Can We Say We’re Unschoolers if We Require Maths?

Some people will tell you if you unschool everything except maths, you’re not really an unschooler. For how can we say to our kids, “I trust you will learn everything you need to know… but not maths”? We either trust or we don’t. Nothing else makes much sense. So yes, I do understand that point-of-view.

But before I upset anyone with my opinions, I want to say I also understand how difficult it is to let go of maths. If you look back through my posts, or listen to my unschool maths podcast, you’ll discover there was a time when I required my children to do some formal maths every day. I didn’t trust enough either.

Were we unschoolers even though I required some maths? I certainly thought we were. I’d have been very upset if someone had suggested we weren’t.

Looking back to those days when my kids filled out worksheets or did online maths exercises, I know I still had lots to learn about the unschooling philosophy. But this doesn’t mean we weren’t on the unschooling pathway. The particular point we were at was the point just right for my family at that time. As I learned more, and listened to and observed my children, my understanding and trust grew, and I was able to throw off more of my insecurities and old ideas.

But what would have happened if someone had stopped by, after hearing about my insistence on maths, and said, “You can’t call yourselves unschoolers!”? I might have felt squashed and discouraged. I could have thought, “If that’s what unschooling is all about, then it’s not for us,” and given up. But no one challenged me. No one judged our unschooling and so we have been able to explore and grow at our own pace, and our unschooling way of life has deepened.

So if you’re ‘unschooling except for maths’, I think that’s quite okay. I hope you’ll stick around and keep sharing my posts, perhaps join in with the discussion. Who knows? One day you might, like us, throw caution to the wind, and let go further. I’d smile if you did, because I want everyone to experience what we have found. Good things should be shared! Letting the unschooling philosophy extend to maths, and then to all parts of our life, has been truly amazing for us.

But if you decide to stay where you are, that’s fine too. As Pat Farenga said:

I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.

We are all different and should be able to do what suits our families without criticism from anyone else. 

Being accepting and non-judgemental keeps the lines of communication open, and allows us to continue the unschooling conversation in an encouraging and supportive way. By sharing together, we all grow and learn.

What do you think?

PS: You might say, “Why worry about labels? They’re not important. What does it matter if people think we’re really unschoolers or not?” And I agree with you. But labels can be helpful. How would we find each other when we feel like sharing with like-minded people if we didn’t have a label to start with?
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  1. I think the lack of judgement is one of the things I enjoy most about "almost unschooling" in the unschooling community. I love the quote!

    1. Reply

      It sounds like you are surrounded by some wonderful people just like I am. I love my supportive and non-judgemental community too!

  2. Reply

    EXACTLY! Love this post! Did you know I regularly share your posts on Catholic Relaxed Homeschoolers? You should join the group, Sue. You'd be a wonderful influence.

    1. Reply


      Thank you for sharing my posts and also for the invitation to join the group! It sounds like a wonderful community. I really appreciate your kind words and welcome!

    2. Reply

      I think you should join that group especially since your encouraging words are already shared in that place!

      I love the Pat Feranga post it is just right! Learning is a journey and there are many facets in that process.

      Your recent podcast will accompany me as I tackle the household jobs later today 🙂 xx

    3. Reply


      I did join the group! I am grateful for Faith's kindness in inviting me and making me feel needed.

      I hope you enjoyed the podcast. I love listening to something while I do the housework.

      My new blog template has added a funny animated emoticon to your comment. That has made me smile!

  3. Reply

    Yes! Wonderful post, Sue 🙂

    1. Reply


      It's lovely to see you on my blog. Thank you for taking the time to leave these encouraging words!

    • Karen
    • November 15, 2016

    I’m commenting on another old post. 🙂 I love what you said when you said: “We are all different and should be able to do what suits our families without criticism from anyone else.” Amen to that! As I have been researching unschooling, I have found that there are many expressions of unschooling, yet still under the umbrella of unschooling. You said, “By sharing together, we all grow and learn.” I totally agree! I’ve not been an unschooler. However, this year, with my youngest, we’ve gone to a more structured AND unstructured approach. It’s been going really well. Could we be considered unschoolers? I don’t know. While our structured school aspect does include math (and a few other things), we are using a math series my daughter absolutely LOVES. In fact, she loves it so much she keeps the books and reads them over and over and over and even acts out the lessons in her play time. We also attend a homeschool co-op that covers 7 different subjects. This is something my daughter loves as well. She looks forward to our homeschool co-op day each week. So I don’t know if we really could be considered unschoolers per se. But I think this year, I have gravitated to that more and more to where I think we do unschool to some degree. And who knows, eventually we could end up being full 100% unschoolers before you know it! 🙂

      • Sue Elvis
      • November 16, 2016


      “And who knows, eventually we could end up being full 100% unschoolers before you know it!” Oh yes! I think that’s the best way to arrive at unschooling. Taking things step by step, doing what works for our families but being open to new possibilities. No need to change things if your daughter loves what she’s doing. It’s more about seeing to the needs of our children rather than fulfilling the unschooling ‘rules’!

        • Karen
        • November 18, 2016

        Thank you Sue! I really appreciate what you said that there’s no need to change things if my daughter loves what she’s doing. That it’s more about seeing to the needs of our children rather than trying to follow unschooling “rules.” I was reading an older post of yours just now called “A Typical Unschooling Day at Home” from back in February 2014. I was encouraged by reading that, seeing that you all unschool but still had some routine in your day. And I thought about that (and am still thinking it over) and I realized that to unschool doesn’t mean we have to ditch routines. So thank you for sharing that post back in 2014!

        1. Reply


          Some people might say that if we are unschooling then we can’t have a routine. I think that’s a misconception. Maybe rhythm is a better word than routine. Our unschooling days can indeed have rhythm. We find we are more productive if there is a flexible framework to our days. There is always lots of time for adventures even if we choose to tidy the house first thing in the morning etc. This works for us. I guess that’s the key: Do what works for everyone within the family. If everyone freely chooses to be part of the routine then I don’t see there’s a problem. Unschooling always provides us with a lot of food for thought. It’s lovely to mull things over with you!

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