Unschooling: No Hippie Way of Life Needed…

… unless you want one of course.

When our first child was 6 years old we headed off to our very first homeschooling camp. At that time, we thought we were unschooling. Then we met our fellow campers who also described themselves as unschoolers. They were all very lovely people, friendly, accepting and welcoming but we knew immediately, we were very different from them.

My husband Andy didn’t have long hair. Our children didn’t have names like Sunshine, Rainbow or Moonbeam and they didn’t call us by our first names. We didn’t wear tie dye. We didn’t eat organic food we’d grown ourselves. We weren’t tuned into mother earth, and we weren’t on a quest to save the planet. We weren’t interested in building mud brick houses and living an alternate lifestyle. We didn’t plan to travel the continent in a combi-van… In fact, compared to everyone else, we were a very ordinary family, a family that didn’t really belong. If unschooling meant adopting a hippie way of life, then we decided it wasn’t for us.

It’s funny how we associate a particular word with a particular image. And if we don’t relate to that image, we close our minds to the idea. We judge those who are different to ourselves without making the effort to understand.

Years later we found our way back to unschooling. By that time we’d discovered what unschooling is really all about. Yes, there are many Non-Catholic free-spirited, alternate lifestyle unschoolers, but unschooling principles can also be adopted by Catholic families like us, whether we choose the hippie way of life or not.

Andy and I live a seemingly conventional life within the walls of an ordinary home, within a regular Catholic parish with our children. Except we don’t really live a conventional life. Regardless of appearances…

We’re unschoolers and for all unschoolers, life is very extraordinary.

If you’d like to know more about Catholic unschooling, I recommend Suzie Andres’ books:

Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling

A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Catholic Families Discover Unschooling<

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  1. Reply


    This post is so funny to me because hippies are a big thing at my house. My children have a sort of weird fascination with them. They don't like the hippie lifestyle, in fact they look down on it but they seem to be talking about hippies all the time.

    I hear things like- "Mommy don't make us eat quinoa, you'll turn us into hippies." Or "You can't wear that brightly colored shirt, you'll look like a hippie."

    I can see how people could associate unschooling with hippies. Unschooling is an alternative schooling style all its own.

    Thankfully, most of the unschoolers we have encountered have been like you- normal, Christian families who want to offer their children the best learning environment they can. 🙂

    God Bless, Kari

    1. Reply


      The hippie lifestyle is so colourful and different to most of our lives I can see why children are fascinated by it.

      Although we are certainly not hippies, I don't really object to many aspects of their lives. I rather like tie dye and I wish I had the patience to grow my own vegetables. I'd eat organic if we could afford it. I wouldn't mind travelling across Australia with my children, living a nomadic life for a time (but not in a combi-van!) I'd like to slow down and take time to enjoy life more… But there are some things we can't share with hippie unschoolers. Religion for us takes first place and of course that influences our unschooling and our way of life.

      I think we can learn from everyone though despite our differences, and I have been too quick to judge others because they aren't like us. Seeing past the differences… this is hard sometimes. I'm musing on this at the moment. I might write more!

      Thank you so much for your comment, Kari. I think you are quite right: providing the best learning environment for our children is very important.

  2. Reply

    So many different home educating families and ways of doing it … gotta love and embrace our differences, we are so blessed … but c'mon you secretly want to dreadlock your hair and go barefoot and eat mung beans!

    Thanks for the book recomendation.

    1. Reply


      "gotta love and embrace our differences, we are so blessed" Yes! Wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same?

      You have discovered my secret! I do indeed want to dreadlock my hair and go barefoot and eat mung beans! But what would my children say? "Mum, you're too old for all that!" There's a free spirit lurking under this ordinary exterior. I guess that's why we enjoy unschooling!

    • Anonymous
    • May 25, 2013

    I agree with you, Sue. I recently met some other unschoolers in person. Because of the town they were from, I had a certain picture in my head of what they might be like. I expected them to be much different from me. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were a lot like me!


    1. Reply


      It's funny how we form ideas about people before we meet them and get to know them. I am so pleased to hear you found some like-minded friends! All my unschooling friends are online. Maybe one day I'll get to meet some of you!

  3. Reply

    Sue, could you please write a post on the main principles of unschooling? Or maybe you have, and you could direct me to it. Dayna Martin talks about living by principles rather than rules. Also, what do you think of radical unschooling? Thanks so much!!

    1. Reply


      I'm reading Dayna's book at the moment. Most of what she writes I really like, but the lack of common spiritual beliefs is a problem for me. eg keeping our wants firmly in our thoughts so that the 'universe' will give them to us, seems such an alien and wrong idea. And although our lives should be joyful, we are not always happy. Happiness isn't the focus of our unschooling life.

      Radical unschooling? I have just posted some ramblings about that. I will think more about a post on principles. I could have explored principles more in the same post, as I talked about rules, but too many ideas in one post gets confusing, at least for me!

      Thank you for your comment and questions!

    2. Reply

      Are you talking about Dayna Martin? Let me know how that book is. (or which one it is, LOL) I was subscribed to her for a bit, but unsubbed since she is not Catholic.

    3. Reply


      We are talking about Dayna Martin. Her book is called "Radical Unschooling: a Revolution Has Begun." It was an interesting book. It sounds like Rita really got a lot out of it. I read it out of interest, after Rita mentioned it.

      I didn't really identify with the Martin family as their lives seem to have a different focus to ours ie God is not the centre of their lives. Some of Dayna's ideas seemed a little strange to me. She talks about focusing her thoughts on what she wants so that 'the universe' will give it to her. Her 'wants' are very different from the things Catholics might pray for. There were other things too. I think we can learn a lot from other unschoolers, even those that don't share our Catholic background, but we won't agree about everything.

  4. Reply

    Like you, I could see myself embracing some aspects of a hippie lifestyle, Sue. If the sustainable, non-materialistic and natural lifestyle was wrapped around a deep and enduring faith, it would work for me, I think. I guess we have a lot of similar principles but our ultimate purpose and priorities are different. I've learnt a lot from natural living blogs but I would adapt everything to our own beliefs.

    I'm looking forward to reading your next unschooling post!

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply


      "If the sustainable, non-materialistic and natural lifestyle was wrapped around a deep and enduring faith, it would work for me, I think." I agree! There's really nothing wrong with loving nature and growing organic vegetables and wearing bright clothes… I like the idea of all that. But our spiritual beliefs are so important and really form who we are.

      The next post is written. You will realise I've been pondering… I wonder what you will think!

      God bless!

  5. Reply

    I have been called "hippie" for years.. by my own family, friends… and frenemies. Some of my things are "bright", but not all. I adore tie-dye, even though I sadly don't own any. Some of my clothes are quite conservative. I wear long skirts and Birkenstocks. I can't afford all organic food, but I do buy what I can as I can afford. I am often barefoot at home. I do a lot of my own baking, and make "Earth Mother" sauces and soups. 😀 (which all that means is all homemade with fresh ingredients and LOVE!) 😀 I love my bead necklaces, we have a lot of pets, I store my dry food in jars, I recycle, reuse, barter and trade. We eat quinoa and granola and muesli and lentils. BUT we also eat meat, sushi, love our brick house with carpet and air conditioning. I don't garden because I am a terrible gardner, and I hate getting hot and dirty. My thin, wispy hair goes into a ponytail every day… And our Catholic faith is more important to me than anything else. I may be 'free spirited' in many ways.. but I'm a Catholic first! 🙂 ♥

    1. Reply


      I just love your description of yourself and your life. One day I am going to come and visit you and enjoy your cooking and pets and air conditioning. I go barefoot too in the summer, wear long skirts and I'm a terrible gardener as well. Catholic first… I agree!

  6. Reply

    My first exposure to actual unschoolers was somewhat embarrassing. Our homeschool group scheduled a field trip to see a group of Sioux Indians perform in an auditorium. The three unschooling kids proceeded to run up and down the aisles yelling "Wheeeee!"before the performance! If that wasn't enough they were loud during the performance, too. Had they been younger, I probably could have taken it in stride but they were age 14yo and up. I remember thinking that if that's what unschoolers were like I never wanted to do that!

    I know now that their behavior was the result of un-parenting rather than unschooling and now I can laugh about it. At the time I was mortified, though.

    1. Reply


      I can just imagine how you felt meeting those unparented unschoolers! You are right: unschooling and unparenting are two different things and don't necessarily go together. I actually think unschoolers put a lot of effort into parenting, contrary to popular belief, just like they work hard at helping their children learn.

      Thank you so much for reading my post and stopping to share your experience!

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