Changing Our Ideas About Unschooling

My Unschooling Book Series (12)

This morning, while I was reading through the draft version of my unschooling book, I came across a few transcripts from various podcast episodes. They gave me a new idea. Could I use some of my podcast content in my book? I don’t want to publish transcripts because spoken words are very different from written ones. But what if I chose a few podcast episodes, listened to them, and then rewrote the ideas contained in each?

Often I’m asked to transcribe my podcasts. Someone might say, “I find it hard to listen to podcasts, but I’d really like to know what you said in this week’s episode. The topic sounds very interesting.” Transcribing is very time-consuming and so I haven’t done much of it, despite the requests. But maybe including podcast material in my book will make it available to everyone.

I suspect the first draft of my book is going to change a great deal before I’ve finished with it!

At the moment, I’m writing about starting unschooling. How did our family find our way back to unschooling? Was it a conscious decision? Perhaps I got up one morning and said to my kids, “I’ve done all the research. We’re going to be unschoolers again!” No, that’s not what happened.

I didn’t really consider unschooling even though I did read a bit about it. Maybe it secretly attracted me though I knew we could never return to it. I still thought unschooling was about letting children do whatever they wanted without any parental involvement. I still couldn’t see how this could work. But I was tired. What we were doing wasn’t working. So I let my imagination wander: If we unschooled, life would be far easier. I probably wouldn’t have to do much at all. I wouldn’t have to write a curriculum or find resources or work with my children. Unschooling parents don’t do any of these things. Like the critics, I thought unschooling was a lazy way of homeschooling. Of course, I was completely wrong.

I don’t know if I’ll use any of those words, but I’ll post them because they remind me that it’s easy to misunderstand unschooling. When we don’t have the right information, unschooling doesn’t make sense. I’ll keep writing…

So I’m wondering if you had to change your ideas about unschooling? Perhaps you’re still researching and pondering and trying to work it all out? I’d love to hear your story!

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  1. Reply

    We started unschooling because I was home with a chronically ill child. I decided to call it homeschooling to be more positive, and unschooling seemed to fit what we were about. I’m still refining my ideas of what it is about.

    1. Reply


      Yes, people seem to accept homeschooling better than unschooling even though homeschooling has its critics too. Still refining your ideas… Isn’t it wonderful how we can keep learning about unschooling? It’s complex and keeps offering us new things to ponder. Just like life!

    • Nancy Saffield
    • November 14, 2017

    In our home we call what our son does UnSchooling. Outside our 4 walls everyone else knows us as the homeschooling family, since we have been for 12 years. Because my son is on the Autism Spectrum,( as is our daughter) he learns differently than those around him and the traditional homeschooling was not working for him. Because we are often under scrutiny by family and friends we have advised him to use the term homeschooling to others. It’s not because we are ashamed of how we have chosen to educate him, but because we don’t feel we owe the world an explanation. When we use the term homeschooling we are very rarely asked what curriculum we use or what method, people are honestly not that interested. In my experience as soon as you use the word unschooling, I all of a sudden have to “explain” what we do and I feel defensive, and often I am met with critiquing I don’t need, and having to explain myself which should not be their concern to begin with. My son is 18 now and really we don’t owe others an explanation. I am just so glad that we took him out of the special ed in the public school system where he was bullied and eventually became suicidal. Now he is at peace and learning at his own pace with things that he enjoys learning about. He is so intelligent, he uses words I don’t always understand, lol! So proud to be his mom. He is the youngest of 4 children.


    1. Reply


      I love hearing about your son. His story makes me smile. I’m so glad you found your way to unschooling and you have both been able to enjoy learning together. Being proud of our kids is such a wonderful feeling!

      Yes, we don’t have to tell everyone what we’re doing. I know if someone is really interested in hearing more about what we’re doing. I might share unschooling with them. But usually, I keep quiet. It’s just not worth getting into discussions where we might be criticised. I think it’s our kids who change people’s minds about unschooling. No one can argue about the results!

    • Alison
    • November 15, 2017

    When I first decided to dive into homeschooling with my two girls in 2015, I did SO much reading about different homeschooling philosophies. I loved learning about the different approaches and was drawn to both Charlotte Mason’s ideas and unschooling. Being a lists kind of person still in a schoolish mindset, I looked more to implementing a daily schedule based on Charlotte Mason’s ideas but after a couple of months of loads of planning, writing out daily schedules etc, I was already getting weary and my girls were starting to rebel and not want to follow my plans.

    I read more about unschooling and found many principles which deeply resonated with me – such as: we are learning all the time (not just from 9-3); to be truly engaged with what you’re learning, as it is of interest and use to you at that time, is far more effective than being told what to learn (intrinsic motivation is far better than external forcing); we all have different and unique talents, interests and passions, which need to be discovered, encouraged and allowed to blossom and develop; there is no such thing as being ‘behind’ as we all learn at different rates and should be allowed to learn as deeply as we want to; we don’t need to complete ‘an education’ in 12-13 years as we should be self-directed, life-long learners. I realised how I had come to believe and deeply value the joy of learning in motivating us to learn – not having curiosity about ourselves, others and the world around us squashed under a mountain of expectations from others. I also realised that there is SO much to learn about everything (with basically unlimited access to it all via the internet), that we can’t possibly learn in one lifetime, so better to help your kids find out what their passions and interests are and support them to find how they can incorporate them into what they will do with their lives.

    As I approached the end of year 12, I had no idea what I’d like to do with my life, much less what university course I’d apply for. I had very little idea of what job to aim for as I felt I’d had so such information crammed into me (most of which I quickly forgot), that I’d had too little time to discover what I wanted to learn and explore. I don’t want my girls facing that same dilemma.

    1. Reply


      I was also drawn to Charlotte Mason’s ideas for a time. Unfortunately, my children weren’t. I wonder if we sometimes choose the homeschooling method that we like the sound of rather than do things in a way that suits our children. Yes, it’s more about the parent than the child.

      It sounds like you did a great deal of thinking and your ideas have changed over the past few years. All the ideas in your list now seem so obvious to me. I always knew that there was something wrong with traditional education. My own experiences taught me that. When I started pondering unschooling, it just made so much sense. I wonder why more people don’t question traditional thinking, why they inflict the same system that they endured on their kids. Like you, I wanted something better for my children. It seems sad, doesn’t it, that most of our childhood was taken up with school, and then we came out the other end with so little knowledge of ourselves and what we could do with our lives? A waste of all those years.

    • Jill Gronemeier
    • December 4, 2017

    I stumbled across your blog tonight because I’m just tired of doing anything other than unschooling. We have had different seasons, some unschooling, some CM inspired learning. My kids are fairly cooperative with the lesson plans I make, but honestly, they just do it to move on to what they really want to be doing (which is rarely lounging around lazily). They learn SO MUCH as they go through their days, doing the things they enjoy. My oldest (that has Aspergers and has struggled with basic arithmetic) has persisted in learning algorithms on YouTube to solve his Rubix cube. It seems counterintuitive to interrupt that process to “do school.” I think we actually have enjoyed ourselves and learned more in our seasons of unschooling. But basically, I feel like I have to keep our unschooling a secret, even from my closest homeschool mom friends.

    Thanks for this platform to share, and I am looking forward to reading through your blog. Merry Christmas 🙂

    1. Reply


      I remember my daughter Sophie saying she is glad she can do what’s important to her without first having to do her ‘school work’. It seems sad that most children have to do what’s expected before they can get on with their real learning. Yes, kids learn so much when they’re doing the things that they enjoy!

      I understand about wanting to keep unschooling a secret from your homeschool friends. Most people just don’t understand what unschooling is about. We want to protect ourselves from the probable criticism. I used to feel the same way. We unschooled for years without telling everyone what we were doing. I kept quiet when my friends were discussing their homeschooling methods. If I was asked a question, I’d give a vague answer. It seemed the safest thing to do. Then one day, an online friend, who I’d met in a forum, suggested I write about unschooling. Now ‘everyone’ knows what we’re doing! It was scary going public but it has turned out to be a very positive experience. I’ve met so many wonderful parents through this blog. We share ideas and thoughts and encouragement. If you need support and someone to talk to, please feel welcome to stop by anytime.

      Thank you for your Christmas greetings. I hope you also have a happy Christmas with your family!

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