Youth Engagement in Unschooling

Freechild Project youth in Seattle

There are alternatives to learning in school. In education systems that force conformity, obedience, standardization and accountability, there are young people who struggle. The reality of youth engagement in unschooling is that by learning from life without boundaries, some young people expand their horizons, gain new opportunities and expand their thinking in ways traditional schools could not facilitate.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. — John Dewey

How could youth better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? — Henry D. Thoreau

Ways Youth Engagement in Unschooling Happens

Youth Living Life — Unschooling means living life without any structure in life that resembles schools. Rather than relying on curriculum, schedules, teachers and tests, unschooling can give young people opportunities to learn with life as teacher. In some western nations, youth simply go about their own processes, activities, methods and means to learn what they want, when they want, where they want and with whom they want to. Unschooling can change the world in many ways as it compels people towards individual responsibility and social interactions.

Hole in the Wall — In a popular experiment, an Indian computer scientist put computers in the walls lining the street of an extremely poor urban area. Without any guidance from adults, extremely poor children began interacting with the devices. Furthermore, they actually brought other children to learn with them. Within a short time, children were learning and teaching each other how to use the computers in empowering ways.

Unschooling Society — Young people can role model for adults and other children and youth how to live without the structures of contemporary life, including schedules, rules, money, rigidity and obedience. Actively demonstrating to adults, parents, and other young people what life looks like without anything similar to schools, other people can make choices to change their lives by adopting parts or all of the unschooling lifestyle.

Needs for Youth Engagement in Unschooling

Inspiration — Learning about unschooling can be a revelatory and exciting experience for young people, especially when they first discover it. Digging into whether or not to do it can be nerve-wracking and discouraging though. Having inspirational stories and ideas to motivate and move young people forward can be vital.

Technology — Having access to a variety of technologies, including tools, the Internet, telephones and other instruments can be key for unschooling. Young people can develop their own life curriculum or driving motivations and move away from adult-driven ways of being.

Opportunities — Sometimes, laws and policies and vigilant enforcement can prohibit daytime unschooling for children and youth. In these situations, it can be important to facilitate out-of-school time unschooling, either through nonprofit programming, at home or in alternative community settings.

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in unschooling in your community or organization, contact us.

2 responses to “Youth Engagement in Unschooling”

  1. Dear,
    Let me first present myself. I’m a staying at home father of two boys who never went to school. Currently, I’m in a conflict with the authorities because our oldest son (10 now) has refused to take part in the compulsory tests. Children who don’t go to school have to be registered as homeschoolers and pass tests at 8 – 10 – 12 years old … If they don’t pass the tests, they are required by law to be registered in a school. We have refused however to adhere to this requirement.
    Together with a friend, I have been writing for years texts and articles for different zines on subjects such as voluntary slavery and oppression. Last years we came to the same conclusion, which is that our education and schooling are in many ways the basis of our obedience and alienation.
    This led us to writing a book about unschooling and our capacity to learn by ourselves (from others, the world around us, …).
    In this book we want to incorporate a chapter about our (inborn) ability/will/drive/enthusiasm for learning. Since my friend and I went to school, we were looking for some testimonies from direct witnesses, so from the unschoolers themselves. My son (the oldest) already collaborated a lot, but we also want to add experiences of older (former) unschoolers. How can we learn or are we learning without schooling?
    Unschooling is not broadly spread in Belgium (in Europe, more generally) and most books/blogs about unschooling come to us from the USA. These works were a source of precious empowerment for us. We hope to bring the same energy to the few isolated unschoolers here and to inspire others, to be some help to those people struggling with the (compulsory) education, to bring a new experience, ideas, possibilities, …both in the Netherlands (where homeschooling is mostly forbidden) and Flanders (where new restrictions are making homeschooling less evident).
    Thanks for reading (so far) and sorry for the errors (in my writing). Our question: can you forward this mail to some (former) unschoolers (older than 15) who would be interested in sending us a few words, sentences about how they experienced unschooling, free learning, autonomous learning … self-defined learning? How (what) they learnt?
    We will be very grateful for any response we receive, or even better a contribution!

    Unschooling greetings from Belgium,

    1. Did you write your book? I currently have a 16b year old who is unschooling.

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