Our Typical Unschooling Mornings


This post follows on from Why Some Kids Are Willing to Help With the Chores.

I’ve been thinking about how our life does look rather conventional. What makes our life… different from any structured homeschoolers’ life? Is it any different? How do we tell if someone is unschooling or not? We don’t stay up really late at night, we don’t drift through our days doing exactly what we want at all times, we get up very early in the morning, we work as a team to get the chores done… We don’t share these things with some unschooling families. Does that mean we’re not unschooling?

I think it’s all to do with choice. It’s not what you do. It’s not about what time you get up or when you eat your meals or when you go to bed or what type of activities you’re involved in. It’s all to do with the question: Do children have the choice to do what they want? They might choose to do things on a family’s timetable, (rather than on their own). They might choose to do chores when everybody else is doing them and work as a team…

On to our typical unschooling morning…

By about 8:30 am each day, all the boring sort of work has been done in our family. It’s out of the way. Gone. Now we can get on to the more exciting part of the day. The next thing we do is have a chat about what everybody wants to do that day: What plans do people have? Plans? Of course, there are some things on our timetable that are planned such as music lessons. Someone might want to go to town for some other purpose. And then we all have our own projects that we are working on. We might plan to do some work on them. Yes, we always have so many things we want to do. We have to make some decisions about how we are going to spend this particular day.

My older girls Imogen and Charlotte have their routines. They’re both doing university work (Imogen has finished her course since I made this podcast). They know what they have to do. They have reading to do and assignments that must be completed before certain dates. They can organise themselves to do that. But they also have music lessons to go to. They both have singing and piano lessons. They have choir practices and concert performances. They always want to make time to go running with the younger girls and me. They might want to go to town to do some shopping, go out for coffee, or meet a friend. Charlotte likes to spend time drawing, playing around with her animation software. Imogen might want to write blog posts. Maybe they’ll work on their novels. There are DVDs to watch. They could just want to spend time sitting and chatting or reading their books. They live a really full life…

I spend the mornings with my younger girls, Sophie and Gemma-Rose… doing what they want to do… There are certain things the girls have to do every morning. When I say ‘have to do’ I mean they choose to do them. These are such things as piano practices. They choose to practice the piano because they know if they don’t, they won’t improve their skills, and they want to learn to play like their older sisters. That’s not a problem. They each just need to put aside about half an hour every morning to do that. Their practice time is in the morning because the older girls get the use of the piano in the afternoon. Practising in their allotted and agreed upon time: That’s just being considerate.

Every morning, there are certain things that the girls insist I do. They want me to read to them. If I don’t read to them regularly, books don’t get finished, and that can be frustrating. So, yes, I have some commitments as well.Sophie has also got some commitments. She set herself the goal of finishing some coding courses. She realised that she wouldn’t make much progress if she didn’t work at these courses on a regular basis. So she’s being trying to do a little bit each day to work towards the certificates of each course. She has finished a few of those courses recently and has moved on to some other ones.

So I don’t think unschooling is necessarily about drifting through life from one thing to another as it occurs to you. We need to put work into certain things on a regular basis. I’d never finish any of my novels if I didn’t work on them regularly. The same with the girls. They wouldn’t finish theirs either.

But there’s still plenty of time in our days for having fun, living in the moment, taking advantage of whatever comes along. Even though we all have things we’re working on, life isn’t planned. We don’t live life to a schedule. It’s an adventure. Our time’s our own. We can choose what we want to do. If we want to start the day with reading, we can. If we have music lessons, we’re free to drive to town for them. And we can go shopping while we’re out. Or go to the park and visit the lake. We don’t have to hurry home because we don’t have workbooks that are waiting for us. (We’re not going to get ‘behind’.) We can walk around the lake. We can go for a run. We can just sit and chat and have coffee. I think these are all really good learning experiences in themselves. So some days we stay home and other days we go off and have our adventures elsewhere.
In my podcast, I described a particular unschooling day that happened a few months ago. It was early spring…

Wednesday morning… We’d finished saying our prayers. The house was nice and tidy, organised for the day. And I said, “What do you want to do today?” Gemma-Rose had a couple of letters that she wanted to post… so we decided we’d start the day with a walk up to the post office. We got the dog, and put her on the leash. I had a couple of things I wanted to post as well. Sophie had a little bit of shopping she wanted to do. We headed out the door just after 9.00 am.

It was really quite cool at that time of the morning. This is the first week of spring. We all wore our coats. As we were walking along, I dived into my pockets for my gloves. It was cold, but it was lovely and fresh as well. We could feel the coldness on our faces. (I like that feeling!) We arrived at the village, and posted our letters. The girls then wanted to go to the chemist to buy some nail polish. They had some ideas about decorating mugs with nail polish art, something I’d never seen before. Sophie had discovered this on Pinterest and wanted to give it a go. So they went into the chemist, and there’s a big display in there with loads and loads of colours and they’re all reasonably priced. The girls spent some time choosing half a dozen bottles and then we set off for home together.

By the time we were walking home, the sun was shining more strongly. I took my gloves off. We could now feel the warmth of the sun on our skin. (That felt good too!) I looked at the girls and the dog ahead of me. I looked at the bush that surrounds our village. The sun was shining out of a clear blue sky. And I thought: how fortunate we are that we’re doing what we’re doing at this particular moment in time. Other children were in school. They weren’t outside enjoying the spring day. Other homeschoolers were inside maybe working on their workbooks (or planned work). We were walking up to the village and back, enjoying ourselves.

When we got home, we put the kettle on and made some coffee and some hot chocolate for Gemma-Rose. We sat down. I checked my emails. We spent a bit of time chatting together, just relaxing. I didn’t think, “Look, we haven’t got anything done yet today. It’s already 10 o’clock. The day’s moving on.” I used to think like this in the past. I’d worry about filling up the day as efficiently as possible. (I’d watch the clock, and want to cram in as much learning as I could. I’d get to the point where I’d wonder if we’d done enough. How much is enough? Could we finish for the day?)

I felt that all the experiences we’d had that morning were very valuable. We need to take time just to be a family and to enjoy the outdoors. I knew we’d get on with the ‘real work’ – the things we have to do – in time. So once we’d had our coffee, the girls did get on with their piano practices which did have to be done. And then they wanted me to read to them…

Before we knew it, it was lunch time. I guess that was a typical morning.I spend a lot of time saying things like, “Shall we watch this…” or “Would you like me to read you that…” or “I found this…” I make suggestions and the girls pick up on some of these things, and other ones don’t interest them at all. So we could watch DVDs together. We might read non-fiction books. We could sit side-by-side while I show them a website. Maybe they will then go off and use the website by themselves. Lots of different things make up our days…

This transcription was taken from episode 41 of my unschooling podcast: Chores and Our Typical Unschooling Day. (I made some minor changes to the original words for clarity.)

Typical unschooling days change naturally over time. If you read my other typical unschooling day posts you will notice this. I suppose that’s because our children and their needs change. But our days still reflect the same principles even if the details don’t remain the same. I recorded this podcast only a few months ago, but I can see that our typical day is changing yet again.

I am sure that this year Sophie won’t be looking to me very often for learning suggestions. She might choose to join in with whatever Gemma-Rose and I are doing, but she will also do lots of things on her own. Instead of me tempting her with different experiences, she’ll be tempting me: “Mum, do you want to learn how to use Lightroom? I’ll teach you.” Already, she’s doing this. Sophie works from one end of the day to the other, writing blog posts, taking and editing photographs, doing research on the Internet, emailing friends, working out, watching Youtube videos, reading books… She has lots and lots of ideas of her own, and she is motivated to work at them. Perhaps I’ll write another typical unschooling day post about Sophie’s day very soon.

Just in case you have forgotten: Sophie is 14 and Gemma-Rose will be 12 tomorrow!

So that’s a bit about our typical unschooling days. Are they like yours? Or do you spend your time in a very different way?

You can find my Stories of an Unschooling Family podcast on

and here on my blog.

I did promise a new episode today, but I haven’t actually got anything to publish. I did record an episode, but I wasn’t happy with it. I felt I was repeating myself. I’m going to try again on Wednesday. (Tomorrow is a birthday and not a podcasting day!)

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  1. Reply

    Thank you so much for these posts, Sue, and all your other posts on unschooling. I haven't read them all yet. 🙂 I have a question. When you have younger children, what about the basic skills of reading, writing, and math that need to be mastered? Wouldn't those need to be built into the day on a regular basis? How do unschoolers approach that? I like the way your days are stuctured….certain things done at a certain time….then plenty of free time to pursue interests, projects, etc. I would probably lean more towards that style of structuring the day since we also do prefer rhythm to our days yet not a rigid time schedule. We function best with lots of flexibility while maintaining a general rhythm to our day. 🙂

    1. Reply


      It seems I have written a blog post in my own comments box (and Blogger won't publish it because it has too many characters) so I'm going to publish my reply to you as two comments. I hope I haven't said too much. Maybe half as much would have been more than enough!

      Basic writing and reading skills is a tricky area. How many of us are really happy about letting our kids lead the way? I made a lot of mistakes of my own, pushing my kids along because I thought that the sooner they learnt to read and write the better. The whole world would open up in front of them when they gained these skills. Also, what would people say if my kids didn't read and write by a certain age? There are lots of pressures!

      Left to themselves, I'm sure kids will read and write when they're ready. Of course, we can share info with them. They don't have to work it all out on their own. But do we need to schedule in regular times each day to work on these skills? I used to make my kids do some maths each morning. That backfired. My kids looked at maths as something they had to do. Obviously, (to them), I didn't think it was something they'd freely choose to be interested in. I didn't trust they'd learn it when they were ready. I was forcing it on them. They grew to hate maths.

      Maybe we can listen to our children's needs and respond accordingly. Some kids just need their questions answered in a relaxed way. They might be open to experiences we suggest. Some may like to sit and, for example, read regularly with us each day. My daughter Charlotte loved to snuggle next to me after lunch and share some books with me. If we hadn't had that regular timeslot, I might not have sat down with her as often as she might have liked.

      Maybe the answer to your question is this: Do your kids want to spend regular times with you working on these skills? When my girls work on their piano skills, they are choosing to schedule their practices into their day. They are working towards piano exams. They choose to practise and take exams and they are old enough to know they won't do well without regular practise. But maths and reading? Unless, our kids are taking exams (and I know some homeschoolers are tested) I think kids can learn on their own timetables. Their learning doesn't need to be structured into the day. Of course, this doesn't mean we can't strew writing and maths experiences. We can offer them things to sort and count and build with. We can have lots of hands-on materials available for them to experiment with. We can offer to read books to them… But if they reject our suggestions, then that's okay. We can keep looking for something to tempt them with, and maybe it's just a case of them not being ready for whatever we're offering.

      Even though my girls aren't at the basic maths stage any longer, there are still lots of maths skills I'd like to share with them, so I do a lot of strewing. I might say, "I found a video about the history of maths. Would you like to have a look?" Or "We could play this game. What do you think?" I wouldn't say, "It's time to do maths."

    2. Reply


      Here's the rest of my comment…

      Maybe when we do certain things at certain times of day, we need to have the cooperation of our children. We need to work out a rhythm that everyone is happy with, that takes into account the needs of all the family members, and that can be changed when it no longer does.

      I say things like, "I'm going to say some morning prayers. Do you want to join me?" Or "I'm making coffee. Do you want some?" Or "I'm hungry. Shall we have lunch?" No one is compelled to join in, but usually they do. Sometimes I'll miss lunch if I'm busy or not really hungry. We always have a choice. I agree with you… we also function best when we have a general rhythm to our day, but knowing we have to be flexible!

      Perhaps the stumbling block is that we have trouble believing that kids will choose to do the things we'd like them to do. I have found that kids are curious and hard working. They love spending time with their family. They will help and join in with whatever is going on around them. Although they could do whatever they want, they might choose to give up that right in order to do the 'better' thing.

      I hope that helps. I'm finding it hard to describe our days' rhthym without sounding like we have a structured life, or at least some structured bits of the day. Oh our life is far from that! I so wish I could invite you over for coffee and chat properly!

    3. Reply


      A quick bit of history: We started as unschoolers with my first child. Somewhere along the way, we diverted down other pathways such as classical, unit studies, Charlotte Mason… Gradually, we made our way back to unschooling though I didn't realise what we were doing at the time. I just thought we were 'doing our own thing' because I misunderstood what unschooling is really all about. So yes, I have had children at the early learning stages as unschoolers, but I was influenced by other ideas and insecurities.

      Most of my children learnt to read quickly and easily with only a bit of help from me. Two of them, however, seemed to struggle with reading. I got anxious and pushed them along. Looking back, I don't think they were ready. When I let go, they surprised me by working things out on their own in their own time.

      I found that when I let my kids learn in their own time and in their own way things went well. But every now and then, I'd find something that looked wonderful such as a spelling program and I imposed it on my children. I suppose I had my moments of doubt and compared what we were doing with other family's homeschooling. Drilling always sounded so reasonable when other people talked about it. These periods were always a big failure and never lasted long. (Until the next time!)

      I tried teaching my eldest child grammar but it was a big failure. She filled in workbooks but didn't retain any information. The rest of my kids have learnt grammar out of need. We sometimes talk about grammar, punctuation etc when my kids are sharing their writings with me. Or they just pick things up for themselves. They have learnt to write and spell while they've been writing. I think being avid readers helps too. Gemma-Rose once told me that she knows what words are supposed to look like because she sees them often when she's reading. I write a lot and my example has helped my kids to become confident writers, I'm sure.

      For a long time I was one of those 'everything except maths' unschoolers. Yes, I was happy to let my kids follow their interests as long as they did a bit of maths each day. None of my older children ended up liking maths very much. When I saw Sophie going down the same pathway, I let go of formal maths. She is my first high schooler who isn't doing formal maths. I've tried to interest Sophie and Gemma-Rose in maths by strewing interesting resources but I don't demand they 'do' maths each day.

      So I do think kids can learn basic skills without formal programs. If we surround them with a rich environment, and read and write ourselves, answer their questions, share things in an interesting and non-pressured way, they will get there in their own time. But as I said, I've made plenty of mistakes and so I'm certainly not an expert!

      I bet your daughter will easily pick up such things as writing, spelling, grammar etc because she loves reading.

      If I find any good unschooling articles etc about early skills, I'll let you know.

      Good to chat!

    4. Reply

      Sue, thank you so much for such a detailed response. So were you not unschooling when any of your children were at the basic R,R,R stage? If you were unschooling at the time of learning basic math and writing, how did you approach that so that they did learn those basic fundamentals (math facts, writing, etc.)? And just to offer a little bit of background…my daughter learned to read when she was 3 years old. We followed her lead…read lots of books, she loved Hooked on Phonics so we made sure we had all those programs, etc. She is an avid reader. She absolutely loves books and reading. So we aren't at basic reading stage and haven't been for a long time. 🙂 I'm just curious how the unschooling approach handles things like learning basic math facts and math fundamentals (at any stage/age), learning basic grammar principles like parts of speech, sentence and paragraph construction, etc.
      Thanks so much for being willing to answer my questions! And yes, how fun it would be to grab a cup of coffee and chat! 🙂

  2. Reply

    This has been an interesting series.
    Due to our health issues we have to have a lot more down time in our family.
    One day I will be up and at 'em, and the next sleeping in. This frustrates me no end!
    But we do what we can.
    It's interesting to see the subtle changes. We write a time capsule letter each year to ourselves to be opened on New Years Day. Fascinating how our lives and loves change.
    Happy Birthday Gemma-Rose!
    Xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Reply

      Jazzy Jack,

      I'm sorry to hear you have health issues. "We do what we can…" I love how unschooling takes in the needs of the family members. We don't have to do things in a certain way or like someone else. We live our own lives.

      It sounds like you have your own rhythm: up and at it one day and sleeping in the next. It's a different rhythm from ours but maybe it's the one that works perfectly for you.

      I suppose the problem with decribing our days is that it might seem I'm saying, "This is the right way to do things." That's not my intention at all.

      Subtle changes… Oh yes! I wake up one day and realise change has crept up on me. That's what happened when I was writing the last post. I love your custom of writing time capsule letters. I've only done that once. I do love looking back through my diaries and reading about things I'd have forgotten if I hadn't written them down. And yes, I can see how life has changed and how much my children have developed over time. Fascinating indeed. A bit frightening as well. Where does time go? It passes much too quickly!

      Thank you for your birthday greetings. I hope you had a wonderful Australia Day. The birthday girl did!

    • Hwee
    • January 27, 2016

    Hi Sue,

    This has nothing to do with your post, but I just thought I'd let you know that I've nominated you for the Liebster Award (http://thetigerchronicle.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/liebster-award-nomination.html). Feel free to play along or if you'd rather not, that's ok too. Have a nice day! 🙂

    1. Reply


      Thank you so much for the nomination. It was lovely of you to think of me. I'd love to join in. I'll pop over to your blog to see what I have to do.

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