Safeguarding Unschooling: The Importance of Communicating How Learning Happens

unschooling homeschooling

Unschooling is a beautiful practice of living and learning in a way that purposefully honours the unique human being – their interests, their pace, their delights, their ability, their rhythm. 

We all begin life with each child in the unschooling way. 

A child is welcomed into a family. We sing, talk, and introduce the baby to the world, noticing what piques the baby’s interest, or what engages her or makes her smile. 

As the child grows, we read to him, and allow him to gum the books or pour over favourite pages. We purchase carefully-chosen games, puzzles, blocks, and dolls, delighting as the child explores, imagines, discovers, and invents new ways to play with the toys. Any particular interest is reinforced as we find ways to enable the child to explore more deeply, feeding the interest until it changes and she becomes fixated on something else. 

John Holt says, “We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” 

This is the necessary work of unschoolers in the absence of prepared curriculum. 

For the unschooling child’s environment to be one that is enriched and ripe for engaging with the world around them, the parent must be actively paying attention and consistently creating an environment that will facilitate growth in the child. The child’s learning, then, continues to be natural and fluid, never forced, but is always an invitation to go deeper. “Children naturally possess an active interest in knowing more about the world around them,” says Susan Engel, developmental psychology expert. She suggests that providing satisfying answers to a child’s constant questions encourages them to ask deeper and more refined questions, thereby feeding their curiosity. Demonstrating our own curiosity in front of our children profoundly affects them as well. It is incumbent on the parent to proactively find ways to continue to feed and deepen the child’s interests and abilities through discussion, books, apprenticeships, classes, clubs, and mentorships – places the child can ask more intricate questions, deepening their wonder and curiosity. 

When unschooling parents are paying close attention as their children learn, it is a small step to begin to document their learning. Children can still learn in freedom while parents keep careful records of the child’s learning. Tracking their learning serves the dual purpose of being able to celebrate specific milestones, and also to have a record of your child’s progression of learning that can be easily understood by family members and educators. This provides protection for the unschooling family while continuing to learn in freedom.

Consider the following structure to track learning 

  1. Yearly Meeting – Envision the year with your child; brainstorm ways to learn what they’re interested in.
  2. Goal Planning – Keep a log of the child’s yearly goals, weekly goals, daily goals. These can even be entered retroactively.
  3. Regular weekly meetings – Have a weekly check-in to see how goals are being met; if you are keeping goals retroactively for your child, log the completed goals and continue to actively research how to help your child move to the next step in their learning in each subject/interest area. 
  4. Daily discussion – Engage with your child; ask probing questions; gently challenge them to consider a new perspective; record the child’s reflections.
  5. Maintain a portfolio of your child’s learning – include pictures, videos, writing, field trips. 

Goal setting, and documenting are easy tools parents can use to translate unschooling into language others can understand. 

The unschooling lifestyle seeks to respect and honour the individuality and autonomy of the child — beautiful and yet startlingly countercultural. This is a world in which it is becoming increasingly important to teach our children the importance of being respected and thinking for themselves. Where the government might seek to intervene, let’s safeguard the right to unschool by using tools to intelligently and competently articulate to educators what our children are learning.