Q: Will unschooled children be limited by their parents’/carers’ worldview?

Today from formspring:

I’m thinking about unschooling my kids, but I’m concerned that my kids will be limited by only getting my perspective on things. To be solely responsible for educating my kids means that I need to address thing I don’t know much about. How do you do that?

I think this is a common concern for those open to unschool/homeschool lifestyles. They begin to become open and interested but remain fearful. I’m here to help put to rest some of those fears and assist you (as best I can) with any support you might need.

Of course as an unschooler (I prefer the term life learner) I kind of laugh at the thought of unschooling kids “only getting my perspective on things”. When I see how much exposure and education my kids get daily to many lifestyles and subjects and people (in far more walks of life than school affords) and varied social situations it occurs to me the last thing they’re getting is “just me”. And they’re only 6 and 8, not yet old enough or interested in driving/bus/bike themselves to concerts and museums and community events or take up paid or volunteer work they’re interested in (which I have an inkling they’ll do earlier and more willingly than most of their schooled peers). They are both on the verge of these activities though and of course, they both have a compass at getting around town (via walking, busing, and biking) better than some adults I know.

In other words, with an autodidactic learning environment I get to watch my children educate themselves (with my support and guidance and funds when they are needed). You remember how amazing it is to watch a baby teach itself to walk (make no mistake, they do it on their own)? Learning is no different. Give most children the supportive environment to lead the way, and they pursue most subjects with alacrity and ability that is a joy to watch (and I do believe this to be true of most children; I don’t believe mine to be particularly “gifted”). This lifestyle is not something that most American parents today accept, so most children aren’t given these environs.

It’s funny also you’d say unschooling means you will have to “[address] things [you] don’t know much about”. Two things come to mind, first off my biology teacher in high school who was mostly a football coach. I loved him, he was a sweetie. He read out of a book to “teach” us, a book nearly identical to the ones we had on the desk, open in front of us. Often he’d stumble over a word and someone would correct him (or we’d sit there with our eyes glazed, bored as hell). Guess who I know who’d be far more better at teaching my 8 year old daughter biology? My 8 year old daughter. In fact she is currently working her way through a Time Life series on the subject. Trust me, she is retaining more knowledge than I did (and I was a straight-A student)!

The second thing that comes to mind regarding “things I don’t know much about” is that as my children learn things on their own steam I have the opportunity to learn them as well or at the very least experience the joy in watching them learn the way they do. My son Nels started gardening at 4 and all I know about plant-growing is mostly due to him. My daughter humbles me, absolutely humbles me with her abilities at drawing. As a result I’ve been poring through more books and comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer) and re-connecting with my artistic self, a person I thought I’d lost years ago (back when I was voted “Most Artistic” a few times in my school career).

If you’re thinking about what we often consider the “advanced” academic subjects, such as chemistry or calculus, please. Should your child be interested in math (as both mine are; my son especially shows joy in the subject) you’ll pick up books as your child expresses interest and your learning will bloom alongside theirs. (Keep in mind a grasp of “math” is not limited whatsoever to doing problems in a book.) Or if they really take off to some high-level and you don’t want to work with them you’ll find them a tutor or another parent or another person to work alongside them. Or they’ll surprise you and won’t need help – or will seek it out on their own. I’m always kind of gobsmacked when I come across some amazing, detailed Lego structure they’ve built or some musical instrument they’ve created or a rich storyline they’ve put on paper or an email formatted beautifully – correct grammar and sentence structure and all. Part of me is so amazed at this beautiful thing, part of me feels guilty I wasn’t “around” for some of this learning, and part of me feels like an Old Person because I swear my brain is not this elastic and incredible!

A parent who is concerned their child gets good exposure to the subjects the child is interested in, and who has the tools to support the child (in other words enough money to pay the bills for the most part, a supportive group of friends and family or partner) is going to do a good enough job and hello, I’d wager a better job than any school I’ve set foot in. Autodidactic kids let us know exactly what they need from us; our exposure to them and life alongside them helps us keep in touch.

One thing I’d point out here is that I have heard kids who’ve spent time in school often have an adjustment period when you bring them out. They don’t immediately go start a garden or embark on a self-study of animal drawings, for instance (like my kids have). This process is sometimes called “deschooling” and can involve a child relearning that learning is fun – or how to be less of a passive consumer and more the author of one’s own life. I only know a bit about “deschooling” as I didn’t really have to deal with it in my family. If your children have been in school for some time and you are interested in removing them, please do re-question here or email me (kelly AT hogaboom DOT org) and I will help find some sources who have expertise and experience.

Thanks again for your questions and please don’t hesitate to write back if you like.

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