Many critics of unschooling say that unschooling doesn’t work. And some who try it out of exasperation quit after a year or two, claiming it doesn’t work. They claim this because they thought magical things would happen and they are disappointed. Unschooling is not some magical land where kids always do something educational and thereby become unicorns. No. Unschooling success takes intentionality and work, just like any other homeschooling philosophy or method. The idea that parents don’t need to do anything is one of the biggest myths of unschooling. Let’s explore some of these myths or mistakes that new unschoolers make.
Why Unschooling Doesn’t Work: Newbie Mistakes
Just sit back and watch them soak up the learning.
As I said, one of the biggest mistakes that newbies make is disengaging from their children’s learning. They think that they don’t need to do anything and so, they don’t. No new resources appear and parents don’t plan or research. They leave their children’s learning up to YouTube and Google. While children can and do learn a lot from YouTube and even search results, everyone knows that the internet is mostly unregulated. So, there’s a lot of junk–and even harmful junk–out there. Not the best way to educate a young mind.
Stop being parents.
Another common mistake newbies make is they abandon all their parenting practices. No more chores, bedtimes, parental oversight on entertainment choices, reinforcement of morals and character, etc. The kids do whatever they want, whether it’s good for them or not. They also tend to treat people however they wish as well. I have seen firsthand the disastrous results of parents thinking that children will be inherently empathetic toward others, and that children won’t intentionally hurt people. Very often, this rather hands-off parenting is misapplied conscious parenting. So, when their children take them for granted, won’t do the right thing even if they don’t want to, and bully others, these parents say that unschooling doesn’t work. In fact, it is their parenting style that doesn’t work.
Become a taxi service for their child.
Newbies are often afraid of accidentally going into teacher mode and they completely avoid anything that looks like a curriculum. So instead, they often sign their kids up for every community class available that caters to their children’s interests. They spend their days driving their kids from one class to another. These moms get burned out on not only driving, but the whole process involved in getting ready to leave. Very often, the kids get tired of class after class, too, even if they asked for them. Then, mom thinks that unschooling doesn’t work because she erroneously thinks that she has no choice. She thinks that unschooling is synonymous with catering to all your children’s whims and interests, even if it exhausts you. She may also think that community classes are the only way to unschool and be sure that the kids are learning something.
Unschooling doesn’t work when you ignore legitimate learning challenges.
Some things are developmental differences and some things are legitimate learning challenges that need to be acknowledged. The problem is that some newbies assume that everything will always end up working out. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it isn’t. But newbies often deny that learning disorders and special needs challenges exist. They will claim that those are just public school constructs. After all, there is an epidemic of over diagnosing ADHD. However, pretending that your son doesn’t have a problem and refusing to get him tested can be considered educational neglect. And then, when he can’t read, write, work toward a goal on his own, plan a course of action, get organized, etc., mom says that unschooling doesn’t work. It’s not the unschooling that doesn’t work, it’s the fact that she doesn’t know how to help him succeed because she won’t acknowledge he has special needs.
Expect too much.
Stories of successful unschoolers abound. So, some newbies may erroneously think that unschooling could be the magic bullet that launches their child into the stratosphere. They may think, “Wow, I just nurture my child’s interests and passions, get out of the way, and voila! my kid could be the next Rockefeller.” Well, unschooling doesn’t work like that. Your kid is still your kid. And, while unschooling may be the key that unlocks their potential, any enriched environment could do the same. In addition, their highest potential is the same no matter what homeschooling method you pursue. There is no magic formula. Some kids are college material and some aren’t. Unschooling will not somehow make your kid smarter, more athletic, or “more” anything. But, it may bring you closer as a family and that sort of more is something worth striving for.