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A Little of My Story
Though I first loved the idea of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education when I began looking into homeschooling, I was soon drawn to this thing called ‘unschooling’ after getting over my initial (and typical) scepticism of it. But, as a Christian, I worried that unschooling wasn’t biblical or something that would please God. I didn’t know of any other Christians who did it, yet, no matter how much I tried other (more accepted) methods (like CM), we just kept coming back to what felt most natural.
But, because it felt most natural, that got me worried.
I’ve always thought (rightly or wrongly) that, as Christians, if something was natural or easy, then it is likely not good for me. I had the idea that something was more biblical if it was harder or something I needed to “overcome”. So, when we tried less natural approaches to learning (for us), I thought it must be the right thing to do because it was hard.
There were tears and fights and frustrations. It was not nice. I felt like a failure and my son resisted my efforts, causing friction between the two of us. So every time I tried to “do things properly”, we ended up quickly going back to what felt normal: exploring interests, hanging out together, playing games, talking, going out and about, and just doing life together. Basically, what our life together had been since they were born.
This has been my story for the last three, going into four, years since our oldest was four (he is now almost seven). I have swung between confidence and worry frequently, but I hear that this is perfectly normal, no matter how a mother works out homeschooling with her family.
But for any Christian mother out there who has a sense in her spirit that God is leading her to living a more relaxed, organic and whole life homeschooling experience with her children (unschooling), but she is worried or concerned or just plain confused, I really hope and pray this page might be a help and encouragement to you.
John Holt + “Unschooling”
Firstly, the term ‘unschooling’ was coined by the late John Holt who advocated for children learning at home. As a teacher, he saw schools failing children by creating a system that caused children to figure out how to get gold stars instead of truly learning. That system created fearful and insecure children who were more worried about how they appeared and if they failed than about living a full life. He saw that school’s could never, or would never, be able to truly help children get a true education, so he advocated homeschooling.
His idea of homeschooling was ‘unschooling’, that is, allowing the child as much freedom to learn that the parents could feel comfortable with. Children do not need to be taught how to learn to speak, or crawl, or walk, or any other of those vital parts of being a growing person. Why then, when a child reached five, were they suddenly incapable of learning on their own?
When the time comes for learning to read or count, for example, Holt encouraged parents to follow the child’s readiness and to not become a “teacher”. Instead, come alongside and, in time and freedom, walk with them as they naturally come across letters, words, sentences, books, numbers, animals, peoples, histories etc. The joy of discovering these ‘Big People’ things on their own is reward enough, so no need for charts and incentives.
I think fundamentally, however, unschooling to John Holt was about children learning from love.
When they love the world, which they do from birth, they absorb and learn like sponges. They thrive and reach heights we believe they are uncapable of (at their age). It is only when they reach school that this innate joy of life and learning dies away.
Can Christians Unschool?
Many unschoolers are not believers and much of the theory is based in humanism. So, understandably, many Christians are hesitant about unschooling. But, like Julie Polanco says in her book Godschooling (see link below),
“Some people criticize unschooling by saying that it is unbiblical. Are the public school and its methods more biblical? Is reproducing the public school methods in the home more biblical…?”
So why do I trust John Holt?
In his books, I clearly understood that, though he wasn’t a Christian, his belief about learning came from truly loving children and desiring children to have the respect they ought to have. Acquainted with his ideas, I saw that he wasn’t as radical as I thought he must be (from my experience of radical unschoolers) and I clearly saw that his fundamental principles of how children learn were aligned with Christianity – that is, God made children to learn.
God is Knowledge. All things come from Him and are for Him and are about Him. We, made in His image, are born to seek Him. And children do this naturally and fully.
As my research unfolded, I began to discover other Christians online who unschooled. I couldn’t believe it! Could this way of life I felt drawn to be possible? Then, in 2017, I met a kindred spirit who had the same desires as myself: giving our children the freedom to become who God had made them to be. Together, through so many discussions and joining our families together, we picked unschooling apart and back up again, accepting and rejecting what we believed to be biblical or not. She was a gift from the Lord and I treasure the work He did in us both through our times together. (Love you, Lucy.)
And then, over a space of a year (2018) I read four Christian books that changed my life (click title for link):
Each book spoke deeply to me as a mother and as a follower of Jesus. Though letting go of control over my children is still scary and difficult, these women gave me the encouragement, the confidence, and the joy of stepping out of the status quo and giving our whole family the freedom to be our family.
Through these women and their words, there are essentially two spiritual principles that lay the foundation for Christian unschooling. They are:
1. Jesus Modelled It.
What do I mean by that? Simply put, He didn’t sit them down at a synagogue and school them on what it meant to be an apostle. The apostles didn’t understand what was going to happen to Jesus nor did they know what was going to happen to them after He was gone. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t even tell them His plans for them in the future.
Rather, as they walked along the way and watched Him and talked with Him and were taught by Him in conversation and experience, they learned exactly what they needed to know. Then, when the Holy Spirit came, He fully equipped them for the task He had uniquely called them to do.
Now, I’m not saying that because Jesus didn’t “school” them that children shouldn’t be schooled. I mean, essentially, that the education Jesus gave His disciples was holistic and organic. And it was complete for them as they needed it.
2. We Have the Freedom To Unschool
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” ~ Galations 5:1
Just as we are free, when we seek His will for our family, to educate our children the way we feel called to, so when we homeschool, are we free with how that looks. I truly believe there is no one “right” way to homeschool our children. When a particular way is blessed by God, how richly wonderful it is! And, of course, we want to share and encourage other families with that joy.
But, when a particular teaching or dogma becomes a yoke under which we adhere religiously to, judge others against, or hold too tightly on, then we are not walking in the freedom of Christ. And, even though I use the term ‘unschooling’, I am not bound to it. I do not have to ‘unschool’ like others do or obey another person’s unschooling rules. I am free because I am Christ’s.
On a personal level, when I look at our children and all that they accomplish through their joy and interests and questions and passions, unschooling makes the most sense for our family because the children have the freedom to grow up to be who God made them to be.
Just as the disciples did not know what their future held, neither do we as parents for our children. But God does. And unschooling enables me to lean on Him, and not myself or a curriculum or a leader’s ideas, and trust Him with His children.
Whether an interest or love for something seems “legitimately educational” or not, I actively trust God that He has planted that in their heart for a reason. My love for writing came from The Babysitter’s Club, something my father despaired of. But God had a purpose in all those books I read and pictures I drew and stories I wrote.
“If God has prepared these works for your child to do, then won’t He make sure that s/he is adequately prepared for them? Doesn’t He prepare you to do His will in the most miraculous, mind-boggling ways that have very little to do with your own efforts? Do you think that the Creator of the Universe would leave your child’s future, His future, entirely in your hands?” ~ Julie Polanco
So, friend, be encouraged. Unschooling doesn’t have to be something scary and radical. If you have been thinking of trying it, stop all the bookwork and see what happens in a week of trialling unschooling.
Pray each morning that God would guide your day.
Have a simple routine of together time and free time.
Partner with your children in their interests.
Answer questions and, if you don’t know the answer, try, “Let’s find out.”
Fill two bags of library books that relate to topics you know your children are interested in.
Watch some YouTube videos or documentaries.
Sit down and play board games, even Pokemon!
Snuggle, talk, laugh, tickle, and enjoy your children.
Pursue your own interests in front of your children.
Go on walks, visit people, go the museum.
I promise you that, if for a week, your write down everything your children do and say, you will be amazed at how much they are learning. And, more importantly, how much you are all enjoying your days. My heart regularly cries out in joy to the Lord with all the amazing little things He is doing in the children.
It is a beautiful place to be, in a place of trust: Trusting God, and trusting my children.