Unschooling. The word itself is mystifying to most people. Do unschooled kids just not learn? Do these unschooled kids sit around all day and play video games? What.do.the.kids.do? Even more mystifying in the unschooling puzzle, is what the parents do when unschooling their children.
I had all of the same questions before I started unschooling. The label of “unschooling” sounded weird and chaotic to me.
I had been a full-blown public school educator and supporter, with my sights set on being a superintendent one day. Now I’m a full-blown unschooling advocate. There is solid research that has led me to the polar opposite end of the education spectrum.
If there has ever been a 180 degree change, I am it.
I want to demystify unschooling. I want every single parent to understand what unschooling really is so they can make a sound decision on whether or not it is the right fit for their family.
What is unschooling?
The phrase unschooling was coined in the 1970s by a man named John Holt. He was a homeschooling advocate and focused on the importance of unschooling. Holt wrote HOW CHILDREN LEARN, HOW CHILDREN FAIL and LEARNING ALL THE TIME. These books are a GREAT foundation for understanding unschooling.
Unschooling is the idea that kids should have academic freedom. That means that parents do not have a curriculum for kids to complete each day. The kids pursue their own interests and the parents support them.
Easy enough, right? But, there is more!
Unschooling does not mean that you UNparent. You are still the leader of your family. You still make parenting decisions in the best interest of your kids. Unschooling does not mean that your home becomes chaotic and crazy. Nope, not at all. You still organize and plan certain things, just as if you homeschooled “normally”.
For more on unschooling and what YOU do while unschooling your kids, you can grab my book UNSCHOOLING SECRETS: A PARENT’S GUIDE FOR SUCCESS.
Why would anyone want to unschool?
The question of “why” comes up a lot around the idea of unschooling. WHY would anyone want to unschool? Why not just buy a curriculum for your homeschooling journey and have your kids complete their requirements?
Here is the problem unschooling tries to solve and ultimately the WHY behind unschooling: parents are finding that their kids simply do not love to learn. Either they have been in a public school situation that has negatively impacted them, or they are burned out from an already-in-place curriculum that the parents had previously adopted for their homeschool.
Sometimes parents unschool from the beginning, but A LOT of parents find out about unschooling after their kids have experienced a different type of learning environment.
Unschooling brings the joy back into learning because kids can choose what they want to learn about, therefore they are engaged and looking forward to their days. When kids are able to pursue their interests, learning takes on a whole different look.
Related Post: 101 Reasons Why You Should Unschool
How to start unschooling:
It can feel intimidating when you simply start to consider unschooling. If you have been homeschooling with a curriculum, you might wonder how on earth your kids will learn. You might think that you will lack structure if you unschool.
You might wonder what you will do all day as an unschooling family. You might feel like your days have very little direction. That’s okay. You will find your groove.
These are normal feelings when starting to unschool.
Here are tips on starting to unschool:
1 | DESCHOOL
If you have been using a curriculum in your homeschool, or if your kids have been in another educational institute, you will need some time to deschool. This period of time can (and should) last for several weeks.
Deschooling means that you do absolutely nothing geared toward “schooling”. This time allows your kids to find their interests, that may have previously been sapped by formal learning.
Sometimes it is more difficult for parents to deschool than it is for kids. For those of us who have gone through the public school system ourselves (and even taught in public school), it can be hard to give up the ideals that you were once immersed in.
Once you have deschooled you and your kids, you can “officially” start unschooling. Unschooling looks and feels a lot like deschooling, so it isn’t going to be a drastic change.
2 | LEARN ABOUT YOUR KIDS
When you start unschooling, you will have to take time to learn about your kids. This means that you will need to actively observe and listen. It’s important that you jot down your thoughts and observations so you can adequately support your kids.
For example, I observed my son using the microscope every single time we visited our local children’s museum. He was mesmerized. So, I bought him a starter microscope for our house. Now he can learn and explore as he wants to with the microscope. This is just one way to support a child’s interests.
You can grab my printable UNSCHOOLING WITH PURPOSE BINDER HERE to track and record your child’s learning. It’s a great place to keep track of what you learn about your kids and their learning. Use the code UNSCHOOL for 50% off!
3 | Support your kids
Once you have observed your kids and have identified their interests, the next step is supporting what they want to pursue. There are so many wonderful ways to support your kids, and they don’t have to cost a ton of money.
Does your child love snakes? Is there a local zoo that you could go to? A book you could check out at the library on snakes? Maybe there is a Youtube video that discusses snakes. These are all ways that your child can learn through unschooling.
Your support is going to be the key to your unschooling journey. It’s important that you communicate with your kids to find out how they would like to learn, so you can find the best materials and resources for them.
To learn more about unschooling, check out my course UNSCHOOLING WITH CONFIDENCE. You will learn about deschooling, finding your kids interests, how to support them, strewing and much more!
How to organize your unschool:
The beautiful thing about unschooling is that it can be organized, but still be directed by your kids’ interests.
It took me a while to come up with a good organization system. I didn’t want to push lessons on my kids, but I still wanted our days to be meaningful.
It is a delicate balance that can be achieved with a little bit of effort.
Here are great starting points for getting organized in your unschool:
One of the best ways you can organize your unschool is to keep track of your child’s interests and passions. This will drive your days of unschooling and will give you a starting point for what you should research as far as outings and different projects you can present to your kids, based on what they are interested in.
Having a place to organize your unschooling days will be extremely helpful to see what you need to get for materials, books and other items that might go with what your kids are into.
As I mentioned before,The Unschooling With Purpose Printable Binder Set is a fabulous way to get organized for your unschooling journey. Don’t forget that you can use the coupon code “UNSCHOOL” to get 50% your purchase!
Resources for Unschooling:
The world is literally your child’s classroom. There are endless resources for unschooling. I think that sometimes this is what paralyzes parents at the thought of unschooling. What will we use? What will we do? The answer is: ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING!
In unschooling, you absolutely should do crafts, art, writing, reading, math, science, history, etc. This learning just won’t always be in the form of a curriculum (unless that is how your kids want to learn), and it will be at your child’s pace, based on interest.
Resources for unschooling may come in the form of books, online tutorials, child-led activities or nature activities. Of course, there is an infinite amount of resources, but here are a few of them that we use (some created by me):
25 Simple and Fun Nature Walk Activities for Kids– If your kids love the outdoors or if they are interested in being more active in nature, this printable ebook is full of nature walk activities and journal sheets. Some pages are simply drawing observations, which is great for even the littlest one in the bunch.
Rooted Childhood Monthly Collection- This beautiful monthly collection is something that we look forward to every single month. It is a mix of songs, handicrafts, book lists and so much more, based on the current season. Even better, the Rooted Childhood collection is digital and goes straight to your inbox!
Road Trip Journal for Kids– This journal takes a simple road trip and turns it into a fun and educational journey for kids to document. With 20 pages of premade journal sheets, it includes prep and planning for the road trip, as well as pages for geography, climate, weather, questions/answers and reflection pages.
Masterpiece Society- When you have little (or big!) artists on your hands, it’s imperative you let them explore their creativity! The Masterpiece Society is an AMAZING art class that has a monthly membership option. I can say that this is one of my very favorite resources to use with my kids. You will NOT be disappointed! Enrollment only opens at certain times of the year, so keep your eyes peeled!
KidzType.com– Here is a FREE resource for when your kids are ready to put their fingers to the keyboard and get typing. KidzType is an amazing resource that kids LOVE. After using KidzType, I wrote a post on how and why we use it and why we LOVE it!
The Nature Book Club- This is a monthly post on a nature book and activity that we do based on the book. This really sparks some great ideas for kids (and parents!)
Games— An amazing way for kids to learn while having fun is by playing games! Gameschooling is HUGE for unschoolers because it isn’t a forced curriculum and it is engaging for kids to participate in. From simple and homemade math games to money games you can buy on Amazon, games are a GREAT resource for unschooling.
Roadtrip Activites for Kids– Learning happens everywhere! This list of road trip activities will keep your kids busy in the car, and will spark learning and creativity.
What does a day in the life of an unschooling family look like?
Of all the questions I get asked, the most popular one is “What does a day look like for you and your kids?” It is always tough for me to answer because our days vary quite a bit. But we do have a basic rhythm that we have happened upon and it’s a nice flow for our days.
You can check out our unschooling day in the life post HERE.
You can also get more inspiration from these bloggers who also follow an unschooling lifestyle:
Homeschooling Creative Girls by Sara at Heart and Soul Homeschooling
Learning Through Unschooling: Day in the Life guest post by Amber at Pitter Patter and Constant Chatter, posted on Fearless Homeschool website
Traveling + Unschooling: A Day in the Life guest post by Dani at Birdies in Their Nest, posted on Fearless Homeschool website.
Random Day in the Life by Heather at Wonderschooling
Final thoughts on unschooling
There is much more to unschooling than what meets the eye. When you choose to begin your unschooling journey, you make a commitment to your kids to support them in their learning.
The wonderful thing about unschooling is that you can make it your own. It is as unique as your child. That means that there is no right way to do it. As long as you are modeling a love for learning and allowing your child to immerse themselves in their passions, you are doing it right!