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But the best motivation is by showing by example- learning about a topic out loud to pique my children's curiosity, or demonstrating how yummy a certain food is by eating it myself, dramatically, in front of the child.
Or at the very least, trying to find a way to make the kid want to do something.
Like when I know my kid likes ketchup, I'll put some ketchup (homemade and healthy, of course) on some foods they might be reluctant to try otherwise.
Or talk to them about the benefit of learning such a subject- like when I tell my son that he's welcome to watch a certain movie if he spells the title himself into youtube.
This philosophy is also how we raise our kids religiously.
By setting examples so our kids want to copy us, and to inspire our kids to want to do certain things.
I speak to many parents who say "I'm the boss, I'm in charge, my kid has to learn that he has to listen to me- its not a choice."
A parent has every right to say that.
But what happens when the kid is no longer under the parents' supervision? When the kid isn't being forced to listen to their parents? Will they keep on following the parents' rules?
Most likely not.
(My parents forbade me from getting my ears pierced until I was older. The first summer I went away and they were no longer on top of me, I got my ears pierced myself. Telling me "You can't get them pierced" didn't stop me from doing it. Had they inspired me to want to not get them pierced, maybe things would have been differently.)
Parents only have control of their kids while their kids are in the house, and even then, not always. And when they're out with friends, or when they're older and no longer living at home, and mom and dad aren't telling them what to do... if you haven't inspired them to want to do the things you would like them to do, they likely won't.
And that's why, whenever possible, I try to inspire my kids to want do to things instead of forcing it upon them. Because my interest is raising them with my values for the long haul, and not for just while they're under my watchful eye.
One last thing- some people say that you have to teach your kids that sometimes you have to do things that you don't like, and you just have to deal with it.
I teach my kids that when it comes to religion, when there are things that are hard for them, I try to make my kids still want to do those things because it helps their relationship with the higher power.
When it comes to jobs that you don't like, I try to show my kids the reasons that they should be inspired to do those jobs anyhow (money to have for things we need and like, for example.) While my kids are still too young for this to be 100% about them, I teach them this concept because they have a hard time when my husband goes to work or when I need to do work, but once they understand that by working you get money that you can use for so many things, they have an easier time "letting go".
In other words, my approach to parenting (and life in general) is- whenever possible, try to inspire people to want to do something instead of forcing them to do it- inspiring is much more effective.
Are you an unschooler or not? Are you a baby led weaner or not? Do you agree with the basic premise that when you inspire people to do things its more effective than when you just make them to stuff, or no? What is your parenting style?