Unschooling in Beijing

We’re Unschooling our Preschooler While Abroad, and Here’s Why

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When an old classmate of my husband’s and his family visited us months ago, we were excited and curious how their worldschooling adventure had been so far. What was it like traveling the world with three young children in tow, and how were they doing it? Why were they doing it and, most importantly, was it worth it? A week and many answered questions later, not only were we inspired by their story but we ended up deciding to try out the closest thing to worldschooling that we could do: Unschooling (while exploring Beijing!).

If the term makes you feel uneasy then don’t worry, I still feel the same way at times. It took me a while to wrap my head around it. We’re now in our second week of unschooling and that doubting voice in my head still visits me from time to time. Interestingly though, it’s my older daughter (currently our little unschooler) who assures me that she’s enjoying staying home with me and, guess what, doing simple things with me like trying to fold clothes.

Housechores. My four-year-old would rather learn how to do housechores than have a blast at school.

She has fun with it, by the way. We now have a story for each type of clothing that sort of describes how to fold them. And our littler one who likes to copy her big sister is trying to fold clothes now as well. But of course, that’s not the only reason we’re unschooling.

So what is unschooling?

To use Wikipedia‘s definition:

“Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.”

Several factors had led to this decision, but one important reason is her young age (taking her out at four years old isn’t going to ruin her chances at college, right?!) and that I simply wanted to spend more time with L1. My husband’s work can be quite demanding, and so we had agreed that until L2 starts attending preschool, I’ll stay at home and focus more on the children. But that’s not really much time when your preschooler finishes class mid-afternoon and needs to be in bed less than four hours later. Such a short time to do our own activities, in my opinion.

Thanks to her old school, however, L1 developed a love for learning new things. She started off as a shy girl who, one year later, has gained more confidence and is more willing to try out new things. Exploring is one of them, but it’s hard to explore what’s out there in the city when you’re in school most of the day. Add to that the fact that, as expats, there’s usually an expiration date to our stay here in China. And so another way to look at our choice is we’re just making the most of our stay in China (in case we have to leave soon!) while focusing on the things she wants to do.

So how are we doing it?

First, I asked her to tell me what she wanted to learn most about.
Unschooling Beijing

L1 is very determined to learn these things, and her favorite is practicing letter-writing.

Second, I asked my child-whisperer friend Bec for tips on what aspects to focus on. She suggested having a monthly theme and then taking into consideration English, Science, Arts, P.E., Society and Environment when thinking of activities, but letting my daughter lead if she has some ideas of her own.

But here’s something she has reminded me again and again, something I think of so often it’s kept me awake some nights:
“Remember, it has to be child-led activities that answer authentic inquiries that L1 asks (and NOT prompted by you). And remember, facilitate the activity; don’t do them. Ask open-ended questions that help L1 investigate how to look for her answers.”
This is INCREDIBLY hard. But will share my reflection on this early next week.

Third, we signed up for several trial classes based on activities that she said she was interested in. She also likes dancing, which we do in one of our playgroups. In this photo below we’re creating our own shaker.

I didn’t want to wait until the holidays to do these extracurricular activities because we’re usually out of the country. The only other option would be after her classes, which means I’ll have even less time with her. So we’re aiming for activities we can do in the morning so that we can rest in the afternoon.

Fourth, we still do our own home projects where I start off with some ideas and she either adds on or helps make it her own. This is probably the part where we deviate a bit from unschooling and go a bit closer to traditional homeschooling. This is also the part where we can teach her about our own cultures, something no school can teach her because it’s a story that’s only ours. (Our multicultural storybooks will finally be read more often, teehee.)

Here are some examples:

And if you’d like to know what some of our multicultural books are, click here.

Fifth, we explore Beijing. We go to the types of places L1 wants to visit (the ones that can get crowded on weekends and holidays) at least once a week (that’s the goal, anyway). There’s been some dent in those plans with the kids being down with the flu this week, but we are planning to visit some local spots to finally see something L1 has been really looking forward to seeing since winter began: Snow!

I’m planning to share more of our stories during the next few weeks. Care to join our adventure? If yes, then follow our stories by signing up here or by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

Before we end, a disclaimer: I’m not an expert on any forms of homeschooling. This is my first attempt at doing it, and so if you’re looking for someone to guide you on how to do it I’m not the best person to ask. I’m also learning as I go. Learning from my daughter, learning from my child-whisperer friend and from online resources.

Here’s one site that’s given me a few ideas: Preschool Powol Packets

For those based in Beijing and looking for a homeschooling community, let’s connect via e-mail here so I can bring you into one of those groups. I’m not an expert, but some of the lovely folks in the group might be able to help you out.

Hope you liked what you read, and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Some additional readings:
Why We Worldschool our Children on Huffington Post
Pros and Cons of Unschooling in China by Untigering


  1. Loved your last post! We’re raising thirdculture kids, Portuguese but born in Korea and raised in Sweden (until we move again). It’s super inspiring to see how you deal with all the struggles that come from having a multicultural family!

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