Unschooling is a method of home education pioneered by a former teacher, John Holt. After a long teaching career of observing students, Holt concluded that organized schooling stifles and kills children’s natural desire to learn. Unschooled children learn to make their own decisions. They are encouraged to choose what they want to learn. Parents do not buy textbooks, workbooks or curriculum. Formal schedules do not exist.
The theory behind this radical movement is that children will learn the skills they need to learn when they need them. Parents explain that their children learn math through measuring ingredients in the kitchen, saving money to buy a treat, or calculating tax at the grocery store. Children who need to understand complex algebraic formulas will eagerly learn them out of their perceived necessity, not as a forced drudgery.
According to Holt, children learn by following their passions. Exploring what piques their interest will allow children to gain a full understanding, not just the appearance of knowledge that structured schooling provides. Parents act as facilitators to provide opportunities and supplies for their children to explore the world and their own curiosities. Life experiences, both in the home and out, become the ultimate educators. Children can delve into hobbies and specific interests. Whether they spend all day reading about Civil War battles, taking photographs of butterflies, or baking cakes, unschooled students turn every activity into an educational experience.
A handful of brick and mortar schools have adopted an unschooling philosophy in their educational approach. One such school, the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts, offers students the freedom to choose to participate in an activity, watch television or talk with other students. Facilitators aid in the learning process when necessary. Ninety percent of Sudbury Valley’s alumni continue their education at the college level. Unschooling schools offer parents who believe in the unstructured philosophy, but find home education impractical, a viable option.