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See how unschooling works and why it works:

Scan these Unschooling Activities to spark ideas for your family: Activities.

Read the insightful and fascinating quotes on unschooling by John Holt: Quotes.

Read one family's "Typical Unschooled Day": Typical Day.

Unschooling: Try It, You'll Like It!

You've heard of "unschooling", but aren't certain of its merits. Although you believe in "homeschooling" and know it works, you might be wary of "unschooling." Just what goes on in an unschooling situation, anyway? The answer to that is: a lot!

Learning is a natural part of living. If you're hesitant to engage in "unschooling," observe your child closely when school is, technically, out. You'll become more aware of the natural learning that takes place in your child's life every day.

As long as a child, or person of any age, has the opportunity to explore or investigate the world he or she lives in, learning will take place. If your child spends lots of time in front of the television, watching meaningless shows, then, understandably, not much worthwhile learning is occurring. It's important that a child's world includes much more than television! And it's up to us to help our children see the many exciting and interesting things there are to explore in the world.

Brainstorming Ideas

If your children aren't sure what they want to do with their free time, help them brainstorm some ideas. Maybe your 8-year-old wants to build a dollhouse. Or your 12-year-old wants to hike through parks or across nature trails in your area. Or your 14-year-old wants to see how many books she can read in one month. (Also, see some of the ideas sent in by readers, following this article.)

When you determine what desires and interests they have, you can help your children devise a way to pursue those things. In building a doll house, your child can learn about designing the house, figuring the dimensions, drawing the blueprints to scale, shopping for the wood and materials, the actual construction of the house, and much more.

If this is out of your league, perhaps your daughter's uncle, grandfather, or a neighbor can help with the project. She might also enjoy learning about the first doll houses built in the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries, and seeing photos of what those houses looked like. In exploring that information, she will no doubt learn much about the era in which early doll houses were built.

Children's Interests

What about your children's interest in building models, drawing or painting, getting a new pet, roller blading, the martial arts, writing stories, building Legos, cooking and baking, gymnastics or dance class, music or piano lessons, water skiing, the theater, their curiosity about the Yukon or Africa, their curiosity about famous pioneer women, or medical discoveries, or the next space shuttle trip?

Encourage your children to follow these interests and delve into the areas they are naturally curious about. If they enjoy roller blading, maybe they'd enjoy learning about who manufactured the first roller blades. When did the roller blade fad first take off? When were roller skates first made and when did that fad take off? What events were going on, around the world, when roller skates first came out? They'll be able to surprise their friends with this information the next time they go roller blading together!

If your children like writing stories and drawing, they can make their own book or create a comic book. Visit the library for information on how to make books.

If your children enjoy cooking and baking, they could concoct their own dishes and desserts with friends and family. Then compile and create a cookbook full of their own recipes.

Maybe your child and some neighbor friends would like to try constructing the largest Lego structure possible. (And, by the way, who invented Legos? Maybe they would like to research this!)

Putting Thinking Skills to Work

There are hundreds of things in this world that interest kids. It's simply a matter of helping them pinpoint what they are, and allowing them to explore those things in a fun, interesting manner. When activities are fun and interesting for children, there's no stopping the learning that will take place. This is why unschooling works so well!

Perhaps your child likes video or computer games, and maybe he'd like to create his own. Help him locate books on computer programming or sign up for an online course that will teach him to create a basic computer game. Although it may not be as complex as commercial games, he will feel proud of his abilities and will enjoy having his friends play the game he created.

All of the above activities, and nearly all activities that come to mind, will require some creative thinking on your child's part, plus critical thinking, analytical skills, reasoning skills, reading skills, processing skills, small and large motor skills, and much more. These are all superb skills to exercise and refine.

If there are other areas of interest your child has not yet pursued, it's only natural to want to research those areas. You will see him or her thumbing through your set of encyclopedias for more information on the topic, or searching for relevant information on the Internet, or asking if you could take them to the library or the bookstore so they could find additional information.

The ripple effect

When it comes to unschooling, there is no limit to the ideas and activities that can extend from special interests. One thing often leads to another, and then to another, until you're amazed at the large amount of information and knowledge your child is exploring and absorbing all on his or her own.

I see it as the pebble that is dropped into a body of water. The ripples created by that one small pebble extend out from the pebble, ever-widening and ever-moving, expanding into a much larger area, and finally touching shores never imagined, when that pebble first touched the surface of the water.

As you help your children find and follow their interests, you will see "unschooling" in action. Playing is learning. And playing and unschooling go hand-in-hand, resulting in natural, long-remembered learning.

Have fun -- and don't forget to indulge yourself in your own areas of interests, fun, and learning, too!

Suggested Unschooling Activities from Our Readers

Our growing list....   Share your suggestions, too!
- Nature walks
- Hands-on activities
- Science experiments
- Invention projects
- Construction projects
- Playing music
- Arts and crafts
- Drawing and painting
- Sculpting and pottery
- Scrapbooking
- Journaling
- Creative writing
- Reading and researching
- Board games
- Outdoor games
- Hands-on games
- Family games
- Math manipulatives
- Cooking and baking
- Gardening
- Decorating
- Home projects
- Sport activities
- Recreational activities
- Family activities
- Camping and hiking
- Swimming and skating
- Surfing and skiing
- Picnics and socials
- Field trips
- Community trips
- Community courses
- Library trips
- Family discussions
- Family businesses
- Apprenticeships
- Internships
- Volunteering
- Interest-driven learning pursuits
- Independent learning activities
- Natural living and learning every day

John Holt: Quotes and Viewpoints

On Learning

"...We can best understand learning as growth, an expanding of ourselves into the world around us. We can also see that there is no difference between living and learning, that living is learning, that it is impossible, and misleading, and harmful to think of them as being separate."

"We say to children, 'You come to school to learn.' We say to each other, 'Our job in school is to teach children how to learn.' But the children have been learning, all the time, for all of their lives before they meet us. What is more, they are very likely to be much better at learning than most of us who plan to teach them how to do it."

"...We should try to do in school, as much as possible, what people are doing in the world."

-- by John Holt, from What Do I Do Monday?, published by Dell Publishing Co., 1970

On Interests

"The learner, child or adult, his experience, his interests, his concerns, his wonders, his hopes and fears, his likes and dislikes, the things he is good at, must always be at the center of his learning. He can move out into the world only from where he already is in it."

-- by John Holt, from What Do I Do Monday?, published by Dell Publishing Co., 1970

On Curriculum and Alternative Schools

"Even in supposedly 'free' or 'alternative' schools, too many people still do what conventional schools have always done. They take children out of and away from the great richness and variety of the world, and in its place give them school subjects, the curriculum.

"They may jazz it up with chicken bones, Cuisenaire rods, and all sorts of other goodies. But the fact remains that instead of letting children have contact with more and more people, places, tools, and experiences, the schools are busily cutting the world up into little bits and giving it to the children according to some expert's theory about what they need or can stand.

"What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.

"Finding ways to do all this is not easy. The modern world is dangerous, confusing, not meant for children, not generally kind or welcoming to them. We have much to learn about how to make the world more accessible to them, and how to give them more freedom and competence in exploring it. But this is a very different thing from designing nice little curricula."

-- by John Holt, from Teach Your Own, published by Dell Publishing, 1981

On "Homeschooling"

"I have used the words 'home schooling' to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading.

"What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't a school at all.

"It is not an artificial place, set up to make 'learning' happen and in which nothing except 'learning' ever happens. It is a natural, organic, central, fundamental human institution, one might easily and rightly say the foundation of all other institutions....

"What I am trying to say, in short, is that our chief educational problem is not to find a way to make homes more like schools. If anything, it is to make schools less like schools."

-- by John Holt, from Teach Your Own, published by Dell Publishing, 1981

Note: John Holt was a teacher, a writer on educational issues, and passionate about the need for change in schools and the educational process. He became a strong supporter of homeschooling, and interviewed or communicated with numerous homeschool families. He particularly supported real-world learning in real-world settings. Read more of his books and writings, available through libraries or the Internet.

A Typical Unschooled Day: Understanding Unschooling

Unschooling can be similar to an eclectic style of homeschooling, yet it's still different. It's the belief that learning is a natural part of each day. As we live, so do we learn; the experiences encountered each day contribute to one's education. Unschooling usually follows the child's interests and learning style, and often the child is largely responsible for his or her weekly activities, with some guidance and input from mom or dad.

Children are born with a natural curiosity. When their curiosity is suppressed, their learning is diminished. However, when their curiosity is encouraged with nurturing guidance, their learning accelerates. Unschooling is a form of nurturing guidance that can help enhance your child's natural curiosity and education.

Examples of Unschooling

Karen's children, Sara and Michael, go about their days in a relaxed style, yet it's not completely without structure. Karen believes that having some structure each day is important, particularly where chores and responsibilities are concerned.

For instance, the children wake up at a decent hour each morning, have breakfast with the family, clean off their plates, make their beds, take their showers, and straighten any rooms they have used. They feed the cat, take out the trash, sweep off the sidewalk, and complete any other chores required of them.

Once their morning chores are out of the way, they know that their "school day" begins. Since Karen's family discussed the importance of getting a good education at home, and the kids know that their skills will be evaluated at the end of the year, both Sara and Michael understood the importance of unschooling and of learning each day. Compared to their former curriculum, they enjoyed the idea of unschooling so much that they jumped right into it.

A Typical Unschooled Day

On a typical day, Sara and Michael find science experiments in library books that they want to do. They conduct the experiments in the kitchen under Karen's supervision, using measuring and math skills, then record the results and their conclusions following the experiments. Michael prefers recording his findings on the computer, while Sara prefers writing in cursive.

Michael currently enjoys reading biographies of scientists, and he and Sara often re-enact the scientists' discoveries in the backyard. Even though it's make-believe, they are instinctively reinforcing what Michael has read and shared with Sara.

Sara is reading Meet Kirsten, from the American Girl Collection series, and her playtime ventures off from Michael's scientific re-enactments to historic re-enactments of the era surrounding Kirsten's life during the mid-1850s. Sometimes Michael plays along, or he may turn to the cardboard model of Gettysburg that he's been working on in his bedroom.

Meanwhile, Sara's interest may move on to feeding the birds in the backyard and taking pictures of them for her "bird and butterfly" photo album. She's trying to include pictures of as many different types of birds and butterflies as possible. She also loves painting with watercolors, and she often paints pictures of the birds and butterflies that she has photographed.

Later in the day, the kids sprawl on the floor to play the Take-Off Geography game, keeping the globe and a map of the world nearby. They often consult the encyclopedia on different areas of the world and read about the people in those regions. This soon leads to reading various other entries in the encyclopedia on whatever topics capture their interest.

A Typical Unschooled Evening

As Sara and Michael help with afternoon chores and dinner preparation, they talk with Karen about the things they did or read that day. Over dinner, the entire family discusses their day, as the kids share their daily experiences with their father. This further reinforces the discoveries they made that day and the knowledge they gained.

The evenings are spent similar to the way they spent their day -- working on activities, reading, playing games, doing artwork, spending time outdoors, playing the keyboard, and finishing chores. Karen has asked both children to keep a journal of their daily activities, and most evenings Michael is at the computer, typing about his day, while Sara sits at the dining table, writing about her day.

Each night, Karen reads aloud from a library book, often a classic or current bestseller. On this night, it's Treasure Island. The television is turned off, the kids are curled on the sofa on either side of Karen, and Michael doodles on a notepad, sketching pirates, treasure chests, and maps marked with an X, as he listens to the story. Dad looks through the day's newspaper, but the kids know he's also enjoying the story being read aloud.

Karen admits that each day is somewhat different, yet each tends to follow a pattern of sorts -- the kids do their chores; work on projects and science experiments; play outdoors and re-enact events they've read or learned about; spend time on artwork and music; play games together; read books, magazines, and even encyclopedias; and write each day.

A few times a week, they work on math skills and refresh their memories about adverbs and adjectives, building upon knowledge learned in previous weeks. And several times a week, they visit the library, attend music classes and gymnastics, run errands, and spend time with friends and family.

This is one family's style of "unschooling" -- a style that works for them. The kids stay busy and interested in learning, the parents supervise their daily learning, and the family discusses the learning that takes place every day. In this way, the parents stay closely in touch with the children's progress and educational activities, and the children learn each day in an easy-going, natural way.

Send your examples of "Typical Unschooling Days" and we will feature them here! If your children would like to describe their unschool days, that's great, too!

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