Are You a Proper Unschooler?

I used to worry about labelling our family as unschoolers. What if someone came along and said, “You’re not proper unschoolers”?

Some people don’t like labels. Labels can certainly divide us. Someone could say,”You’re not unschoolers but we are.” That might make us feel excluded, even angry, if we think we belong. Sometimes it can seem safer to keep our label to ourselves. Let people guess and just ‘do our own thing’. But labels can be useful. They do help us find like-minded people, people we can share ideas and mull over our thoughts with.

Labels have enabled me to find other unschoolers on the Internet. Not that I have made friends with many of them. No, I have tended to read quietly and not say much… just in case. I wouldn’t want someone to tell me I’m not doing things properly.

Would anyone really say such a thing? I think unschooling is, unfortunately, to some people, very black and white. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. We could get the impression that there’s such things as unschooling ‘rules’, when really it’s all about principles. And is there such a thing as an unschooling expert? It can seem that way at times.

I used to wonder if I should check what these ‘experts’ say about a particular unschooling issue, before publishing my own opinion. They know better than me, don’t they? I wouldn’t want to post something that is wrong.

But I no longer worry about what other people think. I know we are unschooling perfectly. I can feel it inside. It feels just right. Of course I am speaking for my own family, for this particular moment.

It’s good to share unschooling with other people. I do like to read and think about other people’s ideas, and even modify my own thinking at times. We need to be challenged so that we grow. But ultimately I know that unschooling is something that can’t be learnt just from a book or a blog. It has to be lived. It changes over time as understanding becomes deeper, and even if we are all equally experienced, it will look a bit different in every family.

By reading back through my blog, I can see that my own understanding of unschooling has deepened over time. I used to apply the word ‘unschooling’ to education only. But I realise unschooling has spilt over into all aspects of our lives. It’s the way we live. Should I now label us as radical unschoolers? Are we ‘proper’ radical unschoolers? Perhaps I should find a radical unschooling check-list and see if we can tick off all the boxes. Are the boxes all ticked? I think so.

But no. I’ve just thought of something. Radical unschoolers don’t have chore rosters and we do. No, we’d definitely not be accepted into the radical club. Except I do feel we qualify. You see, our roster isn’t what it appears. There’s a very good reason for having it. I wouldn’t want to be judged before I get a chance to explain.

We are all quick to judge each other, aren’t we?

Are you a proper unschooler? I have no right to ask that question. It’s none of my business. Let’s just share our thoughts and our ideas, our friendship and our support. Let’s accept each other. Let’s love.

Because ultimately, I think that’s what unschooling is all about.

PS: I should mention I know lots of wonderful unschoolers. I belong to some good FB groups as well as a Yahoo group. The parents are friendly and accepting. These people aren’t the ‘experts’ I mentioned in my post, the ones I felt intimidated by.

PPS: I might talk more about our radical chore roster in a podcast. I tried to follow the unschooling ‘rules’ and they backfired. My children ended up teaching me something very important. If anyone is interested, I might chat about this in a future podcast episode.

And one more thing…

Have you seen my children’s novel, ‘The Angels of Abbey Creek’? It’s now available from Amazon!

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    • Vicky
    • September 23, 2014

    I stopped calling us unschoolers because I do make plans and we haven't abandoned ourselves completely to child-led learning (mainly because of the curriculum requirements). But, our days are very relaxed and our plans adapt as we go so I sometimes wonder if our days look as though we unschool anyway.

    Somewhere I read the term us-school and I like that, though I agree that labels are useful for connecting with people. I wouldn't have known where to look for information if the different methods weren't identified in some way and it's encouraging to find people who are going down the same path.

    1. Reply


      I agree that labels are useful when we are looking for information. And it's wonderful when we do find like-minded people who really understand the life we are living. I also enjoy chatting to people who are interested in unschooling but not necessarily doing it. We can still share ideas and friendships, as we can with any homeschoolers.

      Having to fulfil homeschool registration requirements is frustrating. I wonder if more people would unschool if the requirements were more relaxed.

      It sounds like you have wonderful days learning together!

    • Faith
    • September 24, 2014

    Love this! And yes I would love to know about your radical chore list. Unfortunately I have never gotten in the habit of listening to podcasts. Maybe it is time to start!

    1. Reply


      My radical chore list? It sounds strange, doesn't it? I threw out our chore roster but my kids rescued it without telling me. I will tell the story properly, maybe in a podcast! I usually listen to podcasts while ironing (I don't do much of that!) or doing other housework. I also like to listen when I am too tired to read. I think you're right about having to get into the habit. I never used to think about podcasts. Now I'm always looking for opportunities to listen.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Reply

    Yes, we definitely have chores and plans at our house, too! But plans that are flexible and that can be designed around passions and interests are often at the top of the list. I sometimes call myself the Planning Unschooler or the Unschooler With a Plan. 🙂 "Relaxed homeschooler" or "Unschoolish" are more accurate for us than unschooling.

    Great post, Sue — I agree labels can be helpful for finding like minds, but we shouldn't let them box us in or limit us!

    1. Reply


      Oh you are so right about not letting labels box us in. We have to do what feels right for our families. Flexible sounds good to me!

      Thank you for reading my post. Its lovely to see you on my blog!

    • Wendy
    • September 24, 2014

    I think you are right, the labels are good for connecting, but they should not be dividers. I am not nearly as unschooling as you are, but I'm not called on the exact same path that you are. I felt called to be more "unschooling" in the sense of more creative and attuned to my kids' real needs. When I started looking at some unschooling sites, I started to wonder if such a concept could be compatible with Catholicism!

    So I googled "Catholic unschooling" and I found you! And you have the Faith and the creativity, and the loving relationships! So I think you are an excellent unschooler! 🙂

    That's important to me because I am (by far!) the most unschooling of my IRL friends. God has called them on a different path, too, but I realized I was only hearing voices that did not support what I felt God was calling me to do with my kids. Not that they were ever UNsupportive, really, the problem was that I was only seeing that other people were much more schooly than I was. I needed to balance that with people who were called in ways more similar to my own call.

    You do that for me, thank you!!

    1. Reply


      Maybe there are some aspects of unschooling which suit some families, but embracing the whole philosophy is wrong. It could be a bit like me loving living books but we're definitely not CM homeschoolers.

      I am so glad you found my blog. It was probably Suzie Andres' books which led you here. Her first book illustrates how compatible unschooling actually is with the Catholic faith.

      Oh yes! We all need some friends who understand our way of life. It's hard being different and I think knowing like-minded people gives us the confidence to do what we feel is right. We certainly feel less alone.

      Wendy, you have written some very kind works. Thank you! I think friendships work both ways. I feel very blessed to know you. I love visiting your blog to receive a dose of your enthusiasm and have a laugh. I love your sense of humour!

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. Sue, I am so glad that you call yourselves unschoolers, because it helped me to find you. The unschooling you share in your stories seems very accessible, whereas sites like Sandra Dodd's – while filled with wisdom and love – are rather intimidating! They can make me worry that because I am breaking a few "unschooling rules" – like having a (loose) routine of doing regular maths and copywork – our homeschooling is doomed to failure! So I don't tend to hang out there much. But when I come here I always feel inspired and confident that I am on the right path.

    I hope you had a wonderful trip. How organised of you to schedule a post while you are away – thank you for that!

    1. Reply


      It's funny to think we're worried about breaking unschooling rules when unschooling is all about not imposing rules! It doesn't make much sense. I don't hang out in those places much either, though I do value the experience and insight of people like Sandra Dodd. Maybe my personality is different to theirs.

      I'm so glad you love visiting my blog. I really enjoy mulling over ideas with you, sharing resources and just generally being friends. We share many unschooling principles but I really feel homeschoolers can support each other and have good friendships regardless of whether they share the exact same label.

      We had a wonderful trip to Canberra, thank you. I don't know how I managed to be organised enough to do some scheduled posts. That's not like me at all! I'm not doing so well when it comes to catching up with comments and visiting other people's blogs. It's amazing how quickly the blogging world moves while we are away. Anyway, thank you so much for your kind words!

  3. Reply

    I think the same can be said for home educators in general; less judgement, simply let's be supportive! I don't always agree with peoples parenting styles, educating styles, etc. but I really do try very hard not to be judgemental.

    1. Reply


      "let's be supportive!" Oh yes! Your words made me think about how fortunate I am. So many of my friends are not unschoolers. Some of them don't even homeschool. But they visit my blog and read my posts and leave kind comments. They don't judge me for being different , for choosing a different educational and parenting style. In fact they are very encouraging and supportive. I appreciate that. Don't I have some wonderful friends? So glad I know you. Thank you so much for your comment.

  4. First time visiting, and I enjoyed your post.

    1. Reply


      Thank you so much for reading my post and stopping by to say hello. It was kind of you to take the time to do that. I will enjoy popping over to visit you!

  5. Reply

    I always think belonging to an unschool community is a little like that quote from the end of the movie Little Man Tate, "…only when all who surround you are different will you truly belong. Well, we're all different that's for sure."

    1. Reply

      I guess we're all a little bit afraid of being different because we feel the need to be accepted. We want to belong. I asked one of my sons if he regretted the fact his upbringing made him different. He laughed and said he actually enjoys being different from everyone else. He feels very comfortable with who he is. I think he has the right attitude. We should just be who we are. We are all different. Yes! I haven't seen the movie Little Man Tate but maybe I can find a copy. Thank you for the quote!

  6. Reply

    Yes please, I'd love to hear about your radical chore roster!

    1. Reply


      It looks like I'm going to be admitting more of my mistakes! Oh well, we learn as we go. I shall make some notes on radical chore rosters and think about that podcast!

    • Hwee
    • September 29, 2014

    I'm running to catch up with your posts, Sue, so I'm read this only now! 🙂 Yes, I've heard and read quite a number of very confrontational and judgemental response to new members of certain homeschooling groups online (unschoolers, Montessori, Classical). Some people seem to think that unless one applies a purist approach to a certain method, you are not entitled to any opinion. It often irks me how some like to make themselves out to be experts in certain methods and turn them into black-and-white issues, that there are certain rules to abide by. This is probably why I'm reluctant to identify us with any specific homeschooling method because doing that inevitably limits our freedom to adapt. Besides, I'm not inclined to pledge loyalty to any single method since I can't be sure that any method will be suitable for my son all through his homeschooling years! I'm more inclined to place my son's needs ahead of loyalty to any approach, much to the annoyance of the purists. 🙂

    1. Reply


      I've been wondering why so many homeschoolers are judgemental towards others. What does it matter what other people are doing? It's good to share ideas, but if someone does things differently to us, it's okay. It doesn't affect our own family. Why get upset about it?

      Perhaps there are parents who like being thought of as experts and so they push to be accepted as such. I talked about this a bit in this week's podcast. My thoughts were still on this post and so I chatted about unschooling experts, radical unschooling and chore rosters. I wonder how that will go down!

      "I'm more inclined to place my son's needs ahead of loyalty to any approach"… Oh I think you have hit the nail on the head perfectly. Maybe many homeschoolers forget why we're homeschooling. It's not about us. It's about our children.

  7. Reply

    nice insightful article. I have always believed that we as parents should do what works best for us and our children. Every person is unique and so are our children. every parenting style will be different…lets not be judgmental about others but encourage others in their parenting journey.

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