Friday, July 2, 2010

What Unschooling and Natural Learning mean to me ... Part One

I've noticed these are terms which elicit strong emotions.  Many people haven't heard of either, but ask for a brief explanation (which I am NOT good at providing) or discuss it over a period of time.  Depending on their personal understanding, experience and the people they've met, reactions vary widely and I've seen family, friends and strangers dismayed, awestruck, horrified, intrigued, quick to judge, interested, worried, skeptical, undecided, curious, relieved ... 

One possible reason for people's strong opinions is that (in my short experience) there IS no absolute definition of Unschooling or Natural Learning.  There is much written about these philosophies, and excellent books and websites with support, tips and terminology.  But the extent to which it is applied varies a lot.  Even the principles behind it are elusive, and by their very nature these methods are open to interpretation and individualised implementation.  And THAT is what I have found so confusing, yet also comforting.

I could call us eclectic tidal lifelong learners, but eclectic home schoolers is easier.  I'm not a Natural Learning or Unschooling purist, but it is an important part of the big picture of learning for us.  Here are some WONDERFUL articles about N.L. and U.S. on blogs I read regularly and find inspiring:

Eclectic Homeschooling
An Unschooling Life
Almost Unschoolers

(NOTE:  I have other favourite blogs too, so forgive me if I've left you out!!  I'm sure some of you have related posts and I spent ages sifting, but ran out of time before I found them.  If you've written an article about what Unschooling and Natural Learning mean to YOU please put a link to it in the comments!)

These people have tried to explain what Unschooling and Natural Learning mean to them, and I've been encouraged by their example, seeing how they exercise their freedom of choice, to persist in finding my own way of home schooling, without pressure to use the labels in the same way as anyone else ... unless I want to :)  

In the past two years I kept trying, but feeling it was impossible and futile, to define my home education philosophy.  I'm not 'there' yet, but am glad to say I've learned a lot along the way and have gained a little more confidence.  Amongst the many lessons learned, I've realised:

*  Our homeschool will be whatever we need it to be, in order to reach the goals we (as a family and individuals) are working towards.  Flexibility is one of the reasons we home educate, and we're free to change our methods to adapt to emerging interests, embrace opportunities and go with the flow of our life.

*  Other people's opinions DO matter to me.  Not in a weak, submissive way, but as part of the way I relate to people and view society.  I'm capable of standing up for what I believe is right.  Being able to articulate WHAT we do, WHY and HOW, in a concise way, is something I will probably continue to strive for, whether it's possible or not.

*  I can't please everyone (and even if I wanted to it would be impossible), but I'm responsible for the choices I make on behalf of my children.  I believe I'm accountable to God, my family, the government and to some extent, fellow home educators.  I can explain why I reached this conclusion, but won't get into it now.  It's a big responsibility to raise children and influence their perception and place in the world.


In Part Two, I'll share what Natural Learning and Unschooling mean TO ME, and how they fit into the big picture of my education philosophy.

I may even write Part Three, which would be an example of how it all pans out during a typical week.

Please leave a comment.  I'd love to hear people's thoughts about this!


  1. Looks like your well on you're way to putting together your own philosophy of education. I like your "What I've Learned" list. I'm following, so I'll be sure not to miss part 2 :)

  2. I'm looking forward to you next post, V. I'm interessed in moving forward natural learning, so any insight I can gleen into how others learn and why, really interests me atm.

  3. Hi Vanessa, looking forward to your next post also. I think flexibility is so important because I've found my family's needs change over time (so I guess that might include being tidal?)Isn't great that homeschooling is the life we create with our children and we don't need a label. It's great to have everyone's ideas on their own styles to use as tools and learn!. See you soon.

  4. For me, I think that unschooling, at its most basic, is simply living life without school in it! As in, no school or "schooling" at all, no co-erced learning of any kind. I think that's why people's definitions and understandings are so broad and varied, because life outside of the school system is pretty huge!! (And VERY exciting!) Because we're not trying to school the masses, it will look different for each person, because we're all individuals. I do think, though, that it can be very difficult for us parents to not allow "school-think" (the expectations, pressures & mindset in general) to creep into our family's lives, to fully understand what life without school could really look like, because the majority of us have been schooled ourselves. But it's an exciting journey of discovery!

    I just read a great blog by an unschooling Dad. I'll try to link to it here:

    For what it's worth, Vanessa, you've inspired me to rethink my decision to hold off on blogging (out of a desire to focus on LIVING life rather than writing about it). There's just so much to write about, talk about & discuss with others! :)

  5. Oh Vanessa, awesome post!

    And, I think you got it! You are doing great in the path of finding what works for you and your children, and using the freedom of choice in learning wisely as it fits your family! And, you will do great with going with the flow! And, I love natural learning, actually that fits even better with what we do:))

    I will look forward to hear more. And, I am so happy for you!


  6. Thank you all! I appreciate your feedback and encouragement. I hope it's making some kind of sense ... it's so hard to put into words, but I felt it was worth trying, even if just for me to look back on in a few years and remember what we did and why, since I tend to be vague and forgetful about years gone by.

    Part Two is just about ready to post ... I just have to check on how the kids are going with moving house first. They're loading boxes and deciding who owns what. By the way, I don't know where they're moving to, but it sounds like they're having fun doing it!


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