Wini Haun is the founder of the Northside Unschoolers Group of Chicago. She and her husband homeschooled (or rather, ‘unschooled’) their three children. We sat down for coffee at Buzz Cafe in Oak Park, IL.
Firstly, it’s important to know what “unschooling” is. Unschooling is a form of homeschooling, but unlike many forms of homeschooling in which parents teach a set curriculum to their children, unschooling parents primarily focus on their child’s own interests. The basic premise of unschooling is that children learn and grow best by exploring the world on their own terms. There is no official way to unschool. Parents simply take what their child is interested in and explore it with the child or set up the child to explore it on his or her own.
According to Wini, parents can often do what schools cannot, because parents “naturally address the first needs of the child.” A child requires those first needs–like feelings of psychological and emotional safety–to be met before she or he sets out to explore and learn. Traditional school settings cannot always address these ‘first needs’. They might not have the resources or the time to do so. If you’re a teacher who needs to get through a lesson with multiple children, you may not have the patience or level of relationship to help each individual child become comfortable and ready for self-driven learning.
Additionally, unschooled children get the benefit of learning directly from real-world experience. Instead of listening to a teacher describe the world and the ways in which it works, unschooled children explore the world for themselves. When they learn by exploring the world, and when their own intrinsic motivation drives them to want to know more about certain things, they inevitably pick up basic math, reading, writing, scientific facts, etc, out of necessity, interest, or a mix of the two.
I admit it sounds a little too good to be true, but that may be because I’m so used to traditional schooling that I have a hard time imagining an education without school buildings, classrooms, or (traditional) teachers.
Coincidentally, we had both come to the cafe from yoga. Wini encountered yoga for the first time in seventh grade. Two young, brilliant teachers had been hired at her school, and all of the kids grew to love them. Then, unexpectedly, the two teachers were fired for budgetary reasons. Seeing their kids get terribly upset at having lost two great teachers, many parents decided to protest by boycotting the school. They set up a “parent’s school” in a local community space in which one parent at a time led classes on a wide range of skills and topics. One parent taught a yoga class, and Wini really enjoyed it. She’s been doing yoga ever since. The “parent’s school” lasted for a week or two before the children returned to ‘real’ school. Nonetheless, it seems that that early experience helped lay the groundwork for Wini to realize that school is not necessarily the only or even the best place to learn.
Before we left, Wini recommended I read How Children Learn by John Holt. She also mentioned John Taylor Gatto and Grace Llewellyn as educators whose work has had a major influence on the unschooling movement.
In addition to founding the Northside Unschoolers Group, Wini is also the choreographer and artistic director of a dance company. You can find her website here: http://www.winifredhaun.org/
You can read more about unschooling here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling