Unschooling Basics

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is:

  • About trust. It’s about believing that children will turn out alright without school.
  • About respecting the choices kids make
  • About letting them direct days and the flow of life
  • About learning to let go of a school mindset and see the learning in everything
  • About building a life long relationship between kids and parents
  • About helping kids discover passions and interests
  • About loving unconditionally

Unschooling is not:

  • About ignoring your kids or not helping them
  • Trying to turn everything into a “learning experience” by lecturing your kids
  • Sitting in front of the tv all day


Who can unschool?

I wish I could say everyone could unschool. And I really believe they could, if school didn’t exist. But the truth is, it does. And that’s a really good thing. So here are some people who might not be able to unschool:

  • People who think that unschooling means ignoring your kids. That unschooling means plopping your kids in front of the television, or that you can’t interact with your kids and still call it “unschooling”
  • People who can’t let go out school ideals. If you slip worksheets about amphibians into your kids laps every time they wonder about frogs, you aren’t accepting the true nature of unschooling. That unschooling is about letting go of the worksheets and paying attention to your kids and their specific questions.
  • People who aren’t willing to make sacrifices for it. Especially with younger kids, unschooling is easiest with one parent staying at home with the kids. That means (theoretically) giving up half of your income. Some family choose to do this, and thus have to make more choices about what they spend money on. Other parents try to work from home, or trade a few days a week with another parent, or bring their kids to work. If you’re a single parents, you’ll need to work even harder to make it work. But all of it is possible. But you may need to sacrifice other things to make it possible


What does unschooling look like?

  • Kids following passions and interests alongside their parents
  • Constant questions and conversations
  • Parents introducing kids to interesting books or ideas, but letting the kids choose whether to pursue it further
  • Careful listening
  • Working together


Is unschooling legal?

Most basically, yes. It’s different in every place, but if homeschooling is legal, you can generally find a way to unschool. The school wants to hear from you in “school terms” but you can certainly do that same things, keeping in mind what the district wants. I find it easiest to keep notes (I use Evernote) throughout the year of the things I’m doing, and then compiling that in the way the school wants. Of course, I do not know how it is in every place, but as long as you use the right language, you should get through. (Let me know if you want anymore advice about this in different places or with different systems.)


Some terminology:

  • Deschooling: Deschooling is a term we use to refer to the time it takes after going to school to become excited about learning. Often, after being in school, learning doesn’t sound like an interesting and exciting thing. When kids are suddenly able to reclaim their time, they may want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer or television, catching up on everything. It’s different for everyone, but people often agree on it taking roughly a month per year a child was in school to be ready to engage
  • Strewing: Strewing is about suggestions. If a parent found a book that thought their kid would be interested in, they might strew it. Strewing is gentle: maybe just leaving the book in a public space, maybe directly showing it to the person. But it’s never forced. The child always has completely autonomy about reading the book (or looking at the website, watching the movie, etc.), the parent does not coerce them into it.