How unschooling preschool really works (a case study from our lives)

Recently I have received a bunch of questions about exactly how unschooling works for us - what we do to ensure our kids are learning. Well, it's a little more nuanced than that - because unschooling promotes the belief that children should direct their own learning. As unschoolers, we offer our children opportunities, time and support, materials and experiences - but usually little to no direction.

For me, the case study you'll hear about in the above video is the first time I can look back and think: "Oh! There was a clear theme, all along! This is what we were exploring!". At the time, it just felt like the flow of life - working on this, then that - but with hindsight I can see that my children (my eldest in particular) was leading us down a specific path of exploration. In this case: dinosaurs.

I had no agenda for them to learn about dinosaurs. In fact, throughout the past couple of months I have learned how little I knew about dinosaurs (did you know there were well over 300 species?!). This has also taught me that I do not need to know what my children need to learn. We learn it together.

So what is the difference between how learning about dinosaurs might happen in school, and how it happens in unschool (lifelearning)? Here are some, albeit nuanced ways that I believe ultimately make a profound difference to the overall effect:

1. Life learning means the child chooses their own "curriculum". In school the teacher (or government) decides the curriculum. Why is this so 'bad'? Because when we are self directed learners we come with gusto and motivation that is born of our intrinsic interests and passions - we don't resist the learning, because there's nothing to resist, it comes from within us.

In school the teacher might say: "Now, we're going to learn about dinosaurs!" to which the kid might reply: "Boring". That can't happen in unschooling.

2. Life learning means the child sets their own pace. In school you have to keep up with other kids, or slow down for other kids. If you need to spend longer exploring a concept to fully grasp it - too bad. If you're chomping at the bit to move on to the next idea - too bad. Is there a benefit to learning to accommodate other's paces? Sure. But is there also a benefit to being able to tailor your pace to your own learning? Absolutely.

In school the teacher might say: "The semester's almost over! We need to finish up our dinosaur projects!" At home, the project can run it's course, until it fizzles out naturally into the next interest.

3. Life learning means immersive, project based learning. Humans don't naturally bounce between different subjects every 45 minutes with 5 minute recesses in between. We naturally immerse ourselves in an area of interest - diving deep and learning it with all of our senses, for however long it takes (or however long it holds our interest). We naturally take breaks when we're tired, not when we're told to. With life learning - a child can immerse themselves in their particular subject for a while, putting all other endeavors on hold. Once that wave has passed, they can fully dive into their next area of interest.

In school the teacher would need to stop the children working on their dinosaur projects, to make time for 'circle time' or 'literacy' - at home no learning comes at the expense of other learning. The flow is effortless and without agenda.

4. Life learning means the child can chose their learning approach. Some kids are hands on learners, others need audio-visual input, others still need to learn through movement. Most need a combination of these approaches. Life learners are unbound by pencil and worksheet - they can learn however works. Movies, outings, arts and crafts, books, theatre...

In school the teacher might decide to teach through books and art. At home the options are limited only by what is available.

5. Life learning means success lies in the process, not the outcome. When there's no test at the end of the semester, no parent-teacher conference and no evaluation whatsoever - the learning itself can claim center stage as the true hero of the story. Learning for it's own sake, without any reward or punishment, is the true hallmark of unschooling.

In school the dinosaur project would be evaluated in terms of whether the child met the pre-determined criteria for success (particular vocabulary, particular understanding, particular artwork). These criteria would not only diminish the process of learning, but also limit it - what if the child wants to build two dinosaur models instead of one? They are limited by the teachers expectations. Not so at home.

I hope this has given you a peek into what can happen when we let go of school. Or at least what is happening for us, right now.

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