Using Unschooling to Teach to the Interests of Your Child

When I hear the term, “Unschooling,” I instantly think of those internet memes that circulated a while back with the various photos depicting “what society thinks we do,” “what our friends think we do,” and so on. The term unschooling seems to take on different meanings depending on who is using it. Some seem to assume the student just has free-for-all days to do as he or she pleases, with no real instruction. Others think the student is taught mostly real world knowledge that one would need to live a productive life-not necessarily anything beyond the necessities. In reality, unschooling is thinking outside of the brick and mortar box of “school,” and into the broad and vast universe of homeschooling.


Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Taken during an unschooling field trip adventure when the topics of interest were pioneer life and mountains.

First, let me preface by saying we do adhere to a structured day for the most part. But, we are not so tightly scheduled that I have alarm bells ringing to usher in the changing subjects. Unschooling is going with my son’s interests at that time. Perhaps I have planned a unit study on electromagnets and famous inventors, but he’s really into Pompeii. I will often put my plans on hold, saving them for another day, and allow his peaked interest to reign for the day (or week, or month . . .) We will learn all we can about Pompeii, we will research the timeline, look at photos, see if we can find documentaries, and really go in depth with the topic. We will look to see how the events of Pompeii impacted the world at that time, and how those events have shaped our own world. We will use math, physics, and geography to analyze the pyroclastic flows that killed so many. We will transition to other volcanoes and even earthquakes in a never ending pursuit of knowledge. In other words, we learn! We still cover all of the subjects, but we do it in a way that is engaging, thought provoking, and at a pace that he can comprehend. We are not sitting at home, in our pajamas playing video games all day.

Ok, so maybe we occasionally spend all day in our pajamas! But the point remains, we learn. I help to cultivate and grow his curiosity on interested subjects, and I show him how to research more. I teach him how to plan and think ahead into a given topic enough to create a hypothesis, then turn around and test that hypothesis to see if it was valid.

Think back to your school days. What do you remember most?

You remember the lessons that were of great interest to you. I remember most all of my 5th grade year. My teacher had no problem tossing out his lesson plans for the day, or even the week, if there was a given topic in which we as a class were really interested. I remember one day he caught several of us making paper airplanes of various shapes and sizes. So the rest of the day we built a variety of paper airplanes to test their ability to fly. From this we learned a great deal about friction, drag, lift, and the mechanics of aviation. All because our teacher saw we had an interest and capitalized on that, knowing the information would stick with us if we truly wanted to learn it. To this day I can still make some pretty awesome paper airplanes, and understand how and why they glide! Unschooling is giving your child a passion to learn using topics that truly are interesting to them, at a pace that is comfortable and logical for them. It is not presenting information that they must then regurgitate back for a grade.

Unschooling puts your child front and center. It does not mean that your child never has to do an assignment they don’t like. I firmly believe that life is not always fair, and that we sometimes have to suck it up and do things we just don’t want to do. His step dad has to go to work every day, I have to clean house, and he has to do his lessons. Unschooling is not a lack of “schooling,” it is a lack of constrained “schooling.” It is the freedom to watch a spark of interest turn into an inferno of knowledge. Knowledge that will truly last a lifetime!

Missica is the homeschooling mom to one super awesome son, Mr. B.

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