Before we can make decisions about educating our children we must educate ourselves. In the spirit of full disclosure, I remember the first time I heard the term “unschool.” I was talking to a new friend who informed me that she did not homeschool her children, she unschooled them. I sat in shock as I absorbed her words. “What is that?”

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling is a term that was first developed by educational reformer, John Holt. A New York Times article defines unschooling as a movement where, “Instead of sending their kids to a formal school with classes, teachers, and schedules, [parents] leave [children] to their own devices to learn about the world . . . unschooled children have the freedom to decide what and when to learn, be it reading, art, math or distinguishing between insect species.”

To many, unschooling comes across as a bit extreme but to others it is a beautiful thing. It all depends on your family situation, your children, and your intent. Who knows? Unschooling may just be what you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Benefits of Unschooling

As with any type of schooling, unschooling comes with some automatic benefits. Due to its unstructured nature, unschooling is a perfect fit for many families who thrive without schedules. I have spent years working in education and teaching countless children (both my own and others.) As a result, I can say that I am not against unschooling. I have no doubt that many children would thrive under this unique notion for learning.

Children, who are curious and self-motivated, can use unschooling to follow their passions.

Regardless of where their interests take them, unschooled students tend to self-regulate. They engage in their learning and enjoy the process. Unschooled students don’t waste time learning content without purpose.

Rather, they focus their energy on content that gives them purpose. (Truth: not everything taught in schools needs to be learned.) Reading, writing, and arithmetic all fall into the natural order of learning. A natural order that unschooling authentically encourages.

Unschooling is a viable option for any variety of family situations. Regardless of where you live, your economic, or societal status unschooling can work for you. As in, literally work for you. It is a novel idea and something worth thinking about. Who knows? Unschooling may be the future evolution of education.

Drawbacks of Unschooling

Even the best of scenarios have drawbacks. Unschooling is no exception. It can be difficult for parents and children to wrap their heads around the idea of unschooling. Likewise, some children do better with more structure, including structured learning environments.

Certain personalities are better suited to traditional learning situations. This goes for both parents and their children. Also, depending on the pressures of society and your interest in “fitting in,” unschooling may not be the best option.

Another valid concern for many is the lack of socialization that unschooled children may face. Unschooling your child doesn’t mean they will be spending all of their time alone. Granted, it does mean that the built-in social network of a classroom with peers will be missing.


The Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room, when it comes to unschooling, is the fear that children won’t be learning. This is an unfounded fear that research has addressed.

Whether we like the idea or not, children are capable of taking learning into their own hands. They are also capable of independently accomplishing amazing things, if we give them the chance.

Formal and structured schooling is one way to educate children but it is by no means the only way.

Do What You Believe is Best

Of course, if the thought of unschooling is a bit unsettling to you then avoid it. It probably isn’t a good fit for your family. It is also not a big deal.

Likewise, if unschooling is something that gets you excited, that’s great! (If it doesn’t work out you can always go back to the more traditional approaches.) After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Education, like life, is about the journey. Parenting is all about honoring our children’s learning curve. By recognizing their passions we honor their learning. As my mother would say, “help them find their passion and help them live it.”

Find out which homeschool curriculum is right for you and your family.

About the All-Star Blogger

Paige is the mother of three creative Little Women and enjoys spending time eating chocolate, watching movies, reading for pleasure, creating educational products, and maintaining her blogPaige has a passion for helping students develop a love of reading. She has been a faculty member at Amelia Earhart Elementary for over seven years. She is a CITES Associates member of the BYU-Public School Partnership and a member of Provo School District’s Literacy Committee. She is an award-winning educator who enjoys mentoring interns and student teachers. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.