What is unschooling? There are many different ways that parents homeschool their children and unschooling is one form of homeschooling.
Unschooling Is A Style of Homeschooling
To begin with, unschooling is one type of homeschooling or homeschooling style. The term unschooling is a word that is frequently used in the homeschooling world. In fact, there are even different types of unschooling.
You might see these statements or questions on any social media platform.
- “Are there any other radical unschoolers in this group?”
- “We’re more of a relaxed homeschooling family.”
- “Who else is unschooling their children?”
- “We unschool for everything except math and reading.”
Common Ways Homeschoolers Describe Themselves
Here are some common ways that you’ll hear a parent describe their family. They might say “We’re…”
- Radical unschoolers
- Intentional unschoolers
- Eclectic homeschoolers
- Relaxed homeschoolers
While all of these family’s might consider themselves to be unschoolers, to some degree, eclectic and relaxed homeschooling is not really unschooling. Eclectic homeschooling is more about cherry picking your favorite parts of educational opportunities and curriculum to suit your needs. Eclectic homeschooling is also more parent led. Relaxed homeschoolers often unschool in everything except math and reading. Once again, this type of education (relaxed homeschooling), is more parent-led, relies on curriculum, and is not really unschooling.
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Two Basic Types Of Unschoolers
The term unschoolers refers to both radical and intentional unschoolers.
Radical unschooling is absolutely child-led learning. Parents act as a resource and guide, but the child chooses what to focus on and learn.
Intentional unschooling parents often discreetly guide their child’s education while helping the child feel that they are in charge. For example, they might plan educational field trips knowing that the child will learn something new and might develop a new interest. In addition they might use more strewing techniques where they leave educational books, games, and worksheets laying out knowing that the child will take an interest in some of the items. When the child wants to watch television, the parent might guide the child toward an educational program. Overall, with intentional unschooling, the child is still following their own interests, but the parent is being intentional about guiding them toward higher quality decisions.
What Unschooling Doesn’t Mean
Let’s talk about what the word unschooling doesn’t mean.
While each parent might have a different unschooling philosophy, most parents would agree on the following.
Unschooling doesn’t mean that you…
- Ignore your child’s need for education.
- Aren’t parenting your child.
What Unschooling Does Mean…
- Unschooling implies that you approach education with a very different mindset than those who are involved with the traditional public school system.
Unschooling parents understand the following.
- Children are natural learners, They will learn many different things by following their own interests at their own pace.
- Traditional schooling may limit a child’s curiosity, their ability to follow their own passions, and eagerness to learn.
- Children can learn in a variety of environments and ways.
- While traditional school subjects are important, there are many other things for a child to learn as well.
- Field trips and experiential activities are often a key component to peaking a child’s interest in other areas.
- Education and learning are important, but life is not about school.
Unschooling parents understand these principles, AND they have the fortitude to break away from the traditional school mindset and allow their children to learn in more natural ways.
Characteristics of Unschooling Families
- Using curriculum is optional. Traditional textbooks are simply another resource available for learning, but they aren’t viewed as the primary way that a child should learn.
- Unschooled kids are often Involved in a project or have an interest that is inherently educational in nature.
- The child is leading their own education with parental guidance.
Unschooling implies that you approach education with a very different mindset than those who are involved with the traditional public school system.
Unschooling vs Deschooling
If you’re new to the world of homeschooling, you’ve likely heard the term deschooling. Sometimes parents are unclear about the differences between the words unschooling and deschooling. Let’s take a moment to help you understand the distinctions between these words.
While unschooling is about approaching education with a vastly different mindset than is prevalent in a school environment, deschooling is about breaking free from the mindset that children develop when they go to school.
Shortcomings Of The Traditional Education System
One of the shortcomings of the traditional education system is that children are taught to wait for a classroom teacher to tell them what to learn and when to learn it.
Children learn to squelch their own curiosity and follow a path of education that was created for the masses rather than for individual children.
Unschooling: Learning In A More Natural Way
The idea of unschooling is that children are given the free time to learn in a more natural way. While a parent provides general direction, unschooled children follow a natural learning path. They are frequently allowed to make their own choices and learn in their own way.
Before Going To School
The unschooling approach is very simple with young children in the early years.
Because they haven’t been involved in formal education yet.
In essence, learning is still fun and enjoyable. On the other hand, older children or high school aged teenagers who have been in school or have strictly followed homeschool curriculum, might find learning to be a drag.
Oftentimes, when kids have been in school, they have developed a disdain for education and learning.
Because they equate education and learning to school.
Is School Fun Or A Drag?
School might be enjoyable if your child’s natural abilities align with what the public education system expects. On the other hand, if your child’s natural skills aren’t in alignment with your state’s requirements for education, then you’re child may struggle in the traditional education system. While your child may be very intelligent, their genius is simply not rewarded in our cookie cutter school system.
For young people to rediscover a love for learning, deschooling may be a good idea. An individual child or teenager is encouraged to take charge of their own learning and their own education. Given time, most kids will begin the natural process of learning on their own again.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, deschooling is the “act or process of removing the function of education from conventional schools to non-institutional systems of learning.”
In a traditional school setting, children wait to be told what to do and what to learn. They not only wait to be told what and how to learn, but they are told when to learn, and how much time they have to learn. In addition, children are also told when they can use the restroom, get a drink of water, eat, play, and speak.
Oftentimes, the child’s innate desire to learn and care for themselves is squelched in a system of traditional education. While unschooling parents may guide their children with intention, they allow their children to follow their innate desires to learn and care for themselves.
When a child is deschooled, they are given the space and time not only to become curious again, but to follow their own body rhythms again as well.
Deschooling After Schooling
It is often said that when a child transitions from going to school to homeschooling, that the child needs to be deschooled.
Because school is not the equivalent of education or learning.
To be educated or to learn, one doesn’t need to be in a school environment.
In essence, a child needs to rediscover the love of learning that they were born with, but was likely schooled out of him or her.
You might think deschooling is just for the kids, but in reality, most parents need to go through a deschooling process as well. As parents, most of us attended public school and are products of the public school system. Our society has been well conditioned to believe that school equates to education and that we should do as we were taught in school. It’s incredibly difficult to break away from this school mindset.
If you are reading articles like this or listening to the HomeSchool ThinkTank Parenting Podcast, then you are likely in the process of deschooling yourself. Wrapping your mind around the world of homeschooling or even unschooling requires a major paradigm shift.
Changing the way that you think is hard. Shifting to true homeschooling or even unschooling your children is even more difficult. While much of the world thinks that they have homeschooled during COVID, the truth is that doing public school at home is not homeschooling.
If you’re children have been in school and are struggling with their education, then you might want to consider deschooling them. In addition, if you’ve strictly adhered to homeschool curriculum and you’re kids are struggling or bored with the curriculum, deschooling might be something for you to consider as well.
Another sign that you might want to deschool is that you and your child are struggling over school or curriculum. Is your child bored, struggling, or in tears? Are you stressed out, tense, or yelling over school? Is school exhausting for you or your child?
If you’ve answered, yes, then it might be time to deschool. On the other hand, if you’re child is doing well, then you probably want to stay the course.
How To Deschool Your Children
If you’re thinking about deschooling, you’re probably feeling a little anxiety about it. Here are some steps to get you started.
- Disenroll your child from school and register as a homeschooled student. See this article about How To Homeschool.
- Understand your state’s homeschool laws. If you have a teenager, they can be involved in this process too.
- Focus on concepts rather than curriculum to meet your state’s homeschool requirements.
- Ask your child what they would like to learn about. Get your child involved in their own education. The parent’s role is to be a guide and help provide opportunities for your child to learn.
- Start making plans with your child. Downtime and the freedom for a child or teenager to be bored can be part of the plan. Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we are quiet long enough to think deeply.
- If your child doesn’t know what they want, start exploring opportunities together.
- Have fun on your unschooling journey!
Alternative Ideas To Textbook Learning & Education
- Play Games
- Go to the library
- Children’s museums
- Regular museums
- Recreation centers
- Homeschool groups
- Youth programs
- Church activities
- Watching Documentaries
- Play groups
- Nature centers
- Local classes
- Online classes
- Learning with family and friends
- Field Trips
Books & Articles That Will Help You Think Differently About Education and Understand Unschooling
As you think about your child’s education, there are a few books and articles that you might want to read or listen to.
HomeSchool ThinkTank Articles
- Why You Need A Homeschool Philosophy. In this article & podcast episode, we share what homeschool philosophy is and why you need one. Learn why the founder of HomeSchool ThinkTank has the philosophy of connection, community, and education.
- Examine Your Belief System Around Education. If you want to dive more into shifting your mindset around school, education, learning, and homeschooling, then consider diving into this four-part HomeSchool ThinkTank (HSTT) series. It’s available as a podcast series or article.
- Public School vs True Homeschooling. This HSTT article is about the tremendous differences between doing public school at home and true homeschooling. Also available in podcast format.
- Homeschooling Styles & Terminology. This article has more information about homeschooling styles and terminology that you might find useful.
- How Do You Learn? Consider the differences between education, school, and learning. This article is designed to help you evaluate your own belief system around how children learn.
Books About Unschooling
Author: Peter Gray
Free to Learn by Peter Gray explains the history of education, how it impacts us today, and the science behind how kids learn. This is a book that every parent should read. We loved listening to this audiobook. It’s available in print too.
Author: John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. The late Mr. Gatto shares many of the lessons that have been taught through the decades in schools across America. While these lessons are not evident on the surface, they go much deeper than your average math lesson. Dumbing Us Down gets to the core of how well our society has been indoctrinated by the public education system. We strongly recommend this incredible book.
Author: Mary Griffith
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith helps you envision the unschooling lifestyle and how it could look or your family. This is a relaxing read that has the power to influence how you approach homeschooling for years to come.
Author: John Holt
How Children Learn and How Children Fail by John Holt are both classics among the homeschooling crowd. As a homeschooling parent, you will want to be familiar with How Children Learn. The author and educator, John Holt, is widely considered to be the Father of Unschooling. John Holt also founded the magazine Growing Without Schooling. While this magazine is no longer in publication, it was quite popular amongst the homeschooling parents in its day.
Author: Kerry McDonald
Unschooled by Kerry McDonald is an outstanding book with numerous stories and resources about unschooling. We highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in this lifestyle. With a foreward by Peter Gray, the reader knows that this book will deliver and it does.
A Book About Homeschooling
THINK HOMESCHOOL by Jackie Wheeler Wiebe is designed to help you quickly imagine what homeschooling is about. Read this book to quickly decide if homeschooling is the right decision for your family. It’s available as an audiobook, ebook, or paperback.
A Book About Deschooling
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. If you are interested in the origins of deschooling, you might want to read Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term deschooling was coined by the Austrian-born U.S. anarchist philosopher Ivan Illich.
You can read Deschooling Society in one of two ways.
You’ll want to have a little time, some peace and quiet, and a comfy chair before you dive into this philosophical article. It is a thought provoking read.
The Foundations of Unschooling
The Foundations of Unschooling, is an article that was written by Pat Farenga. Patrick Farenga published the magazine that John Holt founded, Growing Without Schooling. In the article, The Foundations of Unschooling, Patrick Farenga says that “unschooling is a term first coined by the John Holt to mean learning and teaching that does not resemble school learning and teaching.”
Following are a few more quotes from The Foundations of Unschooling by Pat Farenga.
- “I broadly define unschooling as allowing your children as much freedom to explore the world around them in their own ways as you can comfortably bear: I see unschooling in the light of partnership, not in the light of the dominance of a child’s wishes over a parents or vice versa.”
- “…unschooling is the freedom for anyone, young or old, to choose why, what, when, how, and from whom to learn things is a key element in John Holt’s work. In short, if you don’t have the freedom to choose what to think about then you are in mental slavery; of course, we can choose to subordinate ourselves to a teacher (the master-pupil relationship)in order to accomplish or learn something, but that relationship only works well if the student wants to learn that subject or work with that teacher.”
Unschooling Or Homeschooling
Unschooling or Homeschooling, by Billy Greer is an interesting article that dives into the history of unschooling. We found this article in the Way Back Internet Archive. Here’s one quote for thought.
“School is a case of knowledge (that someone else has determined to be important) chasing after the student, while unschooling puts the student chasing after the knowledge (that they have decided is important.)”
We also like this quote from Unschooling or Homeschooling by Billy Greer.
“What is it that unschoolers do? Where do you find a curriculum package that will help you to be an unschooler? The reason that unschooling is hard to explain and hard for some people to understand, is that it is not a technique that can be broken down to a step by step process. Rather, unschooling is an attitude, a way of life. Where most homeschooling puts the emphasis on what needs to be learned, unschooling puts the emphasis on who is doing the learning. This makes it a very personalized experience and one that does not lend itself well to the one size-fits-all approach of a commercial curriculum package.”
A Video About Unschooling
This video about unschooling by Knorpp and South is an excellent resource for any parent who is thinking about unschooling their children.
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