Is Unschooling for the lazy?

Is Unschooling for the lazy?
November 19, 2013 Lainie Liberti

There will always be critics.

I have read many accounts of unschooling parents being accused of being lazy. Even neglectful.

But is it true?

It is hard not to generalize, but I can understand from the outside how this might be a standard perception about unschooling parents. After all, we don’t teach our children lessons, follow a curriculum or demand testing.

We must be lazy, right?

Many critics believe that unschooling parents are actually abdicating their roles as parents all together, as many conclude that unschooling is a form of “unparenting”. (I actually wrote a post called unschooling is not unparenting  if you wish to pursue that thought. But this post is really addressing the relationship between unschooling and laziness. )

I have read the comments by critics on multiple posts about the unschooling lifestyle, more times than I care to admit. Fortunately, I’ve never been accused of being lazy or neglectful to my face… but still I wonder…

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I have witnessed so many false assumptions surrounding “unschooling” and have overcome some of my own old beliefs surrounding “being lazy”, I thought it might be beneficial to explore the links between the two concepts in this article. Although I have no particular credentials within the field of “education”, I speak from the heart, as a parent living an unschooling lifestyle and do not speak for the unschooling community as a whole. I respectfully offer my perceptions and experiences as I write this post as I was inspired to do so.

Let’s first define a few labels.

As many are aware, the term “unschooling” is coined by the late public school educator John Holt in the 1970s. Unschooling is often considered a subset of homeschooling. However, unschoolers are philosophically different than traditional homeschoolers who advocate some form of conventional schooling in the home.

Unschooling adapts the philosophy that every child learns naturally. And when the child is empowered to make their own choices they will “learn” as a result.

Miro and I identify with the label of “unschoolers” as our defined approach to education. On many levels, we also identify with the sub-group of unschoolers called “radical unschooling”. By definition radically unschooling became a subset of “unschooling” in the 1990s whose philosophy brings the empowerment and freedom of choice into other aspects of the learner’s lives. For example, I don’t impose rules about bedtime, food choices, study or other personal choices upon Miro. Instead I empower him to make his own decisions and support them and help him understand the consequences of his decisions.

As I mentioned, there is much controversy over this approach as many assume that a child or teen will make the absolute worst choice for themselves. Obviously, I disagree with that belief. After four and half years using the “radical unschooling” approach, I’ve seen no evidence that Miro will make significantly bad choices for himself. Instead, he’s always thorough with his investigations into the consequences, thoughtful and reflective.

But again, I can only share what works for us.

I often use the terms “unschooling”, “radical unschooling”, “natural learning”, “autodidact” and “interest-led” education. But I also use the term “world-schooling” to describe our commitment to Miro’s education.

Whatever term a person uses, the main point is our commitment to “learning” and in our case, learning without school. We are clear, our journey is focused on the “learning” aspects and we’ve discovered that “learning” is distinctly different than “education”.

“Learning is acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.”

Yep, we do that.

And that has become our focus on our journey.

There’s a brilliant article discussing the foundations of learning, including the nine principles that guide what they call “optimal learning”, all points of which I adamantly agree:

1. There are needs which motivate and affect learning.
2. Optimal learning is developmentally appropriate.
3. Memory affects learning.
4. Emotional intelligence affects learning.
5. Parenting style affects learning.
6. Learning style affects learning.
7. Motivation affects learning.
8. Interest should drive curriculum.
9. Environment affects learning.

(For more, visit the article here. )

We are integrating all of the aspects above into our learning experience. Unschooling has given us the freedom to do that. But for those that are not involved in this style of learning, one needs to look closely to see it, since unschooling removes the testing, scoring and evaluating aspect from “education” which really has nothing to do with the concept of learning.

But what about being lazy?

I’m getting to that….

For those that are new to the concept of living without school, we really have to focus on the overall goal.

It’s all about “learning”.

In general, we have so many core beliefs that hold our old paradigms in place. For example, the baseline belief that: 1.) a person must be taught in order to learn, 2.) a person must attend school in order to get an education and 3.) a person must be tested in order to prove they learning something, are all baseline beliefs that hold the conventional “education” paradigm firmly in place.

If one believes in the educational paradigm as described above, the logical person must draw the conclusion that the “unschooling” approach to education appears to be inactive (in the absence of schedules, curriculum and tests), therefore unschooling must be passive and by that definition is lazy.


There, we finally got to that word, “lazy”.

Now, let us dig right in here….

When people first learn that Miro does not go to school we usually are bombarded with questions. For those new to unschooling and do not have any hands-on experience with it, they immediately draw the conclusion that unschooling is lazy because it appears to be an inactive, passive form of education.

It is logical, and I get it. After all, with the foundation of the baseline beliefs as stated above, it would be natural to think that no school, no rules, no curriculum, the unschooler parent must be a lazy parent.

But let me assure you, the unschooling parent is hyper-engaged in their child’s life. They have to be. Anyone who chooses to educate their child at home, could NOT be lazy since it requires the parent to be engaged with their child, on a full-time basis.

Within the unschooling paradigm, the parent’s role is that of a facilitator. It means sharing an interest in their child’s interest, listening for cues, making suggestions on the fly and being present with interest, and encouragement. In other words, acute attention to our children as unschooling facilitators requires a great deal of energy. And this, my friend, is not for the lazy person. (One could argue that sending children to an institution for 8 hours a day is the “lazier” approach, but I won’t go there….)

But there is something deeper I wanted to explore here.


Laziness in our culture is viewed as a negative trait.

Let’s look at this a little closer. As we were talking about baseline beliefs above about education (IE: 1. a person must be taught in order to learn , 2. a person must attend school in order to get an education and 3. a person must be tested in order to prove they learning something) there are cultural beliefs about the concept of laziness too. In fact, let’s look at this belief and ask yourself if you recognize it: “laziness is bad, productivity is good”. We don’t really think about that. We generally just accept it. If that is one of our baseline beliefs, then it must mean that laziness is the enemy of the “American Dream”.

Powerful, right?

Let’s face it the American Dream is based on a paradigm that includes that baseline belief that laziness is bad and productivity is good”. If we didn’t believe that, the American Dream would not work. But if our culture didn’t have the baseline belief “laziness is bad and productivity is good” we could freely talk about how opportunities are different for different Americans and how they result in social and economic inequalities. But that exploration will be for a future post…

Back to unschooling and learning…. I can understand why the idea of an alternate approach to educational might be challenging to many people who have not challenged the baseline belief about laziness and productivity. It is really a charged issue. I suspect it’s easier to deal with the concept of unschooling, a person new to the idea who is still believing that “laziness is bad and productivity is good” simply won’t be able to see the merits of learning in an unconventional manner.

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
~Bill Gates 

I too grew up believing “laziness is bad and productivity is good”.


One of the things I had to do was learn to be lazy. Not sure if that’s a bi-product of the freedom found with unschooling. Or maybe it was  our new traveling lifestyle or not working full-time for the first time in my adult life. But whatever the reason, laziness was a state of being I was not comfortable with prior to this journey (insert baseline belief here). However  at first in our travels, learning how to be comfortable with being  lazy was a challenge for me.


We have visit these places, go to these attractions, travel to this many countries, always be on the go…… so happy those days are over….

Then, suddenly, I experienced the value of down time (also known as being lazy and doing absolutely nothing).  I discovered the value of doing this during travel. I discovered the value of combining this  with learning. Being lazy actually allowed the “learning”, experiences, new stimulus time to become integrated and processed  into my mind.

Only then could  I look at my baseline beliefs about “lazy people” I wondered why “performing” “achieving” or “producing” was the only thing I had once valued?  I remembered that long ago, my mother taught me that valuable people are productive people.

I have personally  learned so much through being an unschooling-traveling parent. I have been challenging all the base-line beliefs that are constantly running in the background for me and I have the power to decide, no longer ring true in my life.

Now, I can proudly say, my son & I are (sometimes) joyfully lazy.

And that is perfectly fine with us.


  1. Fives OntheFly 9 years ago

    Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. We use our travels with our three children as the base of their education and get asked all the time by family and people we meet what kind of “program” we use with them. It has taken some time for us to own our unconventional, child-guided approach to education where we block some time each day for “school,” but have a lot of flexibility with what the kids learn based on where we are and what they are interested in (it is amazing how many fabulous, free resources are just a click away on the internet). And in reality, we are learning every moment of the day. At times, though, we still relapse a bit and assure people that I was once a classrooom teacher, so they have the incorrect impression that we have some kind of master plan and know exactly what we are doing.

    We completely agree with how you describe unschooling parents as “hyper-engaged.” The thought of sending our oldest child off to kindergarten with strangers for 9 hours a day, 9 months of the year was a major push for us to reexamine our lifestyle two summers ago and decide to learn and travel full time. We have all gained so much by learning together as a family and from one another, and it’s great to read about others like yourself on a similar path reflecting on travel and education!

  2. Brandy A 9 years ago

    Thank you so much for this post! Now I want to share this with all the people who attack me with the “LAZY” word but also I think I must learn to embrace the word a bit more.

  3. Kristie West 8 years ago

    Great article!

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