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Day 30 – Tutorial Tuesday. “Unschooling: Part One”

*Disclaimer: This post is not meant to persuade anyone to homeschool or to unschool. If you are happy where you are that is awesome! This is just more of our story, and hopefully a help to anyone considering unschooling. Thanks!

I’ve been up since 5am when a couple of feral cats decided to brawl directly below my bedroom window. Of course, this made me think of my children. I’m not saying that they fight like cats (well, actually, that’s a pretty accurate description), I’m saying that they ARE the feral cats in this scenario. Emphasis on the feral. Or maybe I’m just afraid that they are. Or afraid that they will be. Or just…afraid.

You see, we are “unschooling.”

Back up. Let me tell you everything I thought I knew about unschooling:

Six months ago I would have told you that unschooled children were uneducated, over-indulged, and, well,  feral.

I would have cited articles I’ve read about kids who were free to eat whatever they wanted, sleep however late they wanted to, and went to bed at midnight. Attachment parenting turned up to eleven, given steroids, and released into the wild: feral.

So what exactly happened between my skeptic days and yesterday, the day my kids spent seven hours of their “school” day in a tree?

This year is not my first homeschool rodeo, as they say. I homeschooled Sera (now in 4th grade) for her Kindergarten year. I went NUTSO. I turned our den into an actual school room. I had this great idea to connect every facet of what we were learning. For history, we’d start in ancient times and all of our geography, literature, art, music, etc. would revolve around that as we moved together along the timeline. I jumped full force into Saxon MathSaxon Phonics, and Shurley Grammar. For my FIVE year old.

I almost died. Really. Well, not really. But nearly. Almost. I burnt out BIG TIME.

Fast forward through three school years and nine months of therapy. Okay, the therapy wasn’t actually for our traumatizing year of homeschooling, but it probably should have been. As I started planning for this homeschool year, I joined a couple of message boards and online homeschool groups asking for curriculum suggestions. HOLY COW YOU GUYS. People were planning and ordering their curriculum in April. Several moms mentioned that they had three, four, five different types of math curriculum. The threads were full of pictures and Amazon links and it was dizzying. Plus there was Latin. LATIN!

I know this works for a lot of my friends. But I just couldn’t deal with all of the choices, the cost, or the intensity of it all. I met a mom (and homeschooling guru, actually) who told me all I needed was a library card. And that is exactly how we landed in the Unschool camp.

To clearly discuss the subject of “Unschooling” we’ve got some defining to do. Unschooling means different things to different people. Personally, I like how John Holt (“father” of the unschooling movement) defines it:

What is unschooling? This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When Pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to  learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge into the child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.

Like many other concepts, lifestyles, or methods, unschooling exists on a spectrum. I’ve read testimonials that span this spectrum. One family allows limitless sugar or screen consumption (I’d call this more of a lifestyle choice than an educational method). One family operates within definite boundaries and may even use traditional curricula. Even despite my bristling at their choices, I’ve read accounts of successful adults who had been “unschooled” on the complete very opposite side of the spectrum that I am comfortable on (i.e., limitless sugar, no bedtime, etc.).

The thing I have come to learn, is that unschooled does not mean uneducated. These are opposite things. Completely. As parents, my husband and I foster and facilitate learning as much as we can through what the girls are exposed to every day. Art, historical documentaries, farming, good story-telling through reading good literature, and hands-on nature study. These are all part of our lives every day. As for what the girls would like to delve deeper into? Well, that’s their choice.

Sometimes they choose to spend seven hours in the tree. I tend to react in fear. SHOOT. They didn’t come in and ask to watch Ken Burns like good little homeschoolers! They have been outside from morning until night. And I just remembered they haven’t had a bath all week. OH Lawd have mercy, they are feral!!

But then I think about the way society is moving: what we reward, what we are looking for, and what we lack. I think compulsory education rewards conformity, when what we really want, what we lack, is creativity. We are starving for it. It is the age of the entrepreneur, and it’s time that we trust our children with their own ideas. Time to let them discover their wings, and to be kids.




And night.


Maybe it’s time to let them be a little bit feral, to see what they can really become.


Now I want to get into the nitty gritty details. I know there are questions. OH I had them too.

What about state testing?
What if they are not learning at the same rate as their peers?
What if there are gaps–meaning, what if we miss something important in the elementary years?
What about high school?
What about college??
What about math!?
Could “unschool” work in an actual, you know, school?
(Spoiler alert: YES it can!)

These are important questions. I would like to spend an entire blog post delving into these–question by question–and I would like you to add your own.

What do you want to know about unschooling? 

Leave your question in the comments. I’m no guru, but I’ve got research, a wee bit of experience, and a handful of unschooled adult friends to refer to. I’ll try to answer your questions next Tuesday!

In the meantime, read this article on unschooling written by a woman who was actually unschooled–and went to Brown University (for awhile).

Other resources I love:

Zen Habits
John Holt
Sandra Dodd

See you next week for Part Two!





{ 4 comments… add one }


  1. Leah C. says:

    What if you were starting this in Kindergarten? How would you approach the basics of reading, simple math, etc..? How would you do it from the beginning of their ‘school years’ as opposed to starting when they both already had public schooling? I guess when I read your blog, I think, “yeah, unschooling works, but how would she have ‘unschooled’ reading?” Same kinda applies to math,, although, I am no mathematician, so I know if I did the unschool approach, I would have to get help for that. I am certainly intrigued, especially as it looks like we will be homeschooling for Kindergarten. (private is too expensive, and the public he is assigned to is so not an option) Maybe you answer this in Part 2?? LOL!! Love ya! <3

    1. Such a great question Leah, and I think it completely makes sense. I was relieved that the girls knew how to read already and it has helped a lot. I’ll talk about this more next week!

  2. Alana says:

    Love this. Pinned it. :)

  3. Daja Gombojav says:

    I love this post more than I can express!!!

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