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Unschooling Homeschool Method

What is Unschooling and How Can You Make Unschooling Work for your Homeschool?

What Is Unschooling?
By Mindy Scirri, Ph.D.

What do you imagine when you hear the term “unschooling”? Do you envision an anti-school—like some sort of educational supervillain? Do you wonder… Is unschooling legal? Do you need a special permit or certification or waiver to unschool? Does it mean deleting any knowledge and skills a child learned in school? Or…. Is it providing no education at all? On the contrary, unschooling is a homeschooling method that is gaining in popularity and can be the pathway toward your child’s best education. Find out more about unschooling and whether it can work for your family here!

What is the Unschooling Method of Homeschooling? Advantages of Unschooling Disadvantages of Unschooling
Tips for an Effective Unschooling Education Unschooling Stories from Families Support for Families Who Unschool
*This post contains affiliate links. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission. Although many of the resources listed here are free, those marked with a $ have a cost or require a fee/subscription in order to access the full range of materials.

 

What is the Unschooling Method of Homeschooling?

What is unschooling? The meaning of unschooling can depend on who you ask, but there are some generally agreed upon characteristics. For example, one of the tenets of unschooling is a movement away from the segmented “subject-driven” instruction found in schools and toward interest-driven learning based on real life. Your family’s position on that continuum may at least partially determine how “radical” of an unschooler you are considered. Check out the links below to find out what unschooling is… and isn’t:

Liberate Your Education: Unschooling Is Not One-Size-Fits-All | Life Learning Magazine
“Something odd is happening in the world of unschooling. We are currently seeing home educators who previously described themselves as “unschoolers” beginning to distance themselves from the term because the more “radical” elements of it are no longer something they identify with. This article is my attempt to examine and explain this phenomenon.” Read as Susan Wight explores the evolution of unschooling.

Radical Unschooling | Sandra Dodd
Learning for fun is the best way to learn, and to live. I have gathered much and written some to inspire you to revel in your own learning, in your children’s learning, and in your friends’ curiosity and happiness in the face of a world of information! My unschooling pages are extensive. Jump in there anywhere and follow the links to similar pages.”

Unschooling is not “Child-Led Learning” | Learning Happens
Would you describe unschooling as child-led learning? Pam Sorooshian shares her thoughts on how child-led learning and unschooling are really different.

Unschooling: Laws & How to Start | Time4Learning
What is unschooling? Is unschooling legal? If you want to unschool, how do you start and how can a homeschool curriculum fit into the unschooling approach? Find answers to these questions and more.

Unschooling Undefined
“Unschooling is a word coined by negating the idea of schooling; it starts off with a negative definition. What, specifically, is it about schools that unschoolers want to do without?” Read Eric Anderson’s essay about what unschooling really isn’t.

What Is and Isn’t Unschooling
“Unschooling isn’t so much a method, as it is a way of looking at learning. It’s seeing the learning in everything. To me, it’s much more than just dropping the curriculum, although that’s an excellent place to start. It’s changing the way you view learning and education. It isn’t leaving your children to find their own way. It isn’t brushing them off and doing your own thing while they’re off on their own trying to make sense of the world. Unschooling is trying to be a present and mindful parent. It’s spending time with your children, being involved in their world and inviting them into yours.”

What Is Self-Directed Education? | The Alliance for Self-Directed Education
“Education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner. […] Education is a whole-person, whole-life, experiential process.” Learn about the four educative drives, six optimizing conditions, and why people choose self-directed learning.

What is Unschooling?
“Unschooling has many definitions – probably a different one for each family that calls themselves unschoolers. I define unschooling as interest-led or child-led learning. I have observed that unschooling families follow many different paths. Some families require a set amount of Math and English done each day (for example), and then their children are free to explore whatever they like. Other families allow their children to completely take the lead in their learning until a specific grade level and then begin implementing some structure. And then there are the dyed-in-the-wool radical unschoolers who totally trust their child to learn what they need to know on their own timetable.”

 

What Is Unschooling?

Advantages of Unschooling

Why do some families choose unschooling? Some may be motivated by a complete distrust of traditional schooling. For others, simply the benefits of unschooling may make it the best choice for their family. Here are some of the possible advantages of unschooling:

  • Effective Learning: Because of its basis in curiosity, unschooling can maximize the effectiveness of learning.
  • Value-Based Learning: As an experience-based education, unschooling tends to reflect and deepen the values of the family.
  • Customized Learning: The individual nature of unschooling ensures that education is customized to the strengths and interests of each child.
  • Development of Critical Thinking: The applied learning within unschooling places demands on problem solving and helps to develop important critical thinking skills.
  • Encouragement of Initiative and Perseverance: Due to the child-focused nature of unschooling, children learn to take initiative and persevere, rather than wait for experiences to happen to them.
  • Time to Dive Deeper into Topics: The flexibility of unschooling allows children to read and explore topics of interest so that a deeper level of understanding can be reached.

 

Disadvantages of Unschooling

Anything characterized by such freedom and openness is also bound to have some challenges. Here are some reasons why families may hesitate to unschool:

  • Parent Fear: Because there is less structure and formality, the fear is that children who are unschooled may be missing out on crucial parts of their education.
  • Parent Accountability: In unschooling, the full accountability for a child’s education rests with the parents. There is no curriculum or guiding organization to blame if a child’s education is less than ideal.
  • Parent Confidence: As a result of the lack of structure and the full weight of responsibility, unschooling parents may feel unsure about what they are doing.

These are the reasons that the unschooling community is so important. Unschoolers need a network of support so that they can enjoy learning alongside their children without the anxiety and fear that can accompany this out-of-the-box learning adventure.

 

Tips for an Effective Unschooling Education

How do you begin unschooling? What are the key principles for a successful unschooling education? How does unschooling evolve as children get older? Find answers to these questions and more through these resources:

The Beginner’s Guide to Unschooling | Zen Habits
It’s an educational philosophy that provides for more freedom than any other learning method and prepares kids for an uncertain and rapidly changing future better than anything else I know. My wife and I unschool four of our kids and have been for several years.” Using the experiences of his own family, Leo Babauta describes unschooling, why it’s beneficial, how to unschool, and additional reading materials to explore.

The Beginner’s Guide to Unschooling: Everything You Need To Know About Unschooling Your Kids And Why Should You $
By Adam Muller (Author)
“Are you thinking about unschooling your kids? Or you’re still hesitating? Do you want to know what unschooling is? And how to unschool your kids? There’s nothing I get asked about more as a parent than unschooling, and nothing I recommend more to other parents. In unschooling, life itself is learning. There is no “doing school” … you are learning all the time. That’s why my wife and I unschool four of our kids, and have been for several years. And in this book I’m going to give you the answers to: What is unschooling? Why you should unschool your kids? How to unschool? Plus, I’m going to tell you “The 8 Essential Skills That All Kids Should Learn.”

Beginning Unschooling: Some ideas | Sandra Dodd
Read thoughts on unschooling from a variety of different authors and explore a collection of quotes, links, cartoons, and more.

Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life $
By Rue Kream (Author)
How do the principles of unschooling apply to television viewing, toothbrushing, and chores? How can we develop respectful relationships with our children? How do unschooled children learn to read? Parenting A Free Child addresses these issues and more in an easily accessible question and answer format.”

The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom $
By Mary Griffith (Author)
“Did you know that a growing percentage of homeschoolers are becoming unschoolers? The unschooling movement is founded on the principle that children learn best when they pursue their own natural curiosities and interests. Without bells, schedules, and rules about what to do and when, the knowledge they gain through mindful living and exploration is absorbed more easily and enthusiastically. […] Successful unschooling parents know how to stimulate and direct their children’s learning impulse. Once you read this book, so will you!”

Unschooling High School and College | Homeschool.com
Explore this FAQ about unschooling high school and college created from an interview with unschooler and author, Alison McKee.

Unschooling, How to Work with Your Child’s Strengths & Interests (Podcast) | Homeschool.com
Join us as we speak with Pat Farenga about the subject of “unschooling” and where this concept of independent learning came from. They talk about the pioneer of unschooling, John Holt, who said that children could teach themselves and didn’t need to be in a classroom in order to learn. Learning did not have to take place at home, and it didn’t need to resemble schooling. Learn more about “unschooling” and the key concepts of using this method.”

 

Unschooling Stories from Families

There is no better way to learn about unschooling than through the stories of the families who have walked the path. There are many families willing to share their experiences, challenges, and lifelong results. Here are some of those stories:

Curious Unschoolers: Stories of an Unschooling Family $
By Sue Elvis (Author)
“Have you ever wondered how unschooling works? What do unschoolers do all day? Perhaps they don’t do much at all? Or do unschoolers live amazing lives full of love and learning? In Curious Unschoolers, Sue Elvis discusses all aspects of unschooling including starting unschooling, passions and interests, trust, technology and screen time, maths, reading, writing, homeschool registration, responding to critics, difficult days and much more.”

The Democratic Education of Unschoolers
“We had no textbooks, class times, deadlines, tests, or curricula. Were we fascinated by primates? By rocks? By baseball cards or balloon animals? If so, it was our duty to investigate.” Read this personal unschooling experience by Astra Taylor.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World $
By Ben Hewitt (Author)
“When Ben Hewitt and his wife bought a sprawling acreage of field and forest in northern Vermont, the landscape easily allowed them to envision the self-sustaining family farm they were eager to start. But over the years, the land became so much more than a building site; it became the birthplace of their two sons, the main source of family income and food, and ultimately, both classroom and home for their children. Having opted out of formal education, Hewitt’s sons learn through self-directed play, exploration, and experimentation on their farm, in the woods, and (reluctantly) indoors.”

Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves $
By Alison McKee (Author)
A compelling story about one family’s journey into the unknown territory of homeschooling, told with skill by Alison McKee, a gifted teacher with a wide experience in traditional education and a special sensitivity to the individual needs of children. Trusting her own children to “show me the way” was a difficult challenge – but one that gave unexpected and rich rewards. Anyone familiar with the writings of John Holt will be interested to learn how things worked out for a family that decided to test his belief that children are the best directors of their own education.”

Learning in Freedom
“Welcome to Learning in Freedom, a blog all about the learning adventures (and mishaps) of the Allen family. My four children are unschooled, following their interests and passions every day and living the lives of their choosing. The purpose of this blog is to share our everyday lives (and my not-so-humble opinions) with anyone interested in stopping by. We hope this will give a glimpse of how natural learning unfolds from day to day……” While the entries are a few years old, the story remains the same.

Living Joyfully | Pam Larrichia
“Hi! I’m Pam Laricchia, author and long-time unschooling mom from Ontario, Canada. My three now-adult children left school back in 2002 and I’ve been enthusiastically exploring unschooling ever since. My own unschooling journey has cycled between discomfort, exploration, and discovery, and I’ve written five books and many magazine articles about the fascinating things I’ve learned about unschooling and parenting along the way. I also host the weekly podcast, Exploring Unschooling, with more than 200 episodes in its archive, and I love working directly with unschooling parents in The Living Joyfully Network and through the online Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit.”

Stories of an Unschooling Family
“I’m Sue Elvis. Welcome to my blog! I’m an Australian author, blogger, podcaster, community host and Youtuber. I write and speak about unschooling, parenting and family life. Perhaps you’re already unschooling. Maybe you’re just investigating. Are you looking for some ideas about how to unschool and still fulfill homeschool registration requirements? Want to know more about radical unschooling? What about Christian unschooling? Whatever your situation, come on in. Read a few posts, meet my family, ponder some ideas, find out what my blog is all about.” Check out Sue’s podcasts, too!

TEENS Unleased: Unschooling Young Adults as They Reach for Their Dreams $
By Karla Marie Williams (Author)
Many look at unschooling as a viable option for their younger children. What about high school? Can you unschool the teen years and prepare young adults for their future? Absolutely! In this sequel to Homeschool Gone Wild, Karla shares how she continued unschooling through high school with magnificent results. As the mom of six teens/preteens, her desire is to unleash and ignite the dreams and interests that lead to their passionate pursuits. Karla walks you through their journey and how to approach deep, meaningful learning.”

Unschoolers No More | Ancestral Schooling
“So here I am, blogging about my Chicano family’s quest to reclaim the power and tradition of our ancestral self-directed education. […] We are indeed unschoolers no more. If we continue to call ourselves unschoolers, we are contributing to our own cycle of oppression, by erasing the merits of an entire culture and not acknowledging where that knowledge comes from and the sacrifices it took to preserve it.  The next time another Mom from the dominant culture approaches me wanting to learn about the ways in which we “unschool”… I will proudly correct her and say…”We are not unschoolers. We are ancestral schoolers. What do you want to know? I will gladly share’.”

Unschooling NYC
“Amy Milstein is an active member of the NYC Home Educators Alliance (NYCHEA). She and her husband Joshua unschool their two children […] who have never been to school. Amy is a native of Columbus Indiana, attended Earlham College and then dropped out of Grad School at NYU. Joshua is from Israel, did not attend college, and owns a successful business in Manhattan. The Milsteins are pioneers of unschooling in the big city. Their goal is to create an awareness of unschooling as a viable option for families looking for alternatives to traditional curriculum-based schooling.”

Unschooling to University: Relationships Matter Most in a World Crammed with Content $
By Judy Arnall (Author)
This book explores the path of 30 unschooled children who self-directed all or part of their education and were accepted by universities, colleges and other postsecondary schools. Most have already graduated. What children need most are close relationships – parents, teachers, siblings, relatives, coaches, and mentors within a wider community, not just within an institutional school. Educational content is everywhere. Caring relationships are not. Families that embrace unschooling do not have to choose between a quality education and a relaxed, connected family lifestyle. They can have both.”

A Week in the Life of a Life Learning Teen
“My fourteen-year-old son Sam doesn’t go to school. The very idea of it sends chills down his spine. And, no, my wife and I don’t conduct math or geography lessons at our kitchen table. The very idea of that sends chills down my spine! So, while most of his peers are sitting in classrooms, what exactly does Sam do all day? Is he really learning anything? And if so, what?” Read Jim Strickland’s account of a typical week for his son.

The World is Our Classroom $
By Cindy Ross (Author)
Cindy’s story begins in the Rocky Mountain wilderness on a unique and extraordinary journey: two parents leading their young children 3,100 miles on the backs of llamas. This Canada-Mexico trek illustrated to Cindy and her husband what experiential education can do. Inspired by the experience, they went on to create a new way of supplementing their children’s education, focusing on two arenas for learning: the natural world and travel.”

 

Support for Families Who Unschool

Now you know that having a support network is incredibly important when going out on this educational limb. Luckily, unschoolers are a generous group. Here are some unschooling support groups that may help you on your journey:

Creative Unschooling Kids
“This group is for those kids who want to share what they are doing! It can be drawings, youtube videos, crafts, blogs, poems or whatever your child wants to share with the world. Post it here so that we’ll all know how to find your art.”

Inklink Collective Unschool
“This is a creative education community where change-makers will share their ideas regarding betterment of education (design, art, media, creativity, music, dance, literature) for betterment of our society and future generation.”

Natural Learning
“Co-creating a space where our children can be and learn in and from Nature, a space where they can: explore new ways of relating to and connecting with themselves and with others, follow their inner rhythms and interests, stay connected to their inner guidance and ultimate life force.”

Non-Radical Unschoolers
“This is a forum meant for the friendly exchange of thoughts and ideas regarding the education and lives of Unschooling Parents and their Children. A warm place to share all of the cool things that our kids are doing or to solicit advice and insight from other supportive parents.”

Radical Unschooling Info
Links and directions to information for new and experienced Unschoolers who extend that learning beyond academics. Any idea brought here will be examined in light of the principles of radical unschooling for the benefit of all readers now and future.”

Unschooling Canada
A place for Canadian Unschoolers to join in discussion and build a community!”

Unschooling Canada Association
Welcome to Unschooling Canada Association. We are a non-profit society dedicated to supporting, informing and advocating for unschooling, free learning and freedom in education.”

Unschooling Your Teens
Looking for more information about unschooling through the teen years? Wouldn’t you like to find others doing the same? Message me, Sue Patterson, and I’ll get resources to you!“

Unschooling Kids and Teens
“This is a group for kids and teens who are learning from life to connect and hang out!”

Unschooling Mom2Mom
Are you thinking about unschooling and how it could work for your family? Just starting out? Or maybe you’ve been unschooling, something shifted and now you feel stuck. Unschooling Mom2Mom can help you figure it all out!”

Unschooling Writers’ Support Group
“A place to provide support and motivation to writers in the unschooling community. We will be supportive and inclusive of all topics relating to the craft from the first sentence to the final publishing.”

Region-specific unschooling groups may also be found by state through our Homeschool Support Groups page!

And be sure to check out our Unschooling Resources page!

Best Unschooling Resources

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