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Homeschooling vs Unschooling

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Teaching kids independently of the school system can be one of the most rewarding things in the entire world. It also can be one of the most difficult things as well though. Just ask my mom, who not only schooled me my entire childhood, but schooled all four of my siblings as well. If you were to ask her if educating us herself was worth it, she would tell you absolutely. It may have been hard (me and my siblings were no cake walk) but the benefits far outweighed the negatives. However, if you were to ask her what she thought the best way to educate a child is, well that would be a much harder question to answer. 

Over the course of educating her five children, my mom’s approach to school has changed dramatically. On one hand, we’ve been carefully walked through a thorough curriculum full of textbooks, and on the other, we’ve been fully submerged in foreign culture, and been thrown into real world situations that called for us to advance our real world problem solving capabilities. From traditional homeschooling, to totally wild unschooling, what variation between them is best for you?

What’s The Difference?

But first, I should clarify what the difference between homeschooling and unschooling is? In a sense, unschooling is the more extreme version of homeschooling. With homeschooling, you give your kids a curriculum that still involves most of the subjects that they’d be taught in regular school, except that you’re the one choosing the textbooks and helping them along.

Unschooling refers to a method of homeschooling where you do away with the textbooks altogether, and instead take your kids out into the world to learn practical things about life. Both methods are viable, and realistically, you’ll probably implement some combination of the two. Nevertheless, here are the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons

For homeschooling, the most obvious pro is that there is structure and direction for you and your kids. With this traditional way of learning, there is a beginning and end to each task, and, assuming they’re being provided good resources, they’ll be prepared for numerous entry level jobs in a variety of fields.

The downside of all this however, is that you’re still making a few of the errors that even a typical public education system would be making, namely that some of the things you’ll be teaching are redundant and won’t necessarily be preparing your kids for the real world, or teaching them how to be good people. For better and for worse, this mode of education is systematic, fair, logical, and most of all predictable.

As for unschooling, if you plan on doing any sort of traveling or adventuring, part of this will occur naturally. Unschooling is all about getting your kids out of the classroom and building genuine character. This means getting hands on with their learning, placing the time aside in any given situation to give them a lesson, and putting your kids in a variety of real world situations. These can be as trivial as making them learn how to open a bank account, to fixing a clogged kitchen sink, to building a campfire.

Unschooling can be dynamic and exciting, and if done well, it can be the absolute best thing for your kids. The negative however, is that there’s no clear guidelines or instruction manual for how to do this. This also involves a drastic increase in time commitment, due to the fact that you can’t always hand your kids a worksheet and leave them to their own devices for an hour.

Finding An In Between

Now you may be asking yourself: is there no middle ground? Can’t I do both? As a matter of fact, you can. You can supplement unschooling with homeschooling, and vice versa. The right combination can be hard to find, but once you’ve got it, it’ll make a world of difference. The biggest things to ask yourself, in order to find the right combination, are these:

How much of your life do you foresee being at home versus on the road? What stage of education are your kids at? Do they already know what they want to pursue as a career?

These can be monumental questions for you and your family, but they are necessary ones in order to have communal clarity on what the end goal is.

If you plan on traveling a lot, then you’ll likely favor unschooling over regular homeschooling. If your kids are on the younger side, your first instinct may be to focus on the unschooling, and if they’re older, you may think that that’s a more important time to focus on the study guides and textbooks. As a former homeschooler however, I strongly disagree.

Younger kids struggle more without traditional structure, and they’ll be learning the basics of many subjects, basics which can be far more useful than their advanced counterparts. Meanwhile, teenagers will have already absorbed the best parts that can come from a textbook and can now focus themselves on developing whatever values you and they consider most important to pursue.

Teenagers are also in a better position to be thrown into uncomfortable and enlightening real world scenarios, assuming they’ve already been having some exposure throughout their childhood.

Below I took the liberty of dividing up all the most commonly taught subjects in school, and gave them a recommendation for unschooling vs traditional schoolwork. This is of course, just a rough template, but at the very least it’ll give you something to think about as you begin designing your children’s curriculum.

History: Unschool

History is one of those subjects that can be hard for many kids to find an interest in. For this reason, it’s best for most of this learning to come about organically, find non-traditional books about whatever historical periods that your kids find interesting. Get hands on with younger kids, whether by going to museums, going to landmarks, or just having open conversations.

History can be a remarkably interesting subject, but learning about it via a school approved textbook can make it appear very boring. Rather, it’s best to find nonfiction books at your local bookstore or your favorite website about whatever time periods you and your children find most interesting. History is also one of those subjects that won’t really do much for your kids when it comes to the job market. Rather, history is something there to develop your kid’s broader character.  

Here’s a few of my family’s favorite history books for kids:

You Wouldn’t Want To Be…

The Story of The World

English/Language Arts: Traditional

The rules for English are fairly well set in stone, making it a logical choice for standard assignments, and as long as you supplement their course work with a handful of essay assignments, and you teach them to enjoy reading, then you’ll be ahead of the vast majority of educators.

Here’s a few of my family’s favorite english books for kids:

Wordly Wise

Math: Traditional

Even more so than English, Math has a definiteness to it that makes it easier to teach in a classroom. Admittedly, there are many ways to go about teaching it, with the modern school favoring the Common Core system. While my family is adamantly against this way of teaching, there are a variety of other options available to you, and the good thing is that once you get the basics drilled into them, your kids will likely be set for life.

Science: Unschool

The sciences are easily the best subject to unschool in, particularly for young kids. Since science deals with everything around you, sparking an interest is half the battle. From physics, to anatomy, to geology, to chemistry and beyond, hands-on projects, exploration of the world around you, and in depth observation will prove far more fruitful than a diet consisting of nothing but textbooks.

Here’s a few of my family’s favorite science books:

A Really Short History of Everything (Kids Edition)

A Short History of Everything (Adult Edition)

An Alternative Curriculum

My mom didn’t know about this Ron Paul curriculum when we were younger, but she says if she chose to homeschool my younger brother and sister now, this is what she would use. She likes it because it is independent and wouldn’t require a lot of time on her end for teaching.

In Conclusion

If you’re still uncertain as to what kind of approach you want to take with homeschooling, I recommend you check out this list of books, because these will give you a lot of good ideas.

There can be no question that figuring out your kids’ homeschool education is a daunting and intimidating task. However, it should come as a relief to know that with a little team communication, and some creativity, you can set up your children for tremendous success, in the classroom and beyond.

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