Unschooling: What It’s All About

My Unschooling Book Series (7)

In my last unschooling book post, Unschooling: What It Is and What It’s Not, I said that parents can’t just stand back and expect their kids to get on with the business of learning all by themselves. We have to get involved. But how do we do this? I could write a point-by-point description. Or I could illustrate how parents can get involved by including a story.

If I used a story, do you think it would be okay to insert one that I’ve already written? A modified version of the post What I Think Unschooling Is All About might give readers an idea of what unschooling looks like in action. I could write a new story but it might not be as useful. My children are now older and I’m not as involved with them as I used to be.

What Unschooling Is All About

When we first started homeschooling as unschoolers, I did a lot of standing back. I waited for my children to discover interesting things on their own. I expected the house to fill with impressive projects. But nothing much happened. After a while, I decided that children need to be exposed to possibilities. I had to surround them with a rich and varied world. I also had to provide them with an example of learning.

And so I started looking for interesting resources to strew in front of my children, though I didn’t call it ‘strewing’. I’d never heard of that particular word.

I also started sharing learning with my children, showing them that everyone learns, not just school-age children. We have to be willing to do everything we’d like our children to do. We can’t just say, “Go off and learn something.” We have to provide an example of what learning is all about… especially in the early years… Though I am thinking… Children are born naturally curious and eager to learn. We play with our babies and surround them with a stimulating environment, and applaud their every little development. And then they get to a certain age and we stop doing these things. Maybe that’s the problem.

I spend a lot of time with my younger girls. I read to them. They read to me. I am willing to help them with any projects they want to do. I share my own passions with them. I suggest activities and offer resources. I feel any child achieves more if they have an interested person to call upon to share and help when necessary. That person needs to show they value that child’s learning. It is real work.

So I am not stepping back and keeping out of my children’s way. But this doesn’t mean I don’t give them their own space to process what they’ve learnt, figure out things on their own or just rest. We have to be sensitive and balance our involvement and enthusiasm with our children’s needs at any particular moment.

I have noticed that as my children get older, they naturally move away from me. Yes, there comes a time when they are keen to stride ahead on their own pathways without waiting for me. Often they will pause and want to share what they’ve discovered. Occasionally, they may hit a problem. If they can’t solve it for themselves, I can help guide them to a solution. They may just want me to obtain some necessary resources for them or ideas for further investigation. This is where Charlotte (15) is at the moment.

I rarely see Charlotte when she is busy with her learning. She might appear at lunchtime eager to share something she is working on. She might want a suggestion for a suitable book to read. She will look at anything I strew, but she won’t automatically decide to use it. She has her own ideas about what she wants to do. And I let her learn what she wants, how she wants, and when she wants. I have full confidence that by giving her the freedom to direct her own education, she will achieve her goals.

But the younger girls? I am under their control:

“Will you read to us, please Mum?”
“Can we go to the library, please?”
“Could you show me how to use the sewing machine?”
“Can you explain… ?”
“Do you know how this works?”
“Can we do…?”

They are full of their own ideas:

“I’d like to find out more about the Titanic.”
“I want to learn how to draw people more realistically… and cars.”
“I’d really like to learn how to play a longer piano piece like the big girls.”

So I am here to help my children do what they would like to do.

And they are willing to listen to my suggestions:

“I’ve found a TV program about the planets. Would you like to watch it?”
“This looks interesting. Do you want to have a look at… listen to… watch… try this…?”

The girls also go off and do things totally on their own:

“I was reading about Renoir. I made some more jigsaws of his paintings.”
“I’ve been writing. I had a new idea for a story.”
“I’ve been playing some computer games.”
“I decided to try and make a mind map.”

I know that Sophie (11) and Gemma-Rose (8) will gradually go off more and more by themselves, as they get older. One day I will say, “I haven’t seen you all morning. Tell me what you’re working on.”

I guess I will miss the girls and I will have to entice them back with such suggestions as, “I feel like watching Henry V. Do you want to join me?” And knowing my girls, they will drop whatever they are doing, so they can sit with me on the sofa for an afternoon of Shakespeare. For who can resist sharing a play with fellow enthusiasts?

Or I will say, “Does anyone want to go for a run with me?” Before I know it, the girls will be lacing up their shoes. Despite individual interests, we still have many shared passions.

Spending time together, sharing passions, being interested in each other, learning together, encouraging and helping each other, delighting together in new discoveries, and enjoying being a family… I never imagined this is what unschooling is all about. But it is.

Aren’t you glad we don’t have to step back from our kids’ learning but instead, can get involved?

(I might make further word changes as I continue editing but you get the idea!)

Learning From Life

So we can actively get involved with our children’s learning by strewing and sharing our own learning. But sometimes we don’t have the time to do this. And it’s not even necessary. When life is full and busy, we learn just by living. When we were homeschooling rather than unschooling, and life got hectic, I worried about how we were going to fit in all the school work I thought my children should be doing. But everything is a potential learning opportunity and there are plenty of these when we’re looking after babies, coping with bushfires, dealing with medical issues, moving house, enjoying the company of friends, catching up with housework and shopping, filming a music video for a sister… At these times, we don’t need to enrich our children’s’ lives. They are rich enough already.

I’d like to expand these thoughts for the next section of the book, and maybe add an appropriate story.

Images: I took these photos during the filming of my daughter Imogen’s latest music video. She’ll be publishing the video tomorrow (Wednesday). Please support her by subscribing to her Youtube channel. Imogen will be very encouraged if you do this!

Is including stories from my blog cheating? Should I only include new material in my book? Or could I write the main part of each chapter and then sprinkle in some of my already written stories to illustrate the points I’d like to make? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Reply

    No, re-using your old stories is not cheating – only we migth feel a wee bit cheated besause I – and I’m sure that I’m not alone in this – would like to hear some new stories too. You tell them so well that we want more!

    1. Reply


      Thank you. You are very kind. I’m glad you like my stories. No doubt, I shall write some more!

  2. Reply

    I think old mixed in with the new is good. It’s all in the way it’s put together to make different points for me and I like the stories with multi-age kids and especially young kids.

    1. Reply


      I’m glad you like the idea of mixing old with new. Some of the stories can be rewritten and they might end up better than the originals. Others might be okay just as they are because they represent what we were doing and how we were feeling at the time of writing. I don’t know if I explained that very well. I hope you understand!

  3. Reply

    Coming from a family that treasures its stories, I’m loving that you’re using your stories in your book! I don’t think it’s cheating at all! Thanks for a look into what our future might look like! The oldest unschooler in our house at the moment is 6. She’s becoming more and more independent, and I’m both loving it, and reflecting on how much I’m going to miss the way things are now. Your story gives me a view that there will just be new facets of our relationship or me to treasure.

    I have a question for you on the independence front. We’re running into ageism issues lately. We’d like o eventually do a flavor of free-range parenting, in the same manner that we’re doing our flavor of unschooling. Consequently, we’re allowing six-year-old No. 1 to do things we did as kids at her age, like going on independent hikes. This has worked out phenomenally well, but we’re starting to run into community issues.

    For example, our local science museum lets kids checkout backpacks that contain a checklist of activities to do around the museum. Since the class 1 was attending with her four year-old and two-year old sibs was getting somewhat repetitive, we checked out a backpack for her, gave her mom-person’s cell phone, and sent her on her way to do the activities while her nanny, (we prefer the phrase Director of Tactical Ops, but I digress), took 2 and 3 to class. Because I can work anywhere with a wifi connection on some days, I made arrangements to work at the museum’s outdoor cafe just in case something cam up. I saw 1 wandering pluckily around museum through the windows on the side of the building I was working outside of, and my hear swelled with pride! Everything went great! Except…

    About half an hour in 1 came across a museum guard who informed her that she couldn’t be in the museum on her own. She told them that she wasn’t, her nanny and sibs were in class and would be along soon. The guard asked 1 to come with him, and she said, no, they could just stay put until class was over if he’d like, but she was waiting right there for her sibs. (Again, I’m phenomenally proud with how she handled this.) Ultimately class did end, and the gang was reunited, but 1’s independent backpack days were over at the museum until she turns 12. Unbeknownst to us, that’s the rule there. It’s a paradoxical one because our town allows kids to use public transit on their own when the turn 8. We’ll let 1 use public transit when she and we agree she’s ready, but it leaves us with an odd conundrum though. If we let her ride the bus before she’s 12, she can go to the museum, but she can’t go inside.

    Have you run into things like this? What did you do?

    1. Reply


      I know you love stories because you write them as well! I think stories add interest and engage our imaginations and make us feel that we are right there at the centre of the action. I originally started writing stories because I couldn’t find any when I was reading about unschooling many years ago. I read the theory, but I was still left with the questions: What do unschoolers DO all day? What does unschooling look like in action? I wanted to hear some stories about real kids. So when I started blogging, I wrote some. And there will be plenty of them in my unschooling book!

      Letting our kids free range in an overprotective world is difficult. It’s frustrating, isn’t it, when capable kids are confined by senseless rules? I’ve heard lots of stories similar to yours though I don’t remember running into any trouble with my own children. We live in a much quieter place than you so maybe it’s been easier for my kids to do what they like without anyone noticing or criticising.

      I’m sorry I can’t help with any sugestions, but I can tell you about a couple of free range resources though there’s a good chance you’ve already heard about them.

      Have you read Leonore Skenazy’s book ‘Free Range Kids’? And I listened to a good interview with Leonore on the Art of Manliness podcast: How to Raise Free Range Kids.


      btw, I liked how your heart swelled with pride. It’s good to see our kids growing and developing and becoming independent. I’d be proud too!

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