You know when you were a kid, and your dad told you that in order to learn to ride a bike you had to just let loose and go? You were so sure you would fall, you didn’t know how just going would work without knowing how to balance and steer. But when you did- you figured it out on the fly.
Unschooling is the same way. It seems scary- to just let go and live as if school didn’t exist. But when you let go completely, you learn to balance and steer your kids on the fly! The road gives us every bump and curve we need to learn to ride. Life gives us every bumpy and curvy opportunity our kids need to learn.
I shared this thought the other day on my Facebook page as well as in the Christian Unschooling group. The idea has been swimming around in my head for quite some time now.
The concept is hard to explain. Most people love the idea of unschooling, but they have trouble grasping how kids will learn things like algebra, writing, and advanced science without some kind of curriculum and encouragement.
These were the same concerns I had- believe me.
And so, we started out as the “relaxed homeschoolers”. We ditched the formal curriculum for science, history, and most everything else. I stopped grading papers and giving tests.
Then we transformed into semi-unschoolers. I was ok with them learning on their own, except for math and writing.
But like my Facebook status says, it was really like riding the unschooling bike with training wheels the whole time.
Living As If School Didn’t Exist
I don’t know when the moment happened when I finally just let go and started living like school didn’t exist. I just remember one day looking up and realizing that we hadn’t done anything except what WE wanted to do (individually and as a family) for some time.
You see if we truly believe in the unschooling philosophy, we have to also agree to some pretty hefty assumptions:
- That algebra, spelling, writing, and all that other stuff will be learned through live experience IF it really is an important part of life.
- If those things are not learned, that they might not be all that important for life/success/whatever in the first place.
- That our children can learn anything they want or need. There is no cut-off age for learning a new skill.
- That we trust our kids, and ourselves, to know when and where they will need certain skills.
Obviously, school exists. We drive by several every day. And one day my kids might want to pursue higher learning.
But if college is that important for life, then my kids will be motivated to learn all they can in order to be successful at it.
Learning From Life
When riding a bike you need to know steering, balance, and speed. Sometimes you need to know how to shift gears, change a tire, and fix the alignment.
But do we go to bike riding classes to learn all that stuff? No- we might get some practice from a training bike, but most of it we learn when it is necessary. As an adult, I am still learning a few things about riding bikes.
It would be ridiculous for me to say, “Well I’m ok with letting him learn to steer on his own, but I still require lessons on how to shift gears.”
It’s silly because we all know that you can learn those things perfectly well without formal training. It is part of life- fundamental physics.
So my question is- can you learn algebra from life? Spelling? Writing? Typing? If not, then why is it so important to teach?
The argument is double-sided:
- If I am seriously never going need or use algebra in life, then why teach it?
- And if it is important for life, and kids won’t naturally want to learn it, then why are we teaching it?
You can tell me learning ancient Greek is important for life, but if I don’t find that to be true then no amount of teaching is going to convince me. And if it is important for life, and I still can’t learn it from simply living life, then your teaching is probably not going to help me.
The truth is, we are scared and so we try to prepare kids for a future that neither of us know anything about. We say they will need it for college, but then we distrust their ability to learn it when they truly need it- in college.
Unschooling doesn’t fit with that thought process.
You have to let go- of ALL academic subjects- and trust that life will provide the opportunities that you and your child need to learn what you will need.
And you have to trust that your kids are never too old to learn to ride.