I have heard people talk about "unschooling" but I'm not really sure what it means. Does anyone here know what it really means and why we might want to do it?
As your tags say, unschooling is a philosophy and a methodology of education. In very broad terms, it is integration of learning into daily life, work, and play to the point where learning is inseparable from other activities.
Some example of unschooling methodologies:
My understanding is that several books and other writings by John Holt describe what later became known as "unschooling." A great place to start is Learning All the Time (by John Holt). After that, How Children Learn by John Holt or Teach Your Own by John Holt and Patrick Farenga are excellent resources and well worth reading, and are not repetitive of each other. Although they were written 25+ years ago, their relevance today is as great as ever in 2009-2010. (If you're also interested in numerous examples of how typical public schooling regularly fails, spectacularly, How Children Fail by John Holt provides more evidence.) As these books illustrate, children are naturally curious and interested in learning; if we let them learn, don't over-structure, but rather provide support and answers, children will generally learn eagerly and more quickly largely on their own and through natural experience. It probably works best starting from the beginning, and perhaps best in the earlier grades. We have adopted a combined approach of structure and child-driven learning; through around age 7, it was mostly along the lines of unschooling, but starting around age 7 we've added a fair amount of structure (maybe half?) because some important material was being forgotten. The unschooling approach certainly has worked for us in many ways.
Unschooling is learning as you live your life as opposed to thinking in terms of subjects. We don't do "Reading", we read when the urge hits us or when we need to find information as in following a recipe. We don't do "Math" we use numbers to as a way to solve problems encountered in daily living such as how to make a building project square or figuring our how much tax will be on an item to be purchased. My kids do real things like making purchases with their own money, growing gardens, cooking, keeping bees, housework, selecting groceries, planning trips, making videos, playing games, etc. From all all these activities they learn in a way that is meaningful. They never ask "When will I ever need to know this?" about what they are learning because they already have needed it. They do have interests that involve the simple pursuit of knowledge. That's where libraries, netflix, PBs, and the internet come in handy. I also strew their environment with all sorts of potentially interesting books, activities, websites, objects, etc. If they show a spark of interest about a particular thing, I focus my strewing for as long as that interest seems present. What I don't do is force them to learn just for the sake of being able to recite facts. I don't artificially separate knowledge into discrete subjects. Everything is related to either accomplishing a goal which is practical or to following a particular interest.
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