Why we chose unschooling for our children’s education
There is a bit of a running joke in my circles that your homebirth midwife should warn you that birthing at home often leads to home education – I have found that there is some truth to that! After my first homebirth I fell naturally into attachment parenting – breastfeeding, cosleeping, and wearing my baby – and home education simply felt like a natural extension of that. Before kids, I had always thought that I would choose home education for future children, so we had structured our finances so that we could live on a single income and I could become a full-time parent.
Funnily enough, when I first heard about unschooling my first reaction was “oh no, that’s a bit extreme, I don’t want my kids to be dumb!”. I laugh at that now. Clearly that was a response borne out of ignorance. But at the time I imagined something more like school-at-home – my children sitting up at the table with me giving a lesson and helping them with their workbooks. It wasn’t until my first baby was 6 months old when I heard women in my homebirth community talking about unschooling that I decided to look into it properly. It blew my mind! It aligned exactly with the kind of values I already held about autonomy and critical thinking, and I felt really excited by the freedom it would allow.
Unschooling is child-led learning that is rooted in the belief that children are born with an intrinsic motivation to learn about the world around them. Indeed, in the first 6 years of my eldest son’s life I saw this in action every day. Proponents of unschooling also say that it is the extrinsic motivation that schools employ – forcing children to learn things before they are ready – that deteriorates this natural curiosity. With unschooling, children learn what they want in the way that they need to when they are ready to. An unschooling parent actively facilitates their child’s educational needs by providing things like supplies, equipment, tools, tutors, and inspiration in the form of strewing. Strewing is how we ended up with travel at the core of our unschooling – travel provides exposure to a variety of things that my children otherwise wouldn’t come across in their day-to-day lives.
So you might be wondering what unschooling looks like in practice? Well, for us, we use real-world experiences as often as possible. For example, last year turtles were a hot topic for our children. Any time we visited the museum, the first display they headed to was the one showing the different kinds of turtles, which also included a display of mannequins as scientists studying the turtles. When I realised that it was currently turtle hatching season in Bundaberg (a 4.5hr drive away) we bundled everyone into the caravan and made a road trip out of it. At the Mon Repos turtle centre we were taken to the beach to see and hold freshly hatched Loggerhead turtles and then we helped to guide the hatchlings to the ocean. Afterwards we stayed behind to see how real scientists go through their process and we were able to ask them questions. During our stay in Bundaberg we also learned about the local sugarcane industry and the enslavement of Polynesians in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, something we may not have otherwise learned about.
Learning about baby Loggerhead turtles
Unschooling isn’t always full of adventure. It’s largely normal life – pursuing our core interests and meeting up with friends – punctuated by something cool and different. My eldest son has the mind of an engineer so he gravitates towards anything to do with maths, physics, and science. My daughter is artistic and pursues anything to do with creative expression from drawing and painting to makeup and food. My youngest loves animals and learns what he can about all kinds of creatures. Every now and then we will go to a medieval festival, or a cultural festival, or history fair, and we get to learn new things. Sometimes that sparks off a period of intense interest, and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way we have fun.
Worldschooling is our family’s crème de la crème of unschooling. We choose to travel slowly so that we can pursue our core interests and still have quiet, lazy home days. Then when we head out the door we are able to engage with and learn about different people, cultures, languages, customs, clothing, art, architecture, religions, histories, geography, flora & fauna, climates, governments, and more. It provides us with a lot of context for the world.
What makes us especially happy about unschooling is that we get to live every day with the people we love most, all while engaging with this fascinating & dynamic world. That in itself would be reason enough for us ❤