As unschoolers, we are a home-educating family that does not utilise a specific curriculum. This allows for quite a bit of flexibility in the children’s education. It allows us to incorporate life-learning and project-based experiences into daily life. Because children are naturally curious and creative, they are natural scientists and artists. Instead of constantly redirecting their attention to only teaching the facts that we think they should know, we provide a framework of support and encouragement for them to build a body of knowledge and skills.
This flexibility also means that when life throws us a curveball,
as it sometimes will, we use that as a learning opportunity as well, rather
than stressing about catching up with a curriculum. These life experiences
often offer deeper meaning as well as showing us that learning happens
everywhere. We recently had a situation in our family where we had to drive
quite a bit for visits to the doctor, hospital stays and lab tests. As well as
learning about health and wellness in a real-life way, we incorporated stops at
museums, state parks and local cultural places when possible. We also listened
to some fantastic audiobooks during our drive time.
Because unschoolers are not tied to a curriculum, unschooling families have time and space to pursue special interests. We have recently started geocaching, using GPS coordinates to look for a hidden ‘cache’. Sometimes this is simply a small container with a ‘log’ or a small piece of paper for each team or individual to record the date and their geocache tag. Our geocache tag is ‘funschoolers‘. Some caches contain small trinkets. Each geocache team can take one and leave behind one that they have brought along, and this adds to the feeling of geocaching being like a treasure hunt.
For us, the real joy of geocaching is in the search. We have visited
historic cemeteries and Native American burial mounds and have spent hours
hiking in state parks or on recreational trails as a way to extend the
experience beyond just the treasure hunt aspect of geocaching. We also learn
about the local history, culture, geology, native plants, and so on. The only
supplies needed for geocaching are the Geocaching app, which is free (and has a
paid option for accessing additional geocaches), a smartphone, and a pen for
logging caches. Many geocachers use a GPS device, which can be more accurate
than the ones on most smartphones. There are caches hidden all over the world,
in urban areas and natural spaces, down dead-end roads, around historic
monuments, and in a host of other locations. Some geocaches even start with
clues that you have to solve to find the coordinates at which the cache is
hidden, adding to the problem-solving and critical-thinking aspect of the
challenge. Geocaching is a fun tool to motivate us to explore in places we
might not find ourselves otherwise.
Sylvia (12) and Ayla (9) occasionally come with me to my part-time job as a librarian. They have helped process and shelve books and volunteered to help with some of the library programming that I run for younger children. These experiences are both educational and a great opportunity for them to feel that they are contributing positively in our community.
This time for volunteering is another beneficial aspect of the flexibility of unschooling. For all humans, building a body of knowledge goes beyond academic subjects and the memorising of facts. We also gain self-awareness, social awareness, empathy, confidence, discretion, and more. These aspects of life also constitute part of our education even if they cannot be found in a textbook. So, whether we are geocaching, reading a book, conducting a science experiment, comforting a friend, or visiting the doctor, we are helping our children learn with their minds, their hands, and their hearts.
Nikole Verde is a mama to three children. Along with her husband, they live on a small acreage in the middle of Wisconsin, with a dog, five cats, four chickens, and a goose named Jupiter. She shares photos and stories of their everyday life on Instagram as @verde.mama
This article was originally published in JUNO Late Summer 2019, issue 62.