Homeschooling is a common concept, but one way of homeschooling that has recently been getting more attention is unschooling. Before I became a mother, I never even pictured myself homeschooling, and even once my son was born and I decided to homeschool, I would have never pictured myself unschooling. It’s so unconventional!
But now, as a mother of three children ages 10 months to 8 years old, I’m a huge advocate for unschooling! It has allowed us to prioritize our children’s interests and passions, and has given us the freedom to learn and explore in our own way and at our own pace.
In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between unschooling and homeschooling, how unschoolers learn, and the benefits and potential disadvantages of unschooling. Whether you’re considering unschooling for your family or just curious about this almost “radical” form of education, I’m sure you’ll find what you need!
Unschooling vs. Homeschooling: What’s the Difference?
The first thing to note is that unschooling and homeschooling are different, but unschooling is actually a form of homeschooling. That’s because homeschooling covers a wide range of educational approaches, from traditional school-at-home approaches to more flexible approaches like unschooling. Both unschooling and homeschooling involve parents taking responsibility for their child’s education, but the approaches and philosophies behind each method are different.
The main difference between unschooling and homeschooling is the structure of learning. Homeschoolers can be taught many different ways, but unschoolers specifically don’t follow a curriculum or specific education plans. A better name for “unschooling” is “child led education” because with this educational method kids get to pursue their interests rather than being told what to do or learn by a specific curriculum or teacher/parent.
Think of it this way: most (not all) homeschooling situations are more like a school at home approach. There might be a curriculum and even a “homeschool room” which looks and acts similar to a classroom. There may be a set schedule and set subjects that need to be covered.
Unschooling throws all of that out the window. Unschooling parents do not follow a set curriculum or teach specific subjects, but instead allow their children to pursue their interests and passions in a self-directed manner. The belief behind unschooling is that children are naturally curious and motivated to learn and that they will learn best when they are allowed to lead their own education. It’s basically natural learning through life and what comes up day to day. It’s a more relaxed approach and prepares kids to take initiative in their own learning.
- Unschooling is a form of homeschooling (education at home)
- Homeschooling usually involves following a set curriculum and structured teaching methods
- Unschooling is child-led learning and pursuing interests in a self-directed manner
- Unschooling allows for more freedom and autonomy than traditional homeschooling
How do Unschoolers Learn?
So exactly how do unschoolers learn? Saying they “pursue their own interests” sounds really cool, but does that mean they literally just do whatever they want? Is it really an effective way to learn? The answer is surprisingly yes! Unschoolers can be very successful in terms of education, life skills, and academic achievement.
Unschooling is based on the belief that children are naturally curious and motivated to learn, and that they will learn best when they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions. Instead of being bogged down by grades and structure and being forced to learn, which can kill the fun and motivation of learning, unschoolers get to explore what they want without all that pressure.
Some kids might spend lots of time outside exploring nature, while others might pursue an interest in technology or art. Unschoolers learn through various methods and often seek out resources outside of traditional textbooks and curriculum.
One of the main ways that unschoolers learn is through real-world experiences. This is one of the main ways our children learn. We rarely sit at a table to “learn” or “do school.” Unschooling parents often encourage their children to explore their environment and engage in hands-on learning, whether that means visiting the library, exploring a museum, interest based field trips, or taking part in real-life experiences such as volunteer work or job shadowing.
Another way that unschoolers learn is through their interests and passions. Unschooling parents encourage children to follow their natural curiosity and explore their interests in-depth, and help them when they need it. Rather than rigid subjects like math, science, and language arts, unschoolers learn these concepts in more real-world ways, such as through cooking, reading, and tinkering. This can be incredibly effective because it allows children to learn in a more meaningful way.
One other way that unschoolers learn is through socialization and interaction with others, as surprised as some people may be because it’s common stereotype that homeschooled kids are not socialized. Unschooling parents often go out of their way to find opportunities for their children to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds, allowing them to develop social skills and learn from others’ experiences, rather than only being grouped with kids their own age. This allows them to learn from other perspectives and gain more life experience.
In the end, this way of learning often leads to developing a strong sense of self-motivation and independence. This can be attributed to the fact that unschooling allows them to explore their interests, take initiative in their studies, and develop skills at their own pace. An unschooling approach fosters a love of learning and encourages children to take ownership of their education.
- Unschoolers learn by pursuing their own interests and passions.
- Unschooling allows children to explore their environment and engage in hands-on learning.
- Unschoolers learn through real-world experiences such as visiting the library, exploring a museum, or taking part in volunteer work or job shadowing.
- Unschoolers learn through their interests and passions rather than rigid subjects.
- Socialization and interaction with others is also an important part of unschooling.
- Unschooling allows children to develop a strong sense of self-motivation and independence.
Is Unschooling Right for Your Family?
While I truly believe in the huge benefits of unschooling, it’s certainly not for everyone. Before jumping in, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right choice for your family. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether unschooling is right for your family:
You may think that since unschooling is less structured, parents don’t have to be as involved. However, that’s not true at all! While it is more flexible, unschooling requires a significant time commitment from parents. Unschooling parents need to engage with their child’s interests and be able to provide resources and experiences for them to learn from. In fact, much of our kids learning comes from conversation. I can’t tell you how many questions we answer to all those crazy questions kids ask that you just want to quickly answer or brush off. Instead, we give thorough explanations and have conversations, which is a huge part of learning.
Potential criticism or judgement
Unfortunately, unschooling is not well-understood or accepted by those who don’t know much about it. You may encounter judgment or criticism from family or others who don’t understand the philosophy behind unschooling. Some people may believe that unschooling is not a legitimate form of education or that children will fall behind their peers. Because of this, if you have people who may strongly voice their opinions, you will need to have thick skin and be able to navigate any issues around that.
Trust in your children
Perhaps the most important factor when considering unschooling is whether you trust your children to be in control of their education. Unschooling is about allowing kids to learn at their own pace without following strict rules or guidelines. This can be difficult for even the most open-minded parents due to most of us being brought up to think that learning only happens in a classroom and/or led by a teacher.
While it is totally possible to unschool in every state in the United States, there are certain requirements for homeschooling (which includes unschooling) that you must follow in order to legally homeschool. Some states just require a notice that you’re homeschooling and nothing else. While there are other states that are more strict and require things like testing or a log of your child’s attendance or how much time they spent on certain subjects.
My favorite resource for figuring out your state’s requirements is USLDA.org. There are also a lot of Facebook groups for unschoolers in different states, so if you’re on Facebook, you can try searching for one and ask questions there.
If you decide that unschooling is the right choice for your family, there are many benefits to this form of education. In the next section, we will explore the benefits of unschooling and how it differs from traditional forms of education.
- Unschooling requires significant parental involvement.
- Unschooling may face criticism and judgment from those who don’t understand the philosophy behind it.
- You must trust your child’s ability to take ownership of their learning
- There are ways to unschool in every state, even those with strict regulations.
- USLDA.org and unschooling Facebook groups are a great place to get information
The Benefits of Unschooling
As I’m sure you can guess by now, there are a lot of benefits to unschooling your children! The benefits go just beyond flexibility and interest-driven learning. Here are some of the most noted benefits:
Kids learn how to learn
One of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, is that kids learn HOW to learn. In most traditional or even homeschool settings, children are given instructions on what to learn and how to learn it, without much freedom to figure it out themselves. In an unschooling setting, kids aren’t just told what to do. They are taught how to learn, find answers, research, and think critically.
Learning is not confined to the classroom
Unschooling takes learning beyond a traditional classroom setting with all of its workbooks and structured art projects. Most unschooled kids learn in many ways, including through life experiences, travel, extracurricular activities, and more. Unschoolers are able to take advantage of these opportunities by incorporating them into their education.
More free time
The fact that children aren’t stuck sitting at a desk doing worksheets or studying to get good test scores means that they have more free time to pursue their interests. In fact, kids are always learning, so having tons of free time to explore interests, even if they don’t seem “academic” (like video games) can be really beneficial.
Kids become self-directed learners
Since unschoolers are able to take charge of their own learning, they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their education. This leads to kids becoming more self-directed learners who are passionate about exploring the world around them.
Creates a love of learning
Kids naturally love learning! Think of babies and toddlers and how determined they are to learn something new. Unschooling helps to keep this love of learning alive into adulthood instead of having it extinguished by the boring routine of a traditional education system that puts pressure on them to do busy work, worry about test scores, and get good grades. For many kids, traditional education takes away that natural love of learning.
Unschooling offers more flexibility than traditional forms of education, allowing children to learn at their own pace and in their own way. This approach also allows families to prioritize other activities and interests, such as travel, hobbies, sports, or music.
Because unschooled children spend more time out in the world, they are exposed to various experiences and cultures. This is extremely beneficial for their growth and can provide valuable real-world knowledge that would otherwise be missed in a traditional, highly controlled school setting.
Increased family connection
I don’t know about you, but I love to learn too! With unschooling, parents are often down on the ground digging in the dirt or gathered around the iPad, watching a youtube video about how tornadoes form. One of the biggest benefits of unschooling is that it allows parents to be more involved in their children’s education, creating a stronger bond. Unschooling encourages families to take advantage of opportunities together, allowing them to learn and grow together.
As a bonus, it can also lead to closer relationships between siblings since they are often learning and exploring the world together, rather than taking on separate lessons due to “grade level”. Grade levels aren’t recognized in unschooling so it can be a great way for families to learn together, bond and create lifelong memories.
The myth that homeschooled children aren’t socialized is among the most popular misconceptions about homeschoolers. In reality, unschoolers are often out in the world meeting and interacting with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. While yes, kids spend all day in a classroom with other kids, you have to consider that they’re only interacting with kids their own age, they actually get in trouble for socializing too much, and it’s a highly controlled environment.
Compare that to unschoolers who are out in the world meeting people of all ages, interacting with adults and learning social skills from real-world experiences. This results in kids developing well-rounded social skills and the ability to easily interact well with all types of people.
- Unschooling teaches kids how to learn and think critically, rather than just memorize information.
- Children to learn through real-world experiences, travel, and extracurricular activities.
- More free time allows kids to pursue their interests and passions
- Unschooling creates self-directed learners who take ownership and responsibility for their education
- No-pressure, self directed learning fosters a lifelong love of learning.
- Flexibility in unschooling allows families to prioritize other activities and interests.
- Real-world experiences provide valuable knowledge and cultural exposure for unschoolers.
- Unschooling promotes stronger family bonds through increased involvement in children’s education, and can also lead to closer relationships between siblings.
- Diverse socialization opportunities exist for unschoolers, as they interact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities outside of a traditional classroom setting.
Are There Disadvantages to Unschooling?
While unschooling offers many benefits, it may not be the right choice for every family. Here are some common concerns and potential disadvantages of unschooling:
- Lack of structure: For some, the lack of structure can make it hard to handle. Some children (and parents) thrive on structure, which isn’t as common in an unschooling setting.
- Limited resources: Unschooling may require more effort from parents to provide resources and learning opportunities, especially in areas where resources are limited. However, if you have a library full of books, an internet connection, and outdoor spaces to explore, I think basically anyone can unschool.
- Potential for gaps in learning: Unschooling does not follow a set curriculum, which may result in gaps in knowledge and skills in certain subjects. However, I would argue that everyone has gaps in learning and that when a skill or knowledge is needed, unschooled kids, just like adults, will go and find/learn what they need.
- Criticism from others: Unschooling is not well understood by many people and may be criticized or judged by others who do not understand the philosophy behind it. This can be tough when it’s someone close to you and they truly believe you’re harming your child.
Honestly? Most of the concerns above are easily solved with a little extra though. For example, if a child needs structure and chooses a curriculum to help them learn a particular subject, that’s still unschooling as it’s the child’s choice.
- Lack of structure can be a disadvantage for some families and children who thrive on structure.
- Providing resources and learning opportunities may require more from parents
- Unschooling doesn’t follow a set curriculum, which may result in gaps in knowledge
- Unschooling may face criticism or judgment from others
- Most concerns can be easily solved with a little extra thought and effort
For my family, unschooling makes total sense. We love to learn, we love to travel, and we love to be together, so naturally, unschooling works the best for us. But this isn’t to say that it’s the only way, or even the right way for your family – it really depends on what works best for you and your children. Ultimately, as homeschooling parents, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for our kids.