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:

  1. If I am seriously never going need or use algebra in life, then why teach it?
  2. 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.

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12 Responses to Unschooling: Like Learning to Ride a Bike

  1. Love this! We are moving more and more toward an unschooling lifestyle and I find it so much more refreshing and exciting! My kids love it and so do I. But I have to admit there are moments when doubt begins to creep in and it’s those times when it so wonderful to read a post like this. Thank You for sharing.

    • Aadel says:

      You are welcome! It is a very foreign concept at first- you really have to experience it first hand. And that can be scary!

  2. Aadel, you are wonderful. And you have nailed it – it is all about trust in the “physics” of the world. Just like with a bike, if you keep pedaling, you’re not going to fall – and if you keep your kids receptive to the world around them and help them build their “learning muscles,” they won’t fall if and when they need to learn something in particular!

  3. psumba says:

    Joan, One of the “big concepts” in education is that some subjects (math and language, for example) are cumulative. If you get behind in them, it is harder to catch up. Other subjects, like history, are much less so …

    As a student, I hated phonics. By the time that our daughter reached elementary school, they had quit teaching phonics in favor of the “whole language method”. Our daughter floundered in first grade reading because her brain had a problem dealing with memorizing the whole word. In the summer between first and second grade, my wife Caroline taught her phonics (via “Hooked on Phonics”). This enabled her to learn to parse complex words and combine the pieces into the complete meaning. While she had some “eating my yucky vegetables” moments, it worked. By the end of the second grade, she was the most prolific reader in her class!

    Algebra is a similar concept. The intent of algebra is to teach the symbolic background of math. The problem is that teachers do not relate these concepts back to the arithmetic that students are familiar with, but teach algebraic concepts in a vacuum (that you either get or don’t get) … so many students never get it. Unfortunately poor math teachers have caused math anxiety in too many students! (math was my worst subject in school)

    Phonics and algebra are two of the most concepts for getting through life. Try to scale a recipe if you don’t understand basic algebraic principles.

    My point is that there are some times where education of a concept isn’t fun. The problem is that too often, these are important concepts that form the foundation toward a bigger goal!

    • The assumption is that these concepts must be taught to children as if they will never pick them up from living life. But, I can tell you, as soon as a child has a recipe that they REALLY want to make, and they need to figure out measurements and doubling recipes, they will pick up the ability very quickly to multiply fractions and more.

      I was an A+ algebra student in school, but that “book math” never applied very well for me in real life. What was on paper did not carry over well to applying it to everyday life situations, despite the thousands of word problems I solved.

      There is no substitute for learning from experience, trial, and error. As I trained to become a cook for a hospital and for catering, I had to “relearn” how to do all of those things in a real life setting.

  4. Susan says:

    I LOVE this comparison, and agree so much with all you said here!! I’ll be sharing this post :) Thanks for putting this all into words so beautifully!

  5. Linda Rogers says:

    The problem is not every parent has the education or the intelligence to homeschool children. I do agree that 21st education is antiquated and a high school education does not prepare a child for earning a living or for life’s challenges. A college education is also sadly lacking. Together, that’s 20 years spent in classrooms learning a great deal of “theory,” most of which they will never use and will soon forget. When children become adults, many do not know how to write a check and do not know the basics of parenthood, something almost all will surely do. I’d like to see an apprenticeship program launched with “on the job” education. It would be a thousand times more valuable than formal education.

    • Aadel says:

      Not every parent has a masters degree, but they know where to find resources. Parents, in general, want the best for their children. Give a child a computer and internet access and they have the world at their fingertips!

      I don’t like the assumption that if a parent doesn’t have a college degree then they can’t teach their children. Homeschooling is a lot like discipleship. You share your life and knowledge with your child and when you come to a point where you need help you seek it. Life and learning don’t happen in a vacuum separated from the community. ;-)

      I love you idea of an apprenticeship program! I really think this should happen in the military as well- we have an outdated rank system in which people are not followed because of their ability or leadership skills, but simply because of their time in service and education level.

  6. Rondi says:

    Awesome Aadel!

  7. Jamie {See Jamie blog} says:

    I’m loving your posts. I’m not an unschooled & don’t know if I ever will be, but the concept fascinates me & I’m exploring. It really is hard to break out of school mentality; I was a good student & a rule follower, and those things die hard!

  8. […] my great virtual friend Aadel at These Temporary Tents shared Unschooling: Like Learning to Ride a Bike, and it sparked huge and interesting discussion on my Facebook page. I personally love this post […]

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