In The Wake Of Education Decline, Parents Look For Options

The failures of the American public education system are becoming more apparent by the day.

To this end, many families are choosing alternate forms of education.  And many parents are now choosing a schooling option as dissimilar to public education as possible.

Far from a new concept, one method of homeschooling is gaining new ground as parents and experts begin to understand just how far off course American education has come in recent decades.

“Unschooling” is gaining steam as a way to reconnect our students to the foundations of learning.  Could this method benefit your child?

The New York Times reported:

With the school day and school year increasing, homework loads growing and ballet, soccer and Mandarin taking over the rest of their time, children today have very little opportunity to simply … play.

“We’ve created an abnormal environment,” [says] Peter Gray, a psychology professor at Boston College and the author of the book “Free to Learn.”

A growing movement of parents think that children should be allowed to play, or “explore,” every waking hour. Instead of sending their kids to a formal school with classes, teachers and schedules, they leave them to their own devices to learn about the world. It’s a controversial yet increasingly popular method of education called “unschooling.”

Education experts supportive of the unschooling method point to the fact that this is the most natural form of learning.

Very young children learn at a rate that is unsurpassed by any other time of life.  They develop language and an understanding of the world around them simply by exploring what interests them – basically, our little ones’ first and most important learning is “unschooling.”

The New York Times continued:

What you see a child doing until the age of 4 — that is unschooling! Look at what that child has learned. There is no reason to believe that this ability to make mental connections, to ask questions, would disappear by the age of 5 and 6,” Mr. Gray told Op-Talk.  He added that we, adults, drive that natural curiosity out through formal education.

After studying the daily activities of a group of 6- to 7-year-olds, researchers at the University of Colorado concluded, “The more time that children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning.” Play physically changes the connections between neurons in the pre-frontal cortex. It prepares the brain for “life, love and even schoolwork,” [says] Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge, Canada.

And some would say there is no such thing as too much free play.

Unlike in traditional home-schooling, where children follow a curriculum under a parent’s supervision, unschooled children have the freedom to decide what and when to learn, be it reading, art, math or distinguishing between insect species.

Although unschooling is not new – it was started in the 1970s by educator John Holt – it is gaining momentum due to the increasing failures of public education.

And because there are former unschoolers who are now adults, long-term benefits are becoming evident — unschooling has lost its stigma, unschooled adults have entered and excelled in college, and the numbers show that three percent of American students are now unschooled.

In fact, Utah Governor Gary Herbert recently signed a law legalizing a parenting method common with unschoolers, so-called “free range parenting.”

Fox News reported:

The law states that children must be mature enough to handle each situation — though it does not specify an age.

The bill determines situations that children can engage in that would not be considered parental neglect: traveling to and from school or recreational facilities, playing outside or sitting in a car unattended, provided safe conditions.

“I feel strongly about the issue because we have become so over-the-top when ‘protecting’ children that we are refusing to let them learn the lessons of self-reliance and problem-solving that they will need to be successful as adults,” Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, who sponsored the bill.

This law, which may be passed soon in other states, provides for the development of independence in children by allowing them to explore under less parental supervision.

This is a very personal issue, however, and parents must decide for themselves whether their child exhibits the maturity necessary to know what to do in different scenarios when they are alone.

Besides the emotional maturity of the child, other factors to consider are the general safety of the community in which you live and the proximity of available help if the child needs assistance.

Parents should also be aware of some other important factors before deciding to use the “unschooling” method.

First and foremost, unschooling should not be a “free for all.”  Although a structured school day and planned curriculum is not used, parents should make sure that their children are participating in exploratory play and self-guided learning.

Just like other forms of homeschooling, parents should stay engaged and informed about what their child is learning and where their interests lie.

If you decide to use the unschooling method, be aware that you will need to more closely monitor your child’s progress and age-appropriate understanding of topics like math.

Unschooling allows for children to self-direct and really focus on subjects that interest them – just as adults learn in the real world.

If you do find, however, that your child’s learning style is not compatible with unschooling (i.e. they are not interested in reading or excited about finding things to learn more about), a more traditional homeschool approach may be a better fit.

Every child is different, and only you as the parents can decide if unschooling is providing what your child needs to succeed.

Like all forms of homeschooling, unschooling requires an investment of time and diligence on the part of mom and dad.  But this method can be a wonderful way to encourage your child to develop skills and talents independently that they are truly passionate about.

Have you tried the unschooling method?  What is your advice for making it successful for your family?

Leave us your thoughts.

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