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Radical Unschooling

Updated on August 30, 2013

What is radical Unschooling?

The term ‘Unschooling’ was coined by John Holt in the 1970’s and reflects the notion that learning, progression and discoveries can be achieved by allowing an child complete freedom to follow their passions, therein ,creating a wide scope and enthusiasm for learning compared with the limited learning opportunities in a mainstream schooling system.

play is all day
play is all day | Source

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling can also be referred to as ‘Unlearning’ ‘Autonomous learning, organic learning, in fact the term ‘Unschooling’ can never truly reflect the incredible diversity and joy that encapsulates this philosophy, or in my families experience- a way of life.

So how do children learn if they are not in school?

You may giggle to yourself, but I often get asked the above question, and I tend to respond by asking a question of them. When you were a baby you learnt how to smile, how to cry, how to crawl, and then eventually how to walk. You may then recall learning how to speak your first words. Did at any point along these monumental physical, emotional, mental and spiritual milestones, were you forced to learn them? The incredible speed at which you learnt when you were a baby was all down to ‘YOU’ and the internal motivation you had to achieve these milestones. Instinct and survival may play a role in this too, but the point is that a child will learn these things on their own.

Speech and language is a skill that most children will pick up just by being in close contact with adults and other children who are constantly talking to them. Just think about children raised in a bilingual family. They haven’t taken a language class at school, but know how to speak a few languages just because it is part of their everyday life.

Become a facilitator, NOT an educator.

A little girl of about 8 asked my children how they learn if they don’t go to school, I paused and thought about how deep the indoctrination has gone for this child, who already had no concept of how another human being could learn something new if they didn’t learn it at school. My children responded by saying ‘we learn things ourselves, and Mummy and Daddy help us’

How do children socialise when they are not in school?

Normally I get asked this one when I am in a play park and my children are playing with other children. Again, think back to when you were a baby, think of all the proud grandparents and adoring friends that came to see you and talk to you, think of all the hundreds of situations where an adult or child interacted and spoke with you.-this is all socialisation.

In mainstream schools, children taught by age groups, so they are immediately segregated by age, they may interact with other aged children within the school day, but nevertheless the boundaries have been set, and this is the way it remains until one leaves school at 18. This restriction, is a fundamental flaw in the system, it assumes all children of that age group will be at the same intellectual, and emotion stage. By forcing a set of children into a classroom all day long, children are forced into relationships that they may not have formed naturally outside the classroom.

My children are very comfortable communicating with adults and children older and younger than themselves. They can do this fluidly because it is a normal part of their lives to interact with people outside of their age group. Our family have had many experiences in eco communities and have volunteered organic farms around the UK and Europe, these experiences have allowed the girls to interact with people of different ages, with different beliefs from our own, and who are from different walks of life. They have a very rounded experience of live in general, that school can never provide.

During our eco community experience in France
During our eco community experience in France | Source

Is it good for children to be forced into these situations at school? They will come across people in the work place that they don’t get on with.

No, it is not good for any child to be ‘forced’ into a situation that they are uncomfortable with under the guise that it will prepare them for a possible situation in the workplace, actually it sounds preposterous and even cruel. The assumption is that a child will end up working with people he or she doesn't like. No one can predict the type of experiences a child will have that will prepare him/her for potential disagreements or conflicts with other people. I myself am still learning this. In fact when I was in an eco-community in France, there were a few people that I struggled to get along with, and you would have thought we would have a great deal in common. I dislike very much being forced into situations which I am not comfortable with, my life experience helps me process it in a different way as opposed to when I was a child. Why should anyone be forced to spend 6 hrs a day, 7 days a week with people they don’t like?

How do your children learn to read and write? Are you a teacher?

This is a regular question for my husband and I, and we no longer respond by laughing out loud. It is good that people ask these questions; after all I am a huge advocate of questioning and challenging concepts.

My husband and I never regard ourselves as teachers, more facilitators, providers, or nurturer’s .Our eldest daughter India is 7 and she can read. She reads hardback toddler books, history books, encyclopedias, Roald Dahl, Horrid Henry, fairy books and probably anything in between. She started learning letters when she was three, and was reading simple books at 4. She gained her love of reading because my husband read to her without fail every night before bed since she was a baby.

My oldest daughter has always liked reading and writing from a young age, so my husband a I read whatever she wants us to read, sometimes she likes to hide away in her room and snuggle up with a book, and other times she wants us to read to her whilst she plays, there is not academic agenda or expectation.


Inspiring Quotes


Allowing your child to read at their own pace

My youngest daughter is 5, and she is just beginning to feel interested in reading, and is now reading the same book over and over again to memorise its content. She threw me off track with her way of learning, I thought I could help her to read by running my finger underneath the words whilst I read to her, and although this worked fantastically with her sister, she fervently refused to have me do this. When she asks what a word says, I don’t break it down, I just tell her. My daughter has just started to write her name; many people may gasp at this, as the expectation of school (if she were to go) would be for her to have learnt to master this already. Like her older sister is a free soul, and would much prefer to eat wild food along the hedgerow, climb trees, and collect beetles and bugs to examine with her bug kit.

If your child is surrounding by spoken and written word, just like learning to speak, they will learn how to read naturally. A friend of mine ‘unschooled’ her children in Portugal, she has 2 daughters and a son who are now all grown up, but she and I had a discussion about reading, and she described her son as taking ages to learn, she wasn’t even sure that she had heard him read anything out loud until his was 16 years old. Now he is an amazing mechanic, who went back to England to set up his own business. She told me that you have to fully trust your child to learn at their own pace and without pressure or coercion.

I am the first person to admit, that there are many words in the English language which I don’t know how to spell or that I know the meaning of. My experience with language and literature is ever evolving; writing this article is testament to this.

Unschooling and the Guilt

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    • Wacky Mummy profile image

      Wacky Mummy 4 years ago from UK

      Love this hub! We are semi-autonomous veering towards Radical Unschooling - still a few bits we need to get our own heads around but we'll get there in the end. We absolutely love the journey we are taking with our son :)

    • The Unlearner profile image

      Jo 4 years ago from Isle of Wight UK

      You are so welcome, thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      Elissa 4 years ago

      Thanks so much for this. I shared it on Facebook.