What I Think Unschooling Is All About

It can be a risky business announcing to the world that you are an unschooling family. Someone could come along and say, “I don’t think you really are unschoolers. You don’t fit my idea of an unschooler.” For this reason, I really hesitated before I gave us the title ‘An Unschooling Family.’ Labels are so difficult. They can mean different things to different people.

For years we homeschooled ‘our way’, ‘doing our own thing.’ It wasn’t until I read Suzie Andres’ books I realised we were doing something that could be called Catholic unschooling. I was rather surprised. Up to that point, I had had this idea that unschoolers were a little different to us.

This is what the term unschooling conjured up for me…

A family of independent learners who don’t interact with each other. Everyone is on a separate pathway, investigating separate interests. There is no sharing. A mother should stand back and not interfere with her child’s learning process.

I did a lot of standing back in the early days of homeschooling. I waited for my children to discover impressive things on their own. I expected the house to fill with impressive projects. But nothing much happened. I decided that children need to be exposed to possibilities. They need to be surrounded by a rich and varied world. They also need to observe the example of others 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. Perhaps we must 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.

I am certainly not stepping back and keeping out of my children’s way. In fact, it is my children who eventually move away from me. There comes a time when they are keen to stride ahead on their own pathways without waiting for me. Often they will stop and want to share. 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.

Looking at Charlotte, I don’t think anyone would protest she is not an unschooler. I don’t make plans for her. I rarely see her 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 make a poster of the planets in the solar system.”
“I want to learn how to draw people more realistically… and cars.”
“I’d really like to learn how to play a long piano piece like the big girls.”

So I am there to help them do what they’d 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… listen to this… watch that… 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 more of those maths 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 Shakespeare play with fellow enthusiasts?

Or I will say, “Anyone want to go for a run with me?” Before I know it they will be lacing up their shoes. Despite individual interests, there are still so many things we share a passion for.

Sharing passions… spending time together as a family… learning together… encouraging each other along… enjoying each other’s company… delighting together in new discoveries… helping each other…

I never thought this is what unschooling is all about. But it is. Well, at least it is in my version of unschooling. And if anyone objects, I can always go back to describing our homeschooling as ‘doing our own thing.’ I’d rather lose the label than lose the lifestyle.

Because in the end, does it really matter what we call our method of homeschooling? The only thing that matters is that we learn in a way that works for our own families.

So, if no one objects… we are an unschooling family, because unschooling works for us. And if you do object…  Stories of a Family Doing Their Own Thing…

That might make a very good title for a blog.

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  1. This so beautifully describes how I think about our learning lifestyle, too. My kids are about to turn 7. When they were younger and I read a ton of unschooling books,I thought for unschooling to "work" I had to be much more hands off. I could "strew" things, but if they didn't pick it up, I thought I couldn't pick it up myself and ask if they'd like to do it with me. Or I thought that I couldn't make other suggestions of things to do. Now I know that is just silly. Of course I know about a lot of things my kids don't know!Of course if I introduce them to lots of things they can pick from they will find something exciting they otherwise not know about. I'm still growing, but I really love this learning journey I'm on with my kids.

    1. Reply


      I think, in the past, you and I had some similar ideas about unschooling!

      "Of course I know about a lot of things my kids don't know!" Yes! I thought about this years ago. I finally came to the conclusion that there were so many wonderful things my children could enjoy learning about, but they weren't going to stumble over them on their own. They needed my help. Did I really want to stay back, hands off? I decided to be active and enrich their world with all kinds of things I enjoyed, and hoped they would too. Of course, they don't always get excited about the same things as me. But that's okay. There's always more experiences and resources I can strew.

      "I really love this learning journey I'm on with my kids." I do too! It's such an exciting and enjoyable way of life.

      Thank you for stopping and commenting. I appreciate that very much!

  2. Reply

    Love this!!

    1. Reply


      Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate your comment!

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