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Unschooling: what is it and how does it help your child’s learning?

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What is unschooling?
Unschooling is an education trend that is gaining steam around the world – but what is it exactly? It simply means allowing your child to freely learn from his own experiences, free of the influences of schools or curricula.

There is a lot to like about it – with no school, it means your child is free from textbooks, tests, silly school rules, uniforms, rigid schedules, homework and more. Like its more mainstream cousin homeschooling, unschooling increasingly appeals to parents who dislike the stress and structure of traditional schools.

Benefits of unschooling
While it might sound like a hippie, crazy idea, there’s more to these free-form approaches to learning than you might think. Free play is a core component of unschooling – and there is plenty of research that shows how beneficial it is. Less structure has been shown to increase a child’s skills at “self directed executive functioning”. Play itself helps a child grow and learn – cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, and more – for a fully-researched analysis of how free and guided play can benefit your child’s learning, check this summary out.

As a child grows older, unschooling becomes more than just endless play, and more about charting an individual route through education. According to avid unschooler Earl Stevens: “Our son has never had an academic lesson … he has never taken a test or been asked to study or memorize anything. When people ask, ‘What do you do?’ My answer is that we follow our interests – and our interests inevitably lead to science, literature, history, mathematics, music – all the things that have interested people before anybody thought of them as ‘subjects’.”

Self-directed learning for future success
If this is starting to sound a little familiar, that’s because “self-directed learning” is a key principle of the Singapore education system. According to MOE, “a self-directed learner who questions, reflects, perseveres and takes responsibility for his own learning” is one who will embody the core 21st century competencies needed to succeed in the modern world.

So what unschooling principles can we adopt as parents to give our child an edge in this competitive century?

1. Encourage free play
Instead of actively guiding your child during play, let him explore at his own pace. This will allow him to enjoy making his own discoveries, and give him the desire to find out more on his own. Before you know it, he’ll be a natural self-directed learner! You just have to give him a chance.

2. Encourage questions
Questions are an opportunity; don’t squander them. Don’t just give your child the answer. Instead, show him how to find out the answer himself (look it up together, test his ideas etc). This is a great way to teach your child critical thinking.

3. Play games
Games are fun AND they teach your kids all kinds of stuff. Don’t worry too much about what your kids are learning – the most important thing is that they are finding out how learning can be enjoyable, and that’s the key to raising a lifelong learner.

4. Encourage hobbies or interests
If your child shows interest in a topic, encourage him to keep pursuing it. You never know where a question may lead – the world is both very complex and interlinked, and you’ll always find out something new.

Most importantly, worry less (or try to, at least) about school and tests and results. Be patient – changing mindsets won’t happen overnight. Your kids might get bored, or frustrated, but “unschooling” is sort of a new skill for them too, and they will need time to learn it. Change will happen eventually, as your child learns that he can learn on his own, in many different ways, but all of them fun.

Good luck!

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