While we jumped ship and joined the unschooling camp, it may not be for everyone. Just like how early retirement is not applicable to everyone, so too is homeschooling or unschooling. While we still consider that we are at the early stage of our unschooling journey (although we have been unschooling for a couple of years now), I can already see a few “disadvantages” and “risks”. I had to put those words in quotes because we don’t see it as a disadvantage, or risk, but for some others it looks that way.
Unschoolers may be slow learners
One of the first things you will quickly notice is that unschoolers, or perhaps I should say, our unschooled daughter performs at a very low level when compared to other school going kids in many activities. So teaching, training and constant practice do accelerate kid’s development. It may or may not be in the areas of their interest but it helps. I certainly consider my daughter slow when compared to others. This may be a disadvantage for some parents who go by the skill or level of knowledge they expect a kid should have by a certain age. For us, it is not an issue. We are not in the race, but for those parents and kids, this may be a no-no.
To give you an example, most people when they learn that my kid is almost 7, the first thing they ask is if she is reading and writing. I am like — well, she reads a bit but can barely write, let alone spell words at all. That surprises most and they end with either giving us advice that we should spend time teaching her to write or they will say, “there is still time may be she will pick up later”. But I am not surprised that they are surprised :). Actually I have seen kids write good quality cursive writing by 6! And they spell words (that they know), without mistakes.
Meanwhile, my daughter writes alphabet like how I write with my left hand with my eyes blindfolded in a moving vehicle :). Well, interesting note here is that she is left handed, so she had trouble copying our actions when we do writing or painting. She writes more letters in reverse. We don’t bother correcting her and neither is she frustrated that she cannot copy exactly. Or may be she does not realize. She can’t spell a single word (except for her name). When she wants to write something, she would ask us to spell and writes letters in varying sizes and directions. Our thought process is that she will pick up when she is ready, just the way she picked up reading.
It does not end there though. Math, science or whatever else you want to compare with a regular school going kid will fall short. So be prepared to handle it. The kid doesn’t seem to mind because she has no idea that her peers are at a much higher level, or may be she does not care. By the way, we don’t intentionally calibrate our kid with anyone, it just happens to “come up” when our kid plays with the other kid or when the kids’s parents talk.
Learn to keep thy mouth shut
This happens to be the biggest problem for us and specifically me. When our kid asks us a question, we immediately try to answer. If we don’t know the answer, we try to find it ourselves on Google, and explain it. That is always our first impulse. But unschooling advocates self learning and letting the kid struggle and find answers. This has been a very tough challenge and we are constantly learning how to keep our mouths shut.
Likewise, when she is explaining something, I interrupt to ask some detail which apparently is not important for her and she loses her train of thought. Another time that we need to just shut up and listen. As an example, she might start out by saying, “When this cat is walking on the lake…” — I interrupt with “Oh the lake is frozen?”. She is like “no daddy, the lake is not frozen, otherwise the cat will freeze”. Perhaps she was trying to say that the cat is swimming then? See how I impressed my perception on her story. Not good. I should let her finish the story the way she wants to narrate.
There are many more examples like these. Offering help is another one. It is not a school homework that we need to sit with her and help. We should let her explore and learn by herself. For example, offering suggestions on what she can do when she says that she is bored. Why are we offering suggestions? She should figure out herself or get bored. All of this is hard work. So if you are considering unschooling, think about that. Not only do you have to spend a lot of quality time, but you should also fight all the instincts that naturally come to you.
Handle the social pressure
Thankfully, we don’t have much pressure from parents, but most people advice or ask us to put her in school. When we say we are unschooling, their initial response is “Oh for a few years right? She will join in 3rd grade?” or something along those lines. Some say that the kid might not have enough real world experience or social skills. Others ask us how she will learn all the math and science skills. Some others worry that she will not be able to find a job or go for higher education. And a lot more things. Some may accuse you of robbing her of fun with friends at school. Some worry that the kid might go into depression in the later years if there are no school friends.
You will have this constant social pressure from friends, family and neighbors. Be prepared to handle that. Some may understand the concept of unschooling immediately, some may accept eventually after seeing your views, others will never change. While we don’t have answers to most of those questions, I will try and answer some of them in my next post. Remember, unschooling does not mean illiterate :).