Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Life Curriculum
by Miranda Demarest

I have a saying that came to me one day while doing a form of free writing: “Life is all you need to learn all you need to live.” Unschoolers would most likely understand this to mean that, as you live your life, opportunities are presented to you to learn all the stuff you need to keep on living your life as you choose to live it. But, I’ll bet even most unschoolers would assume I was referring to all the “academic” stuff with which schoolers are so concerned. For example, your children are passionate about animals, so they seek out things that offer them information about animals, like books and shows and games. If some of that requires reading, the desire to be able to read the words in those books or games drives the desire to learn to read, which in turn gives the child the information they are so passionate about, allowing them to deepen their passion for animals. And so on, and so on. It is a catchy phrase to describe the heart of unschooling: that people learn what they need when they need it, naturally.

Unschooling Boy SmilingAn Unschooling Curriculum....

Lately, though, I have been thinking of life learning in a different sort of way. I have been toying with the concept of a curriculum, which is a set of information that is taught/expected to be learned in a defined period of time, as it applies to an unschooling life. Departments of education decide what information and skills should be learned by all children in their system before their educations are considered complete. Unschoolers know that one size does not fit all and that educations are not complete until you are dead. However, we all have an idea of the basic knowledge and skills that our children will need to be successful in life.

It is easy not to worry if our children never learn the major imports and exports of tiny third world countries, or the dates of battles in all the wars, but not to learn to read before we send them out into the world on their own? Unthinkable! Of course, unschooled children are as unlikely never to learn to read as they are never to learn to speak their native language, but that is beside the point. The point is, we all have a set of knowledge and skills we expect our children to need, should they wish to succeed in life.

What Would It Look Like?

Okay, so what would an unschooling “curriculum” look like? Well, as always, it depends on the child. It depends on the parents. It just depends. But as for what I am thinking about for my family, that I can speak of in some detail.

I have noticed that when the word “educational” is used, a set of subjects automatically pops into people’s heads: reading, writing, math, science, geography, etc. But, is that all we need to know to be successful human beings? What about how to be happy? What about how to interact with others (and I don’t mean schoolyard socialization)? How to forge and sustain meaningful relationships? How to find and pursue meaningful livelihoods, according to our passions? How to be good parents? How to make a baby laugh? How to comfort someone who is in despair? How to say you’re sorry and truly mean it? How to express gratitude sincerely and accept compliments graciously? How to be a friend? How to love?

And what about all the basics of life, like cooking and cleaning and buying a house and burying a deceased relative? What about how to bake your own bread? How to wash/iron/mend/even sew your own clothes? How to survive a disaster, start a fire, put out a kitchen fire? How to can your own food, after you have grown it in your own garden? How to change the oil in the car and replace a flat tire? How to file your taxes, balance your checkbook and save for a rainy day, let alone retirement?

Unschooling Girl BakingLearning "on the Fly"

I seem to have learned most of that as an adult, or near adult, on the fly as I needed it. It sure would have been nice to have been able to devote more time to learning this stuff as a child, when the full responsibility was not squarely and frighteningly on my shoulders. And what of all that stuff I learned in school? All those imports and exports, molecular structures, literary classics, mathematical intricacies? I have no idea. I do not use or remember any of it. The stuff I do use is so redundant in my life, I would have to have been oblivious not to pick it up: reading, consumer math, etc.

The hardest things I have had to learn on my own as an adult have been how to be in relationships (with myself and others) and how to be happy. Still working on both, to be honest. The last thing I want for my children is for them to enter adulthood as woefully unprepared in these areas as I was. So, we focus on this now, as the interest and situations arise, alongside, and most times in lieu of, the “important stuff” like reading and math and history. We can cover that stuff anytime as their interests arise and life provides. The best part about this learning plan is that there is no “graduation.” There is plenty of time for this life curriculum to be learned – their whole lives, in fact.

Miranda lives and learns with her two daughters and husband in Las Vegas, Nevada and occasionally writes about it. She considers herself a Renaissance woman, encouraging her children to pursue their passions, while showing them how it’s done.  She helps run an unschooling support group, the Las Vegas Life Learners, which benefits her family beyond measure.  She can be reached at miranda@demarests.org.


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