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How Unschooling Differs from Homeschooling and Public School

Updated on August 17, 2010

There is a strong movement among homeschoolers to go the unschooling route. Unschooling? That doesn't sound much like learning does it? I looked up unschooling in the Merriam Webster's online dictionary and there is not a definition for it. I think this makes sense as I have known many unschoolers (even dabbled in it myself for a bit) and they all seem to take a different approach.

When I talk with unschooling parents the general definition that I can come up with is to let the children guide the learning pace, not do any workbook learning, and let the children pick the subjects to learn about. But I have also seen other types of unschooling. Some people unschool in certain subjects, while making sure their children get math and writing each day. Other people just figure a child will learn what they need by being exposed to the world and don't ever sit down to teach their children anything. Some parents will guide their child's unschooling. If there is a subject they child is interested in the parent provides information and helps them learn about that through books, games, the internet and field trips. I think this is the best way to learn. Amazingly enough all the "unschooled" children I have met have been very smart and done well in life.

One of the benefits of unschooling that I see is that the children end up with a love for learning because they always learned about exactly what they were interested in. One of the drawbacks I see is that it doesn't make for a very well rounded education sometimes. With unschooling - as opposed to typical homeschooling and the public/private school option - your child might not be interested in many of the subjects out there and won't end up learning some pertinent information.

This is one of the biggest drawbacks to unschooling in my mind - that your child will not learn everything they need to know. With that being said though, much of what I learned in school (before college) I don't remember today. There is something to be said for life skills. There is so much to living that book learning won't really help you with. I do see a need for a strong foundation in the basics though. Honestly, your child will not get very far in life if they don't know how to do math and how to read and write well.

Now that homeschooling has become popular and pretty much accepted everywhere there are tons of classes available to homeschoolers. When we homeschooled we took classes in history, art, sewing, outdoor survival, ice skating, physical education, science, animal study and more. My kids loved that kind of learning more than anything we did at home. Another fun way to learn is through magazines. Every week I checked out a few magazines from the library on topics my kids were interested in or to go along with our studies. They loved learning like this and frequently at the dinner table they would tell us all about what they read. They didn't get so excited about their spelling workbook or their math worksheet.

Seeing my kids love to learn in such a casual way made me look into unschooling for my family. For a year we did the bare minimum workbook stuff (the basics) and spent the afternoon learning in whatever way they choose that day. It worked great and helped them so much. One of the great things about unschooling (and homeschooling too) is that there can be more hands on learning and individual attention than could happen in a public school.  As a parent you know your child better than anyone else and this can be a big benefit.

Unschooling is quite different from being in a regular school setting or even homeschooling. It is a totally different approach to learning than what we are used to. But that doesn't make it bad and it doesn't mean that it won't work. I firmly believe that parents want what is best for their child and sometimes unschooling is it.


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    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Interesting and helpful. I have often thought about homeschooling my girls and have only recently heard of "unschooling," as an option. This hub helped me understand the concept more.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      8 years ago from Great Britain

      very interesting. l´d never actually heard of únschooling´. Thank you.

    • kumar46 profile image


      8 years ago from Chennai

      Hai mom, can you conduct to this mail:( to share about the hubpages, please?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Shelly McRae made some valid points concerning not just unschoolers, but homeschoolers in general. While unschooling may be a suitable approach when a child is in grade school, by the time a student reaches middle school & high school deadlines and projects that the student may not care to do push students to work through the stuff many adult find fill their days--the minutia and the mundane of work. Not everything is either thrilling or what we want to do when we want to do it, but do it we must.

    • learner99 profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      What about a work culture or a school culture ? What are the examples such individuals who went on to work in organizations which demand a process to be followed an to work as team and interest of team, not what they feel right.

      Will these students fit in this type of role ?

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Although it doesn't concern me anymore but it was interesting to read about it. Thanks for a your well written hub.

    • rgarnett profile image

      Rachael Fields 

      8 years ago from KC, MO

      My younger siblings were homeschooled after a time of bullying in public school. I never really agreed with it, only because of the lack of socialization they had growing up with kids their own age. However, I do see more benefits to this method than traditional homeschooling. Thanks for covering the idea, its definitely an eye-opening hub!

    • profile image

      Shaun Connell 

      8 years ago from Fairfield Bay

      I unschooled when I was younger. I'll do it for my kids, because it teaches critical thinking, ingrains common sense, and helps them focus on "real world" projects, rather than theoretical nonsense that textbooks seem to obsess over.

      I'm a debt-free 21-yo small-business owner, so it must have worked on some level. :)

      Fantastic hub.

    • drcrischasse profile image

      Cristopher Chasse 

      8 years ago from Boston

      What justhappened to good old fashion reading and writing and Arithmetic?

    • Shelly McRae profile image

      Shelly McRae 

      8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I attended college in my early 40s, and encountered several young adults that had been homeschooled and unschooled. These people were very smart, but...they had a difficult time conforming to the demands of classroom organizations and hierarchy. As adults, they had a difficult time coping with the transition from "I learn what I want to learn" to "This is the curriculum. Do it if you want to pass." College professors don't care about your previous learning experiences. It's their way or you don't pass. Two of these young people dropped out rather quickly, not wanting to acknowledge the professors' dictates in the classroom. It would be interesting to see stats on successful college careers of unschooled adults.

    • ComputerGuy profile image


      8 years ago

      It sounds like a very interesting idea. Personally, I'm a bit skeptical, maybe just because of the way I learned schooling. It's a radical approach, but as long as the core subjects are covered I could see it working.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 

      8 years ago from London

      This is an interesting topic. I hadn't realised the differentiation between home-schooling and unschooling. I had assumed that some people home-schooled in this unstructured manner anyway. It sounds great for some subjects, especially out-of-doors ones, and for fostering kids' interests in everything.

      Although my daughter is in nursery and will be starting school soon, she learns loads of things at home in this way. She shows an interest in something and then we talk about it and learn more about it. It seems like a natural thing to do.

      Thumbs up!

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 

      8 years ago

      Blessings to you Jennifer!!

      GREAT Hub!! Great information!! Thank you for sharing!!

      I am a firm believer in homeschooling/unschooling!! I guess more accurately, I am a firm believer in a full, well-rounded, fully motivated education where ever it may come from!! Parents who choose these routes for their beloved kids, and do it well, are angels!!

      One thing I noticed missing from the above debate was about the way a child's brain/mind develops!! The 'hard wiring' part! I think we are catching on pretty well in noticing that each child learns differently, sometimes more visual than audio, hands-on versus reading, etc.!

      It's the growing brain that lays down new pathways, synapse, neurons, etc.! There is much evidence that supports good solid connections from self-learning-home-schooling in a child's brain! It's not necessarily about a child being able to 'recall' insignificant things learned early on, it's about the pathway/synapse/neuron connections that were formed so new maturing information has a way to enter!!

      And most children will resist this 'stretching' of the brain in favor of comfort; it's a natural human reaction! I resisted math; I am an artist! As an adult, math is much more difficult because I have few pathways open to it!! (Oddly, I was once a stellar accountant - I found the checks and balances very creative - and I used a calculator of course!) I run into mathematical things all the time I wish I had a deeper understanding of how to calculate!!

      I think as long as children are given/provided/guided in ways that help form the brain pathways, they will have the hard-wiring for strong, independent thinking! Which leads to strong, independent, socially conscious thinking, feeling and behaving!!

      Again, GREAT Hub!! Thank you for sharing!!

      Blessings Always, Earth Angel!!

    • JenDobson27 profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting, I'd actually not heard of unschooling before. It sounds like an interesting concept, but I think there has to be at least a little bit of guidance to ensure children learn the necessities of reading, writing, math, science and history. And I really do think that can be done in a very untraditional way like unschooling offers.

    • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image


      8 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Interesting. After reading your hub, I realize our family used a bit of typical homeschooling & unschooling methods. We got the basics--math, science, writing/grammer, pennmanship, Bible, history, etc. But for other subjects like PE, practical living and sometimes science we got to choose what we learned about.

      For an example, one of us was really interested in birding. So, that was the subject for that kid in science that year. Sometimes he even got to go on field trips with the local Christian university.

      I was very interested in wildflowers and another year shells. So, that was my science for those years. I still have the field guides, pressed flowers/projects and many of the shell collections, too.

      I think that unschooling has some great ideas, but you really need at least a few subjects in a more structured manner. Now, I don't mean you necessarily need a textbook.

      We were all taught the first 2-3 years of math in our heads, with toys, dominoes, Sorry! game, cooking/baking and more. After that, we learned how to write what we could easily solve in our heads. We did use textbooks (Saxon) when we got older.

      I think that the first 2-4 years of schooling can be done with almost no textbooks or written work (except for reading/writing). As you get older, it is natural for your schooling to be more textbook oriented. But, you don't always have to go by the book.

      I just realized how long my comment is & thought I should stop typing! ;)

      Thanks for an awesome hub, Jennifer!

    • chirls profile image


      8 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      My main concern with unschooling is simply the issue of further education. These days it seems to be quite important to have a college education. Do you know how unschoolers get into college? And, if they do get into college, will they be able to excel in a structured learning environment?

    • DiamondRN profile image

      Bob Diamond RPh 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

      Un-schooling sounds like it could have a few hidden pitfalls, Jennifer. It's akin to an inexperienced piece of clay telling the master potter what it thinks would be the best form for it to eventually take. However, I can see tailoring a curriculum to the innate skills and strengths of a particular child.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jennifer, thanks for covering this topic. It seems like a great way to learn for a child that has strong internal motivation.


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