What is unschooling?

“Little children love the world.  That is why they are so good at learning about it.  For it is love, not tricks and techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true learning.  Can we bring ourselves to let children learn and grow through that love?” – John Holt

Unschooling.  It sends a shudder down the spine of many of my acquaintances to know that this is what we’ve come to.  Why?  Because there is no curriculum.  No tests.  No grades.

Isn’t it lazy?  Isn’t it terrifying?  Won’t your kids be stupid?


What have you loved learning most of all in your life?  Was it forced on you, or did you pursue it on your own?

Unschooling (I prefer to call it “natural learning”) is many things.  In essence, unschooling is life.  By letting your children live a real life, they learn all that they need.  It allows a child to guide her own learning.  There are no set schedules, exams, or drills.  The world is your classroom.  It is open and free to explore.  There are as many ways to unschool as there are people…that’s the beauty of it.

Let’s break it into a few chunks:

Unschooling is the most natural way to learn.  We do not test or drill our child on how to walk.  We help it to emerge naturally, as we do with their speech.  A child learns constantly from the moment they are born.  Why would we expect that to change once a child is kindergarten age?  Unschooling simply allows this process to continue naturally.  “To unschoolers, learning is as natural as breathing–as worthwhile for its own sake, something that happens all the time, rather than in a specific place at a specific time according to a set schedule.  Curiosity is a constant, not to be denied because the setting is not overtly educational or the topic does not fall into a familiar school category.” – The Unschooling Handbook, p. 22.

Unschooling is the ultimate act of trust.  It’s trust that your children know what they are hungry and ready for.  “Developing the trust that kids can and will learn on their own … It’s hard to watch your children learn to walk, learn to understand and use language, and learn to get into anything and everything within reach, without believing that they are capable of learning about anything they are curious about.  Most children have such a broad range of interests that it’s easy to believe they may eventually become curious about almost everything.” – The Unschooling Handbook, p. 11.

“The main element in successful unschooling is trust.  We trust our children to know when they are ready to learn and what they are interested in learning.  We trust them to know how to go about learning.  Parents commonly take this view of learning during the child’s first two years, when he is learning to stand, walk, talk, and to perform many other important and difficult things, with little help from anyone.  No one worries that a baby will be too lazy, uncooperative, or unmotivated to learn these things; it is simply assumed to that every baby is born wanting to learn the things he needs to know in order to understand and to participate in the world around him.”  – Jan Hunt, Unschooling Unmanual, p. 5

Why would we quit trusting them?

Unschooling is thrilling, because it focuses on a child’s interests and strengths.  “Unschoolers tend to work from their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses.” – The Unschooling Handbook, p. 18.  In a normal school setting, a child is singled out by his or her “weaknesses,” and the entire focus of their schooling will be on improving or changing that weakness.  Imagine what a child could achieve if they could thoroughly explore and develop their strengths instead.

Unschooling takes all of your time.  How much time does it take? “It’s like asking how much time it takes to live.” -Susan, unschooling mom, quoted in The Unschooling Handbook, p. 4.  Unschooling is a way of life.  It is an entirely different way to live.  There are no set school hours.  You will be learning all the time.

“There is no difference between living and learning … it is impossible, and misleading, and harmful to think of them as being separate.” – John Holt

Unschooling is being keenly aware, all the time.  Instead of the normal checklist: math, reading, spelling, and on and on…, I am constantly listening and interacting with the children.  What do they wonder?  What do they think?  What are they asking?  Once the stress and pressure is removed and they are free to wonder, learn, and ask, they will nearly run you over with questions.  Trying to keep up is a thrill and a joy.

Unschooling is freedom.  Freedom to dream, freedom to explore, freedom to be yourself without stress or pressure, without being forced to sit quietly and cease your own questions so that you may answer someone else’s.  It gives you the freedom to learn and become what you truly desire.  It is true learning and intelligence, because everything you learn is truly meaningful to you, rather than being regurgitated for an exam.

Unschooling is child-led, natural learning.  It is by far the most satisfactory, fulfilling way I have ever found to grow with my children and their education.  There are so many things to say about it, far too many for one blog post entry.  (Hence, an entire blog that I will be devoting to it!)