CABOT, Ark. (KTHV) -- While most kids are gearing up to head back to school, some are doing the exact opposite.
A new chapter in education, known as unschooling, is turning traditional education on its head by allowing the child to determine when and how they learn.
A typical Tuesday morning for the Flatt family involves a visit to the Cabot Library. One kid colors, another reads, while the youngest plays a video game. These aren’t after school activities. This is everyday life for Linda Flatt and her 6 children.
“They can literally learn anything they want at any time they want,” Linda Flatt said.
The Flatt's ultra-relaxed learning is called unschooling. It's a fast-growing subset of homeschooling that allows kids take the lead in learning.
“Learning isn't just one thing that happens in a school or in a room or in a book. It’s something that happens all day long, every day, through everything that they do,” Flatt said.
Flatt said every day it's up to the kids to chart their own educational course.
“No two days look the same. It can be library day, we can go to the splash pad, we go to the museum or we'll just declare it a lazy day,” she said. “We try and be more focused on let’s sit at this exhibit for a little while, let’s look, let’s watch, lets read the plaques. Let’s talk to the zookeeper. Let’s ask them questions."
Flatt said unschooling allows the child to follow their own interests, without the imposition of a curriculum.
“Last night the 5-year-old popped up and said, ‘Mom, I want to read.’ So we pulled out the reading and phonics books and you start teaching them how to read and they catch on because they want to,” Flatt explained. “It’s really just whatever interest that they have, it’s just gearing their world so they can experience that.”
Unschooling is legal in all 50 states and some countries, including Canada. Each state has its own regulations. Some require a lot of paperwork, some don't. Many states require no contact at all.
For example, in Texas, parents or guardians must maintain records including attendance, information on textbooks and workbooks the student used and they must submit samples of the student's work. In Tennessee, the parent or guardian must submit a notice of intent, maintain attendance records and test the child in grades 5, 7 and 9.
In Arkansas, the Department of Education requires parents or guardians to submit a letter of intent. According to ADE, the department is not responsible for regulating curriculum. The parents or legal guardians are responsible for their child’s education and for choosing the curriculum.
“It’s definitely an unconventional lifestyle for sure, but as you learn more about it it really makes a lot of sense,” author Pam Laricchia said.
Laricchia has written five books on the topic and has her own podcast. She said the biggest misconception about unschooling is that children aren't learning.
“They are thinking it’s going to look like worksheets or ticking off boxes on a curriculum, but when you start to just observe kids and what they do, you start to see that they are learning all the time through all the things they are doing,” Laricchia said.
Flatt is no stranger to comments from other parents. She said even she had doubts in the beginning.
“I had a few kids that were 8 or 9-years-old before they said, ‘Mom, I want to read.’ And then parents with 6 or 7-year-olds are asking, ‘Can they read yet?’ And you're like, ‘Hmm. No,’" Flatt said. "So, do you force that onto them and possibly squelch their love that would be if you just let them learn when they are ready?’”
Flatt said as her oldest son gets ready to enter adulthood, she has seen the results and is confident in the process.
“You can kind of breathe. It turns out ok. They really do learn what they need to learn when they need to,” she said.
Flatt said as her children have gotten older, they want different things. One child is now learning through a 7-subject curriculum, while the other children are starting to go to a co-op on Mondays with other homeschool students.