Decorative text: Interest Led Learning: Why I Choose to Unschool.  Bright yellow background, multi colored pencils

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The Traditional Classroom Isn’t For Everyone

Unschooling saved my son’s education. It turned him around from a long road of ever growing hatred toward learning or the idea of furthering his education. And I believe it is what will save us from the catastrophe of trying to juggle our paycheck to paycheck jobs, our kids’ education, and the global pandemic that currently plagues my nightmares, as I’m sure it does for many of you.

But what exactly is unschooling anyway? It sounds so…janky! So lax, fruitless, unhelpful, even sketchy! 

A few years ago, I would have thought the same thing. I’ve been ranting online for years and not so long ago, I ranted about my distaste for those who chose to homeschool in any capacity. If I’d ever heard of unschooling I would have roasted the concept. 

But then, my son who has ASD (Asperger’s), and who had always been a straight A, super intelligent, far beyond his classmates with his powerful mind kind of kid, hit middle school. And he failed EVERYTHING. 

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His self-esteem plummeted. He was growing more and more aware of his differences from other kids. He was having trouble connecting socially to anyone. His teachers were constantly frustrated with him. He was constantly bored of the material being taught. He was unable to concentrate in a classroom full of 30 kids that gave zero fucks about learning. He was bullied, tormented, and shamed by everyone from staff and teachers to students and mentors. 

He hated himself, hated school, and hated the world around him.  

I lost 3 jobs during these years because he wouldn’t, sometimes couldn’t go to school, and I could not leave him home alone. 

I knew we needed to do something different. 

We tried everything from virtual learning to homeschool co-ops, to no avail.

And then I found unschooling. 

Unschooling is at its core, is simply allowing a child to let their Interests and curiosity lead their learning. 

Unschooling is, at its core, simply allowing ourselves to follow our interests and curiosities to a wonderland of knowledge.

@AJ_ChaosMagnate

Does Unschooling Work?

There are lots of naysayers out there when it comes to deviating from traditional education. I know, cuz I was one of them! But for me, the proof is in the pudding. My experience with unschooling was an incredible awakening to the drive we have as humans to learn and grow – when given the freedom to do so!

My experiences?

World War II Buff – From Transformers?

My son, started unschooling his 10th grade year. He learned about World War II because he loves Transformers. Yep, like Autobots, roll out… Not even kidding! He gets a bit hyper-focused on certain subjects, as do most Aspies. One of his is Transformers. He can tell you anything and everything about Transformers. Literally any fact. Including where the idea for the original Megatron to transform in a gun came from. 

His love for Transformers sparked his interest in its history, where he learned that the specific gun that Megatron turns into is called a Walther P-38. Which means nothing to me. But apparently, the Walther P-38 was the gun used by most of the Nazi regime during World War II.

His interest in why the gun was used as Megatron’s transforming object led him to a wealth of historic information, stories, and even some clues into our own family history that we’ve been searching for for decades! 

Not to mention the gazillion facts he learned about the production of weapons during wartime, the development of animated television and its effect on millennial culture – and subsequently, the culture of his generation. He learned about the production of toys overseas, national trade laws, copyright laws, propaganda directed at children and young adults, and a slew of fascinating material you just wouldn’t hear in a traditional classroom, nor would any teacher have time to dive into.  

NONE of what he learned was in a textbook. But I had him take the previous years assessment found on the Department of Education website ABOVE his grade level, just to see if all this knowledge made a bit of difference on a national assessment. He aced it. 

And that’s just one subject!

So Much Learning – From a Kid Who Hates to Learn!

Other examples? We used his love of digital art to teach him geometry. Video games such as Ancestry and Plague were great for science along with his interests in AI which led him down a rabbit hole that led to a whole new world of studies in genetics and stem cell research where scientists are working to use human genes to create better AI. Scary, but a helluva more in depth learning experience! 

Chemistry and the history of American culture sparked from an interest in Spider Man and vigilantes. The kid actually figured out how to create a similar substance as Spider Man’s webbing and tried to create a sort of wearable glove gun that would shoot said substance no less than 20 feet at a press of a button! He worked tirelessly on that, determined to come up with a workable design. 

He created his own website for his freelance voice acting (not his favorite project) and learned that he hates web design with a passion. But he also wrote a blog post on that website once a week that taught his audience how to do something new in that field. I did set requirements for those writing samples but after dragging his feet the first few weeks he actually started to enjoy it. Well, maybe not enjoy it so much as tolerate it… But he did start looking for new things to try just so he had new material to teach his audience. 

GIF  of woman high fiving herself
#win

Hey, I’ll take the wins wherever I can!

We also studied the metrics on that site and learned how to create engagement and bring in more traffic AND how to make money from his site.

All things I think kids should be learning in school and aren’t.

He learned to cook, do taxes and create a budget. He learned how to invest in the stock market, buy cryptocurrency, and invest with cd laddering.

Now you might think I spent a ton of time printing worksheets and searching for curriculum, but you’d be wrong. I printed zero worksheets. I let him decide what he wanted to learn and for the most part, simply asked questions. That’s it! The hardest part of self-directed learning for a parent is converting your students’ knowledge into transcripts. And not because I was trying to make watching cartoons sound like course credit. No, it was a challenge to try to cram the hours upon hours of learning he’d actually achieved into what the state required of him, which is miniscule by comparison.

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Why Does Unschooling Work

The thing is, children naturally love to learn. True, we all have different interests and we all have different styles of learning, but at our very core, we are curious lovers of knowledge. And interestingly, any and everything we find ourselves interested in gaining knowledge about ultimately falls into the very categories that make up most schools core courses. Like language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, music…

Huh…

The problem is, it’s almost impossible to create a one size fits all approach to learning this way. 

And while any kids thrive in a traditional classroom, build great relationships with teachers and peers, maintain accountability and mentorship, build social skills, study habits, and an understanding of how society works, many more do not.

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Some may need more one on one time than any teacher has available to give. Many need better services than schools can provide to develop the social skills and study habits that their peers seem to grasp so easily. And some, like my son, feel lost in the idea of a society that forces one to spend their lives doing something they hate, with people who are cruel and willing to hurt anyone to get what they want. They don’t want to learn how to live in that society, and they can’t learn in that environment.

And needing to learn outside the cookie cutter approach should never hinder a child’s ability to receive a great education. 

Which is why I chose to unschool my son.

And he thrived in it! 

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Could Unschooling Work For You?

Curious about a more natural approach to learning, but unsure if it would work for you? Let me ask you a couple of questions…

Do you have a child who is at risk for being held back, dropping out, or is struggling to keep up with peers regardless of tutoring or other extra services?

Do you fight with your child about going to school every day?

Does your child practically live in the nurses or principals office?

Have you lost a job due to the inability to get your child to school and provide child care?

Does your child struggle to do well on testing even though they are intelligent and capable, is that testing severely affecting their grades and placement?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the traditional classroom may be standing in the way of your child’s love of learning – and therefore hindering their education. If you’d be interested in learning more about unschooling, submit your information below.  I’d love to help answer any questions you may have about the benefits of self-directed learning and provide you with resources that may help you make the best decision.