At various times in our homeschool journey, we chose to unschool. When my son was young, we just received a few sideways glances…”Oh, you’re one of those. We don’t do that…” It got annoying, but whatever.
As he got older, though, those glances turned into concerned comments.
Am I damaging his college prospects? (He’s currently a senior in college with a 4.0, so apparently not!)
Will he ever get a job? (He’s had a few, and has risen pretty quickly in them.)
Won’t he be unable to work as part of a team? (As I write this, he’s helping lead a volunteer team for a political campaign. He also travels to other countries with missions teams several times a year. I think he’s good.)
I’m not writing this to brag on my kid, because, well…he hates it when I do that. I’m writing this to dispel some long-standing myths about unschooling. That way, you can take an honest look at it and figure out if it might work for your family!
So What Is Unschooling?
I think a lot of the misconceptions about unschooling come from a misunderstanding of what it is. Simply put, unschooling – or delight-directed learning, as it’s often called – is allowing your child the freedom to learn about what interests them in the way that makes the most sense.
Pretty easy, right? But that definition is also pretty broad. Sometimes, it’s easier to define something by stating what it’s not.
Unschooling is not . . .
• Unschooling is not a Lord of the Flies type of educational philosophy. It does not involve setting your child loose in the savage wastelands of academia, hoping that they emerge unscathed on the other side.
• It’s not a child-run dictatorship in which you bow to your child’s whims, never requiring them to learn anything they don’t “like.”
• Contrary to popular belief, unschooling does not require you to move to the mountains and live completely off the land, forsaking society and its comforts. You’re welcome to do this if you choose, but it’s by no means the norm.
So How Do You Unschool High School?
That’s kind of the thing about unschooling; there is no set blueprint. It really does look different for every family. That’s also the point, though.
In unschooling, you don’t set the course of study by yourself. You don’t require your child to fulfill it according to the teacher’s manual.
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Instead, you work with your child to determine what best fits them. Discuss their goals, their likes, their strengths and weaknesses – and then work with them to set a plan.
This plan might involve textbooks (yes, they’re allowed in unschooling!), internships, mentoring programs, or afternoons out in the woodshop. It might involve hours spent researching the details of what fascinates your teen, and then hours more learning to put that information to use.
For my son, it meant a huge Audible library of political theory and philosophy, as well as a few dozen rolls of duct tape to make an arsenal of medieval melee weapons. (He’s now a Politics & Policy major and a Military History minor. Go figure!)
It also meant several hours of comparing his favorite novels to their movie counterparts in order to figure out the details of storytelling on paper and onscreen. (He’s currently planning a novel trilogy with what he’s learned.)
And when he couldn’t sleep, because he’s a teenage boy, it meant hours on YouTube watching Disney clips from the 40s through current movies. I found out later that he was analyzing the social messaging. He then compared it with cultural changes he noticed in literature and politics. (Funny, I just memorized the songs!)
An Important Note on Unschooling
It is really important to note that unschooling is not the right choice for every child. If it was, other methods wouldn’t exist!
If your child is not self-motivated to learn, unschooling might not be the right choice. Notice, however, that I said “self-motivated to learn.” I didn’t say “self-motivated to learn with the method we’re currently using.” There’s a big difference!
If your child needs a strong structure with daily checklists and clearly defined boundaries, you may want to check into something like traditional textbooks or classical education. Unschooling does offer some amazing opportunities, but the boundaries are pretty loose. This is freeing for some students, terrifying for others.
That’s ok, though – do what works best for your child!
Getting Down To It
In future posts, I’ll go through ideas you can work with to unschool your high schooler – everything from writing and literature analysis to science and math, and everything in between. There will be plenty of ideas for out-of-the-box subjects and projects, too. They’re incredibly effective and fun!
So if unschooling sounds like something that might work for your high schooler, stay tuned – there’s lots to come. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below with any questions or topics you’d like me to cover. I’m happy to help!
Jennifer Duncan is the founder of A Helping Hand Homeschool, providing resources, unit studies, support, and consulting for homeschool families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram!
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affiliate links are used in this post