Job & Education

The Difference Between Unschooling and Homeschooling

Are you looking for an alternative to a traditionally structured learning environment for your child? Unschooling might be the perfect thing for you and your child. Every day, parents and children alike struggle with navigating the school system. While homeschooling is a common alternative, unschooling is gaining ground. But what exactly is unschooling and how is it different from homeschooling?

What is Unschooling?

No matter where you currently attend school, whether it is a public school or a CBSE school in Dubai, you might be looking for an alternative. Unschooling was created in the 1970s by educator John Holt, who supported the practice of unschooling rather than public schooling. According to Mary Griffith, author of The Unschooling Handbook, unschooling refers to learning what a student wants, when the student wants, in the way the student wants, for their own reasons.

What is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling?

One of the biggest differences between unschooling and homeschooling is the approach to learning. With homeschooling, parents essentially act like teachers in the classroom and they are guided by national standards to plan lessons, assign work, and grade assignments. But with unschooling, a school day is whatever the student wants it to be, and the sense of control, choice and autonomy lives with the learner rather than the teacher.

Unschooling operates under the assumption that children are naturally curious and follow their interests in their own way. Students are free from the burdens and control of the traditional learning environment and instead take cues from their own passions and interests to learn as needed.

Multiple studies show that this non-traditional approach works, and Peter Gray, a psychology professor at Boston College, says that traditional schools tend to create an abnormal learning environment. He says that how children typically learn under the age of four is unschooling and that this ability to ask questions and make mental connections – this attitude does not disappear by the ages of five and six.

A University of Colorado study supports Gray’s theory. Researchers studied the effect that less structured activities had on children’s self-directed executive functioning or the cognitive processes involved in goal-oriented behavior. The study showed that the more time that children engaged in free play, the more their self-directed executive functioning skills improved. This shows that free play and learning or unschooling works well in developing self-directed executive functioning or goal-oriented behavior in children.

How does unschooling impact students’ preparation for university?

Parents sometimes hesitate to try unschooling, because they think that their children will not be well prepared enough for university. They assume that if their child has no experience in a classroom setting, it will be difficult for them to excel in the traditional academic setting at university.

However, the students tend to have no difficulty getting into university and excelling. Research shows that 83 percent of unschooling students transition into university, and half of those students either completed a bachelor’s degree or higher or were currently enrolled.

After Unschooling

Unschooling students tend to gravitate more towards the arts when pursuing a career, probably due to learning the ability to choose their own learning course. However, not all unschoolers end up in music, writing and painting professions. About half of all men and 20 percent of all women who were unschooled choose careers that require backgrounds in science, technology, and mathematics.

What works best for you

Unschooling offers a wonderful approach to education, but it is certainly not for everyone. If you are looking for alternative options to the traditional school system, think about what form you want your child’s education to take. For example, if you feel more confident with structure, grades, tests, homework, and more conventional techniques to education, then you should probably go the homeschool route. But if you feel confident that your child can direct their own learning, as you guide them, then this education approach is probably the right option for you.

Benefits of unschooling

Here are a few of the biggest advantages of unschooling:

  • Critical thinking is encouraged. Unschooling tends to promote asking questions without punishment. It allows children to think critically and respectfully questions anything they do not understand, including content, rules and regulations. Critical thinking is all about breaking down data, analyzing arguments, gathering information and exposing embedded values and assumptions.
  • Problem solving is encouraged. Problem solving is often ignored in the traditional education system, but it is among the most valued skills that employers seek. Unschooling encourages children to practice problem solving. 
  • Initiative and grit are encouraged. Unschooling does not have the constraints that traditional school does. Anything that students want to do, they can do, as long as it is safe. Unschooling allows for a lot of yeses and students taking initiative, while traditional school has a lot of “No, it’s against our policy.”

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