Why Unschooling Isn’t Just Another Method of Homeschooling

In my last post, An Unschooling Experiment, I urged anyone who’s unhappy with their present method of homeschooling to give unschooling a go.

So as we get into the new year… I’d like to say: Try unschooling. Be courageous. Try and trust, especially if your way of doing things isn’t working for you. What have you to lose?

Yes, you might not have anything to lose, but will you gain anything? Why should unschooling work when Charlotte Mason or unit studies or some other method isn’t working for you? Why would I urge you to try it?

Could unschooling work because it isn’t actually a method of homeschooling? Could it be something very different?

I know a bit about homeschooling methods because I’ve researched and tried many of them. Some of them more than once. Years ago, I got very excited about Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Could her method be the perfect way for us to homeschool, the best way to teach my children the things I thought they should know? Would it be easy and enjoyable to put into action? Or would classical homeschooling suit us better? Or perhaps unit studies? Or…?

While I was searching for the perfect homeschooling method, I pondered lots of questions, such as:

What are the basics of a good education? Are old ideas better than new ones? Are the classics important? Are some school subjects more important than others? Do kids pass through different learning stages?  What books should our kids read? Should they have the ability to listen? Is memorisation important? Is narration a valuable skill? Are short lessons more effective than long ones? Is copywork a good learning tool? Perhaps making notes helps kids to pick out the main points of a particular subject? If they make impressive looking books does this help them value their knowledge? Should learning be fun? Should it be challenging?

I was always full of enthusiasm as I put a new method of homeschooling into action. I found the right resources, put the system into place, and then hoped that my kids would soon be producing impressive work, indicating that they were indeed receiving a wonderful education.

And my children did produce some impressive work. They put together interesting lapbooks and beautiful nature journals. They enjoyed hundreds of living books including many classics. They got excited by music and art. They were introduced to Shakespeare and poetry. But despite these successes, no method lasted very long. We found it hard to keep following the necessary steps. (“Do we really have to do this?”) Learning soon became a chore. And I then knew it was time for a change. Perhaps we should try another homeschooling method. Once again, I started reading and researching and thinking…

But eventually, I stopped experimenting with different homeschooling methods.  I gave up trying to follow someone else’s ideas. One by one, I threw out the things that weren’t working for us: narration, memorisation, spelling lists, reading the ‘right’ books in the ‘right’ way… Instead, I started listening to my children. Gradually, our homeschooling developed into what I called ‘doing our own thing’.

“We read lots of books and follow our interests, “I’d say in a vague kind of way whenever anyone asked what method of homeschooling we were using. Of course, by that time, we weren’t actually using a method. We’d found our way to unschooling.

These days, we’re living a rich and interesting life. As a consequence of that, my children are learning.  They’re learning what’s important to them, what they feel they need to know. Their education isn’t restricted to what someone else thinks is valuable. They don’t need an artificial system imposed on them in order for learning to take place. My children are learning in a natural way.

The other week, my fifteen-year-old daughter Sophie said, “My friend Emma has to finish her school work for the day before she can do all those things she’s really interested in. I’m glad we don’t have to do that. I’d never have time to do the things that are really important to me.”

Sophie’s words remind me of something I read the other day in an article called Unschooling 101 by Bridget Bentz Sider:

Unschooling advocate Sandra Dodd describes a typical “unschool” day as “the best ever Saturday … the day people dream about when they are stuck in school.”

Deciding not to use a homeschooling method might sound difficult. If you choose to unschool, you won’t have a set of steps put together by someone else to follow. Things won’t be neat and tidy. You might have to give up your ideas about what a good education looks like and how children learn. All this could be a bit scary.

But if you unschool, you might end up with a week full of the best ever Saturdays. Doesn’t that sound good?

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  1. Reply

    We love our Saturday weeks! In the end, that’s why our five year old decided kindergarten wasn’t for her.

    I like your list of questions about education, especially the ones about different learning stages. It’s a nice reminder to step back and look at our process as a whole, including its history, and when things change.

    On the reading front, we have something interesting happening right now. Our first kid learned how to read phonetically with us helping her sound things out. Our four year old doesn’t quite have the patience for that, but he now wants to read. He’s starting to sight read words even though he doesn’t have all the letters down yet. At least we don’t think he has the letters down yet. He’s been no to say he doesn’t know things as a code for “I’m tired of talking about them, and I’m now off to do something else.” 🙂

    1. Reply


      My children often say that they don’t have time for school work. They are far too busy doing all kinds of interesting things. I see your five-year-old feels the same way!

      Learning to read is an interesting process as long as we’re patient. I must admit I did get a bit frustrated at times. (I wish I hadn’t.) But it sounds like you are very relaxed and enjoying this stage in your children’s lives. It is indeed exciting when everything falls into place. A new door opens!

  2. Reply

    This is wonderful! YES, unschooling is not another method of homeschooling. It is just….life, beautiful life. It is difficult to describe exactly what that means to other people. I am so grateful to live the “best Saturday ever” each and every day with my two children. I look forward to reading more about our family’s journey. I am a solo Mama in Minnesota unschooling my kiddos.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, it is indeed very difficult to explain what an unschooling life is all about. Maybe it needs to be lived before we can understand it properly. A blog post can only say so much and that’s not a lot. Of course, other unschoolers understand. I’m so glad you can relate to my words. I feel very grateful too.

      I’ve been thinking about the words ‘best ever Saturday’. I wonder if some people think we’re not entitled to have that many wonderful Saturdays in a week. Surely life shouldn’t be that good?

      I love how it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is. It can be a week day or a weekend day, the official school holidays or term time, it doesn’t make any difference. We enjoy all days!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and saying hello. I hope we can chat again another day!

  3. Reply

    Oh yes! A delivery man told me this morning that today is ‘officially the most depressing day of the year’ (in the northern hemisphere, presumably!). But even on a rainy Monday in the middle of winter, my kids and I wake up happy and excited. I feel so blessed every single day that I get to follow my passions and help my children explore theirs!

    1. Reply


      I couldn’t help myself: I had to google ‘the most depressing day of the year’! I discovered that the third Monday of January is known as Blue Monday. I read an article which listed a few natural ways to ward off the melancholy associated with this day. Of course, the best natural way is unschooling! I also love waking up with a feeling of excitement. What adventures will we have today? Yes, we are indeed blessed!

    • San
    • January 17, 2017

    So this is where you have been!! I stupidly kept thinking that my side bar would notify when you had posted but that was when you were on the old site! i remembered that you had encountered blog issues so i thought you were still battling with those and therefore not posting, doh!! silly me 🙂

    I just wanted to leave a quick message as it is quite late but i hope to pop by on a more regular basis now that in know you are here 🙂
    San xx

    1. Reply


      It’s so lovely to see you on my blog again! I noticed the Blogger sidebar gadget wasn’t updating my post notifications and suspected I’d confused a few readers by moving to WordPress. I’m glad you found me. I missed you! xx

  4. Reply

    Loved this! Thanks for your gentle encouragement!

    1. Reply


      I sometimes wonder if I should be more forceful with my opinions, but I guess that’s just not my style. I’m so glad you think gentle is okay. Thank you for your comment!

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