So, tell me, what is UNschooling all about?

Karla - posted on 12/15/2008 ( 25 moms have responded )




I've recently discovered, (for those sensitive mother's, please cover your eyes now, this may hurt someone) that I don't like teaching. =D BIG STUPID CHEESY GRIN...right, I know. I really don't. I've been STRUGGLING with HOME SCHOOLING for 5 years now. My kids, THANK GOD, are very very intelligent beings...and have great minds..however, as they are getting OLDER, they are needing more in depth 'help' on things that they just don't KNOW...and actually, give them a book and they are just fine self directing, HOWEVER, math is another subject.
So, I am looking for some insight on what 'UNschooling' actually is, to see if I can possibly incorporate it with my interactions with my children to 'teach' them.
Karla Marie


[deleted account]

well actually unschooling works even if you live in a state that requires testing etc. You still DO things and your kids are still learning things just in a different way than a "curriculum" proscribes.There are many ways to turn your day to day living into "educationese" for the regs.

For example instead of making a schedule and lesson plans and telling your kids "you must do this at this time" and let's say you even grade or "do reveiw" or test etc. That is basically school at home. A unschooler would go about learning the same material in a more organic and authenic way. Your little one doesn't want to play with phonics and reading until close to bedtime and only picks it up once this week? No problem. It's about TRUST and there are many unschoolers in states that require some testing etc. I would go to yahoo groups and see if you could find a local unschooling group for your state to get some more specifics about laws and such. What state are you in? And what exactly do you maen "state program"? Are you homeschooling through the school district? Which you could stop just as easily if you wanted. :)

if you really want to pursue unschooling take it a little at a time. read some of those websites and just learn as much as you can. Try unschooling one thing. Ask your kids what they want to learn and what they want to quit and just follow the passion and interest.

[deleted account]

Hi Karla,

One of the biggest points of unschooling is no teaching and no "school" type stuff and mindsets. I would suggest reading everything John Holt wrote with some AS Neill thrown in to get the idea. It basically is about TRUST. Trust that children are intelligent and know what their interests are and know how to go about learning what they need to learn. You as the parent are not the teacher so much as the facilitator. Just observe your children. How do they learn best? What are their strenghs? What do they struggle with? Also unschooling is about getting rid of the power and control trips that parents can get on...meaning treating children with respect, asking them what they want to do or learn today?

In a superficial way, unschooling is also about ditching pre packaged curriculum. Not following a publishing companies idea of what your kid should learn. It's about ditching the concepts that children (and people) SHOULD learn something at this and that age. It's about living an authentic, natural, moment by moment life. And so so so much more.

Some links to get you started.

And there are some great Yahoo groups to help you fine tune the unschooling thought.

AlwaysUnschooled is the best.

There are also some unschooling groups on Facebook.

Some books to read: anything by John Holt, AS Neill

Also try Homeschooling our Kids, Unschooling Ourselves

and The Unschooling Handbook

If you have been struggling then remember this....unschooling can be a struggle because it is a change not just in academic stuff but in the way a person parents as well. The struggle will be yours, your kids will likely be ecstatic. There is a period of DEschooling where you find yourself coming up against your own preconceived notions about children and school and even homeschooling.

If you are looking for a method to "teach" your kids anything then unschooling is not that. Unschooling is very child led and child centered. How old are your kids? Math is a developmental process and kids grow into math concepts at differing times.

Having said that I like the Key To math program...but again in unschooling the idea is not to sit a child down saying "you will learn this" but observing and following and building on a child's natural interest and desires.

Hope some of that helps...feel free to ask for more ideas etc.


Sue - posted on 02/10/2010




I feel your pain...
math -u-see is very good!!

C Manson( i think that is her name) talks allot about un-schooling...

[deleted account]

Hi Cheryl,

I think Montessori works great for little ones! if you google Montessori homeschooling you should even find some links about "doing Montessori" at home. There's really not much to it actually and the whole philosophy is based around "observe the child" thing I dislike about Montessori is the attempts to keep children out of a "fantasy life"...I believe pretend and fairy tales etc are very necessary for spiritual growth and balanced development.

You might look into reading on some Waldorf methods as well...a Montessori/Waldorf hybrid is usually the course i take with little ones.

I'm glad you are able to find the advice and encouragement you neeed to continue! or start!

Kerry - posted on 01/28/2009




Unschooling is allowing your children to pursue those things of interest to them.  We homeschooled the more traditional way at first - purchased curriculum, desks, teacher manuals, etc. - that lasted about two years.  I wrote my own curriculum for a couple more years.  Then the almight 2x4 knocked me upside the head and I realized none of us were crazy about this.  So we started unschooling.  BEST decision I ever made.  I let my kids decide what and when they wanted to learn - my sons preferred to learn their own way, for example, playing a video game would lead them to read up on ancient history, working on a scout badge encouraged them to follow up on biology or physics.  My daughter preferred sitting with textbooks and writing papers.  The point is, they did what they wanted to do and what worked for them.

My two oldest are now in college (one studying to be a lawyer, the other a journalist) and are honor students.  Both unschooled.  My youngest is in his last *official* year of high school and hasn't decided what he wants to do yet.  Unschooling works.  And it alleviates a lot of stress about school.

If you are worried whether or not they are learning, just talk to them about any given subject.  You will probably be surprised to discover how much they have actually learned without you *teaching* them.


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Sofia - posted on 02/03/2013




Famed contemporary Educational critic and Educational specialist, John Taylor Gatto is a huge proponent of `unschooling' he has even won awards for his controversial stance on eradicating compulsory schooling. He believes that we `'overschool`' our kids, which I as a public school teacher tend to agree with. Unschooling is a concept that revolves around encouraging children to learn what they want to learn, depending on their interests, skills and ambitions. If a child feels little attraction to mathematics and science but a great deal of satisfaction in the arts, then we, as parents, should cultivate this interest. Homeschooling provides children with this opportunity, as who knows their child better than his/her own parent. I do however, as a teacher, caution against providing absolutely no guidance in your child's learning progression. Children, by nature, seek some type of guidance and the feeling that their learning environment makes them feel safe and protected to take risks that will lead to parental satisfaction as well (just the way we creatures have been created, based on cognitive research). Rebekah's post is also quite clear and concise in describing this notion of `'unschooling``.

Sally - posted on 03/06/2012




If your contact teacher complains about your daughter's math scores; ask how well the public school kids did on the test. In most school systems that will shut them up pretty quickly.

Not all colleges need a transcript. And if they do, you just write one up. Just like you'd write up a diploma if you needed one for college or a curriculum if your state requires it. As colleges have started realizing that unschoolers actually want to learn and won't waste their time on college unless they really want to be there, they've actually begun courting us.

Good luck

Tracey - posted on 03/04/2012




I unschool. I would describe my role as more of a facilitator than a teacher. I had a mentor in this who was an unschooling mom whose kids are older than mine. The oldest is now an adult, by the way, getting his master's. He started college at 15, and his younger brothers have/will do the same.

First, it *is* a bit like Montessori. My house is filled with interesting things: all kinds of books for all kinds of age groups (and very few "character books", like based on cartoon characters or toys)--nearly the entire Usborne catalog, and loads of others, and just a handful of "gimic" books that make sounds or have a toy in the cover. Lots of fun educational toys and games--again, mostly not electronic--in fact, when my kids were very young, none of the toys were electronic. No toys that do the playing for them! I used Oppenheim Toy Review ( to choose. They don't accept money or free toys from the toy companies, and they test them with kids, parents and teachers, so they're pretty reliable.

And then I "strew". I strew their paths with things I know they're going to need. So there's a fun book on counting in the bathroom. Or a book on wildlife. At this point, with my oldest high school age (and hopefully starting college at 15), Einstein's book Relativity kept showing up in the pocket in front of his seat in the car. :-)

And field trips--lots and lots of field trips and "try it" classes, to help them find their interests and skills. My son's Cub Scouts troop was great about field trips, but I joined a couple of homeschooling support groups so we could get group rates for classes and museums, and we took our own field trips as well. This also puts them in contact with a wide variety of people from all over, and helps them find people with similar interests, their own ages or not.

My own kids love to read, which was something I worked hard on developing. They need to see you reading for pleasure daily, and they also need to be read to--even if it's just the jokes in Reader's Digest! We listen to audio books in the car, too. Penney from Heaven, for example, is a really, really good one: fun, great story, but teaches a bit about a couple of points in American history: life in the 50s for Italian-Americans, plus a flashback to WWII. Most of today's kids grandparents grew up in the 40s or 50s, so this helps them understand the world of their grandparents.

Unschooling doesn't mean they'll never ask for books or workbooks or take classes! My son is taking chemistry and acing it; it's his first formal class, and in it, he's taken his first exams and written his first paper, at ages 14 and 15 (just had a birthday). He'd already written poetry and fiction, just never a research paper.

And my kids at various points have decided they wanted to learn particular things, and just devoured whatever they could find on the subject. Both of the older two voluntarily went through the "What Your Child Should Know In the X Grade" books. And both of those two requested handwriting books (I'd tried with the oldest when he was too young and he hated it, so I set it aside until he was ready and wanted to).

At one point I gave the older two a reading comprehension and math test, a standardized one, to see where they were. At ages 8 and 10, the eight-year-old was reading on a 6th grade level and doing math on a 3rd grade level (she was second grade age at the time). The 10-year-old was reading off the high school charts, so a college level, and doing math on an 8th grade level.

And one more story: my cousin's wife pulled her oldest two out of their private school because it just wasn't a good fit for them. Her oldest in particular was shutting down from the learning style (Classical Education) and bullying. She was in 5th grade and her brother was just starting 1st grade.

The oldest was totally unschooled/deschooled. She would just shut down at anything that looked like learning, so while they did field trips and watched nature videos, etc., and took lots of trips to the library, her mom really couldn't "strew" anything that looked remotely education. The stuff was around for their then 3 younger kids, but she wasn't having any of it. She spent a lot of time reading fantasy books, drawing and sketching, and writing her own fantasy stories. She'd sometimes play various games with the other ones, usually creative-type games.

Suddenly, when she would have been in 8th grade, a new charter school opened a few blocks from her house, opened by her old private school. It was billing itself as an "arts" high school, but it still used the "Classical" model. For some reason she got all excited and decided to enroll.

Lo and behold, the child who had stopped going to school in 5th grade and not done anything "schooly" since tested into Advanced Algebra and honors classes!

She's been at the top of her class ever since, and the high school in question has been recognized as one of the top public high schools in the U.S. She's been accepted at a prestigious private university.

I don't know a single unschooled teenager, or adult who was unschooled, who hasn't been successful.

Heather - posted on 12/06/2011




I haven't read all the posts here, but I'm completely interested in unschooling. I have been thinking and trying to decide whether homeschooling was best for us. My sons teacher and principal were completely convinced he had ADD, but after expecting a diet change to gluten-free foods there is a drastic change, but his school doesn't seem to tolerate children who are not cookie cutter I want to homeschool him or unschool him. (wanted to before he started school but was unable to being a single mom,i had to work but now I'm married and a stay at home mom and can. My question is what happens when say they reach high school, time to graduate? Colleges needs a transcript.

Sally - posted on 07/05/2010




Unscooling is awesome. When I started researching "am I smart enough to homeschool", I bumped into it The more I learned about unschooling, the sense it made. Kids learn so much by themselves by the time they are 2, why do we suddenly think they need professional help to learn much easier things when they turn 5? Do you remember the things you learned in school to pass tests or do you remember the things you learned yourself because you felt a need to know them? Why would kids be any different? Learning how much of a school day is completely wasted space and how much of most curriculums is just busy work so you can fill an attendance requirement helped make the decision as well. Another benefit to unschooling is that you don't have to stop for the summer or try to fit it around life changes. You just learn all the time from living your life.

Missy - posted on 06/21/2010




For you moms who are unschooling - two new pages on FB for support and idea sharing: Christian Life Learners and Southern Maryland Unschoolers for Christian unschooling moms or moms who live in the Southern Maryland area. Hoping these pages can help us support one another.

Kelley - posted on 12/12/2009




I think I could sore to the moon and back with this......just wish I wasn't so afraid. Could it begin over summer so I won't have the pressure of Dad and me and what if we lose time????

Sue - posted on 05/03/2009




I love this concept...not that i know much about it...but there is always that battle of me letting go of the school system...and my dh..hahah...he thinks it should be like that at home....

My son does not fit in the PS box- he learns in his own little way.....So i think ive been doing some unschooling... and i want to let go of all that stuff from PS system...

I tell my dh all the time...he is living in a world where everything is about learning...he will learn... just when HE is ready for it..developmentally....

Cheryl- Chris - posted on 03/21/2009




Thank you all you ladies!!!! My husband and I have made the choice to homeschool our children (they are currently 3 and 2). It is just nice to know that there are other moms out there who feel the same we do. My husband flat out said he did not want to just use "one" set curriculm- he wanted to mix and match, and we both have said we want to taylor our approach to homeschooling to meet the needs of our boys (the way they learn, etc.) I don't know if any of you have heard of Montessori's method~ it sounds a lot like "unschooling". (I found out about Montessori from a friend of mine. That is another thing I love- I have other friends who have shared what works for them.) Homeschoolers are more than willing to help share their experiences, and I have yet to feel alone.......Even just doing the "pre-school" things with our boys. It also helps to be reminded that everyone learns at different rates, and I should not worry about how "quickly" my boys grasp things!!!! Thanks again for the resources information~ that will help considerably for when our boys are ready......I know that homeschoolers are coming under a lot more pressure, and quite frankly, I am sick and tired of being told that I don't know what is best for our children.

Adina Starr - posted on 03/19/2009




Apparently national chain bookstores don't carry unschooling authors :-( I ended up purchasing the books you mentioned from fun-books. They do have speedy shipping, so shouldn't take too long. I'll check out the mag archives. Thanks.

[deleted account]

i love hey a little money saving tip....try to interlibrary loan whatever you can and read before you buy.

about deschooling you could check out and do a search of the archives to read past articles on deschooling....or whatever else really...i love having that whole mag online.

take care.

Adina Starr - posted on 03/18/2009




Rebekah, Wanted to let you know I found a good website with all the books you recommended, plus more. It has an unschooling section.  reasonable prices...Still plan on trying to find them at store, because I don't want to wait to read them (takes a while to ship to Hawaii sometimes). Anyway, thought you would like the resource.  ps, did some online research on John the philosophy

Adina Starr - posted on 03/17/2009




Thanks for your reply Rebekah...I just read Kerry's note, and very encouraging as well. What you say makes a lot of sense, and appreciate the feedback/support. I'm heading to book store tomorrow, and will pick up the reading you recommended. ...Good call on the long de-schooling phase, how did you know? That is if de-schooling means they rebel against structured learning. I guess I'll learn these terms when I pick up books tomorrow.  Well like I said, I'm still learning. Thanks for your support, I'm just so happy I found someone to talk to about these things. Take care.

[deleted account]

you don't! expalin unschooling that is. I see no reason to go into your personal beliefs on homeschooling methodolgy with strangers, school people, or family. If your family is receptive to the idea then sure...but mostly you don't really make a distinction between unschooling and homeschooling. There is no legal distinction.

There are so many different ways to homeschool that i believe you would be hard pressed to find two families doing anything exactly the same. Different family members have different worries. My MIL seemed only concerned about our legal requirements and beyond that she does not ask for too much information. Some grandparents etc will want to know more. You can try to find out what their concerns are and address those. I find that talking too much about why and how seems like you are trying to justify your choice. Your son will be his own justification soon enough. Your son is close to teen age so i want to recommend reading some Grace Llewellyn as well..."The Teenage Liberation Handbook' and "Real Lives"...there are many books for the teen years and college choices etc.

Your son will go through a possibly long "deschooling" phase. He has to get used to the idea of having so much freedom. I'm glad that you were able to find a way to meet his needs...homeschooling is great for so many different reasons!

Unschooling is basically meeting your unique child's unique needs...and you are well on your way in accomplishing that!

Adina Starr - posted on 03/16/2009




Thanks so much Rebekah. I recently started homeschooling (about 7 weeks ago). My son is 11, and with his ADD, the middle school transition was overwhelming. I figured we could do this ourselves, because he felt like his teachers couldn't stand him. I'm going to pick up some Holt reading, and try to understand more about unschooling, because from what I understand about it- it sounds great. How do you deal with family not understanding letting it flow organically? It was hard enough getting acceptance about home schooling, how do you explain unschooling to them?

[deleted account]


Congratulations on your children's success in college.

Most of the home/unschooling parents that I converse with have young children like it is always nice to hear from someone who has "done it" so to speak.

[deleted account]


cooking is a wonderful oppurtunity to talk about math!!

And speaking of math...i have harbored some misgivings about unschooling and math for some time but as I pursue this I begin to realize that math is a developmental process and I am starting to see the connections. Kids really do come to it at different ages. How old is your daughter?

I have heard good things about the Key To Press Miquon materials and plan on getting that for my son to start work with. Using a program etc does not clash with unschooling, I just follow my child's lead and do not coerce or force learning.

You could try to find out exactly what areas on the math test she is struggling with and then try to set up your home environment with the tools she needs to learn that area. In unschooling this is sometimes called "strewing" just strew their environment with the tools etc they need or that would be interesting. Also you can look into whether the test itself is a problem. Does it call for a lot of mental work and your daughter still relys on manipulatives, for example? Is she a visual, auditory learner? Does she need time to mull over math topics and concepts and the test is timed? Does she feel pressure to hurry? I would just talk to whomever gives the test and see if there is anything you can change, if that seems appropriate.

If you have to be involved with this contact teacher for your state (what state are you in?)

then she should be able to help you with these things.

Think about what your daughter does know about math and what she excells at and then expand on that. Math is sequential and one concept follows another and there is no right way to learn math. Is she good with memory facts? Or is she the type who needs to really have a strong understanding of the concept behind, say multiplication, before she can "know" the math facts? Not all kids do well with flash card, rote memorizing or drill. Some kids do.

Don't be hesitant to change curriculum or to even mix and match and don't forget to include your daughter in these discussions. She is the one trying to learn math and she may have some surprising ideas on how she would feel good going about learning is about trust...but not about leaving them completely alone to find their way without guidance and help. for Miquon materials...relatively inexpensive.

I would also look into getting a copy of Family Math from the library. Kind of an outdated book in some instances: "the role of microcomputers" :)

But the math concepts are solid!! Just a good book full of ideas about making abstract concepts more real to young kids and even fun and playful.

Hope some of that helps get you thinking. ;)


Karla - posted on 12/16/2008




You know...I really like that 'idea' of trusting the kids to learn as they are ready and as their interests grow, etc...the 'problem' I have, is that, ONE: I am a perfectionist. And if 'it's' supposed to be 'this way', that's what I try to create. However, I don't necessarily agree with that as a true education. I watch my children grow, and devour information and relay it in everyday life. They read nonstop. The KNOW so much...and it's stuff they are INTERESTED in. My daughter all of a sudden loves to cook. She needs to know some elements of math, that still evade her, however, as I think about it, if I took the unschooling method of education, I could just easily 'teach' or basically inform her of math facts that apply to cooking, as well as science and even in most cases, history...and social studies.
So, I'm starting to get it.
But, what if they are struggling, or not ready to learn, say, math, and they test BELOW proficient...this concerns the contact teacher. So, what do I do? My daughter, who tests almost off the charts in her Benchmarks, fails terribly in her math. She is ADVANCED in all her tested subjects for the state, excluding math.
How should I view this, or feel about that? =D

Karla - posted on 12/15/2008




So, with that in mind, using a state program and trying to 'home school' won't work, eh? Because there is testing and samples and such that need to be turned in. I think, as I LISTEN to myself and my parenting, UNschooling is more for us...but for now, I perhaps need a balance of each.
Thanks for your help and your resources.
Karla Marie

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