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.

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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Why You Should Visit a Library During Your RV Trip

Visiting Libraries During Your RV Adventure

If you’ve been following this blog or my Instagram account for a while, you probably already know that my family and I are library lovers. There are so many awesome reasons to visit a library… to read of course, but there’s more. Here are some of the reasons we loved visiting libraries during our RV adventure:

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Is Your Homeschooled Child Falling Behind?

Homeschooled kids often learn in different ways and at a difference pace than their public school counterparts. For this reason, many people don’t understand what homeschooling actually is, and what homeschooling parents actually do. This causes all kinds of weird assumptions… and sometimes us homeschooling parents end up listening a little too closely to the critics.

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Homeschooling Resources – What We’ve Used This Year

This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after following a link on this post, I may receive a small commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products and services that I use and love, or that I want to use in the near future.

I’m often asked whether I use a curriculum or  other resources in my homeschooling. I thought it was high time I wrote a post about how we homeschool.

Firstly, it’s important to know that I don’t identify strongly with any one particular type of homeschooling. I consider myself a flexible homeschooler. I do follow a curriculum for certain things, but if there is a life experience available, we set the books aside for a while and go live life. I think it’s extremely important for children to live in and interact with the world around them, instead of being restricted by four walls and senseless testing or rigid mandates.

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Homeschooling Resource List – Early Childhood

This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after following a link on this post, I may receive a small commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products and services that I use and love, or that I want to use in the near future.

In my attempt to get my house purged and cleaned out, I’ve been running across some old stuff that I had written down a long time ago, that I didn’t have time to do anything with, and that is actually pretty useful.

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