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Homeschool Styles: Unschooling

By October 17, 2018July 11th, 2021No Comments


Oh, you don’t go to school… So what do you do all day?

This is not an uncommon question for any of us that have our children with us in the grocery store at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.  It is one that we have often answered and we have done so with a myriad of responses.

You know if this has been asked of you that your initial response is, “We do school, we just do it differently from you.”

The answers we give are often given to show that we do educate our children both in a scholarly sense, but also in a bigger way we are working, like all parents to prepare them for life after parenting.

When this started years ago I would defend my choice, whether it was actually being attacked or not.  I was defensive and wanted people to know that I did in fact school my children… now I think little of the questions and I’m a pro at whipping out some straightforward (sometimes sarcastic) answers when asked why I homeschool.

There is even a style called, are you ready? Unschooling.

Now tell that furrowed browed pensioner in the checkout line that you unschool the young people that are helping you load the cart!

Unschooling has become more mainstream in the parent educator movement recently. It seems pretty straightforward… but if you are like me, or the old people at the shopping center… there are some initial questions and then, some follow-up questions.

First ,what does that mean? And explain it to me like I’m 5 because this is unlike what I think of as education.

Unschooling is, perhaps in its simplest form, not conforming to the the idea that curriculum and blocks of scheduled book learning or classroom time are the best method for your student to learn.

It is a student-led learning that allows the teacher to embed instruction into their curiosities. “Free to Learn” is a great book to learn more about the unschooling movement. You can find it here.

As a teacher in this method you will simply live life and show your work. If you pick up four things and have to make another trip for another three then you have just exemplified a story problem. There is math and science happening in our lives everyday from chores to mealtime and play time. It is not sitting down to do subjects but to point them out and then as the student asks follow up with more whys and hows.

This makes life a classroom but does away with the pressure of a child being overwhelmed in the third hour of classes when the 43rd math problem is given to their 6-year-old brain.

The greatest advantage is that although you are quick to point out facts and details in everyday life, the greatest learning opportunities are presented by a curious mind wanting to know something.

In unschooling, your lessons happen when the learning is most receptive instead of during the hour when math, English, etc. was supposed to be taught and learned.

Like many of the methods we will discuss, they have to meet the need of the student and the teacher and fit into your family dynamic.

This means that unschoolers are a very broad spectrum from unschooling young students and gradually getting into formalized schooling or radical unschooling where the child-centric learning is applied to every aspect of life.

The driving factor is the trust that the child will drive their needs and your role is to help fill them.  In the radical unschooling model everything from when they wake to bedtime are driven by the child seeking what they need.  This flows over into learning and the need to satiate a curious mind.

Now, what if you are like me and you have three lists on the kitchen counter (read command center) right now and you love checking things off?

Can this type of schooling meet the needs of a family that is driven by the need to set goals and accomplish things?

How do I log hours? This article on the HSLDA website can help give you an idea on how to log hours for your specific state.

How do I know that they are actually getting an education?

If you are interested in standardized tests that can help give peace of mind while educating your children, this article is full of choices for standardized tests.

How can I gauge if they are on track to be successful?

Research has shown that 75 percent of homeschoolers attend college while only 50 percent of public school students go on to attend higher education.

These questions, at first, made me think this would never be a doable method for me or my family… if nothing more than the teacher’s temperament… but let’s look at how those questions would relate to the student.

Logging hours for field trips and activities is something you may have done with another style of home education… It’s like that–but all the time.

Your kids are curious and want to learn.  Answer the why questions. Then answer the how questions.  Then the follow-up or tangent questions. They just learned the answers that they were looking for–and more.

The gauge of your child, or any child’s, development or educational level is always a question of how to gain that metric and what the metric is measuring.

While standardized tests can help show some gaps, they are not the end. So use tools, but also realize that you are pouring life into a young life and leading them on how an adult navigates in the world.

After all, the questioning person in the market was wondering how you managed without state funding or certified teachers.

The basis of your response to them was that you were looking to do what was best for your children, and at least right now that means schooling at home. We are working to raise these little humans into adults who are well equipped for life.

Isn’t that the great goal and overarching answer to what we are doing? Our goal is not to raise children. It is to raise adults.

So while unschooling is not for everyone, it may be a good fit for your student.

That may be long term or perhaps even for a season. This may be something that resonates with you and your families needs, or it may be just the solution you need for your students in this season of your life.

In any case, plenty of people out there are unschooling with great success. If you need more information, this is a fantastic resource and will give you hours of reading in learning everything unschooling has to offer.

Has you curiosity been piqued when it comes to unschooling?

If you are interested in what unschooling has to offer, we recommend starting with our resources for beginning homeschoolers here.

Stacey Moorehead

Stacey Moorehead is a homeschooling/work at home mom to 6 little girls all under 12, and wife to her husband, Michael. They are still discovering what being a homeschool family looks like for them!