Google+ Authentic Parenting: Unschooling: An Introduction (rerun)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Unschooling: An Introduction (rerun)

Originally published at Child of the Nature Isle

I’ve written lots of articles throughout my blogging ‘career’ about unschooling, but I’ve never tackled the basic questions, like “What is Unschooling” or “Why Unschool”, or “How Do You Do It?”. I probably hinted at these topics, but I’ve never sat down to write an introductory article about unschooling, for people who are infamiliar with the topic. Basically, because I’ve always assumed that the readers of my blog are familiar with the topis.

What is Unschooling?

If you ask unschoolers for a definition, you’ll probably get as many definitions as you find people to
Unschool yourself, orion pozo
ask this question too. If I’d take a sling at a definition it would be something like this:
Interest led, lifelong, self driven learning.
The idea behind unschooling is that learning is a natural phenomenon, that children want to learn and that they learn the things they need when they need them. There is no need to impose the required knowledge or force them in any direction. Thus, unschooling happens without any form of curriculum or teaching, unschooling does not take the classroom home, but banishes the classroom idea altogether. Instead, it offers children the opportunity to learn from life itself in the same way as all children learn to walk and talk on their own.
The term itself indicates that unschooling takes a stance against schooling as the formal, institutionalized system we know. Generally, unschoolers belief that children can acquire all the knowledge they need at home (in the large sense of the word, because unschoolers are far from being hermits), with the guidance of their parents or other people close to home.
There are lots of reasons why unschooling opposes schooling, but they are too diverse and elaborate to get into for the sake of an introductory article.
Unschooling is known under lots of other terms too, like life learning, interest based learning or holistic learning, only to name a few.
Unschooling is not just about learning, it’s a way of life. This holistic take on life and parenting is often called radical unschooling, and includes all interaction and action of the household.

Why Unschool
The answer to why one should unschool could fill a book in itself, but for the sake of this article I will try to keep it short.
Unschooling allows the child to develop his or her passions, without crushing his/her thirst for knowledge. It does not strive to conform or break children by imposing arbitrary rules and factory like patterns. There are no boundaries or requirements and there is no judgement. Children are incited to be themselves and develop their interests. It is by far the superior learning system for personal development.

How Do You Do It
Even though it may seem chaotic and undisciplined when you first hear about this manner of learning, there are some requirements for unschooling to ‘work’ or even be possible at all.
Unschooling requires at least one involved parent or guardian to guide and stimulate the child.

  • The physical and mental safety of the child should be ensured.
  • The basic needs (food, clothes, shelter) of the child should be fulfilled.
  • The child should frequent stimulating and rich environments
  • The parent’s job in unschooling is to be present, follow their interests and help them seek the information they require. The creation of a rich and stimulating learning environment is also something a parent should ensure, especially as long as they are underage.

Unschooling is not a hands-off method of learning for the parent or caregiver, he is to be there to answer questions, get the right material and even anticipate educational needs.

Where do you go from here?
If this unschooling gig has caught your interest and you want to find out more, there are lots of ways to get informed.
You click the unschooling tag to read lots of articles
Another great source of information is The Natural Child Project
Sandra Dod’s site is often quoted as a great ressource
You could join one of the unschooling groups on Yahoo!, like Always Unschooled
Facebook has lots of unschooling pages, “Unschooling” is just one of them
Join the Radical Unschooling Network to connect and learn about unschooling



  1. Thanks for the information!
    Not always sure how to describe unschooling when trying to describe it...

    We won't be unschooling, but not because I do not believe in the ideals of unschooling! I does not work in a parenting unit where both parents have to work!

  2. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for your comment. Actually, unschooling can work with two parents working, there are a few options you might want to investigate:
    - trying to work different schedules, or one parent works less hours, or takes some work home.
    - The child can - instead of being in school - be cared for by a family member, au pair or nanny in a home setting, or you can find a means of care that follows more a daycare kind of setting then a goal oriented school setting.
    But obviously it is harder and you would have to figure out some things, make some choices... Just wanted to point out that it is not entirely impossible.
    Sometimes it's also an option to have them go to school only for the non-structural activities, eg lot's of schools follow a weekly schedule, where they do sports or crafts etc in the afternoon or at a certain time of the day. You child could be in school at those times and cared by you or a third party at other times

  3. I love to write about this topic! I think the most important part you've written is this: Unschooling is not a hands-off method of learning...

    As an Unschooler, I get really annoyed when I see that sometimes other people who write about Unschooling use the word 'lazy'. Really, an Unschooling parent has to be so much more involved than a parent whose children go to school, and even more CONNECTED than a parent who chooses to do school at home. Being completely engaged in your child's world demands an enormous commitment of time, energy and resources. In that sense, Unschooling is absolutely NOT for The Lazy or Hands-off parent.

    I have written extensively about how important it is to live an Intentional Life as an unschooling parent. Here is one example:

    Joy to you!

  4. agreed. unschooling is so much about connection, in my mind. i would add that my family is an example of doing unschooling while both parents do have to work. the great thing about learning is it is happening all the time! i think our most intense learning moments happen at any hour of the day or night. i do think it's important that whoever children are with be engaged and connected... and best of course is parents, but that is not necessarily possible, and does not preclude choosing to learn in the best way for children! if this is the best choice for you, you make it work. and if it's not, you're making that choice. i'm happy to see more and more articles about unschooling that highlight the "why we choose this" rather than the "why we're NOT choosing THAT". if that makes any sense. i'd also go one step farther than what you said in the article and say as an unschooler, i don't even shun the classroom, if that is where learning can take place the best, at any given time. sure, i have my doubts about that being the case, but i think the key is being open minded. i think any family can unschool, whether they are in school or not. it's about connection, choice, and the fact that we are learning all the time.

  5. Thank you for your comment, mb. Yes, it's true that many articles on unschooling is 'why not', in fact already the name is negative... And this can pose unschoolers as just rebellious, while it's not just resistance, but a conscious, well thought through choice.
    Even though I stated that we banish the classroom idea, I do agree with you. If ever learning would call for a classroom experience, or that is what my daughter would choose, then we'd gladly go for that option. And I can see benefits in some situations for a classroom experience (thinking of dance or yoga here, just for the social interaction it brings).
    But this was a primer, so I think that's a more advanced topic and you just can't cover all aspects of unschooling in one post, can you.
    Love the last phrase of your post!

    Oh and about the parent being around all the time, even though I'm a stay at home mother, I am not with my child all the time. I have someone to follow her around when she's going to friends or exploring the world. Personally, I do need some time for me, to follow my passions, and I think that's important too, that they see that you as a parent are a full person.

  6. What an interesting piece, helpfully outlining some of the tenets of unschooling. One thing I'm curious about though and would welcome your thoughts on, you say the approach "does not strive to conform or break children by imposing arbitrary rules and factory like patterns. There are no boundaries or requirements and there is no judgement." I get that. But in my experience kids may also need to learn how to deal with situations where they may face boundaries, rules and judgement. How do you as an unschooler help your children learn these kind of life-skills?

  7. Hi Stuart, thank you for your comment, that is actually a very easy question. Even though we strive to be judgement free, and avoid arbitrary boundaries, there are obviously some boundaries
    Unschooling isn't permissive parenting, as many assume, there is something between authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting. It's responsive, connected parenting.
    And that aside, the world at large is full of judgement and rules and limits, and in unschooling a child is much more implicated in the world then that child would be in school, so from the get go, these children get to deal with the real rules.
    I hope that explained the issue, if not, feel free to ask me for further information

  8. Thank you - this is a great introductory article and I'm throwing it in my Friday links. :-)

  9. Thanks Kelly, very much appreciated. It's always a little stressful to write a primer about unschooling, as there are so many out there who know much more then me.

  10. How does unschooling work? I thought it was the law that children had to attend school until the age of 16 how do you get around that?

  11. @anonymous: the law differs from country to country and state to state. Lot's of places have a law that obliges kids to learn, not to attend school, and even where children have to attend school, there are often possibilities to homeschool.
    In unschooling, the child learns by following their own interests. You can find out more by clicking the unschooling label in the right sidebar

  12. I am really intruigued by the idea of unschooling. Luckily, my daughter seems to thrive in the school setting, but I am worried when my son (now 3) is "school aged" he will have difficulty following "the rules." What I want to know, hopefully without sounding offensive, is how does it work when "schooling" is finished? In today's society, you need some sort of traditional schooling for any career (not job.) Here is Canada, it is very difficult to get into college or university without your high school diploma. As the children get older do you hone in on specific topics of interest to assist in getting into post-secondary education? Another concern (if you want to call it that) is I am worried I won't be a good match to assist them on their learning path. What if I am not motivated enough one day, or what if I can't find them an answer they are struggling to find? I do plan on checking out the links you have included in your article.
    I also have a question maybe you, or a commenter can answer. Do you know of anywhere I can get some positive feedback or information about unschooling/home schooling with mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc.)
    Thank you for the introduction, and thank you for taking the time to read my long winded comment!

    1. Hi missiemom,

      Your question isn't offensive at all :) It's actually one of the first questions most unschoolers ask. Let me reassure you, if they want to, unschoolers can certainly achieve a post-secundary education. Most systems provide a simple test procedure to be able to acquire a secondary education degree if one is needed to enter the higher education system. I would suggest look into this with unschoolers where you live. I know Canada has plenty
      That said, many unschooled children never see the need to acquire a diploma and thrive anyway. They become filmmakers, web designers, florists, photographers, authors... I recommend looking for Astra Taylor on Ted through Youtube, as she discusses this more thoroughly than I can in a simple reply
      Where it comes to you being a good match to unschool your children, you are their parent... NObody in the world loves and knows them better then you do. Certainly, you won't have all the answers, but hey, you don't need to. Quite on the contrary to the teacher system, you don't need to bee all knowing, or pretend to be, you can function as a guide and help them find the answers. As they grow, they'll learn to use the resources themselves too.
      In unschooling, you will probably also find out that it's often not about the One True answer. the answers can be many, and varied, and raise new questions. And it doesn't matter because what matters is the journey, not the goals.

      If you typ 'mommy overwhelm' or 'parenting with depression' in my search box, you'll find a couple of answers to your last question. Let me just tell you that parenting or unschooling with depression is exceedingly hard, but on the other hand, just living with depression is exceedingly hard. What got me over my depression was my children and the fact that I wouldn't want them to live another life then what they have now.

      If you llike, I offer mentoring services and we can go deeper into these topics. Just push the button for mentoring on the top of this page

    2. Thank you! Just thank you! That was very helpful.


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