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Ask the Expert: What Is Unschooling? Is this Method Right for You?-WINNER

Posted by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 12:13 PM
  • 100 Replies

congratulations to mommyto2gr8ones, the winner of this contest and the book The Unschooling Handbook

Have you heard of unschooling? Are you curious to try it? Do you want to know if this method is right for your family? Is this method legal in your state?

CafeMom is pleased to welcome unschooling expert Mary Griffith to the group to answer YOUR questions. Mary Griffith is the author of "The Homeschooling Handbook: From Preschool to High School, A Parent's Guide" and "The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom," which together have sold more than 80,000 copies.  Her most recent homeschooling book is "Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life."

Ask your questions now and you could win a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook!"

Ask your questions in replies to this post. Mary will post her replies here as well. Mary will be in the group throughout the rest of August, so check back in as more questions come up!

Welcome, and thank you for joining us, Mary Griffith!

                                                        

The Official Rules
To enter the this contest, reply to this post. Click on the 'reply to post' button at the top (or bottom) of that post. When the text box opens, add your reply. Once you've added your reply, click on the "Add Reply' button.

  • Posts must be made between Wednesday, August 10 at 12 pm EST and Wednesday, August 31, at 5 pm EST.  
  • This contest will end on Wednesday, August 31, at 5 pm EST
  • One winner will be selected randomly.
  • The winner will be posted on this thread and will be notified via CafeMom PM.
  • Multiple replies are allowed and will increase  your chances of winning.
  • Prizes are only available to members who live in the US or Canada (excluding Quebec).
  • Prizes must be claimed within 10 days of notice of winning.
  • One winner will receive a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook" by Mary Griffith.
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 12:13 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 2:24 PM

When I first began writing THE UNSCHOOLING HANDBOOK,  I figured that--with the help of my two or three dozen questionnaire respondents--I could come up with the definitive answer-the-question-for-all-time explanation of what exactly unschooling is. Everybody had good answers to the questions, “How do you define unschooling?” The problem was that all the answers were different—and almost all of them were several paragraphs long.

What I realized as I got seriously working on the book was that unschooling is so hard to define because it truly is different for every unschooling family and for every child within a given family. Because it is so centered on the learner’s own needs and interests, generic definitions are perforce incomplete and unsatisfactory.

I found, though, as I looked at the more concrete responses to questions about what my respondents’ families spent their time doing, that all of them had certain characteristics in common. Three factors appear consistently in families for whom unschooling works:

1. An Environment Conducive to Exploration and Experimentation.

Unschooling children are able to spend most of their time in places where learning and exploration are possible and welcome. The exact materials or surroundings don’t matter a great deal; what’s important is that kids have access to what interests them and feel comfortable exploring and using what they find around them.

2. Adults as Models and Facilitators

As important as “stuff” to learn with are people to learn from. Formal qualifications are not important, but it’s crucial that kids have people around them who provide models of learning in the way they live and the activities they pursue. “Do as I say, not as I do” does not work; kids need people who have active interests of their own, who exhibit their own curiosity and joy in exploring the world.

3. Trust That the Child Will Learn.

For most parents, this is the most difficult aspect of unschooling. We worry that our kids will miss something important, that they won’t “cover everything,” that something will go wrong and it will be all our fault.

Developing that trust in our children does not come easily to many of us. We have to forget what things we learned in which grade at school and really look at what our children do. Most of us are frequently surprised at the things our kids know and do. Even now, years after I finished my two decades as an enthusiastic unschooling parent, I’m still startled at how often I’m pleasantly surprised by my now-adult daughters.

Eventually we learn to see how much our kids learn from even the most mundane activities. Eventually we learn to relax (most of the time) and quit worrying (most of the time). And inevitably, our children learn to recognize our anxiety creeping out and let us know—frequently—how ridiculous our fears are.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

mem82
by Platinum Member on Aug. 10, 2011 at 5:20 PM

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. My first question is a personal one. Did you homeschool your own children and what method did you use if you did? Was unschooling something that you tried or had you not heard anything about it?

mem82
by Platinum Member on Aug. 10, 2011 at 5:23 PM

I like to think of us as 'part time unschoolers'. I am not brave enough to just let go and my oldest who is 10 likes to have school work assigned to her, believe it or not. I tend to let the kids pick their own rabbit holes to follow and just try to find stuff ways to make it more educational. Do you think that the unschooling philosophy can work on a part time basis in the long run or that maybe I should either do it all the way or possibly tighten down our schedule to exclude the child led part?

mem82
by Platinum Member on Aug. 10, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Do you believe in 'radical unschooling' where the kids have no rules, including bed times or food limits and believe that they will self -regulate? Thanks for your time!

oredeb
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 6:49 PM

 hi mary! thanks for droppin by!

so what made you want to unschool?

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 7:11 PM

Neither daughter attended any school before their post-secondary education. I came across a copy of John Holt's Teach Your Own in a book store while my older daughter was still a toddler (she's 26 now) and immediately subscribed to his magazine, Growing Without Schooling. So I was thinking about unschooling long before either girl reached school age. Neither daughter attended any school before they started college.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 7:28 PM


Quoting mem82:

Do you believe in 'radical unschooling' where the kids have no rules, including bed times or food limits and believe that they will self -regulate? Thanks for your time!

I think "radical unschooling" is a term used mostly by unschooling skeptics or opponents to portray unschooling parents as inevitably neglectful, and thereby discredit the whole concept of unschooling. Occasionally, unschoolers will use the term just to short-cut conversations, but it's not a term that I think is very meaningful.

I don't believe there is any unschooling family that has no rules, no matter what they may themselves think. Everyone has some sort of safety rules, if nothing else--how to safely use scissors or knives or the microwave; every family develops routines that each member of the family adapts to. Any group of people living together are constantly negotiating appropriate behavior with each other--to describe the process as a matter of "rules" (or "no rules") is to oversimplify the actual situation.

Having said that, of course, we were pretty hard-core unschoolers--no set bed times, no set lessons, no food rules (except that you had to at least try something you'd never had before) and that if you didn't want to eat what was on the table, you were on your own, as long as you didn't use food that was already going to be used for something else. (But on the other hand, both kids had a lot of input into the food we bought and had on hand and sometimes did the cooking themselves.)

Did I believe my kids would "self-regulate" when we started unschooling officially? Yes. Because we didn't really change how we spent our time when they were suddenly school-age--they'd been deciding what they wanted to do all day from the time they were toddlers, and that didn't change suddenly once they turned five.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 7:30 PM


Quoting oredeb:

 hi mary! thanks for droppin by!

so what made you want to unschool?

I was bored out of my mind throught most of school. I spent most class periods reading whatever book I'd brought with me, and didn't see much point to making my kids do that when they could so easily read what they wanted at home where it was comfortable.

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

Mary_Griffith
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 7:49 PM


Quoting mem82:

I like to think of us as 'part time unschoolers'. I am not brave enough to just let go and my oldest who is 10 likes to have school work assigned to her, believe it or not. I tend to let the kids pick their own rabbit holes to follow and just try to find stuff ways to make it more educational. Do you think that the unschooling philosophy can work on a part time basis in the long run or that maybe I should either do it all the way or possibly tighten down our schedule to exclude the child led part?

I've come to believe that part-time unschooling isn't really the same as doing it full time. There may well be benefits to part-time unschooling, but I think it is qualitatively different from the full-time version. 

Partly it's a matter of demonstrating that trust that is an essential component of unschooling. Unschooling part-time says to your child, "I trust you to learn for yourself, but only up to a point," and kids will hear from that that they aren't really competent on their own. 

Let me ask you a question, too. What do you mean by "make it more educational"? Do you take, for example, say, a kid who is building major LEGO projects and try to formalize  it into some sort of worksheets? Do you mean you want to make it look more like something that would be taught formally in school? Would that really make it more educational or would it just make it look more like what most people unthinkingly call "educational"?

If you've ever been to an unschooling-oriented homeschool conference, you'll have heard about The Vacation, which is what we usually call the period after a child is withdrawn from school during which they are just left to their own devices to figure out what they're interested in and how they learn best. It's often very hard on kids, too, to suddenly feel free of any assigned activities--most kids have never had the chance to figure out how to set their own priorities or determine their own interests because so much has been determined for them by other their whole lives. Kids need practice using their own judgement in order to get good at it—those who've always been told what and how and when to study often don't trust themselves. 

(And don't forget that other aspect--the modeling of how to learn. Kids need to see the adults in their lives learning things, too, in order to figure out how it's done. A child who never sees an adult read for pleasure or work to master a new skill is not likely to figure out how to do those things.)

Mary
marygriffith.net

Where we are, our learning likewise is.

CoffeeMama1081
by on Aug. 10, 2011 at 8:04 PM

Thanks for answering questions!  I am currrently reading through "The Unschooling Handbook" a second time, so this is really nice to be able to ask you questions.

My first question is, what is your take on video games and television?  Do you think they should be limited or should there be some limits put on them?  My son is six and I am afraid he will play video games all day if I let him.  But some days this seems to be the only thing he is interested in doing...should I try to encourage him to do other things or let him play video games when it interests him?

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