Unschooling Social Studies

Visiting the Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

As unschoolers, I never taught my unschooled kids history, geography, politics, sociology or economics. We used no formal curriculum package until high school whereby textbooks were cracked open. The only well-used reference tool we had for Social Studies in grades 1-10 was a big world map on the wall and a homemade timeline on the living room ceiling. I didn’t see the point of teaching my kids names, dates, Capital cities and wars. If they needed that information to understand a concept, they could just look it up on the internet. As life unfolded, the children grew and asked more questions about the world, history, economics and politics. We visited the library weekly. We watched the news every day. Children can only absorb to the extent of what their brain development allows. My oldest was ten years old when 911 dominated the news. It was a time of answering a lot of questions and supporting their fears and understanding. We answered all their questions but with more ideas and ways for them to look things up as the internet and their interests grew.

As they became teens, they did their own research online in response to news or things they read. I continued to explain concepts and answered their questions when issues came up. We watched all kinds of drama, history, and action movies together. We had a lot of dinnertime discussions. Those discussions were the best kind of learning. The kids got to hear other’s opinions and we provided context for their learning that went beyond names, dates and places.

In the teen years, we world-schooled on the cheap and made a point to visit museums while traveling. We even discovered that museums have a lot of bias in recounting history depending on who was funding the museum. That was our social studies program until high school. The teen years are the best for visiting museums. Bringing younger children to adult museums just resulted in frustration because the kids wouldn’t read the displays nor absorb the information. When teens get their abstract thinking skills at age 13, they are more patient and take in so much more from museums and science centres.

When kids don’t get direct instruction, they do more self-directed research. The best questions and motivation for further study are those asked by the learner. Today, they vote and understand the world governments, politics and economies very well. They read Time, Maclearn’s and The Economist magazines. They read newspapers.

No matter how hard we work to take the bias out of curriculum, it is embedded deeply. Curriculum is debatable and social studies is country-specific. Schools pick and choose which topics to present. Some schools teach facts only and other schools teach ideology. The school curriculum will never suit every parent, but every parent can instill a love of “finding out” and the skill of critical thinking beyond the classroom. That is just good parenting. Ultimately, your children are going to learn beyond what is taught in schools and formulate their own values, beliefs, ideology and opinions.

Our world needs more countries where our children can ask the hard questions and have access to unlimited viewpoints and information to make their own judgements. A good school curriculum should support that. If it fails, there is always unschooling – self-directed research.

About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Unschooling Social Studies

  1. I read your article very carefully, it’s interesting to see how unschooling families see education differently! I was “forced” to educate this way (since 17 years) because my grown-ups, who have been to school a bit, didn’t want anything formal. But I taught all of those things that you think would be more suitable for teenagers when my kids were really very young. With conversation. Philosophy, geography, history and especially geopolitics seem to me to be necessary in the environment of the child, because childhood is the age where passions are born, other things come to preoccupy adolescents. The youngest of my sons stood alone in front of Monet’s water lilies at 10 months old, he was so excited by all these colors. We visited a lot of museums with very young children. But we always just pick a part and we don’t use guides. Because the emotion felt is the most important. Of course, to share an emotion, it’s easier to feel it yourself! I brought pencils and paper with me to draw. Sometimes the paintings are about history or the Bible. When I had to explain that the lady who holds this severed head is called Judith and tell her story, from the Old Testament, I thought “OK, I will, anyway, with 5 children, find myself in embarrassing situations! ” I happened to go to the Louvre with a two-baby stroller with squeaky wheels and my teenagers stood away from me because I was making noise, these are also funny memories. I told the story of the Greek philosophers, my boys discovered the story of the Civil War in comics. My daughters are passionate about the stories of incredible women. What is happening in the world must be explained, and accompanied with this crucial information you are talking about: you have to go to the source to understand a certain point of view and understand that according to your gaze the “Truth” may be different. And develop a critical mind. I took my grown-ups to political meetings, my youngest took part in the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, (in unschooling, this is the opportunity that often presents itself which provides instruction) and above all even if we lived in the city (i’m belgian and lived in marseille) we spent such a long time in nature. Unschooling allows you to take the time to observe ants, or to look at the rocks and examine them. The environment is important. The house library. Neighbors who are passionate about astronomy or mechanics, etc … Older, indeed, they develop their own passions, but I still like to talk about literature, to read extracts that my last child will not read because unlike his sisters, he has a horror of literature. And it’s always some exciting or funny pages, because emotions are the best way to keep learning. I haven’t used curriculums to tell stories about all of these things. I told about what I know and also what I was learning. I started a blog to keep a diary of all the cool things I found that they didn’t use often. But don’t wait to talk about economics, geography or politics. They will get passionate about these things, change their minds, many times, as they grow older. But they will have a very strong understanding that they are already citizens of the world. Thanks for this article, listen to the opinion of the other also learns a lot about yourself! (I hope my English is not too bad)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.