Free schooling, unschooling, and even open schooling is becoming a more popular choice as parents and teachers struggle to find enjoyable ways for kids to learn. Often, you will see these methods associated with homeschooling. But that is not always the case. Not all homeschoolers use unschooling and not all free schoolers are homeschooled. Can free schooling or unschooling help children succeed in life?
What is the difference between 'free schooling,' 'unschooling,' and 'open schooling'?
First, these schooling methods do not mean the child is not learning anything. It is the belief of many parents and educational professionals that more freedom with schooling enhances self-reliance and leadership. Because of the ability to learn freely, the way in which each individual employs these methods can vary significantly. But the main point is to learn from everything and encourage independent study skills.
Some schools, such as Jefferson County Open School (Lakewood, Colo.) and Armathwaite Community School (Cumbria, U.K.) are adapting independent learning methods, such as open schooling as well. Open schooling is very similar to unschooling, but is done within a traditional school building. Multi-aged grouping, openness of subjects, and other techniques are utilized.
Unschooling simply refers to schooling in a way which deviates from a standard format.In simple terms, it is a method (usually adapted by homeschool families) that encourages child-directed learning. Some unschoolers use textbooks and worksheets, while others may not. Most homeschoolers use the world around them.
I've called our method free schooling almost from the beginning, as I learned pretty quickly that schedules and exacts were not for us. What we call free schooling is the freedom to learn from everything around us without the restrictions of a typical curriculum. In many states, a nationally standardized test is still required. However, this has never been an issue, as the kids have always scored well above grade level.
Why do parents choose unschooling or free schooling with so many other options?
As a parent who chooses free schooling, I find that it encourages children to be leaders in life. When my children grow up, I want them to think for themselves and stay ahead of the competition. Writer Kathy Foust says "Hunter is a hands on learner that is devoted to science. I am a believer in making education into a fun, lifelong process. I combined those two things to develop his curriculum." Her son is currently in public school, but has been homeschooled previously, using more hands-on methods.
"Hunter loves science and hates worksheets of any kind. So, everything we did, we did with science. Since science is really all about observation and experimentation with a focus on recording steps, I used that to our advantage," adds Kathy in regards to forgoing more traditional paper and pencil methods. "I used this method with my child in particular because I know that children all learn in different ways and that for things to be understood by anyone, they must be presented on a level that that person has an interest and understanding in. I want my child to not be a sheep, but a shepherd and to learn to think for himself and question things rather than simply accepting them because they are told to him. As a result, Hunter is able to stand up for his own values and beliefs rather than simply accepting situations surrounding him."
How can parents implement free schooling to teach their kids?
Think of everything as an opportunity to learn. If you find an interesting tree or leaf on a walk, take time out to talk about it. If you don’t know what it is, study the item and look it up later to learn more. According to Kathy, her and her son "created a science notebook and every experiment was done with a detailed explanation of every step of the scientific process. In this way, Hunter was made to feel as if he was doing 'grown up' things in his own "lab" and didn't realize that he was developing math and writing skills along the way. Our discussions and experiments with plants and animals brought history, geography and social studies into the lessons. His natural curiosity about all things 'sciency' gave him a great pull toward reading. Keep in mind that this is 1st grade-in our public schools Hunter is just now given a science course in 4th grade!"
Are there benefits to unschooling?
As with any other schooling method, there are benefits, as well as drawbacks. What they are is going to depend a great deal on each family, each child, and whether this method fits in with the family's current lifestyle. One thing Kathy mentioned is "an enormous difference in the way that he responds to the world as compared to other children his age who have always gone to public school. He has a very well developed sense of right and wrong and tends to gravitate toward the underdog, often defending those that would otherwise simply take abuse from others. He also constantly questions why things happen and understands that it's not the failing of a test that matters, but the corrections that are made to the test that enhance his understanding of the material-something that is not offered to him in public school. In short, Hunter is able to see the 'big picture' much clearer because of homeschooling. He knows he has goals to meet and that sometimes what society expects from him in that moment are not as important as what he expects from himself in EVERY moment."
(Written from personal experience as a homeschool teacher who implements free schooling techniques, as well as an e-interview of Kathy Foust via facebook on Dec. 4, 2010)
*I originally published a version of this via Yahoo Contributor Network
Last updated 12/11/2020
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