What is Unschooling?

What is Unschooling?
April 17, 2011 Lainie Liberti

So, what is unschooling, anyway?

“I never let schooling get in the way of my education” Mark Twain

Miro drawing on the beach in Mexico

Unschooling is a term that the late John Holt coined in the late ‘70′s to describe learning that is based on a child’s interests and needs. Unschooling does not begin with a parent’s notion of what is important to learn and then turn the choices of how to learn the content over to a child. Rather, it begins with the child’s natural curiosity and expands from there. Unschooling is not “instruction free” learning. If a child wants to learn to read, an unschooling parent may offer instruction by providing help with decoding, reading to the child, and giving the child ample opportunity to encounter words. If the child is uninterested in these supports, the parent backs off until the child asks for help. The most important thing about the unschooling process is that the child is in charge of the learning, not the adult. Unschoolers often do no traditional school work, yet they do learn traditional subject matter. They learn it as a natural extension of exploring their own personal interests.

From Peter Kowalkie’s site:  Unschooling.com has this to say:
Have you ever described ‘red’ to a person who is color blind? Sometimes, trying to define unschooling is like trying to define red. Ask 30 unschoolers to define the word and you’ll get thirty shades of red. They’ll all be red, but they’ll all be different. Generally, unschoolers are concerned with learning or becoming educated, not with ‘doing school.’ The focus is upon the choices made by each individual learner, and those choices can vary according to learning style and personality type.

There is no one way to unschool.
Unschooling is primarily about process not content. The process of learning, the process of knowing yourself, openness, confidence, self-determination, independent thinking, critical thinking….none of which one gets when following other people’s agenda. Making one’s own agenda is what it is all about. Again this is done not in isolation but in the context of ones family and community.
~Joel Hawthorne

Unschooling isn’t a method of instruction, it’s a different way of looking at learning.

~Linda Wyatt

Unschooling is following your children’s lead. Allowing them to learn from a wide variety of experiences and resources. Start right from where you are and enjoy.

An unschooling moment of realization (one of those things that you know, but have a moment of knowing it even more): Learning is learning whether or not it’s planned or recorded or officially on the menu. Calories are calories whether or not the eating is planned or recorded or officially on the menu.
~Pam Sorooshian

Unschooling is like the old Open Classroom research and theories. If kids are given an interesting and rich environment they will learn. (All kids learn anyway, all the time.)

~Sandra Dodd

Unschooling doesn’t mean not learning – it means learning without the trappings of school. Its not unlearning or uneducating. Its only unschooling – it points out a contrast in approaches to learning. My unschooled kids are learning as much or more than their schooled friends (and that includes home schooled or institution schooled).
~Pam Sorooshian

We have opted not to follow formal education, thus making the formal educational requirements not a focus. We are “world schooling” or “radically unschooling” a formal name given to many in this movement. However, traveling is not a requirement of unschooling, but it just happens to be how we are experiencing it.


  1. Carla 12 years ago

    Yes, on every level. It’s so true that it just resonates, doesn’t it?

    • Author
      ilainie 12 years ago

      Thanks Carla! What has been your experience with unschooling?

  2. Currently reading everything you have to say about unschooling and worldschooling!

  3. Laurie Albus 6 years ago

    When my daughter, Chelsea started school 15 years ago in the first grade, the teacher said to all the kids to draw only butterflies on their small posters they made. Well, I had always raised her to be creative, inspired, and free in her inspirations.
    Immediately Chelsea began to draw butterflies, ladybugs, ants, and other outside insects. When she turned in her assignment, the teacher wrote on her poster: Chelsea, you did not follow instructions. I asked you to only draw butterflies.
    To this I responded to Chelsea you are creative and you have a right to be creative. Your teacher should have praised you for taking the incentive and producing a wonderful menagerie of insects that you loved to watch and play with outside.
    Chelsea was soon diagnosed by her teacher as having ADHD. But, what the truth was, is I always allowed and promoted a self-thinker and she unlike most the kids in her classroom thought and comprehended for herself. This is often referred to as not fitting in the box. Which she didn’t but, she is now the most wonderful, self-directed, confident, beautiful young woman that I am so proud of.
    Please support self-directed children as it promotes confident, strong leaders.
    Thank you,
    Laurie Albus (a proud mother)

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