Vocabulary matters: labels that will make you think

What’s the difference?  A lot.  People are usually using the terms “unschooling”, “child-led learning”, “child-centered learning” and “homeschooling” in ways that may not be accurate.  Let’s dig into the various terms used to describe educational activities outside of a brick and mortar school…

I have to be honest: I CRINGE when I hear someone say they are unschooling.  We have a few glaringly misused words in the english language and this is by far one of them.  Truly, I think some people equate “unschooling” to “education outside of a school”.  And that’s just wrong.

I can’t even say that education outside of a school is called “homeschooling”.  Some will disagree with me here, but the reality is that if you’ve brought your child home and put them in an online school that handles all of their programming and instruction, they are “schooling at home”.  It’s different.  These parents are not directly responsible for determining the how, why, when and where their core subjects are learned and in what order.  They made the decision about who WOULD be charged with the direct instruction and instructional design, but they have outsourced all of that to another provider.

There is another use for the term  “schooling at home”.  Parents who homeschool their children but completely replicate the school environment and the majority of it’s demands are also  “schooling at home”.  Is it homeschooling?  It might be.  It’s possible the parents have had to design their schooling program or choose a readymade soup-to-nuts program that they are on point to fully execute.  But the environment is every bit like school complete with schedules and pacing deadlines and all of that.  Many of these families stress about not finishing their content for the year–plowing further and further into the summer to be sure to finish before starting the next year.  Some families do this because they want more choice over whether or not faith is included in their children’s studies and school experience.  Some want the ability to teach different subjects at different levels but had no problem with a typical classroom’s setting and structure.  Some simply don’t realize it will be okay if they don’t replicate the classroom at home.  People have MANY, MANY reasons for doing this.  But it is what it is–and it is school in your home more than “homeschooling”.

I know the public school parents have jumped on this bandwagon and do more schooling after their kids come home and then try to say they are ALSO homeschooling.  There is actually an appropriate word for this:  “afterschooling”.  It is when you are teaching your kids after they come home from public or private school.  And it IS different than homeschooling because like the “schooling at home”, these parents have outsourced the design and execution of a complete schooling program to someone else.

Kids who are registered in the public schools but have a teacher from the district come out to teach them are “on home instruction”.  I used to be one such teacher.  This is done for a broad range of reasons when a student cannot attend school for an extended period of time.  But they are taught and graded by the public school teachers who are responsible for the design and execution of the curricula.

Okay… so now we have covered a lot of the things that are notsomuch “homeschooling”.  What is “homeschooling”, then?

Homeschooling is when a family undertakes the design and execution of their child’s education outside of a formal education program that covers all of the student’s educational needs.

Homeschoolers will definitely outsource pieces of their child’s education.  Sometimes they may even outsource it to the public school.  My own family has done that.  But I am the commander of what is being learned or not learned at what pace in what setting and I determine whether or not there will be an evaluation or not, whether the content will get finished or not, and what the ultimate goals are for learning in an environment that is explicitly not classroom-like in terms of demands or design.

How people choose to tackle their kids education is another matter entirely.  And that has a whole other set of misunderstood terms.

Unschooling really tops the list here.

Most people are confusing “unschooling”, “child-led learning” , “child-centered learning” and finally “delight-directed learning”.

Let’s starting with “unschooling”.  Know this: unschooling means that learning is NEVER. –repeat: NEVER. –imposed on the child in unschooling.  Within the unschooling community, there are strict “life learning” families who shun the use of conventional ways of learning and embrace learning through life experiences; and then there are families who don’t really care how their children tackle learning new things.  But unschooling means that the CHILD/STUDENT decides IF, HOW and WHEN they will learn.  Unschooling parents have trust that ultimately, their children will learn what they need when they need it.

The second a parent says “except for math” you are not an unschooler.  Realize that unschooling is less of an educational model and more of a lifestyle.  You either trust that the child will find the education they need when they need it or you don’t.  If you feel the need to impose learning on your child–that’s fine.  But it’s not unschooling.  And nobody cares if you unschool or not, so just call it what it is.  You’re “homeschooling”.

“Child-led learning” SHOULD mean the same as unschooling.  Often, what is really being described is a homeschool situation where a child is allowed to refuse a specific subject or is given some room to dive deeper into something of interest (and in some cases, the parent is juggling the rest of the academic schedule to allow for this).  Sometimes parents use this term when they allow the child to decide which subjects they want to learn and/or how they want to engage in that content.  But make no mistake that if there is a requirement to learn SOMEthing–if the learning is parent-driven–this is not unschooling nor is it child-led.

What this IS called is “child-centered learning”.  In child-centered learning, parents consider the child’s interests and learning styles when programming educational activities and resources.  Learning is parent-driven: parents decide if, what, when and how children will learn; but they are trying to be considerate of the child.

Last is something being called “delight-directed learning”.  This is still parent-driven.  Parents decide if, what, when and how children will learn, but they allow their children to “detour” from scheduled educational activities to pursue digging deeper into a topic when inspiration strikes the child.  Once the inspiration is fed and resolved, they return to the scheduled activites.



2 thoughts on “Vocabulary matters: labels that will make you think

  1. Thought provoking stuff! I hope it makes some people think about their motives and reasons for homeschooling/unschooling in the first place and ponder what they want their children to get out of the experience as a whole.


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