Sunday 17 November 2019

More families 'unschooling' children by teaching at home

Pauline O'Reilly with her children Caragh and Finn whom she is home educating using the unschooling method.
Pauline O'Reilly with her children Caragh and Finn whom she is home educating using the unschooling method.

Caroline Crawford

Increasing numbers of families are choosing to "unschool" their children by home educating with no set curriculum.

Unschooling sees children learning through everyday interactions. The method is growing in popularity in Ireland according to the organiser of a new conference, Pauline O'Reilly, who is unschooling both her children.

The method allows children to choose what they are interested in, with the philosophy behind it stating: 'Offer and respond but never insist.'

The method of educating children at home using no set curriculum is legal as long as the children are registered.

Dr Alan Thomas, a developmental psychologist at the University of London, will address the conference with a talk on how children learn at home, including how children learn to read without being taught.

He explained how the focus in this method is allowing children to learn from the environment around them, similar to children learning to speak. He said parental interaction was crucial.


"This method used uncontrolled learning without any planned curriculum at all. The parents simply get up, get on with their lives and the children follow. It's like a baby learning to talk. You can't teach them to talk, they have to learn themselves. The philosophy is they will want to learn," he said.

"Children learn what they want to learn. They might not learn to read until they are seven to 11, but when they do start to read they learn very quickly and to a level beyond their age."

Many Irish children who are being unschooled will return to mainstream education after the Junior Cert cycle in order to sit their Leaving Cert and attend university.

"Research has shown that despite never having attended a lesson in their lives, they fall into it quite easily and they are on a par with other students," he said.

A spokesperson for TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency responsible for monitoring home education, said following a set curriculum was not a requirement for home education.

"What is important for the registration process is that the home education provision is seen to be meeting the child's overall holistic needs," she added.

The Irish Unschooling Conference will take place at NUI Galway this Saturday. Go to for more information.

Irish Independent

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