“What’s the difference between homeschooling and unschooling?” and “What is deschooling?’ are among the most commonly asked questions in Facebook groups.
Homeschooling is generally used to mean home education. HEN (and many individuals) prefer this latter term as it is a more accurate description of what families do: educate their children at home. However, the VRQA uses the term homeschooling, as do most American websites. As a rule the terms are interchangeable, but to some people homeschooling has a different meaning. For them homeschooling is ‘school at home’ and in this sense homeschooling is usually contrasted with unschooling.
Coined by educator John Holt, unschooling is sometimes called informal learning or natural learning, and is based on the belief that learning is innate and that children learn best when they are self motivated and choose their own activities. Unschoolers allow their children to follow their own interests, and much learning is hands-on and incorporated into everyday living. Conversation, games, excursions, documentaries and reading might allow a child to learn more about something with interests. Some families may use curriculum or structured learning such as classes when the child wishes to, whereas others eschew any ‘school like’ options. This latter group are sometimes called radical unschoolers.
Deschooling is used for the period of adjustment children and parents go through when they leave the school system to begin home education. It’s a transition from the idea that there are set ways to learn, that the content of a curriculum should dictate what is learnt, and that grades, exams, and written evidence of learning are necessary or desirable. Many people find that deschooling is as necessary for parents as for children, and that this transition period can take a significant amount of time. For some deschooling means allowing children to choose what they do each day, others may introduce activities such as games, excursions and spending time in nature but do so without any focus on learning. The idea is for children to rediscover their innate desire to learn, and whilst it can have value for all styles of home education, deschooling is most closely linked to unschooling.
The HEN website has suggested reading for those who wish to do more research, as well as descriptions of different educational philosophies. The key tenet of home education is that each child is different, so don’t worry if you are not sure which word (if any) describes you or your approach. We are all home educators, and what we have in common is far greater than what divides us.
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