Radical Unschooling


Are you thinking about radical unschooling? Maybe you see the benefits of educational unschooling and now you’re thinking about letting unschooling spill over into all aspects of life. What do you do next? Perhaps you say to your kids, “We’re going to try radical unschooling. From now on you’re free to choose when you go to bed, what you eat, if you help with the chores… You can do whatever you like.”

But will this work? Surely letting go in this way will result in chaos? Won’t mothers end up doing all the work while kids become lazy and self-centred? There might come a time when a parent will say, “I’ve had enough. Get back to work!”

But what if there’s more to radical unschooling than standing back and letting go of control? Could a parent have to take a more active role in order for unschooling to be effective?

I ponder these questions in this week’s podcast while talking about how our family became radical unschoolers.

I also share some family news, some local history, and a few resources.

I hope you’ll listen!

Show Notes

My Place: the book by Nadia Wheatley
My Place: the DVD series
My Place: episodes on Youtube
My Place: ABC website (interactive)
My Place: Teachers’ website (don’t be put off by the word ‘teachers’!)

Classical Music

The transformative power of classical music: a Ted Talk with Benjamin Zander

Classics for Kids website
Classics for Kids podcast
Podcast music
60’s Quiz Show by Podington Bear(CC BY-NC 3.0)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on radical unschooling. Or if you’d just like to stop by and say hello, please do!


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    • Kim L
    • September 8, 2016

    Thank you for this podcast. As we are in America, we just started our 2nd official year and while I was comforted by your words, I still struggle with my kids making the best choices around bedtime / screentime – they are 6 & 4. Any suggestions for me for relaxing?

    1. Reply


      Bed times and screen times are tricky. Even if we decide to be relaxed about them, we might still worry about our decision. Unschooling is a different way of thinking, isn't it? Perhaps it's hard to let go of the ideas we have been brought up with. Sometimes we are criticised too for our choices which doesn't help.

      You said you are struggling with your kids' choices. Do you feel they need some help with their decisions? I wonder if some kids do indeed need some guidance when it comes to bed time. I sometimes need guidance too. I stay up long after I should have gone to bed and get overtired, and then when someone suggests I get some sleep, I resent being told what to do! Maybe helping your children could involve having some quiet family time in the evening, snuggly time which might encourage everyone to wind down and think about sleep. Of course, if your kids are happy and not ready to go to bed, perhaps it's okay for them to stay up and do some low key activity.

      Screen times… Could you share some of your kids' screen time, get involved with what they're doing? Usually kids love it when we want to join in with something they enjoy doing. You'd see exactly what they're doing and why it's important to them, and maybe have some fun at the same time.

      As you know, I no longer have very young children. In a way, this is good because I can see the fruits of unschooling and so I don't tend to worry. And, as you said, I can speak comforting words. But sometimes it's also good to share our feelings and experiences with other people who are in the same place as we are. If you'd like to post this question in our Not So Proper Unschoolers FB group, I'm sure you'd get a friendly and helpful response. It's probably an issue lots of people worry about.

      Thank you for listening to my podcast. I've enjoyed chatting with you!

    • Anna
    • September 18, 2016

    I unschool too, and mine are still young (eldest of the five is nine years old). Sue does talk in one of her posts about discovering that unschooling didn't mean total hands-off (I think it was a post about strewing and how they'd never know that things like Shakespeare existed if she never provided a means to learn about him). Not being Rousseau-ian myself, I do think kids need to learn (just like I still sometimes do!) what is right and how to choose it. And small children are infamous for not knowing that sleep or protein will cure what ails you when you're miserable due to tiredness or hunger; they just feel crummy and don't know why. So I don't think you need to just be hands-off about everything, especially when they're really little and have no experience or use of reason to draw on for their choices. It makes sense to do what Sue suggested here, and read their cues about whether they're tired at "bedtime" or are able to do a quiet activity, rather than sticking to a "no matter what" schedule. But some guidance is needed for all of us in order to be our best selves so I don't think you need to feel that providing that structure or guidance is not trusting your kids; it's just trusting that your relationship with them will let you read their cues on how best to help them learn to make decisions.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, guidance is so important. I often need it too!

      I'm so glad you stopped by and added to the conversation. It can be very helpful to hear the thoughts of other parents and not just post my own. Thank you!

      • Anna
      • September 22, 2016

      Sue, your response to the original commenter made me laugh as you sound exactly like me when I stay up late and don't like my husband gently pointing out that perhaps sleep would be good for me! 🙂

      I thought I should clarify that I don't think *you're* a Rousseau devotee, just that I see that general outlook from a fair number of unschoolers and I don't think Rousseau got it right. That is, I know original sin is at work in my own life, and the same is true for my kids, and we all need some direction (both through modeling and through words) in order to do what is right; no need for everyone to reinvent the wheel when we can benefit from the knowledge of another.

      Thanks for all your encouragement through your blog!

    2. Reply


      Oh yes, I agree that we all do need direction when it comes to learning what is right. We can't just step back from our kids and expect them to learn it without any input from us. Maybe that's where the term 'unparenting' comes from.

      You also don't like to be told you're tired and need to go to bed? Oh that makes me feel so much better! I'm not alone. I guess our own experiences give us more empathy when it comes to relating to our kids. When we're tired we all need to be treated gently and with understanding, whether we're adults or children.

      It's been lovely chatting with you. Thank you so much for continuing the conversation.

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