Mother teaching – image from Shutterstock.
Although exact numbers are hard to come by, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that there were about 1.5 million homeschoolers in 2007, an increase from 1.1 million in 2003. It's even harder to estimate how many unschoolers are out there, but most unschooling advocates estimate that as many as 20% of kids learning at home are unschooled. As you explore various educational paths for your family, you may wonder if educating your child at home is a good choice. Be aware that it's impossible to cover home education methods in one post, so consider this post a kick off point, not the guide to end all guides. What we will do in this post, is look at what it means to homeschool or unschool your child, plus check out some pros and cons connected to both methods. If you'd like to continue researching these educational methods, I'll post further resources at the end.
Reasons Why Parents Educate at Home
I unschooled my own child from birth and although he attends a democratic school now, I consider us unschoolers. My reasons for unschooling at home were many, but to sum up, I never liked the idea that my son would go to a public school where his worth would be built on how he could take a test or who he was friends with. I think most public schools stifle creativity, focus on rather arbitrary issues and limit physical activity. Kids are not built to sit still at a desk all day. I also think youth should be respected as real live humans even while they’re young, which few schools believe. Most schools seem to advocate that when you graduate and get that degree you become someone important. I think my son is an important person now – he has real opinions, real interests and real rights now. Basically, the main reasons I decided to unschool my son are related to my dislike of how most schools run things, which is a key reason many parents homeschool or unschool. There are other reasons parents educate their kids at home though. A 2001 study cited the three main reasons for homeschooling as the ability to give a child a better education, religious reasons and a poor learning environment at school. Other reasons include…
- Schools aren’t challenging enough.
- Schools are too challenging without enough support.
- Bullying, drugs and other peer pressure and social issues.
- Parents want to set their own curriculum.
- Schools are too crowded – kids don’t get enough support.
- Parents like and want to spend time with their kids.
- The family lives far away from a decent school district.
- A parent had a poor school experience.
Dozens of other reasons I haven’t mentioned exist as well. It’s a little different for each unschooling or homeschooling family I’ve met.
What is Homeschooling?
At the most basic, homeschooled kids regularly learn at home or in another environment that’s not a school. Most people see the homeschooling method as when a parent (or sometimes another adult) directs their child’s education. Homeschooling parents design a curriculum, teach or arrange for teachers, classes or tutors, evaluate progress and usually play a large role in their child’s social contacts. On the flip side, there are humongous shades of gray when it comes to homeschooling. Some homeschoolers attend homeschool co-ops, taking classes. Some follow super strict text-book based routines. Others take online courses and still others function much more like unschoolers or what some called relaxed homeschooling, focusing on interest-led learning. In my experience, many homeschoolers start out trying a school-minded method, such as a full day’s curriculum, only to find that it’s just as stifling as real school so the family may switch to more relaxed homeschooling methods. That said, there are about as many ways to homeschool as their are kids in the world. The links below will give you an idea about all the various homeschooling methods.
What is Unschooling?
What unschooling is and isn’t, is one of the longest conversations in the world. In the smallest unschooling nutshell I can offer, Mary Griffith, author of The Unschooling Handbook says unschooling is a, “Matter of attitude and approach that allows for everyone, adults and children alike to be in charge of their own education.” Every unschooler I’ve met has different opinions about what unschooling means or what unschooling should look like, but most unschoolers I know do focus on education that’s interest-led, meaning a child who becomes interested in greek history should be offered the tools and resources to study it. Unschoolers avoid forced learning by coercion (or other methods) and don’t follow any specific curriculum. Additionally, most unschoolers I know hold some common beliefs, such as…
- Humans are born naturally curious. Kids who are given a healthy and rich environment plus positive support will naturally use their curiosity to learn new things.
- It’s arbitrary to learn certain things at specific times or in a weird set chronological order simply because a school or society says it’s time. For example, not all unschoolers learn cursive or fractions at the age, while kids in school do.
- All people have their own unique style of learning. For example, some learn best by reading, others by listening and others by doing.
In my experience the main difference between homeschooling and unschooling is that homeschoolers do much more schoolish stuff at home, while unschoolers tend to refrain from the more conventional school-like activities. Still, as noted above unschooling is a book-length topic. It’s impossible to sum unschooling up nice and tidy. To learn more visit the following links.
Pros of Homeschooling & Unschooling
The coolest perk of both home and unschooling is that you really get to know your child and that’s awesome. Homeschooling offers more educational freedom, more family time, less stress brought on by school social pressures and can be a method that’s fine-tuned specifically for your child. Homeschooling allows your child to work at his own pace vs. being stuck with the pace of the majority in a school class. Homeschooling also offers stability, say if you move, plus allows your family the freedom to travel when you want, take breaks as needed and if necessary, provides your family with the freedom to incorporate specific religious or moral teachings into the curriculum. You get to help homeschooled kids deal with moral issues, for example, you can say no bullying and mean it, but most schools won’t enforce zero bullying. There’s no arbitrary homework sucking away family time either. One of the key benefits of home or unschooling is that your child will have the chance to be more active. Many schools today expect kids to sit for hours on end, and have cut recess and physical education time down to almost nothing, which is not healthy for any child.
Unschooling provides all of the above benefits, but has other perks as well. Most schooling choices hold kids accountable for test scores and grades, but unschooling holds your child accountable for creative critical thinking and skills and interests that matter to your child. Unschooling teaches kids that learning can happen round the clock, not simply from 9am to 3pm M-F, plus ensures that learning is child-specific, valuable and long lasting. Unschooling doesn’t focus on memorizing facts for tests but on real world issues that will affect your child’s world in real ways. Oh, and before I forget, while most think that a lack of social interactions is a con of home or unschooling, they’re wrong. In schools, kids are grouped into arbitrary age groups and confined to a few rooms. Homeschoolers get to travel all over town, hanging with kids of all ages and adults, which is much more realistic and teaches kids to get along with everyone, not a select few. There are plenty of homeschool and unschool groups to hang with too. Homeschool does not equal isolation.
Cons of Homeschooling & Unschooling
Homeschooling and unschooling have many of the same cons. Cost is a biggie in most families. Supplies can be inexpensive if you work it right, but time is money, so that’s a much bigger problem. One parent (usually) has to be at home, meaning one less paycheck than two-parent working families. Homeschooling and unschooling require massive time commitments from one or both parents, and breaks from your kids are hard to come by. If you educate your child at home, you’ll have to work out your own record keeping system, which varies depending on the state you live in and your child’s future goals, for example college bound homeschoolers and unschoolers usually maintain substantial portfolios. Single parents are far more limited when it comes to home or unschooling, not to say it can’t work, but as a single parent who has unschooled, I can honestly say it’ll require strength and drive you never knew you had. Limited sport teams and fewer resources, like a big wood-shop or art studio is another con.
Unschooling has a few more cons, because even among other homeschoolers, unschooling isn’t always accepted. You’ll defend your choice for your kid’s entire childhood if you choose to unschool, to just about everyone. Unschooling also requires an astounding amount of trust in the natural learning process we all possess. If you can’t learn to believe that your child is smart and capable without a school or parent telling him what to do 24/7 then it’s unlikely unschooling will work for you.
Legalities of Home Education and Other Resources
Homeschooling and unschooling are legal to varying degrees in every single U.S. state. Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and they offer information on state laws surrounding homeschooling. A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling is also a go-to website for not only legal aspects of home learning, but all aspects – if you have a home education question, you’ll find the answer at A to Z. There are very few decent movies about this method of schooling, although if you’re on the fence between home learning and public school I seriously suggest you hunt down a screening of Race to Nowhere because it may take you off that fence. Lastly, there are plenty of amazing homeschooling and unschooling books out there. Off the top of my head, I highly recommend:
- The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
- The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom
- Anything by John Holt, but Teach Your Own is really good
- Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
Other excellent home and unschool resources include the following…