What is Unschooling?

Unschooling: What is it, Why is It, and Does It Work?

Three children sitting on the grass, as seen from the back. Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

Unschooling, in its most simplistic explanation, means letting children direct their own learning. Most unschoolers believe that children do not need to be taught; they are constantly learning on their own.

Coined by John Holt in the 1970s, the term “unschooling” signifies a general mistrust of a systemic or institutionalized school system, and favours child-directed, hands-on life experience. In most unschooler’s eyes, educators are not needed in childhood; rather, educational experiences are needed. 

Just as there are many styles of homeschooling, so there are many variations of unschoolers. Some unschoolers observe their children and provide activities that relate to the children’s interests. Others go about the business of life, letting their children learn by simply living in the world. And yet others, when the option is available, register their children for an unschooling “school,” the most well-known of which is Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. About 50 schools worldwide are modeled after this philosophy of education, which makes resources easily available, but lets children direct their own learning using those resources. 

Unschooling Criticisms & Myths

Critics of unschooling often state that unschooled children suffer from lack of socialization and “real-world” skills, or that it will be difficult for them to attend post-secondary education. However, the evidence points to the opposite: children who have been unschooled are often out-of-the-box thinkers and lifelong learners that thrive in 21st century North America. 

Whether or not unschooled children make friends easily is entirely dependent on the child’s personality—just like with traditionally schooled kids. However, the idea that  unschooled children don’t have an opportunity to socialize is a myth. Homeschooling communities exist and are thriving, and unschooling families often attend events for homeschoolers. Furthermore, several universities now actively seek homeschoolers (of which unschoolers are part). 

Unschooling: does it really work? www.marianamcdougall.com Background Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash shows a girl watering plants.

There are many ways to attain an education. Whether homeschooled, unschooled, alternatively schooled, or traditionally schooled, learning is a lifelong process. Any educational philosophy, theory, or active practice seeks to encourage the child to develop a love for learning, and the skills to seek out reliable resources for learning throughout the stages of life. Unschooling is one of many ways to accomplish this goal.

Do we unschool?

I’ve mentioned this before: I don’t like labels. If I absolutely had to use a word to explain what kind of homeschoolers we are, that word would be eclectic. We use what works and let go of what doesn’t. In a household with 3 kids of wildly different personalities, one of whom learns very differently, flexibility and adaptation are the name of the game.

We use a curriculum for language arts and math, and we follow the kids’ interest for other subjects. We also use Duolingo for learning French and Portuguese. I do prepare some lessons for science, art, social studies, etc., but mostly, we learn from reading a tonne, and from attending real life events and programs. This way of doing things works for our family, and we adapt as we go. This adaptability and willingness to learn from the world around us served us well during our year on the road.

Homeschooling and/or unschooling is definitely not for everyone. I believe each family should be free to choose the best education for their children, and I’m blessed to live in a province that honours my parental right and responsibility to offer my children the education that is best for them.

Please note: this article about unschooling was first published on a now defunct website called Komorebi Post. This version adds some information about my own homeschooling experience.

Why I no longer follow the Ontario Curriculum

Saying goodbye to the Ontario Curriculum


A year of road travel will teach you to be less rigid in your scheduling. I’ve always thought that I’m a pretty laid back person, not really prone to anxiety over small things, and that I’m flexible with my planning. While that’s all very true, I also came to the realization in the last year or so that I was way too attached to one way of doing things when it came to education. Which is ironic, since I’m a fairly eclectic homeschooling parent. But the teacher in me was still hanging on the the Ontario curriculum.

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Free Homeschooling Resources: The Ultimate List

The Ultimate List of Free Homeschooling Resources

Homeschooling can get pretty expensive when you get excited about all kinds of curriculum and when you add in all the extra-curriculars that homeschoolers love to participate in. But homeschooling doesn’t have to break the bank. In the age of information, resources are abundant, and you can learn almost anything online for free.

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Homeschooling Planning Resources

Homeschooling Planning for flexible homeschoolers

I’m starting my homeschooling planning for September. While I see the appeal and benefit of unschooling, it’s not the right choice for our family, for a variety of reasons, so we do have some planning involved in our school life.

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Homeschooling: Teaching Kids About Money

I’m starting (perhaps a wee bit late) to prep our homeschool lessons for the upcoming school year. First things first: I must remember to send our letter of intent this year. Second things second, I like creating my own curriculum, as that was my favourite thing when I was still a school teacher. Creating lesson plans is definitely part of the fun of teaching for me. I figured I might as well share my curriculum with you guys! This year, I’m doing a “home economics” curriculum, and one of its main features will be teaching kids about money management.

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Homeschooling: Brazilian Heritage Lessons

Teaching Brazilian Culture & Heritage (or not)

One of the expectations of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum in almost every grade is that children be made aware of their heritage and be encouraged in their traditions. Let me be honest: as an immigrant, homeschooling mother, I’ve been doing a terrible job of this.

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Homeschooling Posts

If you’ve been reading the blog even semi-regularly in the past year, you know that I wrote about our RV trip a lot. I also wrote about multi-niche writing quite a bit, as this is what I’d been doing as we travelled all over Canada and the US from August 2008 to the late spring of 2009. I severely neglected all other parts of this website during the past year, and I’m itching to get them going again.

One of the topics I’d like to start writing more about is homeschooling. I’d like to share some of my lesson plans with you guys, talk about the challenges and joys of homeschooling, and generally share our experience educating our kids.

While I do write for myself quite a bit (my several journals are proof), and I have lots of ideas on what to write, I want to make sure that readers are getting the most out of this blog, too. So I’d like to know: what would you like to read about homeschooling? Is there a topic in this area you really want to learn more about? Drop some suggestions in the comments or email me at mariana@dreamsintogoalswriting.com.

Homeschooling posts will come out every Thursday.