As schools close and children are sent home to learn virtually, parents across the globe are starting to explore other, less conventional teaching methods that will keep their kids engaged and interested as they learn outside of the classroom.
While some children transition to virtual learning seamlessly, others really struggle to sit in front of a screen for several hours a day. It can also be a logistical nightmare for moms and dads to facilitate multiple Zoom calls for each of their kids while simultaneously trying to keep up with the demands of their own jobs. As a result, some parents are opting to try homeschooling their kids so they can ditch the screens and work around their own schedules, and others are opting to ‘unschool’ their kids completely.
If you’re interested in finding out more about child-led education, these unschooling tips for parents will help!
What Is Unschooling?
Unschooling is an informal approach to learning in which a child learns according to their own interests and at their own pace, rather than abiding by a set curriculum. Also known as ‘child-led learning’, this approach to teaching is different from homeschooling in that parents act as facilitators rather than teachers. Instead of providing a set syllabus, parents watch as their children discover things that interest them, and then provide the resources and opportunities for them to pursue those interests further.
What Are the Benefits of Unschooling?
- Provides a safe learning environment for children
- Allows for a more personalized approach to learning
- Increases a child’s engagement and motivation
- Encourages kids to become critical thinkers
- Develops a child’s problem-solving skills
- Promotes an entrepreneurial spirit
- Allows children to pursue special interests and hobbies
8 Unschooling Tips for Parents
If you’re looking for unschooling tips to help you get started with child-led learning, here are 8 things to consider.
1. REMOVE ALL EXPECTATIONS
Before we dive into specific unschooling tips for parents, it’s important that you remove any and all expectations from you and your child. If you’ve chosen to move away from a traditional approach to education in favor of child-led learning, you must remember that your child will not act the same as a child who learns in a classroom setting. This will have many advantages in that your child will likely be more independent, better able to express him- or herself, and extremely knowledgeable about things they are interested in. On the flip side, your child may be more outspoken and mature, challenge figures of authority, and come across as ‘free-spirited’. Friends and family may express judgement and concern, so it’s important that you understand what unschooling means, and commit to it if you feel it’s the best approach for you and your child.
2. GIVE IT TIME
If you’re looking for unschooling tips, an important thing to keep in mind is that your child will not make the transition from the classroom to child-led learning overnight. And neither will you! It will take time for everyone to let go of past routines and expectations, and to figure out a new system that works. Be patient, give it time, and let your child take the lead.
3. STEP BACK
Unlike homeschool, the intention behind unschooling is to let your child take the lead instead of presenting him or her with a list of subjects and assignments to be completed each day. This can be a really difficult concept to wrap your head around at first, and you may feel a tad overwhelmed and lost. But once you let go and allow your child to take the reins, he or she will be naturally drawn to topics of interest to him or her. Remember that your role is to facilitate rather than dictate, so take a step back and let your child take control!
4. REMEMBER THAT RULES STILL NEED TO BE ENFORCED
The term ‘unschooling’ tends to get a bad rap because people assume this approach to education makes parents complacent and permissive. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, but you will probably need to re-evaluate the rules that govern your home. While unschooling will require you to let go of certain of things, it’s important to develop a set of ‘house rules’ that clearly outline what is expected of your child, and to enforce logical consequences when these rules aren’t followed. The easier the rules are, and the more consistently you reinforce them, the easier it is for your kids to meet your expectations, which will avoid unnecessary power struggles along the way!
THIS POST has a lot of great information regarding positive reinforcement and logical consequences.
5. THINK BEYOND TEXTBOOKS
Another thing to keep in mind if you’re looking for unschooling tips is to remember that education isn’t confined to textbooks, worksheets, quizzes, and exams, and a child doesn’t need to be sitting at a desk to learn. While you may feel pressure to create formal lesson plans each day, it’s important to remember that your kids are learning all the time. Whether you’re cooking a meal, sewing a button onto a shirt, cleaning, gardening, or balancing your check book, get your kids involved! He or she will learn valuable life skills, and you may open the door to interests he or she may have never been exposed to.
6. DITCH THE SCHEDULES
While you may feel as though you need to get your child on a set routine, the whole point of unschooling is to allow your child to take the lead not just with what they learn, but when they learn it as well. This can feel uncomfortable for parents who thrive on structure, and if this is the case for you, consider managing your child’s energy versus his or her time. Pinpoint when he or she is most engaged and productive, and then organize your schedule such that this time is free for your little one to pursue things of interest.
7. ALLOW FOR BREAKS
When it comes to unschooling tips, this one is pretty important yet often overlooked. While it may feel like your little one shouldn’t need regular breaks with child-led learning, that’s definitely not the case. Regardless of whether your child is focused on something of particular interest to him or her, working for long periods of time can lead to feelings of fatigue, stress, and frustration. Proactively scheduling regular 5-10 minute breaks allows a child’s brain to rest before fatigue and frustration sets in, and has been shown to:
- Improve attention and focus
- Increase retention of material being taught
- Improve emotional regulation
- Reduce behavioral problems
- Increase motivation
CLICK HERE for a list of age-appropriate brain breaks!
8. EMBRACE THE FLEXIBILITY UNSCHOOLING OFFERS
One of the best parts of unschooling children is that it offers a ton of flexibility. When you remove the confines of a traditional school schedule and curriculum, you are free to do as you choose. You can visit museums and libraries in the middle of the day, volunteer within your community, travel whenever it suits your schedule, and get lost in projects of interest to you both. Each of these provides ample, hands-on learning opportunities for your child!
Unschooling Activities to Try
When I first started exploring the idea of unschooling and decided to write a list of unschooling tips for parents, I intended on writing out a whole list of unschooling activities as well. But when I started poking around online, I found tons of great resources filled with ideas, and decided to link to those instead!
If you’re looking for unschooling activities to inspire you, check out the resources below.
Big List of Fun Unschooling Activities | Life with Joanne
23 Practical Life Activities | Meraki Lane
101 Guilt-Free Deschooling Activities | My Little Homeschool
27 Science Experiments for Kids 3-13 | Meraki Lane
50+ Virtual Field Trips for Kids | Typically Topical
41 STEM Projects for All Ages | Meraki Lane
Whether you’re new to the idea of child-led learning, or you’ve made the decision to jump in with both feet as you navigate a move away from in-person education, I hope this collection of unschooling tips and activities proves helpful to you! Remember to remove all expectations and allow time for you and your child to transition to this new method of learning, ditch the schedules and embrace the flexibility unschooling offers, and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!