Parenting and home schooling

How we transitioned to unschooling

Receiving messages from other homeschooling parents, or from parents who are contemplating on whether they should homeschool their child is not new to me, and I’m always happy to share my experiences with them. Sometimes, they ask about the basics, like what provider will be best for them, or what curriculum are best to start with. Other times, they ask questions that need some introspection on my part to be able to respond properly.

One most recent question I’ve been asked was how we transitioned to unschooling. You have to understand that when it comes to unschooling (and independent homeschooling), I usually take caution in answering because these two are some of the most critical, most difficult paths to take when homeschooling in the Philippines.

Filipinos are still very new to the concept of homeschooling, let alone, unschooling, so it is not a popular choice in our country. Choosing to do independent homeschooling, more so, unschooling your children, may put you in very uncomfortable situations that will try your patience and test your courage.

Independent homeschooling is NOT unschooling

Before I answer the parent’s query on how we transitioned, let me define first the difference between unschooling and independent homeschooling. These two are often misconstrued as one and the same thing, but they are not.

Independent homeschooling simply means you are not enrolled in any government accredited school or provider, for Philippine-based learners, this means you are not enrolled in a school that the Department of Education (DepEd) has given license to operate as an umbrella school for homeschoolers.

You can be independently homeschooling your child and still be following a structured curriculum.

I have explained a little bit more about independent homeschooling here: Should you Independently Homeschool your child?

Unschooling your child means you are not using any curriculum or following the structure set by any education governing body. It means that your child gets to decide what he wants to learn. Real unschooling is radically and mainly child-led.

Is it a lot like interest-led homeschooling? Yes! In a way, they are the same, but the parallel between the two can be a bit more complex than that. Interest-led is usually an active collaboration between the child and the parent. The child expresses his interests, the parent provide recommendations on materials (even curriculum, sometimes!) and activities to help the child pursue his interests. There are a lot of conversations happening between the learner and parent. The parent can suggest ideas – ideas that the learner may not have considered otherwise.

You can be indie homeschoolers and be interest-led, you can be registered with a provider, but doing the interest-led approach. I blogged more about Interest-led homeschooling here: What is Interest-Led Homeschooling?

Output is key!

With this definition, it is safe to say that we use an interest-led approach for our children. While we don’t try to keep up with traditional learners and use the same textbooks or topics, we recommend our children to study Math, History, Literature, Music, Marketing and business. We’re also big on practical life skills.

They can do it any way they like and at their own pace. They can do it on any day of the week and at any time they wish. They can choose the materials, resources, and activities for the courses they choose to study. And they can say no and meet us halfway with another idea.

At the beginning of the school year of 2022, Pablo told us that he wanted to study Anatomy, in relation to movements. But since he couldn’t find the right book or website for it, he told me that he will just study Psychology in the meantime. He found a YouTube channel on it. He says he wanted to understand why people do things.

We encourage our children to produce outputs, such as creating animations or graphics for posting on their social media accounts, write blogs, do cooking or baking videos, participate in community events and volunteer for ministry work.

Outputs are easier to produce for trainings and organised events. For example, our two older kids train in dance, so they have recitals and mall shows, and other public performances that we can document. It’s an added bonus that our children have the opportunities to do professional work.

Producing outputs have two main purposes: 1. For portfolio building – to show clients, employers or universities — the learner’s portfolio should reflect the quality of education he has received and how he has been able to use what he has learned in real life scenarios; and 2. To help them develop a sense of urgency, much easily developed by learners in more traditional setups. This is an important skill for them to develop for when they become adults and start working or running businesses.

So, how did we transition to unschooling?

Going back to the question on how we transitioned to unschooling…our answer is, we didn’t. We have always run our homeschool this way, which is why it didn’t go as well as we hoped for with the systems of the local providers that we have tried in the past. This homeschool approach is not designed for that sort of structure.

The only (and wisest!) transition we made was deciding to abandon local accreditations altogether and register for a US-based provider that welcomes non-conventional homeschooling families like ours. Locally, we are considered students in an international school.

Our homeschool provider has what you call a “Life Choice” path (paths are somewhat similar to K-12’s “strands.”) Life Choice are for learners who are not looking to go into university and are highly considering other post-high school alternatives instead of pursuing an ivy league, or even a trade school degree.

Should the learner change his mind, we can change the “path” in their transcript and perhaps, submit to assessment with the provider’s counsellors to help the learner transition into the new path he chooses.

Since our two older children have already been training for at least one professional career and are heavily considering other ways to pursue their goals, we have chosen this path.

A different mindset altogether

Is it difficult to be indies and unschooling? To tell you honestly, yes and no. But the most stressful bits of it have to do with dealing with people who disapprove of our choices and make it their business to tell us so.

It takes a totally different mindset to go this path. You can’t be worrying about keeping up with other kids who go to regular schools, or even with other homeschooling families. Unschooling is not about “being confident in your child’s education” that you let them take the standardized tests just to prove this. You can’t be worried about your child taking his time on applying for university or not at all, or be pressured by what other people say you should do.

If you choose this path, you have to learn to trust that God will help your child find his place in the world and still accomplish so much despite taking the path less traversed. You have to be the first to trust the process!

It can be hard and scary because 90% of the people you encounter don’t do what you do, but keep in mind that just because they do not understand the path you chose, it does not mean they are right about it.

Homeschooling is a personal journey to the family that chooses it. It is not a one-size-fits all type of journey. There is no one way to do it. Success is relative —  it may look different for every family.

And dear, just so you know, you are bound to make mistakes throughout the journey, just as anyone would. There is no place for pride on this road. If situations call for you to change anything in your journey, be flexible enough to adjust. That’s the beauty of true homeschooling — there is a lot of room to grow and evolve.

The ultimate compass to any life journey is the direction in which God says you must go. Without Christ, life is so much harder to navigate. And isn’t life what we have been preparing our children for?

“The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me” Psalm 138:8.

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