We want to introduce you to the unschooling philosophy by directly addressing common questions about this intriguing educational lifestyle.
Who are the authors? Two unschooled siblings, aged 23 and 26. Learn more about us.
Unschooling is an educational philosophy which holds that all children are born with a natural and insatiable curiosity, and that people learn best in non-coerced, self-directed situations. Unschooled children and teens choose which topics to learn and when, with encouragement from their parents, and without a curriculum. In other words, learning occurs when the child is engaged and interested in a subject that they themselves chose to study.
See how this looks in real life »
Unschooling provides countless opportunities for children to explore the world without the boundaries of a classroom. It helps preserve the natural love of learning that people are born with, and through a self-directed education, children develop skills of creativity, time management, initiative, leadership, independence, collaboration, and self-confidence.
Families tend to develop stronger bonds when they unschool because everyone must work together all day, every day, to form a solid community; and sibling rivalry diminishes drastically compared to contemporary-schooled peers. Unschooling allows children the freedom to learn at their own pace, without fear of disapproval from teachers (i.e. bad grades), and thus, unschooling gives them the freedom to thrive socially, intellectually, experientially, academically, creatively, and personally.
Unschooling looks different for every family because it caters to every family’s different needs. But essentially, instead of sitting at the kitchen table with a textbook, unschoolers follow their passions in any and every way they can. Parents are the facilitators of their children’s education, and invite their children to resources of all kinds.
Intellectual exploration can come from resources like libraries, mentors, and the internet, and social exploration comes with activities like volunteering, traveling, and participating in local unschooling groups. Family discussions occur all the time—not just at the dinner table—giving children a forum to explore new ideas, and giving parents a chance to introduce new ideas and potential interests.
The world is filled with more learning opportunities than any one person can experience in a lifetime. Unschoolers are simply people who actively and constantly take advantage of these opportunities.
Absolutely. It is legal in all 50 states; even the states with the strictest educational laws. Unschoolers are as accountable to the government as homeschoolers, and can show “educational progress” (as defined by the state) just like children who learn by textbooks at home.
Unschooling and homeschooling parents tend to agree that their children receive better socialization than their schooled peers. The reason is simple: unschoolers have the freedom to experience real interactions with real people in the real world. Contrast this with contemporary schools, where children spend their days segregated into a narrow age group, discouraged from making friends with adults. Those artificial conditions seldom exist outside school, and the resulting relationships are not representative of what children will need to be successful in their own lives.
Here’s why: school does not simulate real-world community relations. Children do not work together toward a common goal, they generally work against each other. Everyone is expected to get along with each other, but this is difficult because they’re also expected to focus on their own performances, and how well they “fit in” with the ever-changing status quo, pitting children against each other in competition for social approval and grades.
The unschooling style of learning encourages children to reach out for answers, which requires they work together to find these answers. Among unschooling groups there are rarely groups of “cool kids” and “not cool kids”; merely groups of kids with similar interests. There are also rarely instances of bullying, cruelty, or family rebellion among unschooled children and teenagers.
Unschooling does not mean that the child is not learning, it means they learn without the philosophy of the current institutional school system (designed in the early 1900’s to produce working-class, partly-educated, cookie-cutter people to work in the factories— read this book by John Taylor Gatto for more).
It also does not mean that a child learns to be lazy. Quite the contrary, when a child is allowed to follow her interests, she invests tremendous effort into them and learns the intrinsic rewards of her hard work. This first-hand experience involves learning from her mistakes (which is invaluable) and ultimately learning how to stand on her own to reach a goal.
Applying to college is not an unusually high barrier. Unschoolers usually do well on the SATs and ACTs if they decide to take them. The co-author of this site graduated from a near-Ivy League college with distinction, and found that adjusting to the lack of educational freedom was more difficult than the academic work itself. If they choose, unschoolers can get into institutions ranging from state schools to Ivy Leagues, just like everyone else, and it is usually easy for them to start at a community college at an early age.
Even if they haven’t done well on the tests, unschoolers actually have an advantage, because instead of hearing about the world through textbooks in high school, unschoolers have lived their education. They can describe to admissions interviewers, for instance, organizing an event to raise awareness for a social issue and what they learned about politics, social psychology, justice issues, leadership, and organizations as a result. Or they can talk about where they’ve traveled to volunteer, and what they learned there about international social and political problems, and the roles that culture and religion play in these issues.
The possibilities for such experiences are endless. Nothing demonstrates passion and commitment like experience, which is exactly what college admissions officers love to see.
Entering the workforce is, again, something that unschoolers and homeschoolers are often more prepared and motivated to do than those who went through traditional school systems. This is because they are more accustomed to collaborating with people and generally have more experience in their field, especially if they’ve already spent a lot of time doing it. These people enter the workforce knowing what they want to do, why, and with a genuine ambition driven by passion, rather than an ambition that is so often created by the habit of competing to be on top of their class.
Unschooling is based on the fact that all people are born with an innate and insatiable need to learn about the world. Any parent can confirm that as soon as babies learn to crawl (which they learn on their own, by the way), they are constantly on the move, touching this, tasting that, staring at anything new and extraordinary. What baby doesn’t use their new crawling ability to explore the world around them? Unschooling relies on this natural desire, fostering a very organic and genuine way of learning that is not possible when forced.
Educational institutions on the other hand tend to suppress and eventually extinguish this natural tendency by enclosing children in an artificial environment where they cannot touch, taste, see, or experience the world, but rather they read about others who have explored the world for them. Children are taught not to wonder about things, because that’s coming in a future chapter or grade. They’re taught not to become too interested in a subject because classes are rotated every 45 minutes. They’re taught that they can’t be entrusted with their own education—because only the professionals know how they should be educated.
Unschoolers do not tend to watch TV or be “bored” very frequently. This is most true for life-long unschoolers: instead they express desires to start a project, or learn a musical instrument, or read about something new. Unschoolers who begin at an older age, on the other hand, almost always find that this natural curiosity has been “lost”, and they often will spend 6-12 months to de-school, engaged in “non-productive” activities. This is very typical and widely regarded as healthy.
Why? Well let’s face it, TV is only so interesting. There are only so many games you can play before the world outside seems more important again. In an emotionally healthy child, it’s a matter of time before their natural curiosity, ambition, and sense of eager responsibility for their future is re-ignited. This may not seem obvious at first, but the lives of countless unschoolers show that kids like to learn, no matter the effort required. Some new unschoolers have spent years in this process, especially during times when emotional or physical growth is happening. Regardless, catching up, if it is needed, is rarely a problem. If you don’t believe us, read about real unschoolers or go ask your local unschooling community.
You don’t have to. Unschoolers have the world as their classroom, and most utilize it very well. Consider this website’s co-author Allen, who, at 14, contacted a local production studio about his interest in videography. They were so impressed by his enthusiasm and interest that they offered him their college internship position.
The reality is that the world is filled with bright, kind experts, most of whom are happy to offer advice, a tour, or even a mentorship to someone genuinely fascinated in their life’s work. And this is how most of the world learned everything up until the beginning of the 20th century. With today’s communications revolution, quality learning is plentiful and often free to anyone with a fascination, a little ambition, and the self-confidence to go introduce themselves to the world.
Actually, most unschooling parents would say quite the opposite. Parents who unschool their children are engaged with them most of the day and facilitate their learning. They have done the research and talked to other families about this option. They assume total responsibility for their children’s education. And finally, they care enough about their children’s education to risk the criticism of relatives, friends, and society, because they truly believe this is the best option for their children. For the parent, unschooling means:
Above all, unschooling means investing time and energy to be a family that is truly a cooperative learning community.
If you’ve raised a curious toddler, then you know how to do it. It’s actually very fun to watch someone devour new information and experiences. And that quite naturally leads to another step, and then another.
Family dynamics tend to be much smoother in an unschooling family. Rebellion is usually not an issue since needs are being met, siblings develop close bonds, children actually learn how to entertain themselves for increasingly long stretches of the day, and families get to work through problems that appear when everyone is rested, instead of only at the end of a long day.
Finally, there is often a great deal of support in the form of local (or even online) unschooling communities. This is a very typical question and we encourage you to explore the vast amount of unschooling resources to see if unschooling is right for your family.
It’s true that children need to explore a variety of interests, but they don’t need a school for that. Unschooling parents facilitate and introduce their children to a wide variety of experiences.
Parents don’t need to know everything; instead they guide their children towards other resources where they can discover the answers themselves. The goal is to introduce them to a love of learning.
When this love of learning is established, a well-rounded education will naturally follow. Passions expand knowledge, not contract it. For example, a passion for hiking can lead to an interest in earth and environmental sciences (which require math knowledge), survival skills, health, and even art, if they take up landscape painting or photography. English skills can be developed by writing about their experiences in a blog or publishing informational articles about the local area. The possibilities for expansion are endless, and the best part is that you don’t need to search for these possibilities—they just happen.
In fact, traditional schools arguably fall short in subject diversity, as unschoolers have the opportunity to discover such varying subjects as archeology, economics, international diplomacy, engineering, and filmmaking, in ways our school system only touches on.
Great, our intention was to expose you to this philosophy, and obviously you need to do your own research on a topic of this magnitude. We invite you to contact us with specific questions you feel are missing from this website, or to simply read on to the vast amount of existing resources.