The good news about learning how to unschool is that there are few if any rigidly set requirements. But, you ask, if I'm not schooling, what am I doing? Read on to find out what steps you can take to begin unschooling and become a self-directed learner.
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What to Do First
The first step in learning how to unschool is to take a deep breath and relax. Think of everything that a preschool child learns during their first years of life. The purpose and joy of unschooling is to rediscover that drive to learn and reconnect with individuality instead of standardization. Give yourself and your child permission to let go of the educational system's benchmarks and allow yourselves to progress in your own way as self-directed learners.
The next thing to do is to contact a local or state homeschooling organization and learn about the legal requirements for home educators in your area. It is generally better to go to a homeschooling organization rather than the local school district for this information. Districts may not be aware of all the options for homeschoolers.
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There are many unschooling groups and websites that offer support and information. If there aren't any in your area, consider starting one or hook up online with other unschooling folks. Group activities are more fun for everyone and help unschoolers feel involved with the rest of the community.
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Revving the Engines
Take time to research different leaning style models. It is important that both parent and student become familiar with how they learn and process information. This greatly reduces friction between family members and helps a student learn more efficiently. It also helps to know one's weak points, in order to be able to compensate for them and strengthen them.
Encourage each child to define his personal mission, goals and dreams. This will be an ongoing process, but it will give a child a framework to build his life and education upon. When a child knows what he wants to accomplish in life, he can then decide what he needs to learn in order to be able to achieve his goals. What he learns will then be of importance to him and will stick with him far better than something he is “supposed" to learn. If a child struggles with this, encourage them to set and complete small goals at first.
Take the child to the library and let them browse and bring home whatever books or magazines interest them. Allow them to explore all kinds of interests so that they can find out for themselves what attracts them. This too will change as they grow. Allow children that have been in the educational system for a while time to de-school and rediscover who they are and what they want to know. Remember that the system has not allowed them to do this and they may need time to reconnect with themselves.
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Curriculum - To Use or Not to Use
Even the best curricula are put together by somebody who is not you or your child. They can be great starting places or a way to find organized knowledge, but should not bind you to a rigid schedule or format. Remember that you are aiming for self-directed learning. Don't make life burdensome for student or parent by using a curriculum that is overly detailed, demanding or difficult.
Whenever possible, choose real books and real life instead of textbooks. Learning about history by reading biographies or historical novels, watching period movies or talking with those who lived through it is much more interesting and vivid than reading about it in a textbook. Read great novels instead of textbooks about them. Write to a pen pal or email pal to learn about geography and other parts of the world. Find people using math and science in their daily lives and talk with them. When a student sees how a subject is relevant to life, he naturally wants to understand it.
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Movin' Right Along
Once a student has some ideas of where they want to go on their educational journey, they and their parents can begin finding the necessary resources. There are many sources of free online classes in a wide variety of subjects. Are there mentors in your area that can help a child acquire specific skills or knowledge? Many retired people have information they would enjoy sharing with an interested young person. Look for organizations in anything from archeology to zoology that your child can join or participate in. Check out museums, the local library, and even area businesses for interesting information. Older students can consider volunteering at hospitals, libraries, the humane society or a business to gain knowledge and experience.
Allow a student to change his mind and educational track. Doesn't everybody change their mind sometimes? As a student gains experience he will be increasingly able to fine tune the direction of his life.
You child might consider keeping a learning log or a scrapbook in order to keep track of his experiences and what he is discovering. If he is interested in college some day, this will help in writing transcripts. Of course, he might also want to consider the movement towards unschooling college that is rapidly gaining momentum.
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To Infinity and Beyond
Remember that unschooling is a journey and all journeys have rough spots, twists and turns, highs and lows, detours, and unknowns. Unschooling is like life itself and therefore often unpredictable. But difficulties bring their own lessons and detours encourage flexibility and creativity.
Above all, enjoy this journey as a family. Sandra Dodd, a long-time unschooler made this comment about unschooling, “This heals families!" As one who has homeschooled/unschooled six children for nearly 30 years, I couldn't agree more.