Unschooling or Minimalist-schooling; are they the same or different?

Unschooling has such a negative connotation.  It can mean a variety of things, but often it is confused with negligent schooling; someone who expects the kids to teach themselves, run wild, and avoid books.  John Holt is one of my favorite unschooling supporters and leaders, and from him a whole generation of homeschoolers have found the passion to step away from established curriculums and listen to follow their child’s interests.  From those interests, the lessons arise.

Making Daisy Chains with a Homeschool Friend
Time to just make daisy chains with a friend
and talk about books, music, and swimming.

On that level, I am an unschooling parent.  I am a life-long unschooler.  I have not stopped unschooling since I left school.  As a teacher, I was an unschooler, (until the state stepped in with mandatory benchmarks that each lesson must meet), each day I was willing to adapt my lesson and lead my students based on some spark of interest they brought to class.

As a family, we are hybrid.  There are times and places that we look unschooling and times and places that a curriculum needs to guide us.  Right now daughter is really into Jane Austen; she is just entering the middle school and seeing the crazy boy-girl flirtations and trying to figure out who she is, little girl or young lady.  Thus, we are reading some simplified books, watching various Austen movies, and diving into the social etiquette and fashions of that era.  Son, on the other hand, is passionate about castles and Roman architecture; here is this big 16 year old buying grey legos in the bulk to replicate the coliseums of Lyon, France.
Will I stop them?  Not a chance.  Will I make them study spelling and grammar?  Sure thing, but for this period of time, I will be pulling out words and lessons from their field of interest and using these to guide their lessons.  I know the goals that are set for them to learn at this age, and they don’t have to come from a standardized textbook.
Is there a place for standardized textbooks?  Yes, a time and a place; but most lessons in life don’t come from a manual.  Learning to deal with the changes of life are a constant lesson.  Discipline and structure are very important in developing skills, without them we would not have the arts (dance, theater, music,  painting/drawing), nor would we have the scientists (doctors, engineers, architects, biologists etc.), or the books to study from (writers, editors, publishers, marketers).  All of these fields, as in practically everything we do, does take direction, focus, and practice.
Being allowed to wake up each day and flit around from one activity to another does not develop the stepping stones to reach a deep competency.  Learning to focus for 15 minutes on a task that has long-term benefits, but lacks present moment enjoyment is a hard skill to master, but every musician, scientist, artist, and writer faces that challenge from the moment they took the first step until the last day they practice their craft.
Starting out at 15 minutes of practice everyday . . .
and sometimes she forgets and comes back for
15 minutes more minutes.
The focus of minimalist schooling is putting that focus into practice.  Choosing the areas that will be given the high focus, and developing the discipline to daily train the mind and body in that topic.  We don’t need to bombard our school days with 20 subjects, or be driving around to ten homeschool coops.  Cutting back and focusing, going deep with selected topics, allows the rest of the time to be opened up to wonderful moments for sparks of creative of discovery.
Unschooling has a place in every day of schooling.  Structured learning from curriculum, classes, and textbooks are also a needed part of education.  Finding the right balance by keeping the distractions of excess to a minimum will allow the greatest focus.


  • Anonymous

    September 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm Reply

    Where do we learn more about this? Are there books out there about how to homeschool on less?Have you always homeschooled or are you just starting? I want to hear from someone who has been doing this for awhile.

  • Teacher in the Home

    September 18, 2013 at 2:07 pm Reply

    Hi,We have been homeschooling for twelve years. Before that, we homeschooled, at different times and stages of their lives, our three Deaf god-children. They needed our home and signing family, and we would spend time schooling them between their other school placements. Lastly, part of my childhood was homeschooling, as our family followed the circuit of my father's job; four months of the year, we were away from home base and it was not quite long enough to be enrolled in another school. Minimalist Homeschooling? I haven't seen a good solid book out there, just chapters in other books about homeschooling with simplicity in mind.

  • Anonymous

    September 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm Reply

    Did you homeschool from the start, or did you try another type of school first?

Please take a moment to share your minimalist homeschooling ventures.

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