Learn how to cultivate an unschooling lifestyle in your homeschool with these tips from a veteran homeschooling mom.
If you’ve been around homeschooling long, chances are you have heard of unschooling. Sometimes it is spoken of in hushed tones or with eye rolls. Unschooling is often seen as a radical choice even amongst those who have already dared to step outside of the traditional system to homeschool.
I, myself, was reluctant to embrace unschooling. (You can read more about my journey here.) Fear, fueled by a lack of understanding, made me unwilling to take advantage of the freedom unschooling offered.
Walking away from our curriculum seemed like walking a tightrope without a net. It seemed too open-ended, too unstructured, a little too free. After all, learning wasn’t supposed to be all fun and games, right?
But I was so wrong.
Unschooling is more than just not following a curriculum or letting your kids do nothing all day.
Unschooling is about creating a lifestyle of learning.
It’s about learning to learn.
It’s about following what sparks your child’s curiosity most and diving deep.
When you unschool, “school” and life begin to blend seamlessly together and, before you know it, you’re seeing learning opportunities in everything around you.
Sometimes, you have to leave the confines of curriculum and lesson plans to find out just how fun learning can really be. And in this new unschooling lifestyle of learning, you’re free to explore all the nuances of the things your child is really interested in.
This leads to learning from even the most ordinary things: Why does toothpaste foam? What role does gravity play in the health and function of my body? How do bridges work? When was my city founded? Who first discovered cement?
Following your child’s interests may sound like a way to just play video games all day but if you really dive deeper into what their interests are, you can find a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be absorbed. And because they’re interested in it, your child will internalize it like no other.
So, how do you cultivate an unschooling lifestyle in your homeschool?
1. Encourage questions and be ready to research the answers.
If you can’t research them right away, write them down to look up later. These questions are the jumping-off point for engaging conversation and further research.
Once, my son asked me how to write the abbreviation for the word “pounds” which led to the question: Why do we abbreviate “pounds” as “lbs”?
A simple Google search on the subject led to a conversation about Latin and the Ancient Roman empire. We talked about the size of the Empire, major technological advancements the Romans made that we still use today, and how the Empire fell.
Talking about technology led us back to trains where we looked a little at the timeline of railroad history and discussed how quickly rail travel was surpassed by technological advancements.
Which led to talking about space travel and how we will be going back to the moon soon and why going to Mars is important for further space exploration.
Then we circled back to Rome and talked about how Roman culture was the foundation for the western world (and what that even is) and all sorts of other little rabbit holes about cultural origins.
In that one conversation, we talked about science, history, culture, technology, transportation, architecture, engineering, and language all because he wanted to know about an abbreviation!
2. Figure out what your child is really interested in and dig deep.
Dissect these interests. Think about them through the lens of what they have to teach and make a list of those topics. You may be surprised how quickly the list grows. (By the way, this is a great product to consider if you want to be intentional with your interest-led unschool.)
My oldest son’s main interests are trains and LEGOs. We have learned all sorts of things as we have explored these topics: history, culture, industry and trade, the importance of transportation and logistics, mechanics, engineering, physics and other science concepts, problem-solving, planning and design, aesthetics, strategy, logic, reasoning, math, and so much more.
He has read, written, drawn, built, imagined, played, dreamed, designed, and just plain had fun while discovering and learning.
3. Make resources available.
Once you’ve figured out what really ignites your child’s curiosity, make as many related resources as you can available on that subject.
Always provide access to plenty of books, videos, podcasts, classes, games (both video and physical), field trips, and anything else that you need to learn more about that topic.
Look for classes on Outschool.
Join a local homeschool group.
Visit the library often, not just for books, but also everything else they have to offer.
4. Let exploration and discovery happen naturally.
Don’t force things. Forcing the process can instantly turn something fun into an unpleasant chore.
Expect your child’s interests to ebb and flow. They may move back and forth between old faithful interests and new ones they discover.
But don’t let that movement stress you out – being flexible will help keep things running smoothly. And remember, learning is not linear. The unschooling lifestyle really blossoms in flexibility.
5. Never stop looking for new things to investigate.
Dive deep but don’t pigeonhole. This helps keep things fresh and prevents boredom. You can always return to previous topics later. You may even find that the new themes you have investigated bring renewed perspectives and ideas to those older topics.
Despite his main focus being on trains and LEGOs, my son has explored many other topics such as marine biology (sparked by his love of the show Octonauts), remote control vehicles (sparked by his love of all things transportation), horses, aviation, city planning, and much more.
6. Don’t forget the importance of play and imagination.
We adults sometimes think that play is only recreation, but play is a major way kids learn about and process the world around them. We must build in time for play and allow play to “count”. (And, even if your children are older, they will still use imagination and daydreaming to learn and process information. So don’t think this step is just for the little ones!)
7. Stop thinking of yourself as a teacher and start thinking of yourself as a facilitator or guide.
Instead of putting the emphasis on what you teach them, emphasize what (and how) they are learning.
Follow their interests like bread crumb trails, providing supplemental resources, experiences, and discussions wherever possible. You’re there to guide them on their learning journey, facilitating the process, and supplementing wherever you can.
8. HAVE FUN!
This is the most important tip I can give you. Make room for fun in your learning.
Plan field trips. Do hands-on activities. Go for a nature walk. Read. Play. Explore. You will be surprised to find that you will learn as much (if not more) than your kids as you make this journey together.
An Unschooling Lifestyle is About the Journey
Learning is a lifelong journey that never really ends. Cultivating an unschooling lifestyle is one way to make the most of that journey by encouraging your children to develop critical thinking and an insatiable curiosity that leads them to success.
What about you? What do you do to cultivate a learning lifestyle in your homeschool?
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