Friday, July 13, 2018

TEACH: 5 Reasons Why I Stopped "UNschooling"

PLEASE NOTE: I recognize and acknowledge that this is could be a sensitive subject for some homeschoolers. It has taken me yearsto come out and openly discuss my personal experiences, but after seeing far too many brand-new homeschooling mothers receive the advice to unschool from fairly novice homeschooling moms, I realized that my silence could lead others to the same paths of heartbreak and confusion I experienced.

Of course, there are some mothers who feel fine about their unschooling experiences, and that is great, but in my personal experience and in the experience of many other homeschooling mothers I have known over the course of 18+ years, most unschoolers end up sending their children to public or charter high schools when they approach their teen years.

If there are unschooling mothers with a different experience than mine, I welcome your comments after you have read this entire post. Please keep all comments and discussion civil and polite-- rude comments will not be approved. I honestly look forward to hearing your perspective!

How I Am Defining "Unschooling":

In writing this blog post, I have talked with a number of people privately and online about their personal experiences with unschooling. One of the things I found was that I need to identify precisely what I am defining as "unschooling." 

Here are the beliefs of unschooling with which I am taking issue:
  • Curriculum is unnecessary, unneeded, and un-wanted. (Hence, UNschooling.)
  • Parents planning daily subjects and lessons is frowned upon-- the child should lead all the learning.
  • Children should not be required to fulfill assignments given by the parents.
  • Children should be able to study whatever they want to study, whenever they want to study it. 
  • Children should not be pushed or challenged academically because it stifles their creativity and/or free spirits.
  • Parents are facilitators of learning, creating a learning atmosphere rather than teaching daily lessons.
  • When a child is ready to study and learn, they will take the initiative on their own. The parent just needs to make sure they have lots of time to study the things they want to study.
  • When a child is struggling with math or reading, don't worry about it. They will eventually figure it all out, and they can catch up later in a relatively short period of time.
  • Simply living life teaches a child all they will need to know to be successful.
Before unschoolers stop reading here and protest that I don't know anything about the subject, I would like to share my own personal experiences with our 12 years of unschooling.

Our Family's Unschooling Experience

The bulleted list above accurately describes how I homeschooled my children for the first twelve years of our eighteen year homeschool journey. I believed with all my heart that I did not need to teach my children reading writing, or math. I was sure that they would figure those things out as they needed them, just through their life experiences.

I got rid of boxes of curricula, and got busy and active in my homeschool community. I spoke at events all about how to successfully unschool, and I counseled many other homeschooling mothers on unschooling, and all its benefits.

I was ALL IN.

And then, my children started to grow into teenagers. And the hoped for results did NOT happen. Not only that, but because my children had never answered to anyone else but their own authority, they became nearly unTeachable! They would not accept assignments from outside mentors. They only studied the subjects that they liked-- which was usually just personal entertainment. 

This personal entertainment was not video games-- those could only be played for half an hour on Saturdays. It was not television shows-- we did not own a television. It was not the internet or social media, as their time there was extremely limited by our family rules.

They were busy, but they were stuck in a rut of favorite things to do, and were happy to avoid going beyond those things they already knew. They were reading, but they read the same entertaining series of books over and over again.

They were bright, happy, and content, but they were not progressing, challenging themselves, or thinking on anyone or anything outside of their own desires. They were growing into adults physically, but academically and intellectually they felt they already knew it all, and they did not see any reason for their handwriting to improve, or for math facts to be learned (beyond baking-- they knew basic fractions, because baking was math, right?).

My oldest children were getting to the age of adulthood and they were vastly unprepared for their futures. The promises of unschooling that I had embraced and taught were not yielding the fruit that I had envisioned. 

And I had no one to blame but myself.

Five Reasons Why I Stopped Unschooling:

" ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;"
{Doctrine and Covenants 109:7-8}

Now that I have told you a little about my personal experiences with my own children, I'd like to identify the "fruit" that I have found unschooling can bear. Of course, all of the five points I will address grow from my personal experiences. I am sure there may be some successful unschooling families out there. 

Having said that, I will also share below the experiences of several OTHER families who experimented with unschooling in their own families, and found similar results to my own.

1. Unschooling Promotes Selfishness

"Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand, let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do what is right at the sacrifices of ease and pleasure."
{Charlotte Mason}

When a child can do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it, they begin to feel the world revolves around them and their interests and whims. Their focus becomes more and more upon themselves. After all, when the adults in their lives ask them what THEY want to do, what THEY want to learn, the message sent is that their desires are the "right ones." They are the highest authority on where their efforts should be, and it's all about THEM.

2. Unschooling Creates Bad Habits

"The home is the cradle of virtue, the place where character is formed and habits are established." 
{President Gordon B. Hinkley}

When a child decides their own schedules, there is usually no consistency to their daily habits. If they rely solely upon their personal wishes, they do not see the need to overcome their "natural man" tendencies.

Even if an unschooling mother insists upon morning routines and personal care habits, there are learning habits that are necessary according to natural law-- the law of the harvest. Some of these learning habits include handwriting and math practice. If those subjects are not practiced every day, development in those areas of study is stifled and frustrated.

Even though I was an experienced a musician, it took me those twelve years to recognize that just as growth in musical abilities comes little by little through daily practice, so too does handwriting and mathematics.

Practice is what makes progress.

3. Unschooling Breeds Pride

"You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction."
{Doctrine and Covenants 93:42}

As I said in my story above, youth who are never taught or had academic efforts required of them have difficulty submitting to a teacher or mentor when the time comes for them to venture out and receive instruction.

They literally become unteachable, prideful, and presumptuous. But their pride is actually hollow, because they really don't know all that they DON'T KNOW! They assume their own intellect is above others, since they are the absolute expert on themselves.

How can any instructor guide or teach a pompous know-it-all? They simply can't! The knowledge the child could have received falls on deaf ears and hard hearts.

4. Unschooling Limits Future Choices

"There can be no doubt, none whatever, that education pays. Do not short-circuit your lives. If you do so, you will pay for it over and over and over again."
{President Gordon B. Hinckley}

I now have four homeschool "graduates." The older three who were almost exclusively unschooled are getting along in life relatively well. But their choices for their futures were severely limited. College has not been an option for them, with the exception of one of those children, who is attending a tiny liberal arts college that has a very alternative approach to usual upper education.

I am grateful my daughter is there-- it is just what she needed. But it was also her only choice. She has a lot of gaps in her knowledge, and would not be able to take or pass college entrance exams.

My other graduates are doing fine, though none of them could pass college entrance exams, either. Two of them say they have no desire to attend college, which is fine, but I know that one of them insists that "I'd never get into college, anyway."

Whether we like the rules our society has set for college entrance is really immaterial, in the end. If we want what college has to offer, we do have to meet their requirements. And trying to cram for the ACT or SAT tests without already having the basic foundations of literacy, math, and science with not give us the results we hope for our children. It takes years of planning and effort to prepare for a university education. And that will require the knowledge and help of parents.

5. Unschooling Destroys Confidence

"And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."
{Doctrine and Covenants 130:19
"...if ye are prepared ye shall not fear."
{Doctrine and Covenants 38:30}

In talking with several former (and current) unschoolers, there is a common thread: the despondency a child feels when they recognize that their peers have learned things the unschooled child has never studied.

This happened to my children several times. One experience we used to joke about, which now breaks my heart, goes something like this: 

My son was in his little Sunday School class at church, around the age of 8 years old, and the teacher asked him to read a passage of scripture. He frankly told her "I can't read. I'm homeschooled!" 

On a later occasion, this same boy came home from scouts very discouraged. He was crestfallen to discover that all his friends knew the multiplication tables, and he had no idea what they were talking about. They had all laughed at him, and told him that he wasn't learning anything in his homeschool. Since that day, this child has never had confidence in math. even when I tried to teach him, he always ended the conversation saying that he just wasn't good at math, and would never learn it. That breaks my heart to hear that from my intelligent, now-grown son!

The Experiences of Other Former Unschoolers

In order to share more than just my own failed unschooling experiment, I asked several friends and complete strangers to share their experiences with me and my readers. These were their responses:

From a mom of Special Needs children:

I will say that I firmly believe in seasons of life and that unschooling was a necessary blessing/(curse) for our family. (A blessing because it was something We COULD do in the midst if the chaos of having a severely mentally ill child threatening our lives every day.....and it was a curse because I feel like I relied on it a little too long and now we are playing catch up.)
We still believe in passion led learning, but with how chaotic our life had become with all we dealt with literally trying to keep everyone alive every day...we needed more structure. Special needs kids require more structure anyway. I spent some time feeling like a failure when I couldn't get those 2 needs (passion led learning...and the need for structure) to line up and be successful. we use some workbook based curriculums to provide a framework...but we also follow "sparks" that those curriculums inspire, and are hopefully getting the best of both worlds.

From a mom of a struggling reader:

I tried unschooling when my son was young. He really struggled with reading and every unschooler I knew told me he'd learn when he's ready, or boys don't click with reading until after 9 or 10.
It weighed on my heart and his confidence in himself was crumbling. I decided to try a systematic reading curriculum and it became painfully clear that he had severe tracking issues. The Spirit led me to vision therapy. He's just finishing up a 16 week course of treatment and finally reading!!!

From a now-homeschooling former-public school teacher:

I haven’t used [unschooling] with own children but as a public school teacher, I received children who were the ultimate at un-schooled level because they had no language...At age 5,6,7, or 8 years of age with no language. I could see it working with some personality types. But I can’t see it working for everyone.

From a mother who found a happy balance:

When we started homeschooling 9 years ago, we basically did public school at home. I am a planner and like my life to fit in nice little boxes, so this worked perfectly for me. This pretty much worked for us until my oldest was in 4th grade.
That year I had everything laid out, a schedule all made up, and we started school. Barely a week into school, my 4th grader wanted to practice her piano, but it wasn't her "scheduled" time. I told her no, and to go do whatever subject she was "supposed" to be doing. She had a complete meltdown, and for the first time ever asked if she could just go to school.
This was a huge wake up call for me. While I loved the rigid structure, my child was dying inside. We threw the whole plan out the window and my kids unschooled while I tried to find my bearings and find what would work for all of us. I WANTED [unschooling] to work for us. I WANTED to see the love of learning, the curiosity, the love of reading..... but frankly it just didn't happen. My kids used it as an excuse to do absolutely nothing. I was more than frustrated because I felt there were things that needed to be done and taught that just weren't getting done. This went on for probably 18 months to 2 years before I put my foot down.

We met in the middle. I got the structure I needed, while my kids got the freedom they craved. Now, we have certain subjects that are mandatory until they hit a certain level of mastery, but they are also free to choose a few things for themselves as well as the ORDER they go in each day. I feel that everyone is happier now. I feel balanced because there is some structure, but my kids are happy with the freedom they have within the structure.

From a mom who stopped homeschooling as a result of her unschooling experience:

I have my kids in public school now after ten years of homeschool, mostly using [unschooling].
My experience was mostly good but I so wish that all the experienced moms would not have told me "It's okay for your boys not to do math, just wait till they are ready." And "Oh, don't worry about the writing. All boys hate writing. They will write when they are ready."
Well I think sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. That's life! I took their advice to heart, and I hate math so it was another excuse not to do it. I now have a 14 year old that feels so bad about himself because he can't write or do math. The teachers make him feel so bad about it, saying, "You should have learned this or that a long time ago."
I look back and almost wish I never would have homeschooled. I think he might be dyslexic and so I feel like they would have caught that. I'm having a lot of guilt. 

What We Do Now

"Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;"
{Doctrine and Covenants 88:78

As a word of encouragement, rather than negativity, I can honestly say that our homeschool is now prospering! My children are no longer aimless and wandering in their educational efforts. They now have parental guidance and planning. My high school students have written transcripts with plans and outlines of the subjects they will study. We have daily lessons and schedules for academic subjects. We have assignments and accountability. We have structure and order.

My new homeschooling philosophy is to "lead, guide, and walk beside" my children. I have a firm belief that our Father in Heaven sent these precious children of His to be taught by my husband and I. I believe that they need instruction, challenges, praise, accomplishment, and to strive for excellence in everything they do.

I like a LOT of things about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education, though I'm not a purist. I plan out our homeschooling for the coming week every weekend, and put it in a document I can look at while I teach. I hold my children accountable for the assignments I give them. I follow through and make any adjustments, as needed.

Some things that we have NOT changed about our homeschool:
  • I do not expect rigorous academic work from my younger children. But I DO require that everyone reads, writes, and does math exercises EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (Monday through Friday)
  • I still read aloud to my children from the classics, or we listen to the classics on audiobooks.
  • I fill my home with beautiful works of art, music, and other things that create a learning atmosphere.
  • The kids follow some of their own interests, like art, music, engineering, computer programming, ballet, etc..
  • I sit down and pray about each child and what they need. I try to follow the inspiration I receive.
To read more about our homeschooling journey, and how we found the things that work for us, you can read some of my blog posts from 2015 (the year of our biggest homeschool changes) and more recently below:
As an answer to a question posted recently in a Facebook group for homeschooling moms, I wrote the words below. I want to share them with you, because I think they apply to ALL homeschooling mothers, whether they unschool or not:

Remember, you are running a HOME, not a school, no matter what [anyone] might say. The learning can fit beautifully into your day, with much less pressure than when you had to meet outside expectations from the school. BREATHE. Pray. Listen. Repeat. The Lord cares IMMENSELY about you and your children, and He sent them to your home to be in your care. Never forget that those are the ONLY credentials you will ever need! You’ve got this, mama!!!

I wish ALL homeschooling families the very best in all their efforts!!!

With love, Mama Rachel 


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Wisdom comes from experience; and experience often comes from bad judgement. We homeschooled for 14 years and although I attempted to use structure I was weaker than I should have been and we ended up "unschooling" too much of the time. I wish I had been guided to Charlotte Mason at the beginning along with having a mentor to help me. Our children could have progress much faster and farther than they did. I don't regret educating them at home, and they all have turned out to be great adults, but I feel bad for all the mistakes I made. I pray regularly for Heavenly Father to make up for my deficiencies and in His merciful, kind way he is doing just that.

  2. I REALLY appreciate your willingness to come forward and share with the world your experiences, especially what you wish you knew then what you know now! I am four years into homeschooling. I feel that I had started off strong, then dealt with depression, and I just couldn't bring myself to do much more than take care of them. Now it's time for me to stop waiting until "later" to teach them stuff. Thanks to you, "Later is today." I needed this "kick in the pants" from someone willing to be brave enough to put herself out there. I admire your courage. You couldn't have been any more respectful and polite while sharing with your audience what didn't work. There may be many who get angry, or call your words "unfair." But this post isn't written for those people. This post is written for those people who WANT to hear about other people's experiences, especially of what didn't work. I completely agree 100% with what you have said. My kids are all heading into the directions you have listed in this post. But there is still time to make a course correction. It isn't too late for me and my children. Even if no one else will listen and take what you have written to heart, you have helped me and my family. THANK YOU!!!

  3. I found this very interesting. First, I love that once you realized your mistake, you changed how you homeschooled rather than just sending your kids away. I think that shows a lot of strength of character.

    I never thought to homeschool until my oldest was going into the 8th grade, and then I messed it up so badly by doing too much and expecting too much that by the end of two years, I had all my kids in charter schools and high school. I really regret ever sending my kids to public schools and have apologized profusely. School was horrible for me, but for some reason I thought that all of the bullying and temptations made me strong and that my kids would need that. I know better now, as my homeschooled kids are so much stronger and handle life so much better than I ever did.

    We picked homeschooling back up, 3 years ago when we moved to a place where I knew I could not send my kids into the lion's den they call school here. And while living here has been very hard in many, many ways, I am grateful to the Lord for putting me in a situation where I would take teaching my own children more seriously.

    When we got here, I knew I had to change how I did things the first time, so I would not fail again. I didn't take up unschooling, mostly because I like math, and thought I needed to begin on familiar territory, but I let go of everything extra-curricular. We did nothing outside the home for an entire year. So I had time for the academics and the homemaking, which I didn't when I thought I had to take my kids to lots of sports, music lessons, and activities with other homeschooling families to keep them socialized. As time progressed, the kids took up sports on their own with each other, though, I think we are still sadly lacking in music lessons. I still find myself worrying about whether they are getting enough science and math and history and grammar and gaining learning and study skills and reading enough. I am always switching things up here and there and trying to accommodate for different seasons and events that are affecting our family. I am not sure I will ever find that one perfect fit, but at least now, I know my kids are safe at home and being taught the laws of God and not being exposed to things that could destroy them.

    I have learned to love homeschooling and we have much stronger relationships as a family.

    So, even though, our journeys in motherhood and education have been opposite in many ways,except for the number of kids, it's interesting to see how we have our regrets and made our changes and continue to struggle and try to do what is best for our kids. And honestly, I think your decision to unschool homeschool is better than my decision to public school.

  4. We do a homeschooling/unschooling hybrid with our 8, almost 9 year old boys and are very happy with it so I have to admit I was a little hesitant to read this when I saw it while scrolling through IG. I'm really glad I opened it though. The five things you listed as reasons you gave up unschooling are five things that are constantly on our radar and we work proactively to combat with our own sons. Your post made me realize how lucky we are to have already started tackling these issues early on. We are not radical unschoolers by any means, we don't even completely unschool- our boys have structured math, writing and grammar and we unschool with their science and social studies. Because we're aware of the very issues you posted, I feel like we've found a good balance. While I'm sad that these things led you to stop unschooling, I'm glad you shared this so that maybe others can become aware of and begin to address these problems before they too choose to completely abandon child-led learning.

  5. Oh Rachel, thank you for sharing your experience. I have seen similar things with my girls. It's funny though because you did teach so wonderfully when we taught together. Your new schedule sounds like it should work very well. I wonder what I can do about the selfishness, bad habits, pride, and lack of confidence. As you know I put mine in school. It was early enough to overcome much of the deficits but I see the other problems so readily. I have been wondering where I went so wrong and living with tremendous guilt. Especially when I had devotional everyday, read classics (which I still believe in), and I thought I was teaching what really mattered. The truth is that it all mattered. Consistency, drop by drop, line upon line. Suzuki's 10,000 hours. Your thoughts have helped me pinpoint what I am seeing personally so my question now is what can I do? She won't listen to me or get involved in anything worthwhile. She knows it all but feels bad about herself. Have you found anyway to repair? Love to you, your beautiful heart, and your righteous efforts. --Nancy

  6. You summed this up so beautifully!

  7. I was schooled in an unschooler way and couldn't agree with you more about why I don't do it for my kids. I have seen more harm than good come from it in my personal experience. I have seen some successful cases but they are few. Most of my siblings feel the same as your older children about not feeling like we had options when we "graduated" as well. I do like interest led learning but I'm trying to find the balance that works for us. I guess that is the real key to keep working to find the balance for any type of homeschooler ;0)

  8. OUt of interest but are we saying that there are really serious parents who think this way about "unschooling" :/ ive always thought unschooling has a plan, and there is deliberate purposed teaching and other training, its just the parent is more on their toes and focused. They are always assessing progress (not talking grades) and always looking for opportunity for learning and excelling. So im kinda amazed (and kinda concerned) that there are legit people who thinkg this way about unschooling, seems so irresponsible.

    1. Exactly. Not schooling at all, which is illegal, is very different from unscholing, which is not described here.

    2. Yea...this article doesn't describe how I unschool either :).

    3. In fact all if her bullet points that she uses to describe unschooling,ate not used in our completely unschooled home (kids 3-16, with two out of the home)). But one of the hard things about unschooling is definitions vary....on a very basic level it simply means exactly how it sounds...children are learning in a very different way than they are in school. This, unschooling.

  9. Thank you for writing this piece. We are new to home/unschooling. Our son is 11 and is having a great time socializing with the boys in our homeschool network which is made up of mostly a hybrid of unschool and home school; nothing radical either way. I have been watching the other kids, who have never attended any institutional setting; they all are wonderful friends but when it comes to basics they are ALL way behind. I decided when we started that math, reading classics, and writing would be daily practice. After reading your article I feel a huge relief because every item that you listed is a concern that we have. Now, i know to keep working on balance, work, and fun! Thank you!

  10. This gave me some things to think about; especially now that we are in a pandemic. I will shoot for balance. Thank you!

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience with unschooling. Durithis time.of uncertainty I was looking unschooling, but the more I prayed about it, more questions and doubts started to unfold. From the boof my heart, thank you for not let me make this terrible mistake in my child's life and forever feel the guilt of it. I think I found your article by the grace of God, this was the answer to my prayers. Thank you!

  12. I'm probably not qualified to comment, as a highschooler in public school, but unschooling was referenced in a book I was reading and this had a lot of great info that helped me understand what I was reading. I've gone to public school since age 7 (private school before that) and I have to say, if you live in an area wiht good public schools, I recommned

  13. I love that when I type "unschooling" in to Google, this was the first result. An lds mum telling it how it is. I honestly know nothing about unschooling but this article was very insightful. I know that unschooling is not for our family. I will stick with traditional homeschooling as it seems to be best for my kids.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  14. I loved reading this. It affirmed what I felt could be the pitfalls of Unschooling...structure is really important and so is freedom...our children need both to succeed. If they can learn this growing up it will serve them well as adults. Thank you

  15. "Lead, guide and walk beside" is exactly the way in which I unschooled my two boys. I have met radical unschooling families where the unschooling philosophy did not work because they had bought into the idea that their children should lead the show. We did not do this. Their father and I were their compass and we introduced them to many things and people and places and led them in terms of explaining what would be needed if they wanted to go into higher education or to start their own businesses or follow their interests into a career. One is now an honor student at UGA and did great on the SATs and the other one did not go to college, by choice and at 23 has his own construction business and bought his own home from his earnings. I agree that the parent has to be in charge. But I also think that the unschooling philosophy helped me to trust my boys to make mistakes on their way to figuring out what they wanted to do. They created their own paths. They have great confidence in their own abilities to make decisions. I'm sorry that it didn't work out in some ways for you. But I do know lots of successful unschoolers.

    1. Thank you for giving an example on this page of what unschooling actually looks like, so hopefully not everyone who sees this blog first thinks it means not schooling at all. Or that it means their kids can't go to college, because any kid can go to college, from a knowledge standpoint. They may need to do some work on remedial classes that don't count toward a degree first, or even their GED, but anyone can go to college (finances not addressed in this statement).

    2. Agreed thanks for this comment. Our way of unschooling looks very different than what this author described also. I have two older kids who now own their own businesses. One may still yet b go to college as he was offered a scholarship to do what he loves...graphic design and video editing. The main thing holding him back is the horrible experiences he had in the school system, which is why we unschool now. My other one took the GED, got a scholarship from the state to the community college, but says she makes more doing what she is doing now. I have two that made a choice to go to school in middle school and are thriving there( which I still consider unschooling, because my view in what it is, is very different from the author). I still lead, guide and walk beside them too. The other three I have at home unschool in a very different way than described in this article too.

    3. Unschooling isn't "no rules"--it's a supportive family culture that creates routines and systems and rhythms that support the needs of the family members.

      Most young people go through phases of selfishness; family culture of inclusion and considerate collaborative work overcome those.

      Unschooling isn't "kids' whims over all"--it is simply stepping away from common brick-and-mortar school paradigms like rigid age cohort segregation, linear scope-and-sequence demands, extrinsic motivations, external assessments. It's working in collaboration with a learner to help them identify what their goals and interests are, and how to bring those to fuller development.
      "Radical" unschooling takes all this into parenting choices beyond academic learning.

      At no point is everything revolving around just one person, and at no point is it "no rules"--it's just "not like brick-and-mortar school programs".

      Add in neurodivergence and learning at home may look even more radically different than what a kid would be expected to do in a brick-and-mortar school.

      And that's just fine! Exceptional needs require exceptional solutions.

      Our family have been Holt-style radical unschoolers for 25, with about 8 more to go... our experience is different from the author's experience, possibly due to the foundation behind our choice.

      I am second-generation in positive-agency parenting, so I'm not struggling with the same cognitive dissonance as my husband, who is an older generation and raised by authoritarians. His successes in parenting largely come from doing the opposite of how he was parented, but he still struggles to find those positives valid when weighed against ingrained patterns from his own raising.

      Without the time and space to unpack and really resolve why positive-agency in parenting and learning feels uncomfortable, it's not possible to sustain a really different paradigm long-term. It's easier for me, because I don't have the same internalized expectations of "how learning has to go". And it's VERY hard to be the path-changing generation. My grandparents did that work, so my parents could parent gently, and now I can grandparent and parent in similar "un" ways compared to the majority of society, without dissonance, because I've go the benefit of generations of different paths behind me. It's hard to be the change point. It's worth the struggle to resolve the grief, discomfort, and pain that comes in using different methods with our kids than were given to us as kids.

  16. Madeline, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  17. Your graphic is misleading, and that view of "unschooling" seems quite extreme. As a new homeschooler who is doing research as I start a version of mostly unschooling, saying you "stopped unschooling" and started "teaching your children" is pretty crappy. It doesn't matter what's written after that, because the big, bold lettering in the colorful graphic is what is stuck in people's minds. Not to mention, people just don't read (which is its own problem). What you did (and apparently trained others to do) isn't unschooling; it's no schooling. Holy crap. I expected to read your blog and have some, "Oh, okay, I see why she thinks that's okay to say," but no. What you did is not unschooling at all. It's refusing to educate your kids. Also, the college thing? Blatantly false. The kid can take the entrance exams to a community college, and either take some skills courses to get up to where they need to be or, worst case, take GED classes first. They're not SOL forever just because you didn't teach them anything. You know, if you had said you made a mistake because you didn't do enough research on it and misunderstood it, or were too overwhelmed, or whatever... I get that. I get realizing after-the-fact that you made a mistake. But you're blaming unschooling as a whole for something that has nothing to do with unschooling, but rather your interpretation of it. So... yeah. This whole thing... I'm disappointed. I assumed I'd primarily be disappointed in your graphic, but it just got worse from there.

    1. Britt, I agree whole heartedly. Unschooling is not un-parenting.

    2. Hi Britt: I would love to hear more about your definition of what unschooling is, because back when I was doing it, the process I described was the definition of unschooling. The very phrase UNschooling strongly implies that there is not teaching going on by an adult, but that the student does what they want for their learning process.

    3. For the last 25 years, our family's working use of "unschooling" is: doing things outside the expected boxes of brick-and-mortar school programs.

      So, we don't segregate or separate or rigidly restrict access. We lead by example. We guide through conversation and invitation and cooperative work. We walk beside our kids and mentor skills, social interactions, business, gospel living, hard work, and fun.

      We don't track by ages or grades. We use intrinsic motivations and rewards and assessment, versus extrinsic. We look for growth on their own timeline. We celebrate accomplishments *and* failures. We equip them to learn anything they want to learn, the same as adult autodidacts learn anything we want to learn. We help them formulate their own goals, and a pathway or five to get them there.

      We carry all that into parenting, too.

      It's UN-schooling only to separate it from the segregated Prussian production model that's fantastic at convincing those who came through that system that they are not capable of teaching others to navigate life and learning.

      However, there have been some really pervasive cults-of-personality within the membership of the church who served up a paid formula of "un" rules that very much preached a "don't do active teaching, and things will magically turn out"--and charged money for it. And church folks fell for that scheme pretty heavily, and still do... which is not awesome, and there are a lot of us actively mentoring against those schemes for a LONG time. It's dismaying that they still hold sway.

  18. So here's why I feel like none of the bullet points that the author provides line up with how I unschool :) I'm just trying to show a different viewpoint of unschooling, so others can see how it may (or may not) work for you in your home.

    -Curriculum is unnecessary, unneeded, and un-wanted. (Hence, UNschooling.)

    As defined by the pioneers in the unschooling movement, unschooling was just that...learning that that didn't look like school, and could take place anywhere. "This is because the school model for learning is just one way, and a very recent way in terms of how long humans have learned without such intensive, factory-like learning. It is more a matter of being kind and attentive to children's questions, helping them find the people, classes, books, experiences, or materials that might further their interest in those questions instead of pushing them through the school factory." (More info here:

    In our home, our children have used nature, family, educational materials(yes, even curriculum), co-ops, discussions, youth groups, community groups, and other adults to learn. I work hard to find all of these things that match more with their interests, abilities, and learning styles.

    An example curriculums we've used is khan academy, life of Fred, science curriculum, history books, workbooks, online math and writing courses. We've used lots. The main difference is we are very respectful of each other in the choice of curriculum. We discuss what might fit best for their goals, and mine, and the decision is jointly made. I actually never force them, but have some pretty lengthy discussions about why I value certain things or think they are important. They also talk to me about what they value and think is important. The most important curriculum for me, has been those discussions. I use them as a guiding post to help me know what curriculum may work, or as a way to understand them much better.

    -Parents planning daily subjects and lessons is frowned upon-- the child should lead all the learning.

    I do agree that child led learning is incredibly important, but I also know there are things they may need to learn that they may not gravitate towards. We work together on what would be a could way for them to learn these. Writing has mostly been learned through writing letters to family and friends, as well as pen pals they have. Storytelling is a big thing in our family, so they learn how to formulate ideas and thoughts that way. Basic reading and writing was taught by games they enjoyed. (Love the knew khan academy kids app for early learning). I use lots of manipulatives to play games with reading and writing. I have never just not provided resources for them to learn these things.

    Children should not be required to fulfill assignments given by the parents.

    My kids have lots of assignments. They have chores, they have to clean up after themselves, they have rules to follow. I agree I don't do what looks like school assignments, if that is what is meant by this. So there are no requirements for a certain number of worksheets done (though they do do those when desired), or a certain number of hours to read (but they are encouraged to read and given access to it. I also read a lot to them, and on my own). Most of their assignments have to do with taking care of themselves, respecting others in the home, contributing to the household and their community).

    Children should be able to study whatever they want to study, whenever they want to study it.

    This mostly works for me, but whatever they do, must show respect to both themselves, family members, and community. We also have lots of discussions about what they choose to study and why. If there is something I think is important, we work together on ways to do that so we both are satisfied.

  19. Children should not be pushed or challenged academically because it stifles their creativity and/or free spirits.

    I feel like I am constantly looking for ways to challenge them, thought does look different than school. Again, it's mostly based on discussions. I ask a lot of questions, I challenge them to find answers, when they get stuck on something they are working on, I provide support and resources to help them overcome a challenge. In fact, I think overcoming challenges together is a large part of what I do. It is what breeds creativity. Find a challenge, figure out ways to overcome it. I think maybe the difference with unschooling is I don't force challenges on kids.....they do a good job of finding them themselves with some guidance from me. Some examples, listening and asking questions while my 16 yo describes to me exactly how he figured out a complicated math problem. This was interesting for him, he could tell I wanted to understand, it forced him to go through the process of using language to describe something he does in my head. All hard things to do. On a younger level, this looks like my daughter trying to write a letter to her grandma. I both provide an example of how to do that, how to sound out words, gently correct if she has a word spelled wrong. At the end of it, she feels very accomplished doing something that really means a lot to her: communicating with her grandma. When her grandma writes her back, she receives positive feedback and will be more likely to continue to write things that are hard for her, because she has an invested interest.

    Parents are facilitators of learning, creating a learning atmosphere rather than teaching daily lessons.

    Ok, this I mostly agree with :) But being a facilitator goes way beyond just creating a learning atmosphere. Like I said, discussion plays a big role in this. You guide with questions, answer their questions, offer ideas, presenting projects or curriculum they may like or find interesting, discuss options, as they got into highschool it looked more like helping them to understand their options and the consequences of those options, and connecting them to groups, adults, and other avenues that would continue to help them explore their God given talents and abilities.

    When a child is ready to study and learn, they will take the initiative on their own. The parent just needs to make sure they have lots of time to study the things they want to study.

    When I child is interested, my experience is that they will take the initiative, but it's not always in what I think they should do and learn :) When I feel there is something they need, I go rely on discussion, compromise, finding ways to do it that they do find more interesting, explore other options, exploring the consequences of those options, ect.

    When a child is struggling with math or reading, don't worry about it. They will eventually figure it all out, and they can catch up later in a relatively short period of time.

    I do worry about it. I have a dyslexic child, so I get the struggle with this. But I also know kids do learn at their own rate. What I've found, is that kids will learn when they get something of value from it. This topic could take up a book in and of itself, so I'll just say that many unschoolers take a much more proactive approach to reading, writing, and math than this basic statement lets on. It just looks different than school (hence unschooling).

    Simply living life teaches a child all they will need to know to be successful.

    All children need a good environment, tools of the culture, nurturing adults to guide and teach, and a supportive community. Kids may learn things without these, but it is usually detrimental (I've seen the effect of this in my community). But I also think you have to truly look at how you define success....

  20. Good authors to read on this topic:
    John Holt
    Ken Robinson
    Charolotte Mason (who I think has an unschooling heart) (this describes how unschooling works for me)

    Unschooling is a growing movement and is always being debated :) It may be that the bullet points used here were what cultural defined unschooling a number of years ago, but there are many who definitely see it different. :) As a side note, I had a pretty good discussion with my 16 yo about this article and his thoughts about it. His insight and wisdom into things astounds me sometimes.

  21. Here’s the thing: We had family rules, and there was LOTS of parenting and other teaching happening— just not focused academics. We discussed and were surrounded with great ideas, history, science, literature, the arts constantly. But there was no academic accountability.

    1. I think, then that there needs to be a distinction made between unparenting/unteaching, and unschooling which are two very different things. Another thing I would note, if people are looking for academic/schooly accountability, then unschooling is not for them. Unschooling operates under the assumption that school-like accountability is neither necessary nor always desired. The outcomes won't be the same. In fact, studies have shown that unschoolers are less likely to get a college education, but far more likely to become entrepreneurs and seek learning and guidance in alternative ways. Though colleges are actually super accessable to unschooled if desired. There are so many ways to make it happen.

    2. Half an hour of video games on a Saturday. No TV. Limited internet and social media.

      It's no wonder why your kids chose "personal entertainment" as their favourite "subject". It's because you wouldn't let them do it in their free time.

      I truly believe if you hadn't restricted them in that area then they would have branched out and found things they were actually interested in because the novelty of games and social media wears off eventually. I speak from experience, I do not limit my daughter's screen time or internet access.

      I'm no expert on homeschooling or unschooling, I've just started looking into it for my autistic daughter. She's 9 and already knows how to read and write from traditional schooling, but she's struggling now, because the difference between her and her peers is more apparent. She just doesn't quite fit in.

      I don't want her to compare herself to others her age and feel that she is inferior, because she's not, she's actually ahead of the curriculum in most areas. The issue is that she has Pathological Demand Avoidance and masks her difficulties so much that the school day is exhausting for her. She pushes herself too hard for the teachers and then is a mess at home. This is why I was considering an alternative with a more child-led focus. Any structure from me is a demand and results in stress response from her. I'll have to keep looking or something suitable I guess.

      I do thank you for letting me know what not to do. This blog was helpful to me for that reason. I thought unschooling was what you said it was, but it seems that is not the case.

      This blog (plus the comments) was still a helpful read for me so thanks for sharing. I hope I haven't offended you, I just want the idea of not doing the the tech restrictions thing to maybe help others.

    3. Hey mama Rachel,
      A friend of mine asked me if I use the unschooling approach and I haven't heard of it so I googled it.
      I found your article (and the comments) very informative. I'm not sure if I fit in this category but I'll share my day in case a mamma (or Pappa) needs guidance.

      I have 3 boys, and have been homeschooling my first grader and 4 year old since the pandemic began, all while caring for my 9month old and running the household. It's a LOT. I have devised a schedule that works for us though we follow it very loosely.

      Last year, I read a book about an American mother who moved to Germany and her experience with the education system there. They call it self-directed learning. This is the philosophy I follow but my kids are accountable for reading/ writing/ math/ history/ bible study/ science/ art/ and music.

      I keep a portfolio of their work and read to them daily from chapter books that they are interested in. we do an educational YouTube video of their guided choice and discuss our favorite fact followed by coloring and writing. I use the classical curriculum by Bauer for our history. Handwriting without tears workbooks. I have lots of free resources that I rely on but by no means do I pay for a structured curriculum. No screen time before 2pm. Then they have (guided) free screen time because they have recently taking a liking to YouTube but I know there is a lot of inappropriate content on there so I monitor them while I tidy up/make dinner.

      In a perfect world I would fit in all our subjects daily but I just try to go with the flow while keeping a routine. If I get overwhelmed or stuck I can refer to my written schedule and guide them along our day with a philosophy of always nurturing them to have a passion for learning.

      I'd like to be able to send them to school next year. Hopefully the pandemic will let up and the school system can get back to teaching instead of focusing on health and safety.

  22. This was largely my experience. I think there is a specific personality type that it works fairly decently for but for most children it does not work well past a certain age. My kids did very well with self directed learning until about 8 but after that they really needed direction. I feel Charlotte Mason is a good level method for whole education that accomplishes what unschooling is supposedto (but doesn't) accomplish. It leaves plenty of time for free exploration and following ones passions and interests but provides a basic structure of living education, good havots and discipline. Without those things you really can't enjoy anything in life, even if you think you're always getting your own way!

  23. I am a big fan of unschooling. It helps my students take control of their own learning and leads to self thought. Self thought is IMPORTANT!

  24. I stumbled upon this blog after a search for a nice unschooling image to post with a message of how proud I am that so many of the unschoolers who I know graduated from college (UVA, William & Mary, Lord Fairfax Community College with a degree in accounting and 4.0 GPA, and others) and high school (with honors!) this weekend. They chose these paths, just as many life long/self-directed learners will decide how they want to deepen their knowledge, accomplish their goals, and signal to others that they are ready to work in their chosen field.
    Rachel states in another post that she was really stressed out so she decided to unschool. Unschooling is not the answer to stress. Unschooling takes immense time and energy to focus in on children's interests and to provide resources and opportunities for them to follow those interests. Parents also need to be on high alert for lack of confidence and/or skills to accomplish a goal. This is extremely important at the high school level. At 18, the young adult should be ready to take on the world, brightly signaling that they have the experience and knowledge to accomplish their goals.
    The picture painted by the author is dismal indeed and not what most unschoolers I know have experienced, though there are some where the adults who did not meet their children's needs and the children suffered.
    I also understand that unschooling can be too much and a parent-led approach is the only way to keep everyone sane.
    I know all of this because:
    1. I am parent to an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old who are confident amazing knowledgeable young adults who are unschooled. Both have had jobs and internships since they were 14 and have excellent references. The 18-year-old is living her best life working full-time with horses and will be traveling the country this summer to experience different places and how different barns are organized. Our neurodivergent 16-year-old recently finished 2 years of non-stop (every single day, even in summer and weekends) of spelling and writing work because when he filled out his job application at 14, it was abysmal and it's my job to help him. Now he can whip through a form with ease and communicate with style and he didn't need 11 years to figure it out, just 2.
    2. I organized a homeschool resource center and free school for 9 years
    3. I saw kids come out of public school/homeschooling with absolutely no direction or passion. They could only regurgitate and follow directions but had no clue what to do with themselves otherwise.
    4. I have mentored and worked with young people to follow their passions to careers that they now love and are ready for wherever life takes them and wherever they decide to go.
    For anyone who got this far in the comments, I hope that you will respond to my comment if you need help. I am happy to answer any questions and provide suggestions for a successful unschooling experience.


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