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Unschooling: Perfect for your Introvert?

COVID-19 Sparks Renewed Interest in Special Type of Homeschooling

“You must be so patient. I could never do that.”

“Unschooling? What is that?”

“We could never homeschool. My child is an introvert, so he needs school for socialization.”

I'm pleased to introduce Jean Nunnally as this week's guest blogger for Beyond Introversion. Jean is both a writing buddy and a friend. She has an awesome outlook on life and lots of personal experience on the unschooling topic. Given the COVID-prompted changes to education these days, I'm thrilled for Jean to educate us a bit on unschooling and especially how it may apply to our introverted kids.

to have Jean share her thouThese were a few of the many comments and questions during the years that I unschooled my two children from birth to college. The reference to my patience always made me chuckle. Was I patient? Not naturally, definitely not at first, and not all the time, but I learned that patience, like many things, improves with practice and application.

What is Unschooling?

It’s a type of homeschooling that embraces freedom and choice. Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning, this is a philosophy of allowing children to follow their curiosity, and to learn through living instead of using a curriculum prepared by others.

Rather than teaching my children, my job was to introduce them to the world as we moved through it and then allow them time and space to process it. They were free to explore whatever caught their attention. There were no boring lessons, no tests, and no work on my part to keep them motivated.

A Warm Cocoon Your Introvert

If you are the parent of an introvert, you may feel that school is necessary for them to learn to socialize, a view widely accepted as an important function of school. But is it really the best place for social interaction?

Comparing my own traditional education with the unschooling approach made me aware of the ways school inadvertently hampers meaningful relationships. Instead of bonding with classmates in a relaxed, natural way, much of the day is spent listening to a teacher or working on assignments. Conversation is discouraged. Competition for the teacher’s attention, class standing, or grades doesn’t encourage trust or cooperation. Classes segregated by age provide little opportunity to spend time with older or younger children, or even adults, whose mutual interests might make them more compatible friends.

Ironically, the respectful nature of kids we observed at an unschooling conference was a big reason my husband and I chose the path we did. We were taken with how happy and confident the kids were and how kind they were to each other. Over our years of meeting other homeschoolers, these were traits I found fairly universal. The meanness and cruelty that I remember from school were absent.

Customized Socializing

Learning outside of school lets you and your child control the amount of social interaction that is comfortable. My kids played with neighbors after school. During the day, they played contentedly with each other or we met other homeschoolers for park days or in each other’s homes. We banded together for group activities like a gymnastics class, a junior master gardening course, or blueberry picking.

The natural range of ages, a mix of kids older and younger, as well as parents, was a wholesome blend of youthful enthusiasm and parental mentorship. Alliances formed through mutual interests independent of age. Kids learned from and with each other without competition or pressure, without bullying, swearing, or inappropriate behavior.

The abundance of unstructured time together fostered deep friendships, and this set a foundation for healthy attachments as adults. As part of the real world, the kids went with me to the grocery, the bank, and the post office. They were as comfortable talking with our librarian or the grocery cashier as they were with other kids and their parents. I didn’t force them to be social, simply encouraged them to engage when they were ready and willing.

Honoring Your Child

My daughter is primarily an extrovert who also enjoys time alone. My son is an introvert who is comfortable by himself for hours on end, yet friendly and engaging when circumstances require otherwise. Neither are extremes, but all personalities can benefit from unschooling as it honors each child’s natural tendencies.

Extroverts will make friends everywhere, whether it’s the waitstaff at a restaurant or someone in line at Starbucks. Introverts who prefer the peace and quiet of learning on their own are happy with books, online information, or one-on-one coaching with a tutor. Everyone is free to choose and pursue their subjects without interruption and at a pace that suits them.

Learning for Introverts

Then there is the question of learning. Surely school is essential for that? Consider, though, that being confined to a noisy classroom without the freedom to control the pace and the amount of interaction can be overwhelming for an introvert. Some cope by shutting down while others become restless or anxious. The struggle to pay attention to boring or irrelevant material can be exhausting. Kids may put on a brave face all day only to crumple at home where they feel safe enough to express their fatigue, irritation, or even anger.

Unschooling Empowers

Unschooling empowers introverts and extroverts alike with dignity and autonomy. The freedom my kids experienced, coupled with responsibility for the decisions they made resulted in independent adults who meet their own needs while respecting the rights of others. Today both excel in jobs well-suited to them. My extrovert daughter works in advertising, while my introvert son is a software engineer. Both have been frequently recognized for their initiative and natural leadership skills. And my patience? Well, that’s still a work in progress, but I’m learning.

Jean Nunnally unschooled her two kids from birth to college. Both graduated and are happily and gainfully employed in cities a half day’s drive away.

She’s now writing about her unschooling journey--what she learned from the experience and the broader implications and applications of this philosophy of choice and self-determination. She hopes her story gives voice to the idea that learning in freedom is not only possible but a critical concept for the future of education.

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NEXT WEEK: Journaling - An Introvert's Salvation


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