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Unschooling: What is it?

Updated on July 2, 2011

Unschooling is actually the original form of learning, though the term never came up until after compulsory education had it's time in the lime light. It's amazing how something so natural has been over taken by something so unnatural, and now is unnatural method is the norm. Sadly, most people are not aware of what Unschooling is, which makes it hard to even form an opinion about it one way or another. So let's explore the concept and see if you arrive at the same place you started in when you began this hub.

What is Unschooling?

The shortest simplest explanation for unschooling is: It's natural learning

What I mean by this, is that unschooling is when we allow our children to learn by what interests and drives them. There is no set age limit for when they must learn something, and no set curriculum of what they must learn. They learn as they grow, and instead of forcing specific subjects on them, we (as their parents) facilitate their interests to help them learn everything they need to know. In most cases, children who have been unschooled will learn everything they would in a public/private school setting, simply through the fact that there are very few things you can do in this world without basic skills such as math, reading and social etiquette.

Humans are distinct from most other creatures on this earth, only because we are given the ability to continuously learn new things at all ages. Not only that, but we are one of the few creatures that desire to learn things that we might not need to learn and we can innovate old ways of thinking to turn old lessons into newer better ones.

Controversy abound...

Even though humans have been learning through the "natural method" for much longer then the current educational format, there are still many controversies that come up. Most of them are from those who have come to believe that the government knows best or those who don't want to admit to reality. Though that doesn't mean there aren't some legitimate concerns abound. I have always felt there are no stupid questions in this world, which is why it's time to address some of these concerns.

1) What if the child doesn't want to learn?

In order to answer this concern, I must first dispel a large misconception. Or maybe you could consider it an illusion... To be more precise, those in favor of continuing compulsory education have found ways to make it appear that the only way to learn is from text books, class room time or through learning specific skills. The truth is that learning is much simpler than that. Everything we do is learning. From the moment we form in the womb, we learn to breath, digest and react to outer stimuli. From birth on, we have tons of things we need to learn. Walking, talking, touching, tasting, communicating, playing. As we grow, we have to learn more about the world around us. Dangers, pleasures, responsibilities. Once we master the basics, other ways to learn pop into view.

The traditional concept of learning is through books and teachers. Though a child is constantly learning. It's happening even now. For that matter, you are constantly learning, aren't you? And yes, reading this hub counts as learning! So if a child doesn't want to sit down and learn from a book, chalk board, white board or specific teacher, that doesn't mean they aren't learning. It doesn't matter if you have a video game eccentric child or one who just likes to play in the mud, there is always an opportunity to engage what they are already doing and find a way to bring extra education into it. Which also means that even the most reluctant child will learn all that they need, because they aren't being forced into it.

2) What about socialization?

This is a concern that I've heard a lot from my own family. They feel that in the public school setting, a child gets the best of socialization. Yet, is that really true?.... When you look at what a child goes through in the normal school setting, there are many experiences they go through that are unnecessary, and there are many behaviors they learn that must later be unlearned in order for them to function in society. Even public educators admit there are huge failures when it comes to properly socializing kids in the school systems. On top of that, if every child doesn't become a square peg that fits into a square hole, they are labelled, diminished and put in special classes.

Not all children are going to benefit from the social structure in the education system, and there are so far no studies that can prove either unschooling or schooling are better then the other. They both arrive at the same results in the end.

3) Won't the child get behind in learning if they don't learn certain things at certain ages?

Some parents and many skeptics worry because there is no force in unschooling. Which means that some child will learn certain skills early on, and others will learn those same skills later. The most widely publicized are children who don't officially learn to read until age 8 or older. While many unschoolers find they have children who are very interested in learning at very young ages, there is nothing wrong with a child who doesn't learn to read until they are older. The truth is that the child would be this way anyways, regardless of their education setting. The difference is that in "the system" they would essentially be punished for their lack of interest, where as in unschooling there is no need for that. Only encouragement is necessary, which fosters a better attitude toward reading and other skills. Either way, every child has time to learn. They can't officially get work until they are 18 (or 15 in some states), which means they have time to learn basic skills that most skeptics worry about.

And as of yet, I have not heard of any reports where an unschooled child grew up to be an adult who didn't know how to read, write, do math, learn history or be properly socialized. The basic design of unschooling is that if you teach your child how to learn, then they can learn anything they need to, with or without your help. That sets them up to be happy well-rounded adults who are not bound by believe they must be taught something in order to learn it. As they grow older, their interests will involve more and more of those "basic skills" that everyone worries about and they will be happy to learn them in order to accomplish their goals. In time, they will catch up and often surpass the education level of their peers.

4) What if the parents aren't qualified to teach certain subjects?

This is an interesting question. Many unschooling parents feel that there is no better teacher for their child then a parent. Though this doesn't get past the fact that we parents do not know everything. I find myself with a lack in math skills. It's never been my forte and I know it. So how is it that I can teach my child about math? The answer is much simpler than you'd imagine. For one, I can teach very basic math skills, how to calculate taxes and small percentages. These are what I know. The rest can be learned from Dad, who is a math wiz, or from Grandma who has worked in a bank for more than 30 years. We can also take some classes in public schools that focus on math, we can find tutors, we can watch youtube videos and we can go out and ask others in our community. There really are no limits. If my child seeks an interest in the complexity of mathematics, or if his interests take him into a field that involves a lot of math, we can both go and learn about it.

5) How can you work, have a life and unschool your child?

When you first start out, this may seem like a daunting question. How do you get "adult time" or how do you work a job and still unschool your child? The answer isn't as cut and dry, though not because it isn't easily done. It's only a bit more complicated because each parent finds different ways to accommodate everything. Some parents choose to have one parent stay home and one work. Others parents each work part time jobs so that they can have equal time with the kids and to work. Some parents choose to work at home, giving them the flexibility to go along with when their children are ready to learn. There are many options.

As far as having adult time, hobbies or non-child centric activities, most unschooling parents take one of two approaches. Either they plan to have the kids wrapped up in their own activities, or they use their own hobbies and adult time as an example for their children. Which is widely used because it shows kids that we adults have our own lives as well. We might be their parents all of the time, but it doesn't mean we can't have our own interests or a need for alone time.

6) Can unschoolers go to college?

Yes! In fact, unschoolers are eligible for scholarships available to anyone who is home schooled. They are also able to go and get a high school diploma if they want, or just a GED. They can get into community colleges, four year colleges and even ivy league schools. In fact, many unschoolers and home schoolers have been admitted to college at earlier ages.

Why choose Unschooling?

There are an infinite number of reasons, but some of the most common are:

*To be directly involved in what and how a child learns.

*To avoid "herd diseases" and for parents who don't want to vaccinate

*Unhappiness with the public/private education system

*To make sure each child gets proper nutrition throughout the day

*To foster appropriate social skills

Why would you choose to unschool?


Submit a Comment

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    You're right, unschooling or even home schooling won't work in every situation, just like public education doesn't work in all situations.

    As for the issue of children who become under developed in a social arena because of parents who choose to solve all their problems, I think that's a confusion between unschooling and "unparenting", which is a term another hubber used. A lot of parents get confused about how to parent their own kids, and end up either neglecting them or over parenting.

    I feel the idea of unschooling isn't to stop parenting or to over-parenting. It's just a matter of putting the responsibility of education in the childs hands and letting them lead. If there are subjects they aren't interested in yet, you can go back to them later and encourage them to try again. The idea is that when they have more choices, less rules and more fun, they retain what they learn for longer and most important of all, they develop the skills they need to accomplish any goal they have. This certainly could be done while in public schooling, I just feel it's harder to do so in a one-size fits all sort of environment.

    With my son, I don't generally solve any problem for him that he is capable (or could be capable) of figuring out on his own. So far, he's almost 7 and can do his own laundry, make his own lunches, do chores for money, clean the bathroom, verbally express his emotions, partially dismantle a car, play drums at a basic level, feed and water the dog, count to 30, read short words and more. He's pretty self sufficient so far, though he's still growing and learning. Tying shoes is still hard, he's not so found of writing and he forgets to check if his shirts are inside out, but in my mind, these all come with repetition and experience. I make myself available as a sounding board for his ideas or projects and offer him my own ideas from time to time. I encourage him to do things himself to the fullest before I jump in to help. I'm there if he needs me, or out of the way if he doesn't. I take care of the necessities, such as providing food, clothing, education and love, but I definitely don't think "hover parenting" is a good way to go. It definitely doesn't prepare a kid for the world. I've seen it in both public schooling and home schooling environments. Tantrums, social delays, getting behind in certain educational skills, neediness. Often these things happen no matter what situation your kids are in. I feel it's a parenting problem, not necessarily an educational environment problem.

    As far as the "religious" aspects for home schooling, though I can empathize with a choice to shelter their kids in that way, I don't sympathize with it or think it's a good plan. At least it isn't in my plan. When my son asks about things of a spiritual nature, I offer him all the perspectives I know of and if he wants to know more, we go learn more. Once I've given him all the different spiritual thoughts that I've come upon, I ask him what he thinks is true or real, or if he thinks it happens differently. To me, it's all a personal choice of what you believe. There are no "right or wrong" answers in that arena. I am an eclectic pagan myself, and I see no reason to force my child to follow my path or anyone elses. That way, when he's older and goes through a spiritual search in his life, he's got the skills to think for himself and not just follow the masses (or to follow the masses if he wants to).

    As for semantics... just about anything in this world is subjective to point of view and experiences. You've seen bad results from parents who probably choose to home school to shelter their kids from the 'evils of the world'. I've also met parents like that, in all situations, though I've met more parents who chose home schooling or unschooling because they wanted to give their kids an education that can't be given in a public or private school environment because a teacher with 20+ students can't give that much one on one time to each student. Those same parents also like the idea of avoiding unnecessary social drama (such as school bullying), but that doesn't necessarily equate to sheltering a child. It's more like a bonus.

    I appreciate your opinions Plank, it's nice to have open dialogue with a person of a differing opinion. =)

  • PlanksandNails profile image


    7 years ago

    I don't disagree, I am just probing an advocate of the "unschooling" philosophy, but I believe it cannot work in all situations such as underdeveloped countries where a broader spectrum of resources are not readily available.

    Of the experiences I have seen with our friends who home school is that their children's maturity level blossoms much later due to the dependence on their parents to solve their social problems for them that should only be required for children of younger age. Their peers can attest to crying, tantrums, and lack of personal development for their age.

    A home schooled child confided in one of my children that his math skills where four years deficient to his.

    I also understand that parents who home school for religious reasons want to protect their children from the "harsh evil big bad world". The reality is that we all have to face it in one way or another, whether we like it or not. A man I know was home-schooled for this very reason (religious) and he excelled in that environment and was eventually awarded a full scholarship at a university. Once he got into university, he made a 180 degree turn from his theological beliefs to an atheistic one. This was due to not having the skills to contend for his faith when the onslaught of humanistic ideologies hit him in the public learning environment.

    I believe in a balanced approach to education. Sheltering children too much can lead to a probability of unwanted results when put into the harsh realities of the real world environment.

    (" A teacher could also be a book, audio tape, article, video or experiment.")

    All this is true regardless of homeschooling. By going to the zoo you can call it a "field trip" or a "family outing". You can bake cookies with your kids for "fun" or call it "home-economics", its all in the semantics.

    ("So there is no reason to limit a child to ONLY learning from one teacher or their parent(s).")

    I completely agree.

    I believe the philosophy can work, but I have seen too many negative results in my objective view to see it as a viable alternative. I, myself have had both private and public education. No system is completely perfect, but at this point I see "unschooling" as inferior. I have friends who home school their children and mean no disrespect to their choice to choose what they think is best for their children.

    This is just my personal opinion.

    Thanks for the dialogue and the best of success in "unschooling".

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    Those are very valid concerns Planksandnails, and ones that I am sure most parents who are considering home schooling or unschooling grapple with. Though can you prove that the current education system actually provides a strong education, lasting knowledge and life skills training to succeed in the world? Better yet, can you prove that public education is any better or worse then home schooling or unschooling as far as those concerns are concerned? If you can, I would love to see the statistics or research done on the subject.

    Most studies show that parents who unschool or home school, have had decent education themselves. To add to that, many parents who choose home schooling or unschooling, recognize that they do not need to be the only teachers in their child's life. No person can know everything, including teachers and parents, no matter how well educated they may be. So there is no reason to limit a child to ONLY learning from one teacher or their parent(s). There are tons of resources out there for home schoolers and unschoolers today. A teacher could be anyone or everyone, as we all have different strengths and weaknesses. A teacher could also be a book, audio tape, article, video or experiment.

  • PlanksandNails profile image


    7 years ago

    ("I think the author is talking about unschooling as a way of educating a child without sending her to a school.")

    I thought educating your child without sending him/her to a public school was home-schooling.

    Unfortunately, there are cases of bullying, but it is how we handle these situations ourselves and with our children that teaches them the *skills* to know what to do when they arise. We live in a society where we can control and prevent this type of behavior. An involved parent and the resources that are available can prevent and stop this type of behavior.

    Survival skills will have to be learned one way or another as our world is not perfect; it is a matter of when and how we deal with those obstacles and what we do with them that determines the resilience of the parent and child.

    Bullying, parent/child involvement, "herd diseases", unhappiness, nutrition, and social skills are all very important issues.

    These type of issues all happen within and apart from "natural learning" and systematic learning.

    The learning or educational experience of an individual is an accumulation the skills, knowledge, and values that they apply to their society and the standards in it.

    The most important thing is the end product. Someone can learn a skill, but if they cannot apply it appropriately, then there is no achievement or success in that particular area.

    My concern for the "unschooling" philosophy is whether the child will receive the knowledge, education, and training to succeed. We can have the knowledge of something, but not be able to apply the knowledge without the appropriate training and skills. A good education provides both. If a parent cannot provide this, the child will end up lacking or deficient in the areas the parent is.

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    Thank you for the comments you two, whether dissenting or agreeing, I enjoy seeing how others feel and what their experiences are. =)

  • Monisajda profile image


    7 years ago from my heart

    I think the author is talking about unschooling as a way of educating a child without sending her to a school. Packing a healthy lunch is not going to be enough if your kid is bullied at an early age of 6 when she attending public school. There are many proponents of public school system saying that we all need to learn survival skills and the best way is to do so at school. I think that being 5.5 or 6 is an early age to figure out certain things on our own, especially if we are unable to control bullying, mean and demeaning comments and so on.'

    Nice hub!

  • PlanksandNails profile image


    7 years ago

    I think "unschooling" is a superfluous philosophy. We don't choose "unschooling" because it is already a natural part of being a sentient human. Natural learning precedes system learning. "Unschooling" simply, is redundant.

    Whether you like it or not, we are all tested.

    According to the standard of a particular system, we pass or fail.

    The most common reasons to choose "unschooling" in this hub are interestingly just matters of practical common sense.

    Be involved with your child is simply being a good parent, not "unschooling".

    Avoidance and unhappiness are personal fears from the parent, not the child, which is not "unschooling".

    Simply, a bag lunch with proper nutrition and making quality meals with and for your children equates to being a good parent, not "unschooling".

    A good parent is one exclusive factor in fostering appropriate social skills in a world of many inclusive areas, not "unschooling".

    You cannot choose "unschooling" because we all learn naturally already, but we all have a choice whether or not to be good parents. How well your children pass the tests of the standards they need to live up to is proportional to their ability to learn positively in a efficient and effective manner.

    Being a good parent helps, but it being all about the parent is not."Unschooling" in this theme seems to be from a culmination of personal issues from the parent.


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