Unschooling

The Bare Minimum? The Messy Side of Learning?

What is the bare minimum in homeschooling/unschooling?

What do you think is the “bare minimum” you need to cover in your homeschool?

I am thinking about this, because of a blog post I read ~ at yarns of the heart. And because of a discussion ~ at the 4 Real Learning forum.

I am not yet sure of our bare minimum.

However, I have a leaning towards our minimum being books, or books/movies/music/living the liturgical year , just because these have been so important for our family.

Last week, Anthony ( recently turned 13) was sitting in the family room reading James Thurber and sharing with us bits of Thurber’s dry, sardonic, satirical humour humour.

A visitor didn’t get the nuances – I realised that all the reading Anthony has done and all the movies he has seen and all the talking we have done have helped him develop a cultural literacy.

I tend to think that we live in a rich environment, are involved in our parish and community and so a lot of learning just happens – I don’t need to put many things on my bare minimum list.

Things like literature, discussion, film and media, current events, art, music, computer, history, work education, food and technology….These things just kind of happen….and science and languages for Alexander…

Maybe, too, it depends on the child and his needs and age?

Perhaps just living in a rich, book and faith filled environment is my bare minimum.

And then we go from there, adding and adjusting and deleting things as it seems right for each child.

You know, as much as we might like to think that learning happens in a linear fashion, that if we do abc then xyz will happen, well, reality has shown me that learning is messy. It is haphazard. It is one step ahead, two steps back.

A bit like a toddler learning to walk.

Classical education, by its usual neo-classical definition, tends to be structured and orderly. Yet the child still learns in his own way, picking up bits here and there, needing review or forging ahead, finding a passion or just ticking a box…

The messiness of learning is where unschooling comes in – going with that educational flow.

The claim is that if educators invested a fraction of the energy on stimulating the students’ enjoyment of learning that they now spend in trying to transmit information we could achieve much better results. Literacy, numeracy, or indeed any other subject matter will be mastered more readily and more thoroughly when the student becomes able to derive intrinsic rewards from learning. At present, however, lamentably few students would recognize the idea that learning can be enjoyable.


When people enjoy whatever they are doing, they report some characteristic experiential states that distinguish the enjoyable moment from the rest of life. The same dimensions are reported in the context of enjoying chess, climbing mountains, playing with babies, reading a book, or writing a poem. They are the same for young and old, male and female, American or Japanese, rich or poor. In other words, the phenomenology of enjoyment seems to be a panhuman constant. When all the characteristics are present, we call this state of consciousness a flow experience, because many of the respondents reported that when what they were doing was especially enjoyable it felt like being carried away by a current, like being in a
flow.THOUGHTS ABOUT EDUCATION Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Classical in content, unschooling in practice?

…discovered that these children absorbed information mainly by “doing nothing, observing, having conversations, exploring, and through self-directed learning”. They liken the “chaotic nature” of informal learning to the process that leads to scientific breakthroughs, the early stages of crafting a novel, coming up with a solution to a technical problem, or the act of composing music.

“Its products are often intangible, its processes obscure, its progress piecemeal,” they say. “There are false starts, unrelated bits and pieces picked up, interests followed and discarded, sometimes to be taken up again, sometimes not… Yet the chaotic nature of the informal curriculum does not appear to be a barrier to children organising it into a coherent body of knowledge.

Thomas and Pattison acknowledge that critics will say home-educated children are likely to pick up information peppered with misunderstandings or inaccuracies, and parents may unwittingly pass on their own misconceptions. “Yet the lack of information quality-control does not appear to lead to muddled, confused children,” they say.

“In some ways, it may be an advantage because, rather than presenting knowledge in neat packages, the informal curriculum forces learners to become actively engaged with their information – to work with it, move it around, juggle ideas and resolve contradictions… It is not a static thing contained in a series of educational folders. It is alive and dynamic”.How Children Learn At Home

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9 thoughts on “The Bare Minimum? The Messy Side of Learning?”

  1. And of course ‘classical’ by derivation means ‘the best’ so should not really be bound by traditional interpretations! (Not to discount those interpretations, but diversity is a good thing!)

  2. This is a wondeful post, it has had me pondering my defintion for the last week. I think I could safely say, the Liturgical year, books, and beauty (the arts) in all its forms, are my bare minimum.

  3. My bare minimum at the moment is staying alive. Since everything that has been going on with Ben, I have scrapped virtually everything that would look like ‘school’ or ‘education’ with Autumn because I am in survival mode. I am literally just trying to keep my head above water.I really loved this post. Thanks for writing it.My prayer is that for all the benign neglect my kids have received over the years due to the continual stream of family tragedies that they somehow acquire some semblance of an education.

  4. I have always been attracted to the ideal of classical in content, unschooling in method. Our reality is probably something of a mix–a few requirements (math, Latin and some kind of edited writing) and as much choice as possible. The best way I have found of imparting the classical content is to model a love of reading and discussion, with both new books and old.Another personally-chosen bare minimum, which is attainable but something of a challenge as car-less residents of NYC, is that we want to be out in nature on a somewhat regular basis. We find that one satisfying way we can do this is by bird watching in the city’s parks.In addition, my daughter (an only) has added one extremely structured bare minimum requirement of her own: attendance one day per week at a violin conservatory. Sometimes an otherwise freewheeling child does choose structure. I flipped through Alan Thomas’ book on someone else’s shelf a few years ago and immediately went searching for it on used book sites, because it looked like such a must-read. And it was worth the search when I finally found it! Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas, have long been part of our homeschool, too. I liked your points about learning not always happening in a linear fashion, and the brain’s imperative to organize its own material. I like the way you think, Leonie!

  5. I read Thomas’ book when it first came out, too, and enjoyed it, it solidified things Ii already knew, I guess from experience.I agree that sometimes a free-er child will choose structre – does your dd like her conservatory experience?

  6. She loves the conservatory! She was a little afraid to start it, because she thought she might become too rigid in her technique, but once she started seeing the results of her teacher’s discipline and found out how much fun orchestra was, she was hooked.

  7. Oh, interesting..And I’ve been enjoying your blog. I used to live in the country but found a simpler life was easier for my family to attain in the city – yes, even in a big city like Sydney…

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